Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Making a threat threatening: six strategies for business

HBS Working Knowledge: Strategy: Six Steps for Making Your Threat Credible

Did you know there are entire journals dedicated to Negotiation? This is taken from an article by Deepak Malhotra (Harvard Business School). The tactics only work, however, if the opponent is clever enough to recognize them. I don't think that's always true. It's possible to be too clever ...

Israeli hackers use trojan software to spy on rival companies: Neuromancer lives

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israeli firms 'ran vast spy ring'

Neuromancer was not the first science fiction novel to describe a world of corporate hackers spying upon one another's software -- but it was the best of this genre. I hope someone interviews William Gibson for his commentary on this historic story. Historic because the events described will soon be so commonplace...
Police in Israel say they have uncovered a huge industrial spying ring which used computer viruses to probe the systems of many major companies.

At least 15 Israeli firms have been implicated in the espionage plot, with 18 people arrested in Israel and two more held by British police.

Among those under suspicion are major Israeli telecoms and media companies.

Police say the companies used a "Trojan horse" computer virus written by an Israeli to hack into rivals' systems.

Interpol and the authorities in Britain, Germany and the US are already involved in investigating the espionage, which Israeli police fear may involve major international companies.
Imagine the situation in Russia and China.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The last remaining shards of the media squeak up.

Washington Post: Assault On the Media

The barbarians have leveled the house and set fire to the fields. They advance on a loan scribe deep in the rubble. It gradually dawns on him that there's a war on, and maybe he should "fight back".
...I resisted writing about this subject precisely because I do not want anyone to confuse my own views with Newsweek's or The Post's.

I write about it now because of the new reports and because I fear that too many people in traditional journalism are becoming dangerously defensive in the face of a brilliantly conceived conservative attack on the independent media.

Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for questioning whether "truth" exists at all and claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise.
Logic, rationality, empiricism. That's so Enlightenment. Bush is either pre-Enlightenment or post-modernist or both. BTW, I don't think he would have much of a problem with that assertion. Bush famously remarked that the "jury is still out on natural selection". He's no rationalist.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The ultimate iMac accessory: an air conditioner

Faughnan's Tech: iMac essential: a thermal monitoring program

Let's assume Apple has fixed the power supply and the fans in the new (last month's) 2nd generation G5 iMac. They still have one huge problem -- IBM's CPU. In contrast to Intel, who invested wisely and heavily to destroy power-efficient competitive CPUs with their own excellent solution, IBM and AMD have followed the hot road.

So I don't think Apple has solved the G5 iMac's heat dissipation problem.

So if you want a G5 iMac, what else do you need? A well air conditioned room with an external fan pushing cool room air into the iMac's air intake. This kind of defeats the purpose of a quiet machine, but at least the room will be comfortable. One could compromise by running the iMac in its low speed setting and allowing the room temperature to rise a bit. A high quality large low speed external fan could even be fairly quiet.

My guess is that the combination of an internal thermal monitoring system, judicious use of external drives to reduce internal drive heating, lower performance settings, room air conditioning and a quiet external fan, all taken together, will allow one to use a 2nd generation G5 iMac for at least 2-3 years. When you need power for video editing, crank the external cooling and let the machine rip.

Yes, Apple has a problem.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to screen the Discovery Institute's anti-evolution propaganda

Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution - New York Times

Reading the article one is left with two possible conclusions:

1. There's been significant incompetence at the museum.
2. This was an informed decision. That implies either non-scientific leadership or profound political cynicism.

This is another substantial victory for the Discovery Institute (largely funded, btw, but far right proponents of christian government) and a significant defeat for american science. We are continuing to lose ground. It may yet be reversed, by Monday morning the office of the museum's director will be getting some interesting phone calls.

Happiness is a selective memory - manipulating memory for good and for profit

EconLog, Framing Effects and Memory, Bryan Caplan: Library of Economics and Liberty
A central assumption of much of my research is that people can choose their own beliefs. There are many possible mechanisms, but Vrij's discussion suggests yet another. If you want to believe something, just describe the relevant event to yourself using appropriately loaded language. Your memory does the rest.

Conversely, if you want to prevent your desires from affecting your beliefs, use measured language to describe it to yourself. Otherwise, you're burying a time capsule of deception for yourself to dig up at a later date.
The more we understand our minds, the more ephemeral and contextual we appear to be. Belief is particularly fluid. This adds new dimensions to classic books describing mass movements.

My approach to creating a selectively-false and happy set of memories is a large collection of family photos that cycle across our array of computer displays. These leverage the principle of selective reinforcement of memory -- given two proximate events, unbalanced reinforcement of one will decrease retrieval of the second. It as though as one memory grows it usurps the foundation of its "neighbor" memories. In this experiment the happy photos selectively blur away all other events.

Truth is fundamentally overrated in our current universe.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) may work the other way. By constantly reinforcing very negative memories all good memories seem to be subsumed. This is why some therapies for PTSD have been hypothesized to be potentially counter-productive. I think that PTSD research is now focusing on "selective destruction" of memory and reinforcement or implanting of more positive memories.

Memory therapy, involving the selective implantation of false memories for the the benefit of the patient, will be an increasingly interesting subject over the next twenty years. Particulary if it is done without the informed consent of the patient. Of course, some would say advertisers have done this for years.

Speaking of memory, I thought I wrote on this topic some time ago, but my searches aren't turning anything up. Maybe I did that in an alternate time slice :-).

Gender imbalance in China: the contribution of Hepatitis B infection

The Search for 100 Million Missing Women - An economics detective story. By Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

Fascinating. There are two fascinating claims here that seem reasonably persuasive:

1. Hepatitis B infection biases live births to male infants. (Hep B infection is very common in some areas of China and used to be very common in Taiwan -- until they began immunizing newborns to prevent perinatal infection.)
2. This phenomena accounts for a significant portion of China's gender bias (too few women -- the other explanations are selective neglect of liveborn girls and selective abortion, the old explanation of 'stopping after the first boy' doesn't work).
Economics and public health are meeting in increasingly interesting ways.

Signs of the end times? Or just new times ...

First - Crooked Timber: I think I’m going to be sick: The Economist’s new venture is:
...an inspirational lifestyle magazine which instead of helping readers make decisions in their professional life, helps them do the same in their personal life”...

... Take white-collar boxing – the latest stress reliever for Wall Street and City elite. Tired of punching a bag at the gym, they have now moved on to punching each other in front of a paying audience. ...

... If smacking around your colleagues doesn’t sound appealing, how about brushing up on your space travel tips so you can be first in line to book your space flight?

... Other articles include the latest on gadgets, health innovations, luxury items and how to order your own bespoke car.
and ...

The April 22, 2005 business section of a "local" paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, printed the compensation rankings for the CEOs of publicly traded Minnesota companies (the numbers are in millions of dollars, they don't distinguish between CEO-founders and CEO's hired into a mature company):
1. William McGuire, UnitedHealth Group: 125
2. Robert Ulrich, Target: 40
3. Jerry Grundhofer, US Bancorp: 39
4. Steve Sanger, General Mills: 18
5. Randall Hogan, Pentair: 10
6. Joel Ronning, Digital River: 8.6
7. James McNerney, 3M: 8.5
8. Kendrick Melrose, Toro: 8.1
9. Richard Rompala, Valspar: 7.8
10. Arthur Collins, Medtronic: 6.7
There's more, but the above provides a decent overview. We are an aging society, so we may respond to these circumstances with less social upheaval than we would have 80 years ago. All the same, I do expect a green/socialist party to emerge in America in 2012, rather to the shock of pundits everywhere. (I'm a middle-of-the-road Clinton Democrat myself btw, but I'm old too :-).

Search engines I use now

At the pretty wired (ok, it was in Minnesota) .com startup I worked for in the 90s I was the first to discover and use Google. Alta Vista, my old favorite, had been in decline and Yahoo was still pretty much a directory/indexing company (for manual indices, I then preferred the Encyclopedia Britannica's site!).

Google was the clear winner from the start. It's been a Google world ever since.

There are rumblings, though, of rebellion. Googe's indexing engines are slow to hit many pages, especially Gooogle's own blogs. Yahoo seems to hit the pages Google misses. And, as Phil Bradley notes, there are many special purpose alternatives.

Here are a few I've lately found useful - or at least interesting:

Mindset (Yahoo): Yahoo search biased to commercial or non-commercial

Grokker: visual results

Brainboost: just facts

Google Scholar: academia

Google Portal: Google + Gmail + Google History search

Froogle and Pricescan: Shopping, also Amazon for the best overall user reviews.

