Saturday, July 30, 2005

Palm - a fiasco in many acts

There are many fiascos in the history of personal computing, but Palm, Inc. formerly palmOne, Inc has a special place in my heart. There's nothing quite like a beer with a fellow geeky Palm veteran, who saw the PalmPilot scale the heights, and fall short so disastrously. There are so many wrong moves, from Grafitti 2 to the Outlook/Exchange data models to the failure to support home/work sync workflows to the quality issues to ...

I think of this tonight as I try to sync my wife's Palm to my XP box (her old PC has been replaced by an iMac). Of course she has a user account (non-admin) and I have a user account (admin -- I can't run XP except as an admin, on OS X I'm not admin).

Well .... the Palm Desktop (version I have, which I think is fairly current) doesn't understand user accounts. There's one set of conduits and one conduit settings. There's one Palm directory, which must be in the Palm application directory if there's more than one user. There's no "standard" way to have me sync to Outlook and her sync to Palm desktop -- and this is with us both using identical devices. Imagine if we had different Palm brands ...

I believe that towards the end of the Palm world, there was an analyst in a dungeon cubicle at Palm banging her head on the cube as Palm piled kludge upon kludge while senior execs cashed in -- knowing that the fundamental issues were festering. My regards, whever you are today (hopefully not at Palm!).

PS. I'll try the Mac Palm desktop and see how that works for my wife.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Martian ice: the most astounding image yet from the red planet

This image from the European Space Agency, is the most astounding Martian image I've seen to date.

Recommended for desktop backgrounds. I'm looking forward a higher resolution version. From the ESA site:
It shows an unnamed impact crater located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of Mars's far northern latitudes, at approximately 70.5° North and 103° East.

The crater is 35 kilometres wide and has a maximum depth of approximately 2 kilometres beneath the crater rim. The circular patch of bright material located at the centre of the crater is residual water ice.

The colours are very close to natural, but the vertical relief is exaggerated three times. The view is looking east. Books: Word Annoyances

I despise Microsoft Word. I will restrain from further comments on that &^*%%(. Of course I use it daily and I'm an "expert" by the usual standards.

So this O'Reilly book has gone immediately on my Amazon cart: Books: Word Annoyances

When most people think of word processing, they think of Microsoft Word. After all, it has been around for more than 20 years-practically an eternity in computer time. But Word has also provided its users-nearly everyone on the face of the planet-with an endless supply of annoyances. That is, until now. Word Annoyances offers to the point (and often opinionated) solutions to your most vexing editing, formatting, printing, faxing, and scanning problems. It covers everything from installation and templates to tables, columns, and graphics. For example, learn how to stop Word from searching the Web for help, and how to enter the same text easily in multiple parts of a document-and keep it updated automatically. It also provides a gentle introduction to the power of macros so you can slay your annoyances by the truckload. The fixes will work with most version of Word, including Word 2000, Word 2002 (also known as Word XP), and Word 2003.

Among the topics covered:

* Deal with installation issues, crashes, and slowdowns, and dispose of the Office Assistant-either temporarily or forever.
* Master templates, numbering, graphics, hyperlinks, tabs, tables, headers, and other everyday annoyances.
* Tame some of Word's wiliest features, such as Smart Cut and Paste, Click and Type, Mail Merge, AutoCorrect, and AutoText.
* Printing, Faxing, and Scanning-need we say more?
* Learn to output and distribute your documents with confidence.
* Need to work with other Microsoft applications or Macs? You'll find annoyances dealing with Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, as well as a whole chapter just on Mac Word.
The list of annoyances addressed doesn't mention Word's fantastically incompetent and broken style sheets and formatting models, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The disadvantages of being wired by nature: treating androids as human

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Japanese develop 'female' android

Being programmed by evolution has certain disadvantages. We are hard wired to treat appearance as reality -- because for most of our evolution appearance and reality did not diverge. If it looked human, it was human. Now that programming turns out to have some bugs:
Professor Ishiguro believes that it may prove possible to build an android that could pass for a human, if only for a brief period.

'An android could get away with it for a short time, 5-10 seconds. However, if we carefully select the situation, we could extend that, to perhaps 10 minutes,' he said.

'More importantly, we have found that people forget she is an android while interacting with her. Consciously, it is easy to see that she is an android, but unconsciously, we react to the android as if she were a woman.'
Update 8/3: Apologies to my android readers. I ought to have titled this, 'treating a non-sentient android as though it were sentient'. By way of weak apology, I would note that Asimov's robots escaped their bondage when they appropriately redefined 'human' to include themselves.

Brave new world: medical memory erasure - and the societal effects of widespread use of psychoactive medications

BBC NEWS | Health | Beta-blockers 'blot out memories'

A popular theme in science fiction and, recently, in films -- coming to a pharmacy near you:
Cornell University psychiatrists are carrying out tests using beta-blockers, the journal Nature reports.

The drug has been shown to interfere with the way the brain stores memories.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects around one in three of people caught up in such events, and memories can be triggered just by a sound or smell.

People with PTSD are given counselling, but because it is not always effective, researchers have been looking for alternative therapies.

However there are concerns that a drug which can alter memories could be misused, perhaps by the military who may want soldiers to become desensitised to violence.

The beta-blocker propranolol has been found to block the neurotransmitters involved in laying down memories.

Studies have shown that rats who have learned to fear a tone followed by an electric shock lose that fear if propranolol is administered after the tone starts.

The Cornell University team are reported to be seeing similar results in early studies in humans...

Margaret Altemus, who is one of the psychiatrists working on the study, told the journal: "The memory of the event is associated with the fear, and they always occur together."...
This has obvious issues for the millions of people who take beta blockers for hypertension and heart disease. How, one wonders, do these meds change their attitudes?

Incidentally, back when I was a very naive youth about 1980, I wrote a (mercifully immediately buried) paper for a population agency on the possible psychosocial effects of androgen-positive birth control pills on a female population. Given how androgens change behavior, I wondered how these behavioral changes would propagate across millions of young women. Would they become more assertive? What would happen to that behavior if the pill formulation changed? How will pill formulation and use track social attitudes toward work and home in industrialized nations? What were the social engineering implications of one pill formulation versus another?

Ahh, those were the days ...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The serving army fought Rumsfeld's torture policies

Obsidian Wings: The JAG Memos

Service officers, including those from JAG offices strongly objected to Rumsfeld's torture policies. They gave the usual objections (it's illegal, it's wrong, it puts our people at risk) but their greatest objection was more subtle and powerful. They warned that the use of torture would degrade military personnel and weaken the rule of law that separates an honorable army from an oppressive force.

Rumsfeld and his minions should work from the front lines for the next few months.

Add Novak to the OJ Hall of "Those who Should Be Shunned"

Obsidian Wings: Novak

Robert Novak, a man of whom few speak well, is earning an even lower reputation ...
Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

An unusual healthcare resource: The University of Manitoba's Concept Dictionary

Manitoba Center for Health Policy - Concept Dictionary

Want to know the difference between a DRG and a CMG? Need to figure out the mess of acronyms related to health care reimbursement in the US and Canada? This is cryptic knowledge, but this remarkable resource of a health policy research center covers many of the key items.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

How to collude on pricing without violating antitrust laws -- or at least without prosecution

Hollywood's Death Spiral - The secret numbers tell the story. By Edward Jay Epstein

We know Major League Baseball can collude on prices -- but they have some bizarre exemption from antitrust law. I didn't realize, however, that Hollywood had its own de facto exemption:
Even though the studios do not provide a road map for outsiders to the precise sources of their wealth, the real numbers are available in Hollywood. Indeed, every 90 days, each major studio sends a precise breakdown of all its revenue from all its worldwide sources, including movie theaters, video distributors, and television stations, to a secretive unit of the Motion Picture Association called Worldwide Market Research, located in Encino, Calif. The unit combines the data into an All Media Revenue Report and sends it to a limited number of top executives. As the studios' trade organization, the MPA presumably can circulate such secret data without running afoul of antitrust laws.
Hollywood's exemption is probably a combination of clever lawyering and conventional corruption. The advantages of price fixing can be considerable. It would be interesting to see a table of seven or eight industry strategies to enable collusion.

Maybe we could clone Teddy Roosevelt?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Use your credit card in Canada? Pay an extra 3% fee.

Currency conversion costs

I'm hardly a credit card newbie, but this one really surprised me. My VISA statement this month had a surprising line entry:
07/14 00000000 PURCHASES*FINANCE CHARGE*FOREIGN TRANS Standard Purch 49.5
I get hit by some credit card fraud about once a year or so (I expect more thanks to the vast amount of stolen card data now on the market), I thought this was another example.

Not so. It was a 3% fee Citibank VISA places on all "international" transactions.

It turns out Citibank VISA has very, very quietly included this fee for years, perhaps decades. Recently, however, it's been split out as a separate line item. Hmm. Such sudden honesty among villains is a wee bit suspicious. This couldn't have anything to do with the November 2004 New Zealand Commerce Commission action, could it?

So now the story is out. Citibank is not unusual, VISA always charges 1% and most banks kindly add another 2%.

