Saturday, May 29, 2004

That's amazing! I've got the same combination on my luggage!

The Center for Defense Information reveals that for most of the 1960s and 1970s, the ultra top secret launch code (called the Permissive Action Link in milspeak) for America's nuclear missiles was set to 00000000! Seems that the Strategic Air Command was more concerned about being really sure they could launch the missiles than they were about security. This was kept secret for the President and the Secretary of Defense, but was known to thousands of launch officers. Sounds something President Skroob would say in the movie Spaceballs!

Holy BatTracer, Batman!

Life has once again caught up with the comics. The New Scientist reports that the University of Florida in Gainesville has developed a (presumably low velocity) bullet that sticks to it's target, and then sends back wireless telemetry. Now, if they would just develop the hovering BatPlane...

Friday, May 28, 2004

Prisoners Stripped, Humiliated & Abused - At Stanford

As I said in an earlier post, prisoner abuse and torture have been the norm throughout history. Here is an interesting story of behavior almost identical to that in Iraq. But this was part of a Psych Department experiment at Stanford over 30 years ago! Posted on MTV of all sites. I'm still not condoning torture, but this does raise some interesting issues. More previos posts here and here.

"Talking Out Of His Ass"

More fuel for the pyre of the (still) upcoming book claiming that Linux Torvalds ripped off Linux from Minux and/or Unix. See earlier posts below:

Ice Maidens

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I found these pictures, and was so impressed I decided to post the link. These sculptures are done in snow! This is part of a Snow Festival in Harbin, China. Harbin (formerly known as Ping Kiang) is a city of 9.4 million ~300 miles from Vladivostok, and is actually further north. Winter temperatures commonly reach -40 degrees below zero (farenheit OR centigrade, take your choice). Great place for a Snow Festival.

Most Americans tend to think of China in a political sense, or as a dirt-poor country. We tend to ignore cultural and other aspects of their society.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Whoever Dies With The Most Toys....

Or maybe its the biggest toys. Take a look at this monster! And it actually flies!

Air Keyboard

Love the convenience of a PDA, but hate entering info using graffiti or a built-in micro-keyboard? Then this item is for you.

It uses a laser to display a keyboard on any surface. Can't call it a virtual KB, because it is there. Sort of. The device then scans the displayed KB with an IR beam 2mm above the surface to detect when your fingers interrupt the pattern. Holy Star Trek, Batman!

Probably works best for, you should pardon the expression, "touch typists." FWIW, the thing is backordered awaiting some sort certification (FCC?). Can a real Air Guitar be far behind?

The remaining question is: Will it work with the Oqo mentioned below?

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Estne volumen in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?

Very loosely translated: "Is that a computer in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" With apologies to Mae West.

Looks like the Oqo is finally approaching the light of day! They've been showing it off at CeBIT (which they've been doing for two years), but now the company is soliciting corporate beta testers. So there must be hardware to test.

This 4.9" x 3.4" x .9" computer is NOT a PDA, but a full blown system. Specs include a 1GHz TM5800 Crusoe processor, 20GB hard drive, 256MB RAM, 800 x 480 W-VGA 5" display, 802.11b, USB and Firewire! Early reviews here and here.

Don't know what you have to do to make the cut, but I'd certainly like to get my hands on one. Wonder if you can load Linux?

Remember the Alamo! And Beeman's, and Black Jack, and....

Modern chewing gum can be credited to, of all people, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, nemesis of the Alamo defenders and several times President of Mexico. Seems that in 1869 he was living in Staten Island(!) and suggested that his host, who was a photographer and inventor, should try to commercialize Mexican chicle as an alternative to rubber. Chicle didn't work for tires or gloves, but the inventor (Thomas Adams) remembered that Santa Ana liked to chew chicle, and modern chewing gum was born. Older forms of gum had often been based on paraffin wax. Yuck! Adams went on to add sarsaparilla, licorice (Black Jack), then mint and other flavors. The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Price of Freedom

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Or at least 40 winks. When railroad officials found a motion detector in a commuter rail yard outside Philadephia earlier this month, they thought it was part of a terrorist plot. An understandable reaction, given the current political climate. The FBI was called in, and in a rare turn of events solved the case. Turns out, the detector was an early warning system set up by an employee who liked to take naps on the job, and wanted to be alerted when his boss was coming to visit. Ain't technology grand?