Google Print: search full text of books
(added 5/28, thanks to a reference from Phil Bradley's blog)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Water boarding and other American recreational activities

The Torture Feature: Taxonomy of Torture

Form Direct Questioning to Sleep deprivation to Isolation to Water boarding to old-fashined beatings-to-death. All unremarkable everyday routines in modern America and our outsourced torture sites.

Intelligent design: the game of Spore

BBC NEWS | Technology | Sims creator takes on evolution
In the game, players start off as an amoeba in a 2D world, reminiscent of some early video games.

The aim is to grow and evolve generations of creatures, with players able to choose the physical attributes of their creation.

"You get to play every generation of the creature," said Mr Wright. "I want something boys can make scary things or casual gamers can make cute things."

He said the computer would analyse a creature's design and work out how it should behave.

In the demonstration, Mr Wright created a three-legged creature and said the software would work out how it should walk.

"This is the hardest piece of technology I have ever had to solve," he said.
The creatures are supposed to evolve through natural selection, and intelligent design. As I've noted in the context of another game, SkyNet comes not from the integrated missile defense system, but rather from the first generation of networked games that includes rat neural tissue in the networked game consoles ...

Security costs money, it's cheaper for banks to pay the crooks.

PBS | I, Cringely . May 26, 2005 - Phish or Phisher?

Cringely tackles phishing scams, and he's sufficiently impolitic to point out why credit card companies and banks don't fuss about this fraud:
Another problem is that a large group of phishing victims -- banks and credit card companies -- don't want to publicize their losses, which might lead to a loss of business as customers start to worry about being victimized. But it goes even further, because the financial institutions are only on the hook for reported thefts. So by not making a big deal of it, maybe you won't notice that extra $30 charge and won't demand that your credit card company cover the loss. Being upfront about phishing could easily double corporate losses because of it by forcing these outfits to actually assume the risk that they say they'll assume.

So nobody talks about it, and the costs of phishing are generally hidden in the average eight percent that credit card companies figure they'll lose through theft, bankruptcies, etc. In a business with interest charges often going above 20 percent, phishing is tolerable...
This has been true forever. When credit cards started being used outside of brick-and-mortar settings fraud and identity theft exploded -- but the costs of fraud are still much less than the costs of preventing fraud. Especially if the victims don't notice their losses.

It's no different with checks. Check fraud is a very common crime, but in general the banks and police don't bother to bring these cases to court. It's just not worth the hassle -- for them.

Of course we bear the costs, but that's another story. Happily there are plausible solutions:

... Thinking there must be a better solution I contacted Max Levchin, who used to chase phishers for a living as co-founder and CTO of PayPal, a company he left a few months after it was bought by eBay back in 2002.

"The way to nail phishing," says Max, "is for the companies being impersonated to offer cash bounties -- to the first person to report the incident, the first person to call the free host and take down the site, the first person who figures out the identity of the perp. This would mean admitting that the matter is much more serious than most people realize, but that's going to have to happen, sooner than later, if columns like yours continue to give coverage to the matter. On the other hand, it's peanuts, financially, for the companies involved. There is the adverse selection problem -- why not set up phishing sites, report them, and collect the bounties? -- but it's easy to mitigate this by making the pay-outs contingent on all kinds of personal information from the good samaritan, and making the bounties really significant financially only when criminal charges are brought against the perpetrators. In fact, about a year ago, I was thinking of starting a site that would be an independent agency, holding the bounty money in escrow, ensuring the actual payments, and providing the war-room-style up-to-the-second information about what the latest phishing scams were. In the end, I decided this was a project not too different from my PayPal work, and I could do more fun things with my personal time, but still think the idea is sound."

Race as a collection of genes that travel together

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: A Family Tree in Every Gene

The thesis of the article is that genes tend to travel together and that it's possible to assign a human being to a geographically isolated population in which that the gene set was very common. That assignment group can be called a "race" (actually, from the article, it might even be a "tribe" or "extended family") and this theory is a statistical (rather than cultural) model of "race".

This makes sense to me. I've been skeptical of passionate statements that "race does not exist" -- they reminded me of the earnest statements that "intelligence is not genetically determined". Well intentioned, but unpersuasive.
The New York Times
March 14, 2005
A Family Tree in Every Gene

Armand Marie Leroi, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Imperial College in London, is the author of "Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body."

... The dominance of the social construct theory [jf: of race, vs. the genetic theory] can be traced to a 1972 article by Dr. Richard Lewontin, a Harvard geneticist, who wrote that most human genetic variation can be found within any given "race." If one looked at genes rather than faces, he claimed, the difference between an African and a European would be scarcely greater than the difference between any two Europeans. A few years later he wrote that the continued popularity of race as an idea was an "indication of the power of socioeconomically based ideology over the supposed objectivity of knowledge." Most scientists are thoughtful, liberal-minded and socially aware people. It was just what they wanted to hear.

Three decades later, it seems that Dr. Lewontin's facts were correct, and have been abundantly confirmed by ever better techniques of detecting genetic variety. His reasoning, however, was wrong. His error was an elementary one, but such was the appeal of his argument that it was only a couple of years ago that a Cambridge University statistician, A. W. F. Edwards, put his finger on it.

The error is easily illustrated. If one were asked to judge the ancestry of 100 New Yorkers, one could look at the color of their skin. That would do much to single out the Europeans, but little to distinguish the Senegalese from the Solomon Islanders. The same is true for any other feature of our bodies. The shapes of our eyes, noses and skulls; the color of our eyes and our hair; the heaviness, height and hairiness of our bodies are all, individually, poor guides to ancestry.

But this is not true when the features are taken together. Certain skin colors tend to go with certain kinds of eyes, noses, skulls and bodies. When we glance at a stranger's face we use those associations to infer what continent, or even what country, he or his ancestors came from - and we usually get it right. To put it more abstractly, human physical variation is correlated; and correlations contain information.

Genetic variants that aren't written on our faces, but that can be detected only in the genome, show similar correlations. It is these correlations that Dr. Lewontin seems to have ignored. In essence, he looked at one gene at a time and failed to see races. But if many - a few hundred - variable genes are considered simultaneously, then it is very easy to do so. Indeed, a 2002 study by scientists at the University of Southern California and Stanford showed that if a sample of people from around the world are sorted by computer into five groups on the basis of genetic similarity, the groups that emerge are native to Europe, East Asia, Africa, America and Australasia - more or less the major races of traditional anthropology...

...Yet there is nothing very fundamental about the concept of the major continental races; they're just the easiest way to divide things up. Study enough genes in enough people and one could sort the world's population into 10, 100, perhaps 1,000 groups, each located somewhere on the map. This has not yet been done with any precision, but it will be. Soon it may be possible to identify your ancestors not merely as African or European, but Ibo or Yoruba, perhaps even Celt or Castilian, or all of the above.

... The billion or so of the world's people of largely European descent have a set of genetic variants in common that are collectively rare in everyone else; they are a race. At a smaller scale, three million Basques do as well; so they are a race as well. Race is merely a shorthand that enables us to speak sensibly, though with no great precision, about genetic rather than cultural or political differences...
A statistical model of "race" implies a (pardon the language) sort of n-dimensional "bell curve". Imagine a 'gene-space' consisting of (say) 100 or so marker gene values. If we treat this a 100-dimension space then an individual human should appear as a point in this space. If we add a dimension for frequency then we may "see" (humans aren't good at visualizing 100 dimensions -- pending our upgrades) "mountains" in the space. Those are "races". Most of us are somewhere on the flank of a mountain, but there ought to be (how can one resist the word) "pure" folk at the peaks.

Yahoo Search drops the big one: non-commercial search

Yahoo! Mindset

Ooookkkaaaay. This is actually interesting. Yahoo's new "Mindset" search allows you to weight search results based on how "commercial" they are. I tested this by searching on product with the slider set to "non-commercial". Instead of Google's 50 pages of ads I got a very useful review in the 3rd hit.

Of all the search experiments I've seen in the past year this one has impressed me the most. In the search wars, filtering out 'commercial' sites is a dramatic and risky move.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Stanford Center for Clinical Informatics: Seminar series

2004-05 Seminars - Stanford Center for Clinical Informatics (SCCI) - Stanford University School of Medicine

This is a remarkable resource for medical computing/health informatics folks. Admittedly it's a small audience, but the collection of resources and speakers is remarkable. Kudos to Stanford for putting it online.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Our first interstellar probe - leaving the solar system

NASA - Voyager Enters Solar System's Final Frontier

Heading for the stars.
The consensus of the team now is that Voyager 1, at 8.7 billion miles from the Sun, has at last entered the heliosheath, the region beyond the termination shock," said Dr. John Richardson from MIT, Principal Investigator of the Voyager plasma science investigation.