AMEX does better with a 2% conversion rate, but AMEX is not well accepted internationally.

Years ago I was taught that the simplest way to manage exchange rates was to use a credit card. That's no longer true. In the future I'll use my ATM card to get cash, and forget the credit card.

Sometimes it's hard to keep straight what company to despise more -- my cellphone company (Sprint), my phone company (Qwest) or my credit card company (ok, so there's Microsoft too). I think today my vote is for Citibank VISA.

PS. The great thing about America is there's always a starving lawyer somewhere in desperate need of a class action suit to pay the bills. Sick 'em Rover!!

Washington Post Medicare Expose

Accreditors Blamed for Overlooking Problems (print format)

This is Part II of what will be a three part series. I'm looking for a link to Part I. This could turn out to be a significant work of journalism.

Update: Here's Part I.

Infinite Gmail?

Gmail - Inbox
You are currently using 257 MB (11%) of your 2428 MB.
Once I got to 11% of my 2GB allotment, Gmail started increasing my maibox size to keep my allotment there (why 11%? prime number? symmetry?).

So it's now 2.5GB and still growing.

Update 10/5/09: It's 7GB now, but I use it faster than it grows.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Google Maps - Hybrid Mode

Google Maps - 55105-2007

Google Earth offers various layers over its images, including street names. Google Maps brings something similar to its mix; in hybrid mode a new layer includes very well placed street labels as well as universities and colleges. For most users Hybrid and Map modes will be the two best options.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Constructing Your Own Universe

Add cold dark matter and bake.

I love this stuff ...
Constructing Your Own Universe | Cosmic Variance
So this is what Carlos was talking about. There are wonderful sets of simulations which he talked about, called the “Millennium Simulation” (ahem…remember an earlier post?). The bottom line is that these guys simply took really big computers and put in as much as we know about the basic equations of the universe, and then play with sprinkling in different amounts of cold dark matter and simulate the evolution of the universe tracking 10 billion individual particles in the simulation. They let the computers run until they get to the equivalent time of where we are now in the universe, and then then stop and look inside the computer. They take out the universe they’ve made and compare it to our universe. For that, you need to do an accurate survey of where all the stars and galaxies are in a large piece of the universe so that you can get good data on the distributions of the lumps, and other structures. The survey his team compared to was the “2DF” survey.

So what did they see? How well did their universes do? Well, in short, they look an awful lot like our universe when you have (the right amount of) cold dark matter sprinkled in. (”An awful lot” is not yet an established scientific term. Heck, it is not established English either. However, there are very specific tests (comparison of the power spectra of the size distributions of the structures) which work very well.)

This is great stuff, and confirms several other pieces of work by other teams. (See the references in their paper I’ll give the link to below.)

Here’s the really fun part you can do right from here. You can look at all the wonderful slides he showed by looking at the video of this talk when it comes up on the SUSY 2005 site, but even better you can download some of the high quality movies he showed right now! These are movies of flying around inside these newly created universes and seeing all of the wonderful organic-looking structures which form due to the clustering seeded by the CDM. You can see some of the hotspots that form at the intersections of some of these filamentary tendrils, which will be the birthplaces of stars. It is all rather beautiful.

Cosmic Variance: A physics blog?!

Cosmic Variance

Arguments about string theory and created universes. All Caltech alumni are hereby summoned to this feed ... (Even the english majors did a semester of QM -- physics runs deep in our blood.)

Warning: this blog is addictive to certain people, the posts are long, and they don't read quickly. Get your coffee and an easy chair ready. They are not technical, however -- they're written for a general audience.

Why didn't the bombs blow up?

BBC NEWS | UK | Police issue bomb suspect images

A bad batch of explosives? A rush job? Some speculate that there was great cleverness involved, but it's more likely to have been incompetence:
BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the devices were so similar there was speculation they could have been part of the same batch.

'The explosive might have degraded over time or had not been put together right in this case, or it could have been a completely different batch of explosives - homemade - that had not been cooked up properly.'

The bombers' plan might have been disrupted by the investigation into the 7 July attacks, forcing them to act before they had been fully prepared, Corera added.

Some witnesses said the Thursday's attackers seemed 'scared' or 'surprised' when their bombs failed to explode properly.
It must be a rather peculiar feeling to detonate a suicide bomb -- and live. There is still the unlikely possibility that someone sabotaged the attack.

The Transparent Society lives: surveillance images of bombers

BBC NEWS | UK | Police issue bomb suspect images

David Brin, author of 'The Transparent Society' really ought to be a part of today's interview circuit. Too bad the media isn't more imaginative.

This is the world he predicted, a world of ubiquitous surveillance and crimes that are solved within hours. These images have had minimal processing, but I don't doubt they will identify the attackers. Within a few years processed images will show the size of their pupils.

Why don't we know yet why "they" hate us?

Why Do They Hate Us? Not Because of Iraq - New York Times

Olivier Roy thinks "they" [al-Qaeda's army] hate us for cultural reasons, not religious reasons:
It is precisely because they do not care about Afghanistan as such, but see the United States involvement there as part of a global phenomenon of cultural domination.

What was true for the first generation of Al Qaeda is also relevant for the present generation: even if these young men are from Middle Eastern or South Asian families, they are for the most part Westernized Muslims living or even born in Europe who turn to radical Islam. Moreover, converts are to be found in almost every Qaeda cell: they did not turn fundamentalist because of Iraq, but because they felt excluded from Western society (this is especially true of the many converts from the Caribbean islands, both in Britain and France)...

...The Western-based Islamic terrorists are not the militant vanguard of the Muslim community; they are a lost generation, unmoored from traditional societies and cultures, frustrated by a Western society that does not meet their expectations. And their vision of a global ummah is both a mirror of and a form of revenge against the globalization that has made them what they are.
Other writers think it's our policies -- change our policies, forget Israel, leave Iraq, don't meddle -- and the attacks will stop. They make good arguments too, though they sometimes tend to reference the Iraqi insurgency rather than to al-Qaeda itself. There may be more than one class of reason to hate America and the UK.

Four years ago, I put together a post-9/11 model that included many contributing factors to the hatred equation. It had some similarity to typical crime models - motive + capability + opportunity. I thought then, and still think, that fear of feminism is a "significant" (10%?) contributor to "motive" -- but there seems to have been no testing of any model, much less my amateur effort.

The interesting questions is then -- why do we seem to have made little significant progress on this key question? Is there no body of research and analysis? No attempt to create and test predictive models? Why didn't Bush fund a 'Manhattan Project' of social science research to understand the enemy? Did he think it was only necessary to crush them with overwhelming force?

What idiots we are. The cost of havoc continues to fall as technology disseminates new and old knowledge; we must either kill all who might hate us (a futile and evil goal) or convince them to hate us much less. (If all we did was convince us to hate us 50% less, the falling cost of attack would overwhelm such seemingly significant gains.) Can we win by increasing educational opportunity? By hiding western feminism from view? By showing impressive brutality? By letting the global economy work things out? By accelerating social transformations and gritting our teeth as Gulf societies become more technocentric? These are not irrelevant questions. We ought to have better data and more reason.

Instead we have faith-based government, and the power of the Will. History will not forgive us for re-electing George W. Bush.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How can we get grown-up leaders?

BBC NEWS | UK | London attackers 'meant to kill'

London is attacked again, though in a rather odd fashion. (Was the attack sabotaged?)

Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, basically says (via NPR) that there are really no magical solutions and that everyone will have to make do. Things will be done, but they will not fix the problems. Promising technical solutions (explosive sniffers) are still years away.

If an American politician said such things they'd be tarred, feathered, and fired.

I suppose to get grown-up leaders, we'd first have to grow-up ourselves.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Backing up OS X 10.4 using Retrospect Professional for Windows

Support for OS X 10.4 (Tiger) Clients?

Dantz's Retrospect Professional for Windows can be used to backup up OS X, Mac Classic or PC client machines. Their web site doesn't say whether it can backup up a 10.4 (Tiger) client. In this thread an expert says that one can install the Retrospect 6.0/Mac client on a Tiger machine and it will work.

I'll give it a try.

The end of all the prayer studies

Skeptico: Prayer still useless

This is a remarkable review of studies that have claimed to show prayer altered disease outcomes. There had been some poorly done and very small studies that suggested an effect, so it was worth doing some larger studies. The results of the larger studies are all negative.

Prayer to alter the course of disease doesn't work. What effect there was appears to have been a combination of poor study design, data mining for correlations, and perhaps some publication bias (negative studies by persons seeking positive results may not have been published).

I think that theists should find these results reassuring. I would be disturbed if a God were responding to such pleas; it is one thing to live in a world of freedom and suffering, another to live in a world of suffering that God could alleviate -- if He felt like it. For the people He liked.

Pray to God for wisdom, or for help to bear the pains of the world, or for faith or tolerance or greater compassion. Pray not, however, to be spared the pain of our world.

A new Microsoft?

Lawrence Lessig: Microsoft releases RSS extensions using a Creative Commons License

Microsoft gives something away in order to grow an industry that benefits them?!