Well We Always Knew Ties are Evil

Ever since John Kennedy destroyed the hat industry in this country, the move to dress casually has been on. For many of males, that has meant doing just about anything to avoid having to wear a tie. Now there is scientific evidence that ties truly are evil.

Researchers at New York Hospital Queens have found that 47.6% of ties worn by physicians in the hospital harbor bacteria that can cause disease. I see a resurgance in turtlenecks coming.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Aichmophilia Redux

Just when you thought you had finally gratified your fascination with sharp pointy objects, here comes one that lets you be a geek at the same time. All the usual tools, plus a USB Memory Stick too.

Even more toys here.

UPDATE (5/26): Another cool toy from Victorinox, the SwissFlame. A lighter and a Swiss Army knife in one! Not for sale in the western hemisphere for some reason, but it looks like tou can order it from the U.K. or Germany.

Journey From the Center of the Earth

Vulcanologists in New Zealand put a live web cam inside the crater of an active volcano on the uninhabited White Island east of Auckland. They then began to get calls about the strange beast that had apparently crawled up from the depths below.

If the picture is dark, remember the time differential in NZ. This is a live feed.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Let's See: 1,000,000 Moms Minus 998,000 Equals....

The so-called Million Mom March was held again in D.C. earlier in May. Seems they were a little short this year. Like 99.8% short. Only 2,000 people turned up. Maybe someone is getting a clue. With 46 states now having some sort of concealed carry law, and most having a right-to-carry requirement, it must be time to wake up and smell the coffee. In the right-to-carry states, violent crime is down 24% over the remaining holdouts. For comparison, in Australia armed robery is up 45%(!) since the passing of the draconian Port Arthur gun control measures. Prior to the ban, Australian violent crime rates had been dropping for 25 years. Australia has even banned swords and laser pointers! That will put a stop to all those drive-by stabbings.

For the most part, I don't usually feel any great need to regularly carry a gun. Especially up here in the Puget Sound region. But having the option to carry is important to me. The one place where I very much wanted to carry was when I was working in the other Washington, the city on the east coast. But, of course, big brother there knows better, and absolutely forbids anyone without a badge from carrying legally. Must be why they need so many dozens of different police agencies there.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Return of the Jedi

In the ongoing flap about Ken Brown, of the grandly named Alexis de Tocqueville Institution's, still unreleased book claiming the Linus Torvalds ripped off Linux from Minix and/or Unix, Andrew Tannenbaum has another great riposte. Well worth reading. Linus, by the way, readily admits that he didn't invent/write the original Linux kernel.

Please Place Your Arm in the Scanner

The time has finally come when people are asking to have RFID tags implanted in their bodies. The NewScientist reports that club goers in Barcelona are actually paying 25 Euros for the privilege of becoming walking network cookies. In return, they get premium service at the club, and can run a tab without other ID. The tags being implanted are about the size of a grain of rice, and were originally designed for pets. Since they cost ~$200 each, I have to wonder about the economics, not to mention the privacy implications. The FDA hasn't approved the chips for use in humans in the U.S.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The World Is Flat

The buzz this week in the Linux community is about a 92 page study by Ken Brown, president of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, that claims Linus Torvalds didn't write Linux. He goes further in claiming that no single individual could ever write an operating system alone. Makes me wonder what hundreds (thousands?) of CIS grad students really did for their class projects.

This has to rank up there with claims that the Holocaust never happened, the moon landings were faked, Kennedy was assassinated by Castro, and that the world is flat. The fact that the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution has, at least in the past, been funded by Microsoft is at the very least highly suggestive. I also think it's interesting that they they call themselves an "Institution." Some folks would suggest that an Institution is the right place for Brown.

Andrew Tanenbaum, who was at Bell Labs while much of the original Unix work was being done, is now a Professor of Computer Science at Vrije Universiteit in Holland. He has written a brilliant, informative, and scathing article about being interviewed by Mr. Brown for this report, and about the history of Unix, Linux, Minux, BSD in general. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this history. Although backing Torvalds' claims of doing independant development, he does take a few shots at Torvalds of his own.