Why did Palm Fail? A Slashdot thread.

PalmOne to become Palm Again; PalmSource & Linux

I wrote this comment in a very interesting Slashdot discussion. Lately Slashdot discussions have been quite boring; but this one has good comments (other than mine of course!). This comment from a Palm developer is particularly interesting.
When I teach about data interfaces in healthcare systems, and the complexity of integration, I compare Palm original representation of a 'contact' (address book entry) with Outlook/Exchange server's contact representation. The complexity (non-computable complexity in some areas) of synchronizing between these two was a huge problem for Palm. I'm not sure when they figured out how much trouble they were in, but once Microsoft took over the enterprise with Exchange server Palm's fate was pretty much sealed.

In later versions of the OS they tried to better match Outlook's data models, but they botched the software layer that provided some backwards compatibility (arguably they should have given up on the backwards compatibility, they ended up with the worst of two options).

Linux on the Palm is not as important, really, as matching the Exchange server data model.

More broadly, synchronization is a problem that's been grossly underestimated in many quarters. It often requires a fuzzy non-deterministic reconciliation of semantic models; the same challenge that Berners-Lee addresses in the context of the semantic web. This issue is a major part (along with some perverse economics) of why healthcare IT projects are so difficult.

I hope Palm now understands these issues, I fear that much of their intellectual capital may have moved on...

The immense power of denial: one handed professional ball players

...But I Went Out and Achieved Anyway! | MetaFilter

One hand. No arm. No leg. Lots of denial. Never underestimate the power of denial.

Action Squad: Minneapolis Urban Adventurers

Action Squad: Minneapolis Urban Adventurers

This was featured on metafilter, but they didn't mention this is a Minneapolis street gang! I may have met some of these guys. Reminds me of exploring steam tunnels at college -- but in those days Caltech allowed undergrads to have keys to many buildings, so it wasn't even trespassing (though it wasn't approved either).

My personal experience with urban adventures was limited to rooftop camping in the ancient days when I had far more time than money.

The treadmill desk -- coming soon to an office near you

New Weight-Loss Focus: The Lean and the Restless - New York Times

A researcher studying idiosyncratic non-exercise activity and weight loss installs a treadmill desk:
... At meetings, he stands instead of sitting. Talking on the telephone, he paces around. In his office he has a treadmill in place of a desk. He got it last year when he saw the data from the study comparing lean people and obese ones.

'My computer is stationed over the treadmill,' he said. 'I work at 0.7 miles an hour.'

A stand-up desk might seem simpler, but he prefers the treadmill.

'Standing still is quite difficult,' he said. 'You have a natural tendency to want to move your legs. Zero point seven is the key. You don't get sweaty, you can't jiggle too much. It's about one step a second. It's very comfortable. Most people seem to like it around 0.7.'
I've seen a few people in our office sitting on a large ball while working -- keeping stable would certainly burn calories. This takes things to the next step. I'd read that he'd done this, but I hadn't seen the speed setting -- 1 step a second seems quite pleasant.

All of can practice standing at meetings. Lose weight and get the meeting done faster ..

I wonder how long it will take to turn the "treadmill desk" into a commercial product. When that happens perhaps employers would consider paying for them through employee FlexPlan coverage.

The UK approach to patient privacy with electronic health records

Britain toughens patient privacy

We're unlikely to get such strong protections; historically US law does very little to protect privacy. It's nice to know someone's doing it however. In practice using the full power of these restrictions would be unwise for almost any patient, but it's easier to loosen such rules than to tighten them later. Emphases mine.
The United Kingdom's Health Department published tough new rules to guarantee that patients in England can control access to their electronic health care records in a system under development by the National Health Service.

The NHS National Programme for Information Technology kicked off a 10-year, $10 billion project in late 2003 to develop a nationwide e-health record (EHR) system for 50 million patients and 30,000 doctors in England. It would not cover Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The NHS Care Record Guarantee, published May 23, will allow patients to prevent information in their records from being shared, Health Ministry officials said. But the quality of care could deteriorate if patients block information sharing.

The health record guarantee also states that:

* Patients will be able to obtain a list of everyone who looks at their records.

* NHS will not share information outside the agency, particularly with other government agencies.

* Records will only be shared with health care providers or social service or education organizations with patient permission.

* NHS will take disciplinary action against anyone who accesses health records without permission or a good reason.

The new NHS electronic Care Records Service “has enormous potential benefits for patients," said Lord Warner, UK health minister. The system allows medical staff throughout England to have instant access to patient histories, including allergies, current medications and recent treatment.

Warner said the department developed the new privacy rules to address any patients’ concerns about the confidentiality of their records.

The Care Guarantee clearly establishes the rights of patients to control who has access to their information, Warner said. "These rules will be backed up with tough security measures to prevent unauthorized access to records, ensuring everyone can have confidence in the new system," he said.

National Provider (physician, pharmacist, etc) Identifier assignment system - Not quite ready yet!

National Plan & Provider Enumeration System - Home Page

As of May 23rd physicians and other healthcare "providers" are supposed to start obtaining their unique ID numbers that are the basis for many future healthcare transactions. I figured I'd give it a try.

It didn't work. I entered my UPIN number around step 5 or so and the server crashed (I noticed in the state drop down list that MN was in an odd location, not quite alpha-sorted):
Internal Server Error

The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.

Please contact the server administrator, you@your.address and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log.

Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Hmm. A few teething problems! Another bad sign was the initial login. They use the "secret question" method for password recovery, the approach favored by 99/100 crackers and identity thieves.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Evangelical america

False Prophets
Surely there is no subject on which more words are currently being said with less real meaning than that of the intersection of religion and politics in America. And that is why you ought to read a recent New Republic piece by the indispensable Alan Wolfe, who cuts through the fog like a search-light.

In the format of a review of Jim Wallis' much-discussed God's Politics, along with a collection of case studies of religio-political cooperative ventures, Wolfe pens a long, eloquent and often angry essay about the growing willingness of evangelical Christian leaders to reject the liberal principles of tolerance, pluralism and church-state separation that made the growth of their own tradition possible in the first place...

As you may know, in the Judeo-Christian tradition one who takes a prophetic stance believes the moral and spiritual conditions of a society have become so depraved that the faithful are obliged to step outside the normal bounds of civility and respect for authority and call down the righteous wrath of God. Taking a prophetic stance is by definition exceptional; occasionally essential, but always spiritually as well as politically dangerous. And that is why true prophets are so greatly honored, and false prophets are so feared and despised...
Two interesting and thoughtful discussions -- both Wolfe's article and the above commentary. Wolfe doesn't mention the history of catholicism as a state religion, but from what he does write I gather he'd agree with me.

Google Earth vs MSN Earth - the next battle in mass market earth imaging

So now it's Google vs. Microsoft to own the earth: MSN Virtual Earth To Take On Google Earth.

To be fair to Microsoft, they've had TerraServer around for ages. They just didn't use it very well. Now they know how.

And where is Amazon's business photo project? I couldn't find any St. Paul business with a neighborhood image.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Economist's Millenium edition is now available online (five years later)

Reporting on a thousand years

It only took them a few years, but the Economist has put their justly famed 'Millenium Issue' online. I came across it by accident; on review it's even better than I remembered. Well worth a quick browse for fans of history and economics. This was one of my all time favorite articles.

Identity theft: almost hopeless

Data at Bank of America, Wachovia, others compromised - May. 23, 2005
Account information on the customers was illegally sold by bank employees to a man identified as Orazio Lembo, whom police said was doing business by illegally posing as a collection agency.

When police in Hackensack, N.J., first announced arrests in the case on April 28, they estimated that more than 500,000 people were affected. That number was raised to 676,000 Friday. Because some people have more than one account, Hackensack Police Chief Charles "Ken" Zisa says the number of accounts breached may top 1 million.

"As this gets going, these numbers are going to go up and up," Hackensack Detective Capt. Frank Lomia told CNN earlier Monday, adding that more arrests may be coming in the case.
One of the most interesting thefts of this kind involved a legal purchase of such information through a legal "front" bank. This is crude by comparison.

It does emphasize, however, how hopeless the situation is. It is not coincidental that fingerprint scanners are being integrated into some supermarket checkouts.