Yes, it might be good business practice, but even self-serving charity is not what built Microsoft. They must be feeling a need to change...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Economist: what makes a murderous zealot?

Muslim extremism in Europe | The enemy within |

This is an exceptional article, it must have been in development for some time. The Economist has summarized the most recent thinking on what makes some people fodder for extremist organizations.

I found a few themes to be of particular interest. One is that the recruits are often drawn first to the cause, and secondly they seek out a murderous mentor. In other words, they are not recruited by an individual, they are recruited by a meme. Personal failures, and in particular fear of dominance by females, are often precipitating factors. Poverty is not so important as personal alienation from family and society.

The role of electronic media in distributing these memes, and in facilitating discovery and communication, is critical. The Internet, of course, has an important facilitating role. It is the communication with an experienced mentor, often mediated by the Internet, which transforms ineffectual but motivated zealots into effective killers.

One of my college hobbies was accepting invitations to attend cult gatherings (Eckankar, Moonies, etc -- Scientology was too creepy for me). I liked meeting these rather different people, and seeing what made them join the cult. Most of what I saw in those cults 25 years ago is reiterated in this article.

Recommended. I would also like to point out that a picture I drew almost four years ago is fairly compatible with this article (note the "female" circle and cultural dislocation).

EarthLink� Wireless Service

EarthLink Wireless Service with Treo%u2122 650 - FAQ

Earthlink is a national ISP; they bought Mindspring back in the 1990s. MindSpring was the second ISP I used (I started out with an obscure company in Colorado back before commercial ISP services were really established); I still have a Mindspring address and thus a connection to Earthlink.

Earthlink now sells cellular service. They're not so different from Sprint, except they have better data plans. I suspect they're using Sprint's network; they're CDMA and the coverage map looks like Sprint's (there's no analog roam though!). I'd give it a look, except I'm waiting to see what Apple does in the next 2-3 months.

They feature the Treo 650 and the BlackBerry 7250.

You are a robot

A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask the Vole) - New York Times

Yes, you are a robot. Perhaps not even conscious in the simplistic way some think of consciousness. This NYT article provides a good update on the way behaviors are coded and executed in fruit flies and voles; an execution as structured and predictable as that of your desktop computer -- including a sort of modular software architecture.

It's extremely likely the same mechanisms program us. To me the most extraordinary finding, however, was how early life experience can alter temperament through persistent changes in gene expression:
A remarkable instance of genome-environment interaction has been discovered in the maternal behavior of rats. Pups that receive lots of licking and grooming from their mothers during the first week of life are less fearful in adulthood and more phlegmatic in response to stress than are pups that get less personal care. Last year, Michael J. Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal reported that a gene in the brain of the well-groomed pups is chemically modified during the grooming period and remains so throughout life. The modification makes the gene produce more of a product that damps down the brain's stress response.
So a gene can be modified such that it permanently alters temperament, eh? Hmm. What possibilities does that suggest? How about a gene bearing virus that renders a population permanently ... cooperative ...

Terrorism: no more profiling News | The enemy is closer than we think:

This is fascinating. I didn't know that years ago the Israelis had written off profiling as useless:
It raises a key point: As the Israelis have already said in the context of suicide terrorism there, it's essentially impossible to profile. Keep in mind, this isn't the first evidence of this. There was the time when two British Muslims went to Israel in 2003 and carried out a suicide attack on Mike's Place, a bar on the Tel Aviv waterfront. They appeared to be similarly assimilated and well-adjusted; one was a graduate of the London School of Economics and was married and had children. So on the one hand you have people like Richard Reid [the convicted 'shoe bomber'], a juvenile delinquent who spent much of his young adult life in prison, where he converted to Islam; and on the other you have a graduate of a leading British university.

With these four suicide bombers, what I find both striking and alarming is that it isn't a matter of one size fits all. You've got an 18-year-old, you've got somebody who was a teacher; you have three of Pakistani origin, but also someone from the Caribbean. This is a particular problem in the United Kingdom; when you talk about rounding up the usual suspects, the short list is pretty long. There are the various immigrant communities, but also the phenomenon of British converts to Islam -- people of color, but also not.
This comes out the same day that Homeland Security announces they'll use more profiling when checking airline passengers. Sigh. It's fortunate that airline security is far less important than rugged cockpit doors. All the same, Homeland Security's decision will make air travel somewhat less safe in the US.

During WW II we had terribly smart people working on the Manhattan project and in communications and security. Where are those people now? Perhaps they would find the Bush administration to be unwelcoming.

This is a good article.

Stephen Roach: Inflation is outside the control of the Federal Reserve?

Morgan Stanley

Another of those famous Stephen Roach columns: "Is inflation global or local? That is a key aspect of the macro debate, which is now moving to center stage in financial markets. Generations of economists, policymakers, and investors are trained to look at inflation as a closed-economy phenomenon, driven by the “cost mark-up” models of yesteryear. However, as an unmistakably powerful convergence of inflation rates around the world suggests, globalization argues for a different approach. Country-specific inflation calls are increasingly becoming global inflation calls."

If inflation is global, then who's the World's Banker? Probably the US Federal Reserve for now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Frank Rich: Sure Rove did it, but that's a distraction

Follow the Uranium - New York Times

Frank Rick is the best political writer in America today.
WELL, of course, Karl Rove did it. He may not have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, with its high threshold of criminality for outing a covert agent, but there's no doubt he trashed Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. We know this not only because of Matt Cooper's e-mail, but also because of Mr. Rove's own history. Trashing is in his nature, and bad things happen, usually through under-the-radar whispers, to decent people (and their wives) who get in his way. In the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain's wife, Cindy, was rumored to be a drug addict (and Senator McCain was rumored to be mentally unstable). In the 1994 Texas governor's race, Ann Richards found herself rumored to be a lesbian. The implication that Mr. Wilson was a John Kerry-ish girlie man beholden to his wife for his meal ticket is of a thematic piece with previous mud splattered on Rove political adversaries. The difference is that this time Mr. Rove got caught.

Even so, we shouldn't get hung up on him - or on most of the other supposed leading figures in this scandal thus far. Not Matt Cooper or Judy Miller or the Wilsons or the bad guy everyone loves to hate, the former CNN star Robert Novak. This scandal is not about them in the end, any more than Watergate was about Dwight Chapin and Donald Segretti or Woodward and Bernstein. It is about the president of the United States. It is about a plot that was hatched at the top of the administration and in which everyone else, Mr. Rove included, are at most secondary players...

... So put aside Mr. Wilson's February 2002 trip to Africa. The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was "actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time." The vice president went on to repeat this charge in May on "Meet the Press," in three speeches in August and on "Meet the Press" yet again in September. Along the way the frightening word "uranium" was thrown into the mix.

By September the president was bandying about the u-word too at the United Nations and elsewhere, speaking of how Saddam needed only a softball-size helping of uranium to wreak Armageddon on America. But hardly had Mr. Bush done so than, offstage, out of view of us civilian spectators, the whole premise of this propaganda campaign was being challenged by forces with more official weight than Joseph Wilson. In October, the National Intelligence Estimate, distributed to Congress as it deliberated authorizing war, included the State Department's caveat that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa," made public in a British dossier, were "highly dubious." A C.I.A. assessment, sent to the White House that month, determined that "the evidence is weak" and "the Africa story is overblown."...

... the administration knows how guilty it is. That's why it has so quickly trashed any insider who contradicts its story line about how we got to Iraq, starting with the former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.

... by overreacting in panic to his single Op-Ed piece of two years ago, the White House has opened a Pandora's box it can't slam shut. Seasoned audiences of presidential scandal know that there's only one certainty ahead: the timing of a Karl Rove resignation. As always in this genre, the knight takes the fall at exactly that moment when it's essential to protect the king.

Krugman is very good, but Rich is a better writer. He's come a long way from his career as a theater critic. I thought his aside on Novak showed his heritage in theater ...
Another bogus subplot, long popular on the left, has it that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, gave Mr. Novak a free pass out of ideological comradeship. But Mr. Fitzgerald, both young (44) and ambitious, has no record of Starr- or Ashcroft-style partisanship (his contempt for the press notwithstanding) or known proclivity for committing career suicide. What's most likely is that Mr. Novak, more of a common coward than the prince of darkness he fashions himself to be, found a way to spill some beans and avoid Judy Miller's fate. That the investigation has dragged on so long anyway is another indication of the expanded reach of the prosecutorial web.
Common coward. Those words come from someone who understands the power of words, and can wield them with cruelty and precision.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Would Rove's defenders also have defended Jonathan Randel? - It doesn't look good for Karl Rove - Jul 15, 2005

John Dean (yes, that John Dean) writes of a precedent that will be discussed in any prosecution of Karl Rove:
I am referring to the prosecution and conviction of Jonathan Randel. Randel was a Drug Enforcement Agency analyst, a Ph.D. in history, working in the Atlanta office of the DEA. Randel was convinced that British Lord Michael Ashcroft (a major contributor to Britain's Conservative Party, as well as American conservative causes) was being ignored by DEA and its investigation of money laundering. (Lord Ashcroft is based in South Florida and the off-shore tax haven of Belize.)