Groklaw also has two excellent dissections of Brown's claims here and here. Network World also has an excellent short history of Linux.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Would You Call This a CarboBlog?

In our never ending quest to dump our excess baggage, America has jumped on the low-carb bandwagon in a big way. I'll readily admit to needing to drop XX pounds myself. Opus's profile to the right here isn't far off. Now comes the merger of two crazes. CarbWire has started publishing a blog of the same name with news and information for carb counters everywhere. Since I'll be adding them to my own RSS list, I thought I'd give them a plug.

On a related note, Thechnorati is a site devoted to tracking the content of blogs in general. You can let them do the work of alerting you when something about one of your interests comes along. FWIW, I didn't find CarbWire directly through them, but from a posting at the ever useful BoingBoing (yet another plug) from someone who did find them there. Confused yet?

Can You Fear Me Now?

What is torture, and what is "agressive interrogation"? The Christian Science Monitor has an intriguing article on the question (despite their annoying animated ads on the page). There probably isn't a good answer, but they do ask some good questions.

Friday, May 14, 2004

So Who Actually Reads This?

This blog pick up ten hits tonight. Since I haven't been quite vain enough to hand out the address to anyone yet, and since I doubt even Google would hit here ten times in an evening for indexing, someone out there is at least passing through. Leave a footprint. Make a comment. Who actually reads this?

Google Oogles Mail

I think that all the uproar over privacy and Google's announced mail offering is hilarious.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as rabid a privacy advocate as they come. But complaining about Google auto-inserting ads based on keywords in the messages only demonstrates the complainer's ignorance.

The same people would complain if their ISP didn't scan their mail for viruses or spam. And where do they think their mail sits until (if) they download it? In a vault?

Unless you run your own mail server, the admins at your ISP (or ASP, or whatever) have ALWAYS been able to read your mail. Ditto your hosted web site, and anything else kept on a server somewhere.

This is the rare case where security by obscurity works. Mostly. There is sooo much stuff in storage at a large ISP or ASP that the systems admins frankly can't be bother to look at it, regardless of any rules against it. Same as dealing with the phone company. Telephone techs have always been able to tap any circuit they wanted to, legally or not. But they rarely bother, because there is an overwhelming amount of crap involved, and it's too much trouble to sift through.

Politicians think they can legislate against this? Get real!

The Buck Stops Where???

It's curious that the Democrats and Liberals are screaming for the instant resignations Donald Rumsfeld and everyone else in the military chain of command. As the NY Daily News refers the Dems position in an article this morning: "A cabinet secretary must take ultimate responsibility for what happens on his watch."

Anyone remember when the ever popular Janet Reno stood up and said "It was my decision, and I take responsibility" after the massacre at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. An atrocity that clearly was explicitly ordered from the top. Was anyone, at any level ever held responsible?

I guess it's too much to expect balance in the world.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Plot Thickens

Well, it looks like the shenanigans in the Iraqi prisons are worse than first announced. At this point I think I have to reserve judgement until as much of the story as we are going to hear surfaces. No illusions that the pulic will ever know the "full" story.

I don't want to suggest in any way that I'm condoning what went on, but lets take a broad view for a minute.

Up until the Napoleonic era, roughly two hundred years ago. the norm was for armies to loot, rape, pillage, and torture. Looting and pillage was often the troop's sole source of income. Torture was just expected. If you had tried to stop them from raping the conquered (or the bystanders), they would have been incredulous.

Coporal punishment was the order of the day, sometimes brutally so. Look up a definition for keelhauling, which was a standard naval punishment. It essentially has the victim run over by his own ship! Flogging, mutilation, branding were all common throughout more than 5,000 years of history. Calling these practices barbaric is very much a modern, western viewpoint.

Correct behaviour is a product of the society you live in. In Iraq, beheading random victims seems to be acceptable behaviour. I don't suggest that replying in kind is appropriate, but I for one won't be upset with harsh treatments. The issue is, where do you draw the line between harsh treatment and torture? I certainly don't know for sure.