If they were smart, the feds would hire Bruce Schneier to devise a solution.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Revenge of the Sith -- not so bad, really

No really, not so bad. Lucas manages to resolve a few of the gaping holes in the plot of the original series and I found the dialog less painful than expected. It's probably the second best movie of the six, behind The Empire Strikes Back.

No spoilers, but a few side notes. I think I saw the Millenium Falcon in one scene, it's entering a massive docking area towards the lower level. The relationship between Chewbacca and Han Solo is neatly inverted; perhaps Chewie was not on Han's ship by accident. R2D2 knows more than one might suspect. Lastly Lucas compensates a bit for Episode IV's (first movie) dismissive portrayal of adoption; a change possibly related to his own adopted children.

Prior to the movie, I recommend reading this ver well written and amusing blog - The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster: 20050403. I'm now convinced the author is not really in the pay of George Lucas, but he seemed to have some advanced knowledge of some of the minor secrets of 'Revenge of the Sith'.

15 answers to creationist nonsense and the outcome of one theocratic sta

Science & Technology at Scientific American.com: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense -- Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up. (July 2002)

A useful reference if you want to try to fight for the enlightenment. Personally I'd be happy to settle for protecting the teaching of science and introducing an hour a day of mandatory Republican theology. That solution, at least, would have the virtue of honesty. Grrr.

But ...

Much as I may fume about America's latest 'awakening', and our transition towards a theocratic society, it's worth noting that I was born into a true theocratic state. The result should be a warning to American fundamentalists opposing the separation of church and state.

I was born in Quebec, a state-within-a-nation ruled by the Catholic church. Quebec was a true, classic, theocratic state until the 1960s, when church rule collapsed and the province underwent the fastest 'demographic transition' in the history of the west. I think it was called it the 'quiet revolution', but it's largely unknown outside of the province. Except for a convulsive episode of terrorism that killed at least one man the transition was relatively benign.

In my childhood all education was religious, and although they were retiring several of my high school teachers were still priests and nuns. My high school world history text proclaimed the just wonders and miracles of the Children's Crusade -- I was too honest to steal a copy, but I wish I had one now. I did have real science teachers (and good ones too), but my favorite nun knew me (fondly actually) as the 'ape man'.

What was the outcome of this theocratic rule? Empty churches, no priests, and a profound cyncism about religion. Quebec is slowly recovering but the church is still a spent force 40 years after the revolution.

American fundamentalists should take note. Victory may turn sour.

We will have national health insurance in america

Decoding Health Insurance - New York Times

A physician long opposed to both personal health insurance and national health insurance changes his mind thanks to the pending arrival of very inexpensive individual risk measures through genetic testing. He feels that so many people, rich and poor alike, will be unable to obtain health insurance that there will be no alternative to national risk pooling:
... As a doctor I have always been against health insurance except for catastrophic care and for the very poor. It has been my experience that the doctor-patient relationship is the most personal and rewarding for both the patient and the doctor when a clear, direct fiduciary relationship exists. In such a circumstance, both individuals value the encounter more, which invariably leads to more time, more attention to potentially important details, and a higher level of patient compliance and satisfaction - all of which invariably result in a better outcome.

But with the end of pooling risk within defined groups, there is only one solution to the problem of paying for health care in the United States: to pool risk for the entire nation. (Under the rubric of health care I mean a comprehensive package that includes preventive care, acute care and catastrophic care.) Although I never thought I'd advocate a government-sponsored, obviously non-profit, tax-supported, universal access, single-payer plan, I've changed my mind: the sooner we move to such a system, the better off we will be. Only with universal health care will we be able to pool risk for the entire country and share what nature has dealt us; only then will there be no motivation for anyone or any organization to ferret out an individual's confidential, genetic makeup.
On the one hand, it's hard at first to see why bad genes should be much different from all the other bad luck that denies health coverage to many people. The difference is that this 'bad luck' strikes Republicans as well as Democrats. So I agree, there will be some sort of obligatory risk pooling, and it may turn out to be hard to use any criteria but citizenship to define the covered pool.

BTW, I agree with him on the pernicious effects of health insurance on the doctor-patient relationship.

Derivatives for the small investor

Update 5/22/05: One of the most important things a small investor may need to hedge against is a fall in t0day's overinflated housing markets.

In addition to HedgeStreet (below), which is up and running, a usenet thread suggested two articles:
The products referred to in the articles are not available yet (Macro Markets LLC is a dismal holding page), so for now HedgeStreet seems to be the only current option for hedging home prices. I don't know how retail investor friendly these products will be. In practice retail investors may need a few months of protection (transient ownership of two homes) or a couple of years of protection (short term ownership or plan to sell prior to fund retirement).

Marginal Revolution: Derivatives on housing prices
Macro Securities Research, a company affiliated with Robert J. Shiller, the Yale economist, has reached an agreement with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to list pairs of derivative instruments that are essentially index funds linked to home prices in certain markets. One instrument in each pair will rise as its market index rises; the other will rise as the same index falls. That will let investors bet on the direction of housing prices. Similar, but less sensitive, vehicles are being offered by HedgeStreet, a firm in San Mateo, Calif., that offers small-scale derivatives speculation online.

I wonder how the accounting will work. I'd rather use my 401K investments to hold these small-investor derivatives.

Blog news: Bloglines and Blogger on the mend

I use Bloglines (Yahoo Ask Jeeves owned) (thanks Jessica for the correction) as my blog (rss, syndication, atom, etc) reader and blogger/blogspot (Google owned) as my cross-platform (Firefox >> Safari) authoring tool.

Both have had their problems. Blogger has been by far the worse, and I've looked seriously at moving somewhere/anywhere else. So, after 3 weeks of good service, I'm happy to say Blogger is doing far better than they were. Maybe they've turned the corner.

Bloglines has been pretty good, but about 5 months ago they moved to a very annoying version of the public view of one's bloglines collection. It was such a step backwards I took the link to that view off my news page. Now I can happily report that they've silently reversed course and reinstated the old view. I've restored the link to my bloglines collection.

Not all progress is backwards! Now if Blogger would only fix their Safari support, add blockquote to the BlogThis! widget, actually index the blogs more frequently than every other month, and put a shortcut to the full editor from the screen that appears when one submits a draft ...

Climate Change: The Elizabeth Colbert New Yorker review

The New Yorker: Fact

The review is now freely available. I believe Minnesota has been significantly affected. The Twin Cities used to be at the southern end of a very cold band of weather along with the Canadian prairies, in the past five years this band has moved north of us. Our winters are substantially warmer; the difference isn't a few degrees of global warming, it's a shift to Iowa's weather. For my part this is not an improvement; the temperature range of 30-40F is boring and fat inducing (neither reliable ice/snow nor comfortable bicycling).

BTW, I came to this page via Philip Greenspun's blog, which I've just added to my collection. I'm still discovering excellent writing and new blogs, even as some of my old favorites (Boing-Boing) are going through a boring patch.

The war on Newsweek: Frank Rich strikes back

It's All Newsweek's Fault - New York Times

Frank Rich demolishes the Bush administration. Again. It's so easy to do it's boring, but for the sake of history someone has to do it.

The preponderance of evidence is that interrogators, torturers and bored guards mistreated the Koran to annoy and infuriate their prisoners. That is hardly surprising, they are average young men, often incredibly stressed, and often not well supervised. I also recall reading over the years (more than one source) that this sort of 'psy-op' is reasonably successful with some subjects. It is likely some version of (ex. the dog policy) was included in official or semi-official policy about 'acceptable torture'.

The Bushies decided to use this chance to jump on Newsweek, currently owned by an old enemy -- The Washington Post. Frank Rick trashed them.

George Bush is going to make Bill Clinton's legacy look golden.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The media matters: keeping the army slighly less dishonest

Army Faltered in Investigating Detainee Abuse - New York Times

The armies investigations of torture and misconduct have been very lethargic, except when the mainstream media intervenes:
...While the proposal to close the case was ultimately rejected by senior officials, documents show that the inquiry was at a virtual standstill when an article in The New York Times on March 4, 2003, reported that at least one of the prisoner's deaths had been ruled a homicide, contradicting the military's earlier assertions that both had died of natural causes. Activity in the case quickly resumed.
The news media, battered and in disrepute, still matters.

The spouses view of a terminal disease

BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | After Ivan

Ivan Noble died undefeated. His BBC diaries became a book, and now his wife Almut, a cancer researcher, has spoken to the BBC about her experiences:
After Ivan

In Ivan Noble's tumour diaries, published on this site until his death earlier this year, one woman was often mentioned but never identified. As a book of his columns comes out, and a bursary remembering him is launched, his wife Almut has decided it's time to talk...