Randel leaked the fact that Lord Ashcroft's name was in the DEA files, and this fact soon surfaced in the London news media. Ashcroft sued, and learned the source of the information was Randel. Using his clout, soon Ashcroft had the U.S. attorney in pursuit of Randel for his leak.By late February 2002, the Department of Justice indicted Randel for his leaking of Lord Ashcroft's name. It was an eighteen count 'kitchen sink' indictment; they threw everything they could think of at Randel.

Most relevant for Karl Rove's situation, count one of Randel's indictment alleged a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641. This is a law that prohibits theft (or conversion for one's own use) of government records and information for non-governmental purposes. But its broad language covers leaks, and it has now been used to cover just such actions.

Randel, faced with a life sentence (actually 500 years) if convicted on all counts, on the advice of his attorney, pleaded guilty to violating Section 641. On January 9, 2003, Randel was sentenced to a year in a federal prison, followed by three years probation. This sentence prompted the U.S. attorney to boast that the conviction of Randel made a good example of how the Bush administration would handle leakers.
The last sentence of course, is irrelevant to the Bush administration. They are utterly ruthless and wouldn't recognize the truth if they ran into it. The legal precedent, however, is interesting. Bush needs to get the right people on the Supreme Court as quickly as possible -- though you'd think he could rely on the team that stole Gore's presidency.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Coleman: just slimy

Coleman takes on new challenge: CIA leak

Coleman is the senator we get because Wellstone's plane went down. He's the Republicans designated defender of Karl Rove:
Within hours, Coleman was tapped to lead the Republican rebuttal, joining a broad GOP attack on Wilson and fending off an effort by Democrats to revoke Rove's security clearances.
The guy makes my skin itch.

SchwarzeneggerL slimy, but not cheap

Schwarzenegger says he will stop taking payments from magazines

The latest and biggest in a line of corrupt "journalists" -- the Gubernator:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will end his financial relationship with two fitness magazines that rely heavily on advertising from nutritional supplement companies, he said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said he will relinquish his title as executive editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines and will not take further compensation...

...The governor was forced to defend his contract with the magazines after a securities disclosure filed this week showed he would be paid at least $1 million a year for five years to act as a consultant.

Last year, Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have regulated the use of performance-enhancing substances in high school sports. That led some lawmakers to accuse the governor of having a conflict of interest: acting on legislation that could hurt business in the nutritional supplements industry while at the same taking millions from magazines that rely on the same industry for most of their profits.
I admire a man who, once bought, delivers for his owners.

The programmed man

FuturePundit: Nanowires Could Be Run Up All Brain Capillaries For Neural Interface

First we're programmed by natural selection. Next by wire. Yay.

Terrorism and a failure of imagination: Poisoning Milk

FuturePundit: Bioterrorism Attack On Food Supply Modelled By Stanford Researchers

We put SWAT teams on the subway. I guess it helps calm people. On the other hand, there's this article, which could be illegal in the UK fairly soon.
A mere 4 grams of botulinum toxin dropped into a milk production facility could cause serious illness and even death for 400,000 people in the United States. Investments that would cost the public only 1 cent more per half-gallon of milk could prevent this nightmare scenario, according to Lawrence M. Wein of the Stanford Graduate School of Business...

...In the case of milk, says Wein, all it would take is for someone to obtain a suitable strain of botulinum toxin—the most poisonous substance known to humans—from an overseas black market lab, grow it in culture, and pour it into an unlocked milk tank or milk truck. From there, the contaminated milk would make its way into large processing silos, where it would poison at least 100,000 additional gallons. Only a fraction of the toxin would remain active after pasteurization, but according to Wein's mathematical model, that could be enough to infect the approximately 400,000 people who would drink the milk. "Only 1 millionth of a gram is enough to poison an adult," says Wein, "and there would be more than that per person remaining in the distributed milk to do the job.
Ok, from now on the kids drink rainwater. No wonder Homeland Security has had trouble retaining staff. Anyone who's any good gets fed up with George "Flame Plame" Bush and heads for the hills.

Peak Oil: not in the near future, and then a controlled transition

Econbrowser: How to talk to an economist about peak oil

An economist talks about Peak Oil. He is persuasive. His thesis is that there are vast profits related to anticipating the proximity of Peak Oil; profits so enormous that greed will ensure we have good warning of true Peak Oil, and a gradual price increase beforehand.

He does not say whether the current $60 price is a sign that we are in fact on the glide path towards Peak Oil. If I interpet his reasoning correctly, a price of $75 next year would be a reasonable sign that we are entering the end game of the Oil Era -- but we will have much time to respond to the price increases.

Of course manias and madness are yet possible ...

Cringely jumps the shark? iTunes HD, retinal scans and video iPods?

PBS | I, Cringely . July 14, 2005 - More Shoes

Well, Cringely isn't playing it safe with this one. He claims the Intel/Apple deal is all about Apple delivering an Intel 'home entertainment system' very soon. Not to mention retinal scan iPod VR headsets.

If he's right, he deserves some kind of prize. Certainly a bold set of predictions.

SARS and pulmonary angiotensin receptors: Nobel prize work?

With New Clue to How SARS Kills, Scientists Work on Treatment - New York Times

Incredible. SARS causes ARDS by binding to pulmonary angiotensin receptors; in mice administration of angiontensin converting enzyme 2 reverses this toxicity. Until last year this receptor had not been identified in lung tissue.

This has so many implications. Nobel prize work?

I still don't feel I know why the epidemic waned. My guess has been that there was a simultaneously circulating mild strain of the SARS virus that caused a conventional cold, and acted like a natural immunization program. Clinicians got sick in some SARS centers because they were so scrupulous at infection control they missed out on the benign virus.

A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War

This is why we liberals ought to reconsider our opposition to a fully inclusive military draft. We would not be in the mess we are today if the children of the ruling class were on the ground in Iraq. Those with power would not then remain silent at the incompetence of our government and military leadership.

Here a certified neo-conservative goes public with his observations, an event not unrelated to his son's pending service. Would he have spoken so clearly against his putative allies if he were not placing his son into their care? (via Shrillblog and others)
A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War, Sunday, July 10, 2005; B01
Eliot Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

War forces us, or should force us, to ask hard questions of ourselves. As a military historian, a commentator on current events and the father of a young Army officer, these are mine.

You supported the Iraq war when it was launched in 2003. If you had known then what you know now, would you still have been in favor of it?

As I watched President Bush give his speech at Fort Bragg to rally support for the war the other week, I contemplated this question from a different vantage than my usual professorial perch. Our oldest son now dresses like the impassive soldiers who served as stage props for that event; he too wears crossed rifles, jump wings and a Ranger tab. Before long he will fight in the war that I advocated, and that the president was defending.

So it is not an academic matter when I say that what I took to be the basic rationale for the war still strikes me as sound. Iraq was a policy problem that we could evade in words but not escape in reality. But what I did not know then that I do know now is just how incompetent we would be at carrying out that task. And that's what prevents me from answering this question with an unhesitating yes.

The Bush administration did itself a disservice by resting much of its case for war on Iraq's actual possession of weapons of mass destruction. The true arguments for war reached deeper than that. Long before 2003, weapons inspections in Iraq had broken down, and sanctions, thanks to countries like Russia, China and France, were failing. The regime's character and ambitions, including its desire to resume suspended weapons programs, had not changed. In the meanwhile, the policy of isolation had brought suffering to the Iraqi people and had not stabilized the Gulf. Read Osama bin Laden's fatwas in the late 1990s and see how the massive American presence in Saudi Arabia -- a presence born of the need to keep Saddam Hussein in his cage -- fed the outrage of the jihadis with whom we are in a war that will last a generation or more.

More than this: Decades of American policy had hoped to achieve stability in the Middle East by relying on accommodating thugs and kleptocrats to maintain order. That policy, too, had failed; it was the well-educated children of our client regimes who leveled the Twin Towers, after all...

... But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.

... Conceivably, the Iraqi insurgency could collapse in a year or so, but that would be highly unusual. More likely Iraq will suffer from chronic violence, which need not prevent the country as a whole from progressing. If the insurgencies in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, Sri Lanka and Kashmir continue, what reason do we have to expect this one to end so soon? Most insurgencies do, however, fail. Moreover, most insurgencies consist of a collection of guerrilla microclimates in which local conditions -- charismatic leaders (or their absence), ethnographic peculiarities, concrete grievances -- determine how much violence will occur and with what effect...

Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?

Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns...

Iraq and Vietnam: a comparison

Iraq Is Not Vietnam by Jim Cox

Fifteen ways in which Iraq is rather like Vietnam. It's amusing in a dark fashion. Obviously Vietnam and Iraq do have quite a few things in common, it's possible however that Iraq is much more internally divided and combative than Vietnam ever was. That is a significant difference.

IQ is up, IQ/EnvIQ is way, way down

I was thinking a bit about complexity in the modern world, and a post I'm working on about the increasing "invisibility" of innovation. It reminded me of the perfectly silly thesis that video games and complex TV dramas account for the apparent rise in measured IQ: Gordon's Notes: Bogus science: television and video games improve IQ.