Sony Clie PEG-UX50

Although I love the 802.11 capability on my Tungsten C, the unit has been generally disappointing. Screen resolution isn't what it might be these days, the earphone jack is mono only (!), the speaker sucks, the unit is fatter than most Palms, and most important it seems to crash with every third function or so.

That said, I decided to switch to a Sony PEG-UX50 clamshell. So far, I'm encountering a lot of teething pains.

Attached the charging cradle (I only have a third party one), and then couldn't get it off! I was afraid to be too energetic, but finally a friend of mine and I pried it loose. After that one incident, it detaches with no trouble.

I tried to migrate all my Palm stuff over, and filled the memory, with some odd results. This might have been the result of keyboard pilot error, so I'm going to try again from a different source.

What the heck does the HOLD setting on the Power/HOLD switch do? It's not documented. Pushing the switch to HOLD seems to turn the power off. Since Palm style PDAs don't boot per-se, I can't see how this is different from turning it off normally.

The stylus seems like it is guaranteed to fall out and get lost at some point.

I've come to like keyboards on PDAs, but this keyboard is not as good as the one on the Tungsten's. No real tactile sensation, and no significant travel.

Charging the unit can't be done via the built in USB port. You must use the charging cradle (more like a backpack for the PDA), but you use the same USB cable! It just connects to a neat charger design on the other end! Speaking of USB, the port on the unit itself has a cover that is attached with a hokey rubber strip. I expect the cover to be ammong the missing RSN. The shorness of the tether also makes it awkward to use a cable with a fat connector, which one of mine has.

Really annoying: The USB cable I took to the office (one of the new, cheapy retractables) wasn't long enough to go from the outlets on the floor to the desktop. So I plugged it into the laptop to charge the PDA. The UX50 then started to make noises like a little motorboat put-put-putting along. Turning off all sound didn't help. The only thing that worked was to turn the unit on, which made the sound go away. Switching to HOLD kept it quiet, and also blanked the screen. But this fix only lasts a few minutes, then the noise starts again.

Overall, it's a neat little unit. No larger than the Tungsten, with more capabilities and a brighter, sharper screen. But the documentation really sucks, the KnowledgeBase on the Sony site also sucks, and I understand from reading posts that Sony's support isn't anything to brag about either.

More on the new toy when I get to trying the wireless functions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Moore's Law for Storage?

BoingBoing has an article on's petabyte storage array, a work in progress. 100 terabytes per rack! Makes me feel old to realize that when I left IBM in 1999 we thought we were hot stuff for having a 5 terabyte DFS farm. They thought I was nuts to suggest that we could put 200GB on a single server (the norm was 40GB)!

For those of you who don't know what a petabyte is, it's 1,000 terabytes. If this is still too confusing, see Powers of Ten for an explanation.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get directly to the site myself yet, because the @#$% filter software where I'm working blocks access. That's a rant for another day.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Iraqi Prisoners

Does humiliation fall under the heading of torture? I can see arguments that it does, and others that it doesn't. There is no physical pain or damage. These are adults who should (in theory) be able to stand moderate assaults on their self image (it wasn't a brainwashing kind of exercise). Finally, as many Iraqi expatriates point out, this pales compared to the atrocities under the Baathist regime.

I'm more concerned about who is getting imprisoned, and what is the process for getting cleared or acquitted.

The idea that everyone in the chain of command should be prosecuted is absurd. Yes, a captain is responsible for everything that goes on aboard his ship, but knowledge, let alone involvement, in this affair almost certainly stops with some colonel or maybe a general. Unless someone makes a case that people beyond that level knew and ignored/abetted/ordered the activities, then this is just a political witch hunt.

Finally, what about the civilian contractors involved? Are they going to be prosecuted too? Is there some U.S. (or even Iraqi) law they have broken? Are the military personnel going to be held to different standards while the civilians are immune?


Well here goes one of the ultimate vanity exercises in modern times. The ego involved in assuming that someone else would actually want to read my scribblings is staggering. Almost as big as the ego requirements to complete medical school. So, anyway, we'll see how this works out.