... One of the things Ivan and I used to talk a lot about was time. In 2002, about two months after Ivan's diagnosis and just after he'd started writing his diary, we heard a psychologist say something very striking. He said people see their lives like an arch - going up and then stretching on some time into the future.

He said that when you face a potentially terminal illness, this whole view into the future breaks off, and people don't know how to deal with that - they're terrified.

That's exactly how we felt, there was no certainty any more. You lose the concept of yourself as a person because you have no idea what's going to happen in a few months or years.

Then you try to live with this uncertainty and really focus on living in the present, on what's happening now. This is tough work, though, because you have to watch what you say and even watch what you think.

Every day, you find you can't just think "We'll do this some time" - if you plan for anything ahead, you have to catch yourself. I would find myself saying things - "maybe in a couple of years we'll do such and such" - and then wishing I hadn't said it. Having to watch your every thought is one of the things that makes it really physically exhausting to live in this way.

You also lose all sense of restraint - you don't see the point. It was very tough but it enabled us to do things we wouldn't have done otherwise.

It was a time of extreme emotions in both directions - it was extremely sad and terrifying, but at times we were extremely happy. I know the past two-and-a-half years were quite exceptional; I also know it wasn't all bad...

... for me the real irony was that it happened at this particular point in our lives; that was the really tough part. We were just at the top of what we'd been hoping for ever. We had found the jobs we always wanted to do. We had just started our family. It was all going wonderfully well and then this happened.

It's dangerous to think about "why?" There are really no causes known for these types of cancer, so there's no point agonising about whether he could have prevented it by doing something differently. At the end of the day it's just bad luck.

Humans probably just have to accept that people get cancer - but I don't think we have to accept that people will die from cancer. We can do something about that - there have been incredible advances in treatment, and a lot of cancers can be cured.

Our bodies are so incredibly complex that you just have to accept that there is a possibility of something going wrong. That's just what it is. Something goes wrong. It's your own body, it's nothing from outside...

Like A Hole In The Head: Living With A Brain Tumour is published by Hodder on 23 May. The BBC's proceeds will go to Medecins Sans Frontieres UK, the charity chosen by Ivan.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Next from Google: higher resolution satellite images

The New York Times > Technology > Google Moves to Challenge Web Portals
In addition to Fusion, the company showed off Google Earth, a global database of satellite images of higher resolution than previously available. It will be added to Google's offerings within a few weeks.
Another result of the Keyhole acquisition? I'm very much looking forward to seeing these.

The inevitable arrives: the Google Portal

Google Personal

Via Jacob Reider -- Google's personal home page.

There are the usual news summary links (including all of my favorites, remarkably. Maybe I should work for Google), but the key links arise from connecting automatically to one's Google profie:
  • Gmail: recent messages
  • Search history link
Once again, repeat after me, "My privacy died in 1996. I am fine without it, in any case there's nothing I can do to bring it back."

I love to see Amazon, Yahoo and Google slugging it out like brawling sailors; this is another right hook from Google. Good thing Microsoft has passed out in the corner. I am surprised, by the way, how badly Apple has blown their (subscriber-only) .Mac advantage.

PS. I've had one home page for all my machines for about 7 years. Today I switched to this Google Portal (talk about a strong impact!). When I went to do so, however, I discovered a new Firefox feature (I'm on the latest release). In the home page setting, Firefox will now allow one to specify multiple home pages, each of which opens in its own tab. I set the tabs up to Google first and my old home page second, then had Firefox save both as my 'home page(s)'. Ahhhh.

It's very important that girls study engineering ...


From a report on unemployment performed by the main professional society for electrical engineers:
Respondents were asked to describe their current employment status.

Modal respondents (42%) responded that they were involuntarily unemployed. About 26% had been re-employed full-time as a technical professional; the rest were employed in a nontechnical profession (4%), employed part-time (8%), or self-employed (9%). Some 4% reported voluntary unemployment; while 2% said they were retired voluntarily; and 5% said they were retired involuntarily.
These are old numbers, but they were quoted this month in Fortune magazine as though they were current and was true of all electrical engineers. I couldn't believe the quote, so I googled and found te PDF (link is to HTML extract). The Fortune quote was very misleading.

Even so, there's a lot of unemployment among electrical engineers. Some of our best and our brightest. This occurs even as very, very wealthy CEOs demand increases in immigration visas for young engineers willing to work for 1/4 the cost.

Hmm. Anyone notice any analogies to how we staff our nursing homes and how we obtain child care? For that matter, how we staff rural hospitals?

In any case, tell me again why it's important to encourage girls to study science and engineering? Is this some misogynistic conspiracy?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Interactive Preventive Services Selector Search

Interactive Preventive Services Selector Search

This Web application and online guide identifies clinical preventive services for screening, counseling, and preventive medication based on a patient's age, sex, and pregnancy status. It reflects current recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and can be used as a clinical tool for delivering appropriate services.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Consumers Union: Public Site for telecomm service issues

hearusnow.org: Share Your Story

It took CU many years to even admit the web existed. Eventually, after much pain, they did put up a quite good web site. Now they're setting up a complaint community focusing on telecommunications issues.
Consumers across the country are dealing with phone bills, cell phone contracts, cable packages and Internet scams. If you are experiencing problems, you are not alone. Choose a section below and search the stories to find one that most closely matches the situation in which you find yourself. We don't have all the answers to every problem consumers may face, but some consumers have shared solutions and suggestions. If you have a story, please share it, consumes across the country are waiting to hear from you!
(via Slashdot)

Dark days for PBS: Bill Moyers' speech to the National Conference for Media Reform

Free Press News : Bill Moyers' speech to the National Conference for Media Reform
I was naive, I guess. I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House. But that’s what Kenneth Tomlinson has done.

On Fox News this week he denied that he’s carrying out a White House mandate or that he’s ever had any conversations with any Bush administration official about PBS. But the New York Times reported that he enlisted Karl Rove to help kill a proposal that would have put on the CPB board people with experience in local radio and television. The Times also reported that “on the recommendation of administration officials” Tomlinson hired a White House flack (I know the genre) named Mary Catherine Andrews as a senior CPB staff member. While she was still reporting to Karl Rove at the White House, Andrews set up CPB’s new ombudsman’s office and had a hand in hiring the two people who will fill it, one of whom once worked for … you guessed it … Kenneth Tomlinson.

I would like to give Mr. Tomlinson the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t. According to a book written about the Reader’s Digest when he was its Editor-in-Chief, he surrounded himself with other right-wingers — a pattern he’s now following at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Propaganda of the Enlightenment

Contrary Brin: The Propaganda of Enlightenment

Tolerance. Suspicion of authority. Acceptance of diversity. Reasoned discussion.

All reinforced by the insidious propaganda of the enlightenment. David Brin, a Guardian of the Englightenment (ok, so that phrase didn't work), points to our sustaining propaganda. A good read.

The cost of computer viruses

Backup speed with Symantec Norton Antivirusbackground scan enabled: 200 Mb/sec.
Backup speed with Norton Antivirus background scan disabled: 300 Mb/sec.
That's one heck of a performance penalty. My Mac doesn't pay this penalty -- that's an enormous real-world performance advantage.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

New resolution: when working on PC check latest backup

I've been messing with my XP machine lately, dealing with some drive issues (see link, above). Things were pretty much sorted out, but the machine's been running hot and a fan is noisy, so I did some quick fan swaps. In the process an IDE cable seemed to loosen from one drive, so I pushed it back in.

Then, a few minutes later, I noticed it was popping out a bit again. Darn thing -- it seemed looser than it ought to be. I pushed it in, a little harder.

With airflow reconfigured and fans in place I rebooted... Of course I got the friendly message telling me I needed a boot drive. Darn cable must have popped out. I popped the cover off and looked -- yes, it seemed loose. I went to push it in again, which was when my frontal lobes engaged and I began to sweat. I very carefully and gently pulled the IDE cable out.

I'd flattened one of the IDE pins. Which is when I remembered my last backup for this machine was 5 days old (due to a backup reconfiguration process) and was offsite. If the pin couldn't be fixed I was in trouble.

I turned the cooling fan on me and I very carefully used a variety of old surgical instruments to more or less straighten the pin. It didn't break and I was able to reinsert the cable and restart.

Lesson learned. The next time I pop the case for a non-emergent repair, I'll make sure I have a current backup in place.

The metaverse cometh

Open Source Metaverse Project

It helps if you remember Snow Crash and Neuromancer.

Who are at the Iraqi insurgents, and why are they fighting?