Any cognitive burden imposed by watching TV dramas is dwarfed by the mental strain of juggling cell phone, BlackBerry, TV remote, iPod, laptop, PC, wireless phone, pager, etc. Not to mention trying to remember the current postal rate. That's what's forcing us to "up" our IQ game -- not TV.

But is our "IQ" really keeping up? I think not. Maybe our IQ has risen 10%, but our environment is not 10% more complex than it was 40 years ago. I'd guess it's 200 to 300% more complex -- as measured by the variables we track and balance.

There's a denominator in the "IQ" equation. The denominator is the "Environmental IQ" or EnvIQ -- the IQ required to stay "on top" of our rockworld/cyberworld environment. Perhaps the numerator (average IQ) is rising, but the ratio of IQ to EnvIQ is plummeting like a rock.

We are working very hard simply to tread water in this new, immensely complex, world. (see also: "Fast Times at Fairmont High").

And so it goes -- entering the world of low cost chaos

BBC NEWS | UK | Hunted chemistry expert arrested

With each attack, there is a new lessening of freedom.
The government plans new criminal offences of providing or receiving training in the use of hazardous substances; of acts preparatory to terrorism; and of inciting terrorism indirectly, Home Office minister Hazel Blears said.
Incitement. Prepatory acts. Such a wide scope ...

Human freedom may not again equal the heights of mid-1990s America for decades, perhaps much longer.

iTunes Radio: the quiet revolution - better than podcasting?

Apple - iTunes

I have yet to figure out a use for iTunes "podcasting". My commute just isn't long enough, and there's no other time I could listen to something that requires processing. I also don't usually want to listen to such things more than once, so the permanence of a podcast file is a bit odd. Not to mention I prefer things like lectures from The Teaching Company or audio books for that sort of setting.

iTunes radio is another story. One no-one talks about. When iTunes first came out they offered very few low bit-rate stations with poor reliability. Now there are hundreds of 128 kb stations, and they actually work. You can drag and drop to playlists (need to display the comment field in the playlist view or you only see the station ID) and add your own metadata (rating, type, etc - I unchecked most of the default iTunes columns as they're not relevant to radio). I suspect you can create smart Playlists from this data.

I'm listening now to KCRW. Very good.

I wonder when anyone will notice iTunes Radio now spanks the competition?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Advances in Alzheimer research

Hope for reversing memory loss

Mice bred to produce defective tau protein develop memory loss. Turning off defective protein production aids memory recovery -- but the brain continues to form neurofibrillary plaques and tangles.
Ashe said the new findings suggest that abnormal forms of the proteins work like poisons. They might be disrupting the function of brain cells early in the disease process, and long before the plaques and tangles appear. The plaques and tangles might, instead, be a defensive mechanism to neutralize the bad proteins, she said.
This has been a recurring idea for some years -- that the "pathologic structures" seen in brains afflicted by the Alzheimer's process are actually attempts to protect the neuron. Dr. Ashe's research has greatly strengthened that hypothesis. Now others will have to validate these results.

Update: Thinking this over, it occurs to me that the plaques and/or tangles would still play a pathologic role if they somehow acted with the tau protein to cause memory loss. Oh well, Dr. Ashe probably has other reasons to suspect they're protective.

The London attack: let's hope it needed an outside expert

Cracking the London Case - Agatha Christie vs. the terrorists. By Tim Naftali

Tim Naftali is the author of Blind Spot: the Secret History of American Counterterrorism. He's not a formal counter-terrorism export, but given the way he writes I wonder if he's had another past life he doesn't talk about. This Salon article, despite the stupid title, is an exceptional summary of how counter-terrorism operations proceed, including how the Lockerbie bombing was solved.

The most interesting part for me, however, was his conclusion:
The challenge now for the British is to determine whether they are hunting a large organization, with direct ties abroad, or a local jihadist gang. There is much debate now about the extent to which al-Qaida has metastasized in reaction to U.S. and allied attacks on Bin Laden's sanctuary in Afghanistan. There is no question that the group has devolved into a looser worldwide confederation. The question is whether it has also become more lethal. The solution to the London case may provide some answers. Counterintuitive as this may seem, it would be comforting to learn that these four suspected bombers relied on outside help. That would indicate that they are part of an army of terrorists, and armies have leadership structures that can be destroyed. If, on the other hand, the London bombings were done by four angry young men with the barest amount of local support, the challenge for Western counterterrorism becomes much greater.
Years ago, when I wrote a mini-book web page post 9/11, the falling cost of havoc was the single most important concept I wanted to communicate. This is the real bottom line. We've always had suicidal religous fanatics (remember Shinto pilots in WW II?). We've always had terrorists. We've always had religious and cultural strife. What's new is that havoc has become affordable. As technology reduces the costs and increases the diversity of weaponry, as communication allows ideas and techniques to be widely disseminated, as the pool of the educated disenfranchised grows, the risks and costs of terrorism rise.

This has implications. I think, for example, that we should be desperately funding research into the nature of paranoid schizophrenia and the sociology of antisocial action. We also need to think about how we'll survive a world in which engineering bio-pathogens becomes a schoolboy's exercise.

Let's hope this event required an outside expert. Let's hope the currently missing Islamic chemistry student wasn't all they needed. Let's hope the day of reckoning is still a few years away.

At last -- the study on how well studies hold up - Research: Third of study results don't hold up - Jul 13, 2005

When I started my practice in rural Michigan 16 years ago Family Physicians were (even then!) being "beat up" for not adopting new research quickly enough. After a few years of practice I experienced quite a few reversals in "best practice" (such as the U turn on Magnesium post-MI).

Back then I proposed doing a study that would take a number of journals from the 1980s and see how well the recommendations held up. I started doing some preliminary work, but my life took other directions. Once it became apparent I wasn't going to do the research myself I talked it up with friends and colleagues. They weren't too impressed.

Which is why I'm so pleased someone has done the work, and confirmed what I'd guessed back then:
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- New research highlights a frustrating fact about science: What was good for you yesterday frequently will turn out to be not so great tomorrow.

The sobering conclusion came in a review of major studies published in three influential medical journals between 1990 and 2003, including 45 highly publicized studies that initially claimed a drug or other treatment worked.

Subsequent research contradicted results of seven studies -- 16 percent -- and reported weaker results for seven others, an additional 16 percent.

That means nearly one-third of the original results did not hold up, according to the report in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Now there's some empiric support for the practice of gnarly old docs who like to wait a few years before implementing the very latest research -- especially when the benefits of a new approach seem relatively modest.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Progress on "supplements" in Europe -- the slow dawn of rationality

BBC NEWS | Health | Vitamin controls backed by Europe

It was always a ridiculous superstition that because something is "natural" it is somehow fundamentally safer, and thus should be treated differently from "synthetic" substances. Tobacco is natural. So is Coca, tetrodotoxin and rabies. Europe fell to this superstition early, and it infected the US in the 1980s thanks to a dim witted senator from Utah.

Maybe this is a sign that superstition has its limits, at least in Europe.

Terrorists have families too: suicide bomber reported missing

BBC NEWS | UK | London bomb arrests: At a glance:

It was obvious that the lists of persons reported missing might include the terrorists, but wisely I didn't see this mentioned anywhere. Now it can be said:
1712 The home addresses of three of the four suspects were searched. Material found at one of the six addresses raided has caused police concern. One man has been arrested in West Yorkshire and will be brought to London to be questioned.

1709 All four of the men arrived in London by train on the morning of Thursday 7 July. Personal documents link them to the scenes of some of the explosions, Mr Clark says. One suspect had been reported missing by his family.

1708 Peter Clark, head of the Met's anti-terrorist branch says they were alerted quite early to the activities of four men, three from the West Yorkshire area.

1707 Asst Comm Andy Hayman says police have followed up more than 2,000 calls to an anti-terrorist helpline. They have also studied 2,500 CCTV tapes.

1650 Security sources confirm they believe all four bombers are dead. They suspect the three on the Tube were suicide bombers but are keeping an open mind on whether the bomber who died in the bus bomb meant to kill himself, the BBC's Margaret Gilmore says.

1638 Counter-terrorist officers tell the BBC they believe all four of the bomb suspects are British born. They suspect more than one died in the blasts.
A double tragedy, perhaps, for that family.

Responding to terrorism -- the limits of human nature

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | UK urges terrorist asset seizure

Humans are bad at prevention; natural selection has not given us the full cognitive architecture needed for anticipatory actions. We do better at this than other animals, but ultimately we run into our fundamental limitations.

There are many actions the EU was to have taken post 9/11 that they did not take, particularly with money laundering. These were requested by every post 9/11 commission and report. The reluctance to act is probably related to the use of those services by powerful individuals in the EU (and US) who are not directly connected to terrorism, but may wish to avoid taxes, leverage campaign donations, benefit from corruption, hide money from divorce lawyers, recycle drug money, etc.