The Mystery of the Insurgency - New York Times
The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.
The best guesses seem to be that the anti-occupation and anti-government forces are a mixture of millenialist terrorists, straight out simple criminals, Baathist loyalists, Sunni racists, and, maybe, a nationalist agenda.

Compared to other insurgencies, the nationalist theme seems the weakest.

The 'incoherence' doesn't mean the Iraqi goverment and people, and the US, will win. It may be that the insurgents are quite willing to destroy Iraq in order to further their own agenda. Destroying Iraq seems doable.

A retrospective view of Microsoft's Hailstorm

Markl's Thoughts: Don Box and HailStorm

I never had a good sense of what Microsoft's Hailstorm was, except for the central role for identity management. Here a former Hailstorm developer describes it from an engineering perspective. Stripped of all the Microsoft marketing gibberish it sounds like it was quite interesting. Alas, it also sounds anathema to Microsoft's business model, which is entirely based on controlling key data structures.

Bogus science: television and video games improve IQ

baltimoresun.com - Getting enough TV, video games in your diet?
Steven Johnson wants to do for popular culture what the Atkins diet did for red meat - make it OK to enjoy something that's supposed to be bad for you.

It's the "Don't eat your vegetables" approach to life: Watch The Sopranos and 24 on TV, play video games like "Grand Theft Auto," go see the new Star Wars movie and surf the Internet. Then watch your IQ rise!

Johnson is dead serious, however. His new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (Riverhead, $23.95), boasts not only a long title but also a provocative premise. Johnson argues that the complexity of modern culture provides a rigorous cognitive workout and develops skills that are useful in personal and professional settings.
This is ridiculous, but it gets so much press that I feel obliged to kvetch.

Even if IQ is indeed rising over the past 50 years in the nations monitored, let me introduce one equation: correction != causation.

If IQ were rising for whatever reason, one would expect a "smarter" audience to expect more sophisticated entertainment and play more complex games.


As to what might cause such an IQ rise (if is real), I can think easily of one far more persuasive explanation. Consider this sequence.
1. Nothing.
2. Mail.
3. Mail + phone.
4. Mail + phone + fax.
5. Mail + phone + fax + email.
6. Mail + phone + fax + email + cell phone.
7. Mail + phone + fax + email + cell phone + multiple email accounts.
8. Mail + phone + fax + email + cell phone + multiple email accounts + instant messaging.
9. 8. Mail + phone + fax + email + cell phone + multiple email accounts + instant messaging + VOIP/media phones.
And that's just person-person communication. Life is getting exponentially more complex for everyone in every way -- all the time. Just to get through the average day we're pushing old brains into overdrive, starting from birth onwards.

We live in a very high intensity environment. If we're looking for an explanation of why IQ is increasing, forget about the tube. Think about all the rest of life.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Onion takes on Scientology

The Onion | Scientology Losing Ground To New Fictionology

Who dares to bell the Scientology cat? The Onion dares ...
Fictionology's central belief, that any imaginary construct can be incorporated into the church's ever-growing set of official doctrines, continues to gain popularity. Believers in Santa Claus, his elves, or the Tooth Fairy are permitted—even encouraged—to view them as deities. Even corporate mascots like the Kool-Aid Man are valid objects of Fictionological worship.

'My personal savior is Batman,' said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Greg Jurgenson. 'My wife chooses to follow the teachings of the Gilmore Girls. Of course, we are still beginners. Some advanced-level Fictionologists have total knowledge of every lifetime they have ever lived for the last 80 trillion years.'

"Sure, it's total bullshit," Jurgenson added. "But that's Fictionology. Praise Batman!"

The American National Identity Card

Godwin Overnight Express | MetaFilter

So we have a national identity card now -- at least for people over 16. We have done it in an ingeniously American way -- by the back door and roundabouts and not all at once. For all that it will happen entirely; eventually it will be common for early teenagers to get a version of the 'drivers license' that is purely an identity card. Perhaps the "driver's license number" will move to a national standard, rather than being assigned by a state, and lastly it will be assigned at birth and serve as both email address and phone number.

Or there will be some other typically messy American solution that will achieve much the same end in a less direct fashion.

This was inevitable, even before 9/11. It will also be inevitably abused. We are the kind of nation that does these things covertly, so be necessity we do not put essential legal protections in place.

Chicago: story of the nation in the nation

Encyclopedia of Chicago

Everything about Chicago. Chicago is that odd nation just below Lake Michigan; the one that takes a day to drive around and longer to drive through. People born there seem to never leave, it drains the midwest. It's a world unto itself, and now it has a web encyclopedia.

The Feynman Letters

Guardian Unlimited | Life | 'This is how science is done'

Feyman's daughter has published a book of her father's letters. A few are excerpted here. The last letter in the set was written to his first wife; she died of tuberculosis 3 years after they were married. He knew she was dying when they were wed, there were no effective treatments for tb then.

Humanity has Joseph Kony. It also had, for a time, Richard Feynman. It's a tough call for the intergalactic center for disease control.

I was, very briefly, a student of Richard Feynman. He had a curious effect; he raised the IQ of everyone in the room with him -- at least a 10 point gain. As long as he was nearby I could understand what he was explaining. Once he left, however, my understanding would fade.

Self-replicating robot

news@nature.com: quicktime

Don't worry about the robots. We still have decades of dominion.

Shock - the pre-election color coded alerts were political

USATODAY.com - Ridge reveals clashes on alerts

Ridge confesses the pre-election Homeland security alerts were indeed driven by the White House. Just as the tin hats suspected.

But there was a real threat you see. Worse even then bin Laden. There was John Kerry ...

David Brin on modernism, majority rule, the implied expectations of Bill Frist, and the role of propaganda

Contrary Brin: Modern(ist) Political Subtlety - or Why "Majority Rule" is a Deadly Ruse

David is a deep thinker, and this one reads like he spent some time on it. Fascinating. BTW, he also references Monbiot's exceptional article.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

God = Bush. The BushFish

BushFish.org: Supporting God and Country

I actually think this is not a parody. But it could be. Decide for yourself.

The Beast was Nero, 616 was his number, and Revelations was about Rome

National Post

I'm sure the 'Left Behind' guys will fold their franchise now. Sure they wouldn't persist in delusion?
... fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.

Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, said the discovery appears to spell the end of 666 as the devil's prime number.

"This is a very nice piece to find," Dr. Aitken said. "Scholars have argued for a long time over this, and it now seems that 616 was the original number of the beast."

The tiny fragment of 1,500-year-old papyrus is written in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, and contains a key passage from the Book of Revelation.

Where more conventional versions of the Bible give 666 as the "number of the beast," or the sign of the anti-Christ whose coming is predicted in the book's apocalyptic verses, the older version uses the Greek letters signifying 616.

"This is very early confirmation of that number, earlier than any other text we've found of that passage," Dr. Aitken said. "It's probably about 100 years before any other version."

The fragment was part of a hoard of previously illegible manuscripts discovered in an ancient garbage dump outside the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. Although the papyrus was first excavated in 1895, it was badly discoloured and damaged. Classics scholars at Oxford University were only recently able to read it using new advanced imaging techniques.

Elijah Dann, a professor of philosophy and religion at the University of Toronto, said the new number is unlikely to make a dent in the popularity of 666.

"Otherwise, a lot of sermons would have to be changed and a lot of movies rewritten," he said with a laugh. "There's always someone with an active imagination who can put another interpretation on it.

"It just shows you that when you study something as cryptic and mystic as the Book of Revelation there's an almost unlimited number of interpretations."

The book is thought to have been written by the disciple John and according to the King James Bible, the traditional translation of the passage reads: "Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."

But Dr. Aitken said that translation was drawn from much later versions of the New Testament than the fragment found in Oxyrhynchus. "When we're talking about the early biblical texts, we're always talking about copies and they are copies made, at best, 150 to 200 years after [the original] was written," she said.

"They can have mistakes in the copying, changes for political or theological reasons ... it's like a detective story piecing it all together."

Dr. Aitken said, however, that scholars now believe the number in question has very little to do the devil. It was actually a complicated numerical riddle in Greek, meant to represent someone's name, she said.

"It's a number puzzle -- the majority opinion seems to be that it refers to [the Roman emperor] Nero."

Revelation was actually a thinly disguised political tract, with the names of those being criticized changed to numbers to protect the authors and early Christians from reprisals. "It's a very political document," Dr. Aitken said. "It's a critique of the politics and society of the Roman empire, but it's written in coded language and riddles."
This is only one of many discoveries waiting to be discovered in a crumbling ball of old Egyptian garbage. Doubtless planted by Bill Clinton, the AntiChrist.

If I lived in Grand Rapids Michigan, I'd be worried now.

World War II: The Historian's view

Boston.com / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / how_good_was_the_good_war

I came to this one via Metafilter, which is hitting on all cylinders today. It's a good update for those who don't follow recent historical analyses of WW II. Few American papers would dare today to print this.

The Triumph of the Will: How to believe the earth is cooling down.

George Monbiot Junk Science
...For the past three weeks, a set of figures has been working a hole in my mind. On April 16th, New Scientist published a letter from the famous botanist David Bellamy. Many of the world’s glaciers, he claimed, “are not shrinking but in fact are growing. ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980.”(1) His letter was instantly taken up by climate change deniers. And it began to worry me. What if Bellamy was right?
He wasn't. It turns out Bellamy was deluded and, based on his age and prior reputation, is perhaps now a bit demented.

That's the story, however. In an appropriately footnoted article, more like a journal article than an essay, Monbiot tracks down the source of some common statistics championed by those who wish strongly to believe that the earth is not getting warmer. He follows the numbers to the door of ... Lyndon Larouche.

Larouche. That is one heck of an influential nutcake.

Monbiot has done a fantastic job. This article deserves to be featured in many a university.

Dominionism - a term for the ideology of the violent christian theocracy


Orcinus has a long posting on totalitarianism. It's all interesting, but this quote from a Chris Hedges interview stood out. Dominionism is a good word. Emphases mine.
...If you look at the ideology that pervades this movement, and the term we use for it is dominionism, it comes from Genesis, where the sort of founders of this movement, Rousas Rushdoony and others, talk about how God gave man -- this is a very patriarchal movement -- dominion over the land. And dominionists believe that they have been tasked by God to create the Christian society through violence, I would add. Violence, the aesthetic of violence is a very powerful component within this movement. The ideology, when you parse it down and look what it's made up of, is essentially an ideology of exclusion and of hatred. It is a totalitarian ideology. It is not religious in any way. These people quote, as they did at this convention, selectively and with gross distortions from the Gospels. You cannot read the four Gospels and walk away and tell me that Jesus was not a pacifist. I'm not a pacifist, but Jesus clearly was. They draw from the Book of Revelations the only time in the Bible, and that's a very questionable book, as Biblical scholars have pointed out for centuries, the only time when you can argue that Jesus endorsed violence and the apocalyptic visions of Paul. And they do this to create an avenging Christ.

They have built a vision of America that is radically -- and a vision of this -- and latched onto a religious movement or awakening that is radically different from previous awakenings, and there have been several throughout American history. In all religious revivals, Christian religious revivals in American history, the pull was to get believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society. This one is very, very different. It is about taking control of secular society. And, of course, I think, as you and others have done such a good job of pointing out, they have built this dangerous alliance with the neoconservatives to essentially create across denominational lines. And we saw this at the convention with the, you know, radical Catholics with -- even there were even people from the Salvation Army; they have recently begun reaching out to the Mormons -- a kind of united front. Those doctrinal differences are still there and still stock, but a front to create what they term a 'Christian America.'
Interesting quote on involving Mormonism, I've wondered about that. I have only studied the early religious awakenings, but I can believe we are entering new terrain in our history.

There's more in the post.

The bell curve of evil - Josef Stalin and Joseph Kony

Economist.com | Justice versus reconciliation
The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group led by Joseph Kony, a man who thinks himself semi-divine, has spent the past 18 years slaughtering peasants, enslaving children and slicing off the lips and noses of conscripts it suspects of disloyalty...

...Mr Kony's gang has reportedly abducted more than 20,000 children. Some are forced to fight, some to carry bags, others to have sex with the fighters. By way of initiation, many are obliged to club, stamp or bite to death their friends and relatives, and then to lick their brains, drink their blood and even eat their boiled flesh.
Sure, Stalin killed perhaps 1000 times as many people as Joseph Kony had. Stalin had the opportunity and talent to fully maximize the harm of his evil. And yet, without that opportunity, he might have been just another vile and nasty thug.

Kony, on the other hand, may be "one in a million", among the top 1000 most fundamentally evil men of our world. I suspect even Saddam, bin Laden, Mao and Stalin would find him somewhat repulsive, though Mengele might recognize a kindred spirit.

There may yet be hope for a weak justice. The ICC is not strong, but it is persistent. Very persistent...
... the ICC [International Criminal Court] is determined to succeed in northern Uganda. Its credibility is at stake. Catching Mr Kony may take years or even decades. But unlike other international tribunals, the ICC is permanent. There is no time limit for its work. Its indictments, once issued, remain in force until the indictee is either tried or dead. It can wait for Mr Kony, who may incidentally be running out of hiding places.

His fellow Acholis hate him. His friends in Sudan are turning their backs on him. Donors are pressuring Mr Museveni to pacify the north (and to abide by constitutional term limits, but that is another story). Mr Kony might hope to hide in a state that is not a party to the ICC. But who would want him?

Gamma ray burster - black hole birth?

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Blast hints at black hole birth

Gamma Ray Burst 050509b may have come from the collision of two massive neutron starts in a mature elliptical galaxy.
To the surprise of the astronomers, the brief burst came from the outskirts of an old elliptical galaxy.

"This was remarkable," said Professor Bloom, "it seems to be coming from a fairly old galaxy, a galaxy with no new stars being formed."

"We have never seen a Gamma Ray Burst coming from an old galaxy like this before."

Astronomers divide Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) into two types. The long duration type seems to come from the collapse of young massive stars into black holes.

The short duration type - like GRB 050509b - appears to come from the collision of two neutron stars (which also result in black holes) or a neutron star and a black hole.
We live in a reasonably mature elliptical galaxy. These are the galaxies that, based on a data point of one, can support technological civilization(s). This burst of gamma rays might represent the demise of whatever might have been in that galaxy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I'm trying Copernic Desktop Search 1.5 again -- because they claim to index Eudora

Faughnan's Tech: Copernic/AOL: current leader in the sponsored (freebie) Windows desktop search race

I think Yahoo Desktop Search (X1 freebie) is the best PC desktop search tool -- except it doesn't index Eudora. X1 commercial does -- for $80. There was rumor of a Google Desktop Search plugin, but it's not there yet. So, for home, where I use Eudora still on my PC, I'm going to try Copernic 1.5 again.

Update to come.

The genetics of anxiety: the shortened serotonin transporter gene

FuturePundit: Gene Version Prevents Cingulate From Suppressing Amygdala Fear Response

In most people the cingulate downregulates the amygdala. In persons with short copies of the serotonin transporter gene this downregulation fails. The active amygdala produces the sensation of anxiety.

SSRIs act by altering the production of the serotonin transporter protein, thus their delayed therapeutic benefit.

This appears to be a significant breakthrough.

Strange mercies - the bomber lives, the child dies

Michael Yon : Online Magazine: Rounding Up Bombers

An odd follow-up to the story of the child Farah, dying in the arms of a US soldier.

"Deuce Four" capture five men they believe (with good reason) to be terrorists planting IEDs (they're terrorists since they attack Iraqis -- if they were attacking just our guys they'd be insurgents). One is badly wounded in the fighting:
LTC Kurilla ordered the medic to try to save him. So they took him to same hospital where Sgt Davis died last week; the same one that little Farah never made it to, and there he is, still alive, his bombing days are over.
It would be a bitter irony if this man had built the bomb that killed Farah and the other children.

The $10 toy that's a densely entrained neural network

Boing Boing: Cool Tools on 20Q, a twenty-questions gadget

This is how Skynet gets going.
Burned into its 8-bit chip is a neural net that has been learning for 17 years. Inventor Robin Burgener programmed a simple neural net on a DOS machine 1988. He taught it 20 questions about a cat. He than passed the program around to friends on a floppy and had them challenge the neural net with their yes/no answers to the object they had in mind. The neural net learns only when it plays a game; no data is added except for the yes/no answers of visitors. So the more people who test it, the more they teach it. In 1995 Burgener put the now robust neural net onto the new web where anyone could play it (that is, train it) 24 hours a day. And they did. Burgener's genius was to turn the hard tedious work of training a neural net into a fun game for humans.
Forget the first sentient AI arising from a global defense grid. It will be a sentient child's toy in 2025 that takes over.

Cyborg nation

Boing Boing: Monkeys treat robot arm as bonus appendage

Monkeys integrate a robot arm as an extra appendage, not a replacement. Of course they also have working tails ...

Dr. Octopus would be proud.