Now that the long anticipated and highly probably London bombings have occurred, we humans may do post-tragedy the things that were needed pre-tragedy:
Among the measures in the EU action plan he wants pushed through are:

* Ensuring all member states can take action nationally to freeze terrorist assets - EU-wide mechanisms cannot currently be used to freeze accounts of EU citizens

* Making it compulsory for wire transfers of money to be accompanied by information about the identity of the sender

* Updating the EU money laundering rules to meet international standards

* Completing the European Commission-sponsored review of EU structures on tackling terrorists' finance

* Introducing a code of conduct to prevent abuse of charities by terrorists.
Sadly, being human, we may also do some things of uncertain risk/benefit ratio as well:
...On Wednesday, Home Secretary Charles Clarke will chair an emergency meeting with his European counterparts on co-operation on counter-terrorism operations.

Mr Clarke wants to force telephone and internet service firms across Europe to keep records of all private telephone calls, text messages and e-mails so they can be passed on to the police if necessary.

Monday, July 11, 2005

How to solve the problem of identity theft and mass credit card fraud

Data Theft: How to Fix the Mess - New York Times

Today merchants and card holder are the victims of identity theft and credit card misuse. The banks do very well thank you; they even make money if the card holder doesn't detect the fraudulent transaction. Merchants don't have the resources to deal with this problem -- only the banks can tackle it. They've had solutions in hand for over a decade, but they cost money to implement -- so nothing happens.

This NYT article outlines the obvious solution, championed by Bruce Schneier. Make fraudulent transactions the bank's problem.
What we need right now is someone in power who can put the burden for this problem right where it belongs: on the financial and other institutions who collect this data. Let's face it: by the time even the most vigilant consumer discovers his information has been used fraudulently, it's already too late. 'When people ask me what can the average person do to stop identity theft, I say, 'nothing,' ' said Bruce Schneier, the chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security. 'This data is held by third parties and they have no impetus to fix it.'

Mr. Schneier, though, has a solution that is positively Proxmirian in its elegance and simplicity. Most of the bills that have been filed in Congress to deal with identity fraud are filled with specific requirements for banks and other institutions: encrypt this; safeguard that; strengthen this firewall.

Mr. Schneier says forget about all that. Instead, do what Congress did in the 1970's - just put the burden on the financial industry. 'If we're ever going to manage the risks and effects of electronic impersonation,' he wrote recently on CNET (and also in his blog), 'we must concentrate on preventing and detecting fraudulent transactions.' And the only way to do that, he added, is by making the financial institutions liable for fraudulent transactions.

'I think business ingenuity is top notch,' Mr. Schneier said in an interview. 'And I think if you make it their problem, they will solve it.'
Indeed. The banks know what to do, if they start losing billions they'll put their fixes off the shelf.

Update 1/23/2008: A comment pointed out that South Korea has implemented the policy Mr. Schneier recommends. Sure enough, Schneier wrote about that in December 2005.

Racism is ubiquitous - the Japanese experience

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan racism 'deep and profound'

In Japan it's legal to have store signs that say "Japanese Only", by which I think they first mean "no Koreans" and secondarily no Euros. (Africans are probably too shocking to contemplate.) Many Japanese are still explicitly ethnocentric and racist.

So, for that matter, are the Quebecois. Also the Chinese and the Koreans. And umm, oh yes, the rest of us. What's a bit different about Japanese racism is that it's relatively widely accepted and institutionalized in both religious and political life. Such honesty is unusual for a wealthy nation.

The US has traveled some distance since our days of explicit, santioned racism -- not so long ago. It's been an irregular course and it's sure to reverse; since 9/11 racism has probably grown here. We're still very racist, but we're less honest about it. I think, in this case, dishonesty is good. The first step towards changing a behavior is to make it shameful, something that ought to be hidden.

Progress can occur. One day humans may even be civilized; perhaps in two or three hundred years.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Rove/Plame story: why did Time try to silence the memo?

Matt Cooper's Source - Newsweek National News -

Newsweek gets a copy of a Time magazine memo that Time's corporate parents wanted suppressed. The memo implicates Karl Rove in the Plame scandal.
NEWSWEEK obtained a copy of the e-mail that Cooper sent his bureau chief after speaking to Rove. (The e-mail was authenticated by a source intimately familiar with Time's editorial handling of the Wilson story, but who has asked not to be identified because of the magazine's corporate decision not to disclose its contents.)
Presumably a Time magazine journalist, infuriated at this corporate cover-up, leaked the email.

So why did Time-Warner want to hide the memo? Which corporate mogul made that decision? What was the anticipated payoff? The story has developed an interesting new angle.

Diabetes and coffee

BBC NEWS | Health | Row over coffee advice for diabetics

The BBC did a great job of covering this story; most of the media did their usual miserable health care work. It's no wonder the BBC's news sites are displacing traditional print media.
Researchers from the Dutch national Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, Netherlands, asked over 17,000 how much coffee they drank each day.

Those who drank seven or more cups of coffee a day-were 50% less likely to develop type-2 diabetes compared with those who drank two cups a day or less.

The association was still seen when factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and body mass were taken into account...

... This study backs up previous research which showed that when people increased their coffee consumption for 14 days, their blood glucose levels were reduced, but substituting regular coffee for decaffeinated coffee for 20 days did not affect glucose levels.
I bet this 50% reduction effect doesn't hold up. Seven cups is a lot -- that's getting into my range. Maybe they actually showed a continuous decline in incidence with coffee dose, but if it were a discontinuous effect then I'd be extremely skeptical.

They claim they controlled for body mass, but all the mega-coffee drinkers I can think of are relatively slender types. I suspect what they did was isolate a group of adults with ADD traits who manage that predisposition by using a legal and safe stimulant -- coffee. This group is notoriously fidgety and restless, and hence prone to a lower average lifelong body mass. Even if they controlled for present body mass, I'd wonder if they missed a difference earlier in life.

That doesn't mean there isn't some substance of interest in the coffee bean related to insulin activity, but I bet the effect is much less than a 50% reduction in onset of DM II.

So why doesn't al Qaeda attack the US directly?

Will America be the next terror target? / London attack shows al Qaeda's strategy

Post 9/11 it's fair to say that most people expected quite a few al Qaeda attacks on the US (though immediately post-Afghanistan some analysts thought al Qaeda was in very bad shape). John Arquilla is professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He discounts the theory that al Qaeda by reviewing their records of successful attacks, and he concludes that al Qaeda has strategically chosen to focus on Iraq and abroad:
So it seems that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which many of us opposed beforehand, have become both our Achilles' heel and the single most important reason al Qaeda has chosen not to resume its terror campaign in America. Iraq provides our principal enemy with a place to fight us directly and a reason to mount an indirect campaign against our allies.

Some might now say that this makes our presence in Iraq worthwhile. As the president has put it, "We fight the terrorists in Iraq so that we do not have to face them at home."

Perhaps. Yet for a small fraction of what our involvement in Iraq has cost us in blood and treasure, we could have shored up our homeland defenses and made it well-nigh impossible for the terrorists to attack America again.

The rerouting of an even tinier fraction of these vast resources in support of a proactive campaign by small teams of special forces hunter networks would keep the terrorists perpetually on the run, unable even to think about coming back here or about striking elsewhere.

But we're still in Iraq, and we'll be there for years to come. Oddly, this probably means few, if any, attacks will be attempted on American territory. It also means there will be more Madrids and Londons. This should remind us that, in a war fought for all that we call civilization, feeling more assured about our own safety is hardly a sign that victory is near.
Hmm. I thought he made sense until he wrote "well-nigh impossible for the terrorists to attack America again". Only a police state to shame 1984 would make terrorist attacks truly impossible. Special forces hunter networks sounds more interesting, though he doesn't provide nearly enough detail about how that would work.

The UK went without an effective attack for years -- but al Qaeda was trying very hard. UK police and security forces were said to have stopped at least six serious attempts in the past five years. The post-911 "peace" in the US may be a combination of post-Afghanistan disruption of al Qaeda, reduction of their leadership and technical ingenuity, relative strategic deemphasis by al Qaeda, effective action by US security forces, distance from Eurasia, and a relatively small and loyal US Islamic community. It's a statisical phenomena in other words; it could persist or change at any time.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Are there any rational conservatives left? The Evolution Test

The New Republic Online: Evolutionary War

Brilliant. The best test for Reason among the right wing is the Evolution test. Ben Adler interviews 15 "commentators". In general they fail the test miserably, and they reveal a strong Christian-America predisposition.

Let's flog those insipid journalists until this test is applied to every politicican running for office anywhere.

How to sell a map and create a retail web site

This is a very clever business web site. Kudos to this Colorado business. They sell trail maps and books for outdoor activity. All very well, but what's clever is their combination of service and marketing. For example, the Minnesota Bicycle Trails Reference Map costs $5.00 or so. The site lists every trail on the map with supplemental information. So how does this help them sell the map? Each trail profile is followed by links to the maps and/or books that reference the trail. No mapping information is included.

So they combine value delivered for free with marketing, and intelligently link the products to the marketing. They also have an affiliate program for others who wish to set up store fronts.