86% of Alabamians want a verbal opening school prayer

and I don't think they mean a prayer to Krishna...
Auburn University News


AUBURN – Nearly all (96 percent) of Alabamians surveyed profess to be religious, no surprise in a state which is in the heart of the “Bible Belt.” Similarly, there is overwhelming support for a return to prayer in state schools.

These are among the findings of a recent Ask Alabama public opinion survey, conducted by the Center for Governmental Services at Auburn University. Ask Alabama releases periodic results of polls on topics of interest to Alabamians.

The vast majority (92 percent) favors silent prayer or meditation at the opening of the school day, with only slightly less support for open verbal prayer in class. A similar number favors prayer at the beginning of school sports events.

“This indicates that Alabama’s residents perceive the benefits of formal school prayer in the public schools far outweigh any concerns regarding separation of church and state,” says Ask Alabama director Jim Seroka. “Most Alabamians clearly prefer that court-imposed restrictions on public prayer in schools be relaxed.”

Opinion on religion in class instruction is more moderate. When questioned on preferences between the theory of evolution versus creationism or intelligent design, only 8 to 12 percent favored teaching one explanation over another.

“Most agree that religious-based explanations should be given a place in the public school classroom,” notes Seroka. “However, if given a choice, most Alabamians (62 percent) would prefer public school teachers be able to present both religious explanations and evolutionary theory.”

Other findings of the Ask Alabama poll on Alabamians and Religion in the Schools include:

* 47 percent of Alabamians surveyed characterize themselves as very religious.

* 49 percent consider themselves to be somewhat religious.

* Only 3 percent consider themselves as not religious.

* 86 percent support an opening school prayer; 11 percent discourage it.
Houston, we have a problem.

Forget all this stuff discounting the importance of theology and religion in US politics. These numbers blow that away.

I think we can assume all the prayers are to be Christian; I doubt they're thinking of rotating a few prayers to Allah, Krishna and Buddha and maybe a Wiccan chant or two.

The news report doesn't break the numbers out very well, but I assume from the above that only about 10% of Alabamians would favor teaching standard biology in science education.

Looking for a silver lining in these numbers, I suppose Alabamian secularists (there might be five of 'em) might be able to ask that Creationism be explicitly labeled as a religious explanation and natural selection be explicitly labeled as a scientific explanation. I'm more comfortable with that than with the fakery of the "intelligent design" agenda.

Better to completely sacrifice any vestige of Protestant-State separation than to corrupt the meaning of words.

I wonder if "America the Protestant" will end up being a big issue in the upcoming Senate races?

The law as a weapon: suing for unpleasant reviews - Maui X-Stream and CherryOS

DrunkenBlog: Deconstructing Maui X-Stream

A Mac OS Blog has a very long post about Maui X-Stream, CherryOS, and the abuse of the law to suppress communication. Bottom line, the somewhat anonymous author of this OS X hobbyist site had to retain legal counsel. Once he'd retained counsel, he went to town on Maui X-Stream.

Allegedly Maui X-Stream is a fraudulent enterprise that illegally used open source code to create a semi-fake product that supposedly allowed PC users to run OS X software on their machines. Many bloggers exposed their maneuvers and the company then withdrew the product. Subsequently it's hired lawyers, perhaps working on contingency, to threaten reviewers with a "slander" suit. One possibility is the lawyers are looking primarily for 'out-of-court' "settlements" (aka shakedowns) and they'll split the earnings with Maui X-Stream. Of course that's only one possibility, perhaps Maui X-Stream feels they were badly done by and they're paying the lawyers good money up front.

In a totalitarian state the government suppresses speech. It is the genius of capitalism that in our nation lawyers-gone-bad can now serve a similar function. The market will find a way!

The primary defense is daylight, lots of daylight. United, we can still win this one. If we don't speak now, it will only get worse.

Monday, May 09, 2005

On Al Qaeda in 2004 and Eckankar in 1979: the believers and the cynics

VOA News - US Forces Arrest Key Insurgents in Iraq

A US Colonel reports that captured insurgents are often quite cooperative:
Colonel Chase reports that the mid- and higher-level insurgent leaders are more likely to provide information than lower-level insurgents, who, he says, are often more ideologically committed than their leaders. 'These are not ten-feet-tall dedicated, die-hard terrorists for the most part, particularly the higher in the level,' he said. 'Certainly, the low level (insurgents) appear to be people that are dedicated to a cause, but the mid- and high-level (insurgents) are very quick to turn on each other.'
Ordinarily I'd write this off as good basic propaganda practice. Except, it reminds of me of something from a past life.

As a college student who looked remarkably naive and even younger than his young years, I was often approached by a variety of cult recruiters, from Eckankar to the Moonies to the Scientologists. For some reason I enjoyed attending cult meetings (I had no money, so my hobbies had to be inexpensive) and I'd routinely accept if I had the time -- excepting remote compounds where one might have a long hard walk home.

What I discovered was that the initiates and lower level staffers were genuine true believers. Unsurprisingly they were often wounded and troubled. Above them, however, were a revolting set of cynics who, I suspect, enjoyed the perks of power. To most adults these rotters were quite unconvincing, but they knew how to manipulate the vulnerable. They were also good at spotting ringers like me, and making sure we weren't invited to the "next level".

I can believe that a terrorist/insurgent organization might have quite a bit in common with those cults. Troubled, lost souls to blow themselves up -- true believers all. Above them, the most vile of cowards.

Which is to say, maybe Colonel Chase is telling the truth after all.

Grokker - Visualizing search results

Grok Faughnan

Grok was coined by Robert Heinlein, in 'A Stranger in a Strange Land'. It had a meaning of deep & mystical understanding. Good name for a visualization tool.

This was a commercial product, but now it runs in Java for free (ad supported). They're using Yahoo for results. I've tested in Firefox PC, I'll try Mac in an update.

The above search is on my last name; a handy testing tool for me! :-).

Grokker is certainly interesting. I'll play with it.

Krugman nails the Bush "plan" for social security: future cuts to prevent ... future cuts?!

The Final Insult - New York Times
But Mr. Bush isn't calling for small sacrifices now. Instead, he's calling for zero sacrifice now, but big benefit cuts decades from now - which is exactly what he says will happen if we do nothing. Let me repeat that: to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.
At last, someone noticed this. The alleged "Bush plan" now (supposedly) calls for means testing benefits and cutting them for the "wealthy". All very fine and progressive, but it's a benefit cut. It also emphatically demonstrates that government can't be trusted to fill the "deal" for past benefits; though I assume this could be "grandfathered" (in which case it might not help very much).

Even if I had an ounce of faith and trust in President Bush, I'd still look askance at this "plan". Since I have zero faith or trust in Bush or the Republican Party, it's a non-starter. The odd disadvantage of one-party government is that there's no true negotiation, hence no basis for trust -- especially given Bush's track record. The professor continues with devastating hits:
Suppose you're a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn't get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won't cut your Social Security benefits.

Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!

Worldometers: what's happening now


Births, deaths, books, military expenditures. Updated in simulated "real time". Clever.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

More Dyer articles posted

Dyer 2005 Articles

Another batch of Dyer articles have been posted. I'd love to have a free way to create an RSS feed off this cryptic web site.

Among the new ones:
India and China
Things We Know Now: Hmm. The Fermi Paradox is beginning to worry people.
Habemus Papam: Radical ideas of human worth.
Nationalism in Asia
Hitler Anniversary: It will be harder to remember now.
Don't Mention the War

Firefox users should disable automatic software installation

Mozilla Arbitrary Code Executation Security Flaw - MozillaZine Talkback

There's a big, nastly, ugly bug in Firefox/Mozilla. At least as bad as the many IE bugs Microsoft routinely patches. Until a fix is out disable automatic software installation:
The Secunia advisory suggests disabling JavaScript as a workaround; however, simply disabling software installation (Web Features panel of the Options/Preferences window in Firefox 1.0.3 or the Content panel in the latest trunk builds) eliminates the problem.

When bulimia was routine? JAD Salts, 1920.

LILEKS (James) Old Newspaper Ads: JAD Salts, 1920s

Lilek's scan of a 1920s ad promotes JAD Salts as a weight loss method. (I love the commentary)

How did they work? I was able to find a recipe, but I'm unsure as to whether they'd induce diarrhea or vomiting or (most likely) both:
Jad Salts. Contains sodium phosphate, sodium and potassium bicarbonates, citric and tartaric acids with a small amount of hexamethylene tetramine. (Wiley's 1001 Tests).
I'd like to know more about the weight loss methods of the 1920s. Was purging socially acceptable?