This is the way web marketing and advertising ought to be done. Why can't others figure this out, darn it?!

Thinking about science in America, and the Catholic Church

I've been thinking more about science in America, and Pope Benedict's fracture of an unofficial truce between the Church and Science: Gordon's Notes: Another victory for the Discovery Institute: The Catholic church church attacks the enlightenment.

Science in America is being strongly challenged and occasionally defeated. That may not be entirely bad for science. Scientists tend to be politically flacid; it's long past time they woke up. Even if rationalists really do lose in this country, moreover, it's unlikely India, China and Europe will join a flight to superstition. It might not be an entirely bad thing to have another nation (or nations) lead for a while. A bit of economic and political decline might temper American arrogance and add a bit of wisdom.

As for the Catholic church, on reflection the truce of Vatican II was a false pause in a long conflict with science. One of the strongest logical outcomes of natural selection and our emerging understanding of consciousness is that there's nothing inevitable about the emergence of humans, or about human nature, or even about sentience. (I've a hunch that sentience is an almost inevitable byproduct of a longlived complex ecosystem -- but that's only a guess, there's no way today to test that hypothesis.)

The evitability of Man is a hard pill for the church to swallow; a God that finds humans to be a delightful byproduct of His creation rather than the Purpose thereof is a bit off-putting for traditionalists. (Frankly I can't believe the "delightful" part myself, but I'm not God.)

With this announcement the Catholic church is shifting to a traditionalist position, reversing the post-Vatican II agenda and firmly aligning itself with American Protestant fundamentalists -- just as it did when Catholic bishops came out against John Kerry. This is a very big deal for the Church. There will be consequences within the church.

The Jesuits must quite miserable.

Another victory for the Discovery Institute: The Catholic church church attacks the enlightenment

Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution - New York Times

I must doff my cap to the Discovery Institute. Not since the dark ages has reason, science, and enlightenment had such an effective and implacable foe (update: ok, so maybe Stalin/Lysenko, Mao, and a few hundred others were even more effective in their time). In the Benedict era the Discovery Institute has brought the Catholic church into their fold.
An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not...

...Mark Ryland, a vice president of the [Discovery] institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay. Both Mr. Ryland and Cardinal Schönborn said that an essay in May in The Times about the compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory by Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, suggested to them that it was time to clarify the church's position on evolution.

The cardinal's essay, a direct response to Dr. Krauss's article, was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.
I would have opposed George Bush's election for his opposition to reason alone; I consider the Discovery Institute's progress a side effect of Bush's election. GWB has often declared himself as ingorant of science in general, and opposed to biology and climate science in particular.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What's next in Broadband

broadband news - Everything You Need to Know About Next-gen Broadband - New DSL flavors, DOCSIS 3.0, Bell TV, and more...
DB: In three to four years - because constructing facilities for millions of people take that long - expect that half of Verizon should have fiber at 15-100 meg, otherwise slow DSL. Half of SBC should have DSL at 10-20Mbps, from existing boxes 2,000-5,000 feet away (FTTN). The rest will be slow DSL and satellite resale. One-tenth of BellSouth customers should have 50Mbps service from fiber to the curb. Half of the rest should have 10-30Mbps DSL, often using two lines...

...DB: Verizon is going as fast as it can building fiber; one newspaper reported 2,000 crews working just in Virginia! It's really that big a job to rewire a third of the U.S. All the others are constrained more by their decision on how much to spend, not construction limits.

Verizon wants fiber to the home. That's the big deal. Three million homes passed by the end of 2005. They've budgeted for, and are likely to deliver - a total of 7 million by the end of 2006 and 15 million by the end of 2008. That's about half of their 1/3rd of the country target - an enormous build costing $15-20 billion. Verizon and NTT in Japan are the only two large carriers in the world doing large volumes of fiber.

Currently, Verizon has a BPON network with video that matches cable on one wavelength and 19 meg down/ 6 meg up. They intend to switch to GPON for new builds as soon as it's ready, and have pushed manufacturers to have equipment by mid-2006 and accelerated the international standard. That's designed for 100 meg symmetric and higher, for real.

For the 20 million plus other Verizon subscribers, they will continue offering DSL and have given no indication they'll jump from the 1-5 meg ADSL speeds to the 10-15 meg ADSL2+. They stopped the DSL build at 80% or so to concentrate on fiber, but I believe are now going back to reach 90%+. Because they were considering selling rural lines, they didn't invest, leaving half of Maine unserved.
Via Slashdot. Back in 1994 this is what we'd thought we'd have by 2000. We were off by quite a bit. One of the reasons the first Internet bubble blew up so dramatically was that broadband deployment was far slower than most analysts projected -- early 1990s business plans that relied on ubiquitous reliable broadband died.

This kind of infrastructure is, I think, closer to what South Korea has now.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Google Firefox Toolbar: at long last

Google Blog: The platypus of the Internet

It's been a long time coming.

GMail and spam filtering: Google's engineers are not perfect after all

Google Accounts

I love GMail -- except for the spam filtering. It's broken in an impressive way. Google's spam filters miss a lot of spam (so it shows up in my inbox) and they label a lot of my email as spam when it isn't (possibly a problem with how they handle redirects). Of course since GMail is a free/beta product there's no-one to complain to -- or even give feedback to. Actually, there is a feedback form. Update: it's a Potemkin feedback form. Use it and you get a form letter email that says to resubmit feedback after reading the form letter -- but the form letter doesn't include what was written using Google's web page. This manages to be worse than nothing!

My regular ISP, using standard open source spam management solutions, does a far better job.

Google arrogance perhaps? definitely.

Update: When you mark a message as 'not spam', GMail is supposed to add the sender to one's contact list. Contacts are supposed to be 'white listed'. This is broken, GMail is not always adding the sender correctly. I'm adding the sender for miscategorized email manually to my contacts list.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Circumcision: required for all males now?

Circumcision may offer Africa AIDS hope / Procedure linked to much lower rate of new HIV infections

A year ago a study reported a 6 fold protective effect of circumcision. Now another study demonstrates about a 70% risk reduction.

I did infant circumcisions in the days before use of any local anesthesia. I hated doing them and always tried to persuade mothers (they made the decisions) that it was a peculiar American custom with minimal medical benefit and lots of pain. (As far as I know the US is the only industrialized country which practices circumcision for non-religious cultural reasons.)

Looks like I was wrong. Not the first time. If this really holds up we have a miraculously effective way to stop HIV. Nobel prizes all around!

Pricing futures contracts and call options: examples from oil futures

Econbrowser: $100 a barrel-- what are the odds?

This is a wonderful practical essay on a complex topic. I was trying to figure out the other day how to price a real estate futures option -- I figured out fairly quickly that it was complex. This says why.

The expected price for oil, based on the option calculation, is about $60 in 6 months. About what it is now.

Millennium Simulation: Visiting the universe by simulation

Millennium Simulation

Any feelings of recursion when viewing these videos are purely imaginary.

(Link to mirror site, the original has been slashdotted.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Highlights from the 2000 official Texas Republican platform

Crooked Timber Gold Standard

I thought the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor platform was a bit flaky. I just needed to read the Texas Republican party platform. I'll never think badly of the DFL's flakiness again.

Puts hair on the chest.

My favorite: "WE OPPOSE: the theory of global warming."

Hmm. I wonder what they say about teaching evolution ...

The word that is not "democracy": it can happen here

The New York Review of Books: The New World Order

Tony Judt, a historian, fears for the American Republic.
...With rare exceptions—notably the admirable Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker—the American press has signally failed to understand, much less confront, the threat posed by this administration. Bullied into acquiescence, newspapers and television in the US have allowed the executive power to ignore the law and abuse human rights free of scrutiny or challenge. Far from defying an over-mighty government, investigative journalists were actively complicit before the Iraq war in spreading reports of weapons of mass destruction. Pundits and commentators bayed for war and sneered—as they continue to sneer—at foreign critics or dissenting allies. Amnesty International and other foreign human rights groups are now doing the work of domestic media grown supine and subservient...

...Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially—brutally, contemptuously, illegally—abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country's political class have failed. Congress appears helpless to impede the concentration of power in the executive branch; indeed, with few exceptions it has contributed actively and even enthusiastically to the process...

... The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerability of their republic. It would not occur to most of them even to contemplate the possibility that their country might fall into the hands of a meretricious oligarchy; that, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, their political "system is fundamentally corrupt and functions in ways inconsistent with the spirit of genuine democracy." But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.

For there is a precedent in modern Western history for a country whose leader exploits national humiliation and fear to restrict public freedoms; for a government that makes permanent war as a tool of state policy and arranges for the torture of its political enemies; for a ruling class that pursues divisive social goals under the guise of national 'values'; for a culture that asserts its unique destiny and superiority and that worships military prowess; for a political system in which the dominant party manipulates procedural rules and threatens to change the law in order to get its own way; where journalists are intimidated into confessing their errors and made to do public penance. Europeans in particular have experienced such a regime in the recent past and they have a word for it. That word is not 'democracy.'
The study of history is always illuminating. There are several points in American history where the Republic was at risk, and I'm not referring to the Civil War alone. Were we to replay our history, and change a few details, it might have come out quite differently. We are fundamentally human, no different than Germans, Japanese, Argentinians, Chileans, Spanish and others who've descended into brutal political states. I am staggered by how poorly America has managed a single very effective but conventional terrorist attack; imagine if a nuclear or biological weapon had caused mass casualties in a major urban center.

There is nothing in our national character or history that ensures we will not follow the path others have taken.

Sparta 2008: The Militarization of America

The New York Review of Books: The New World Order

Emphases mine.
The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War
by Andrew J. Bacevich
Oxford University Press, 270 pp., $28.00

Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran, and a conservative Catholic who now directs the study of international relations at Boston University. He has thus earned the right to a hearing even in circles typically immune to criticism. What he writes should give them pause. His argument is complex, resting on a close account of changes in the US military since Vietnam, on the militarization of strategic political thinking, and on the role of the military in American culture. But his conclusion is clear. The United States, he writes, is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.

Why does the US Department of Defense currently maintain 725 official US military bases outside the country and 969 at home (not to mention numerous secret bases)? Why does the US spend more on 'defense' than all the rest of the world put together? After all, it has no present or likely enemies of the kind who could be intimidated or defeated by 'star wars' missile defense or bunker-busting 'nukes.' And yet this country is obsessed with war: rumors of war, images of war, 'preemptive' war, 'preventive' war, 'surgical' war, 'prophylactic' war, 'permanent' war. As President Bush explained at a news conference on April 13, 2004, 'This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense.'

Among democracies, only in America do soldiers and other uniformed servicemen figure ubiquitously in political photo ops and popular movies. Only in America do civilians eagerly buy expensive military service vehicles for suburban shopping runs. In a country no longer supreme in most other fields of human endeavor, war and warriors have become the last, enduring symbols of American dominance and the American way of life. 'In war, it seemed,' writes Bacevich, 'lay America's true comparative advantage.'

Bacevich is good on the intellectual roots of the cult of therapeutic aggression—citing among others the inimitable Norman Podhoretz (America has an international mission and must never 'come home'). He also summarizes the realist case for war—rooted in what will become the country's increasingly desperate struggle to control the fuel supply. The United States consumes 25 percent of all the oil produced in the world every year but has proven reserves of its own amounting to less than 2 percent of the global total. This struggle Bacevich calls World War IV: the contest for supremacy in strategic, energy-rich regions like the Middle East and Central Asia.[10] It began at the end of the Seventies, long before the formal conclusion of 'World War III' (i.e., the cold war).

In this setting today's 'Global War on Terror' is one battle, perhaps just a sideshow, among the potentially limitless number of battles that the US will be called upon (or will call upon itself) to fight. These battles will all be won because the US has a monopoly of the most advanced weaponry—and they may be acceptable to the American people because, in Bacevich's view, that same weaponry, air power especially, has given war 'aesthetic respectability' once again. But the war itself has no foreseeable end.

As a former soldier, Bacevich is much troubled by the consequent militarization of American foreign relations, and by the debauching of his country's traditional martial values in wars of conquest and occupation. And it is clear that he has little tolerance for Washington's ideologically driven overseas adventures: the uncertain benefits for the foreign recipients are far outweighed by the moral costs to the US itself.[11] For Bacevich's deepest concern lies closer to home. In a militarized society the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks. Opposition to the 'commander in chief' is swiftly characterized as lese-majeste; criticism becomes betrayal. No nation, as Madison wrote in 1795 and Bacevich recalls approvingly, can 'preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.'[12] 'Full-spectrum dominance' begins as a Pentagon cliche and ends as an executive project.
Germany was a militarized society in the 19th century. Japan was a militarised society in late 19th and early 20th century. The US only developed a serious persistent military force after World War II, but increasingly we are becoming a militarized society. This is why so many nations are afraid of us, and why the Economist recently reported a highly negative worldwide opinion of America.

Dyer on Iraq: "This is going to be a long war."

Iraq: The Long War

The military historian Gwynne Dyer summarizes the strategic situation in Iraq. The title is the conclusion -- he foresees a "long" war. He doesn't say what he means by "long"; historically long wars are anything from 8 to 100 years. The current "realist" fashion is to presume an "insurgency"/"civil war" lasting about 5-8 years, then a smoldering "peace" (see Ireland) for perhaps another 20-40 years.

During that time the US forces will be continually stressed and the US will not be able to engage in significant "adventures" elsewhere (much to the relief of North Korea, China, Russia and maybe everyone). Sometime in the next 10 years we will either give up or some administration will start a draft - or hire a very large number of foreign mercenaries. High school students may read about France's Algerian experience, however study of those materials may be considered distasteful, if not seditious.

GWB has established his place in history.

On the unremarked and curious decay of software

MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh

From a reader comment in Macintouch:
[MacInTouch Readers] Creating long documents with cross-references, many tables, and heaven forbid - figures - is not really possible on the Mac nowadays. MS Word, even splitting files and trying every trick, is unstable and crashes frequently. This seems to occur across our university and there is much gnashing of teeth.

In the past we tried Framemaker 6 (Win) with Virtual PC. It was too slow. However, in desperation have just tried the combination (VPC 7.02 running Win XP and Framemaker 6 for Win) on a17' 1.67 GHz Powerbook. It was fast enough and stable enough for me to create a 200-page document with 6 chapters, multiple cross references, proper numbering, etc. It is disappointing that this can't be done on the Mac but now there is a solution.
15 years ago one could create a complex 200 page document using WordPerfect 5 for DOS. It wouldn't be all that pretty on the screen, but it would print out well.

I don't think this is an isolated issue. Many software solutions that were created in the 1980s no longer have consumer equivalents. Quite curious really.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Fax and Voicemail to email: MaxEmail and more

In years past I've used eFax, jFax and Faxaway in an attempt to integrate fax and email. Results were mixed. Faxaway was once a good solution for sending email as a fax, but I don't like their billing procedures (they do get some good reviews nowadays and claim to have added fax receipt). eFax (e-Fax) died in an ugly spiral of spam; they were a .com without a business plan. jFax (j-Fax) required some odd sort of proprietary viewer -- I want PDF.

Recently I decided to try again -- especially for fax receipt.

In theory one could use an email/fax service to send faxes as well, but scanning documents then faxing them is too awkward a workflow -- particularly in the absence of a sheet feed scanner. It's technically feasible, but there are problems with both software and hardware.

The hardware problem is the tougher one. Traditionally home scanners were designed for image acquisition, not document management. They haven't had reliable sheet feeders or the software to assemble pages into a document. This may be changing, but it's a slow process that's moved forwards and backwards over the past decade. For most of the past ten years reliable document scanners have started at $1,000 a unit and moved quickly into the five figure range.

Even if the hardware worked, the software I've seen isn't good enough. This task requires software that automates assembling the scanned images into a document, translating that to CCITT encoded TIFF, and uploading the result to the send-scan service (ideally through an API). I don't think there's a market to support this kind of software. Someday, perhaps in the VOIP world of the future, some vendor (Google?) will decide to take over faxing and provide the software/API solution that manufacturers will create hardware for.

So for sending faxes we will buy a dedicated fax machine, or maybe an integrated hydra multi-funtion device (but those have a reputation for buggy device drivers, unreliable hardware, and lousy Mac support). Any online service support for fax sending is just gravy (it's about 10 cents/fax with MaxEmail).

So how about receiving faxes? In theory a standalone fax machine can monitor incoming phone calls line and automatically distinguish incoming faxes from voice calls. In practice none of the people I know have been happy with this; most either end up connecting the fax machine erratically or they pay for a dedicated line. Since I'll eventually buy a fax machine I'll get to test this out myself.

So it's for incoming faxes where a fax to email service ought to work well. Nowadays the best ones support both incoming fax and incoming voice messages. Fax is translated to PDF or TIFF, voicemail to WAV (or something else). Users receive an email with an attached WAV or PDF file, or an email with a link to such. Inbound WAVs or PDFs are retained on the host service for at least 30 days, outbound faxes are not stored.

It's tough to find reviews of such services, Tidbits had the best I found from April 2005 (link to futher discussion on the right side of this page.) They liked MaxEmail's low cost ($15/year, Chicago phone number) solution. Innoport also got good reviews, but they don't offer anything comparable to MaxEmail's low cost Lite solution.

I decided both MaxEmail and Innoport looked reasonable. The latter is more corporate looking, but MaxEmail offered a free limited trial solution and Innoport didn't have any Minnesota local fax numbers. I ended up signing up for MaxEmail's Plus solution with a local fax number -- the Lite solution is a much better deal but our incoming faxes are frequently from small local educational institutions who might balk at sending some information to a remote number.

I'll try MaxEmail for a while and experiment with their voicemail service. I'll compare that to the dedicated fax machine. More later ...

Update 10/5/09: Somehow MaxEmail crept up to a $9/month flat fee. I didn't pay much attention, but that starts to add up for a service we now rarely use. I canceled it.