Monday, January 31, 2005

Two Reasons I'm Pessimistic About the Future of the USA

First, we get the news that Bill Gates, who know a thing or two about making and, more importantly, keeping money is short on the Dollar (meaning, he's betting that it'll keep dropping in value relative to other currencies.) In his defense, he had this to say: "It is a bit scary. We're in uncharted territory when the world's reserve currency has so much outstanding debt.''

Then we get this study indicating that more than a third of high school students in the US think that the government should censor what newspapers publish.
In addition, nearly three-fourths of students polled, 73%, either did not know how they felt about the First Amendment or admitted taking it for granted, while half thought the government had the power to censor the Internet. Meanwhile, 75% wrongly believed flag burning was illegal.
What a way to run a rail road.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Justice Scalia and Ignorance

From the above article:

" . . . If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

Wonderful. I sure wouldn't want the head of any Supreme Court of mine to have anything to do with that fancy, store-bought "sophisticated world."

And, yes I know the "be fools for Christ" bit is a Pauline exhortation used in context; that only makes it worse.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Bronx, 15:30 on a Thursday in January


and how I've felt lately.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Long Time No Blog

I haven't been updating the blog for the past week or so because I'm working on adapting a new template for this blog and for another blog I'm starting soon. The new blog will be about my neighborhood, so not only am I working on the template, I'm trying to find reliable content. And, as a few people know, I edit CSS with all the dispatch and accuracy of an Airforce smart bomb at an Afghan wedding.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be updating this blog again by the end of this week or the beginning of the next. 'till then, don't let the Man keep you down, or, erm, something like that. And check out this blog entry on updating blog entries by my friend Bravus.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Fingerprinting Students

Every Progressive's favorite security expert, Bruce Schneier, has a blog entry today ripping its way through all the big sites. He talks about two cities, Phoenix and Spring, TX, that have implemented systems to track when students get on and off of school buses; the former is a wireless ID system, the latter a fingerprint based system.

He derides these systems as offering no real security to the students and asks why would cities go to such expense for such lousy protection? He writes that the reason is self preservation for the adults:
If a kidnapping occurs on school property, the subsequent investigation could easily hurt school officials. They could even lose their jobs. If you view this security countermeasure as one protecting them just as much as it protects children, it suddenly makes more sense. The trade-off might not be worth it in general, but it’s worth it to them [the school officials, ed.]
But I think he hit upon the real reason earlier in the piece when he said: "We are raising children who think it normal that their daily movements are watched and recorded by the police."

Blog Gate

Columbia Journalism Review (linked above) has a excellent overview of the scandal surrounding CBS's supposedly "fake" documents establishing that President Bush the Younger was indeed AWOL. The blogosphere offers unique opportunities to finally wrest (some) control over the dissemination of information from those corporate interests that in no way align with those of the populace.

That said, the article describes the dangers of blogged information - unnamed, unreliable sources with undisclosed biases and the snowball effect by which an unconfirmed "fact" or someone's opinion takes on a truth value disproportionate to it's provenance and is then amplified by bloggers and even the mainstream press into the common wisdom.

For example, everyone assumed that because the documents supporting the infamous 60 Minutes piece on President Bush the Younger's Guard service records could be faked, they must be fake, a classical logical fallacy that even the supposedly more responsible mainstream press never picked up. Granted, CBS didn't help themselves with their tacit admission of some ill-defined guilt (they never admitted or denied that the documents were authentic, only that they represented the true sentiments of their author). Still, after the initial doubts turned into "facts," the game was pretty much over.

But the larger and more important point here is that as people become less willing to entertain news from other viewpoints and as bloggers, rushing to fill this niche, gain the level of access that "real" journalists have to privileged information, our fragile consensus on actual facts, on reality itself, is in danger of shattering in some kind of post modernist catastrophe.

Gee, I wonder how this fits in with the assault on the "reality-based" that point it just becomes a question of who can shout the loudest, and so far our team ain't doing too well.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Karma Economy

The above is an interesting article about the value of reputation in a post-scarcity economy. Using a premise recently popularized by Cory Doctorow (boing boing contributor and author of the interesting book, Down and Out in the Magical Kingdom, et al.), the story discusses several different online communities where one contributes (i.e., produces) in order to up one's reputation. In other words, as money and the resources it buys aren't necessary in these communities, the much-misunderstood "profit motive" of classical economics sublimates into a desire to increase one's standing in the community. Some examples of places where you can see this behavior are slashdot and metafilter and, in a very self-referential way, blogshares.

Why would one's standing in a community be important? Why would one's number of posts or karma count for anything? Well, for one, just as in Real Life (tm), being a person of some repute engenders gracious and sometimes even deferential treatment within the community- not to mention that's it pleasant just to be well liked.

Sometimes one's standing in an online community translates into access to actual resources, e.g., professional advice or insider information, being the first to know about breaking news or "the next big thing." It can even afford admittance to even more exclusive communities with access to real goods, things like films or games, days or weeks before they hit the public.

Naturally one's "karma" can overlap into the real world, and the results are sometimes old school cash. In a recent interview with Wired, the inventor of Bit Torrent (a peer-to-peer file sharing program that facilities the transfer of very large files), we discover that the goodwill of the users of this program are supporting it's inventor and distributor:

For Cohen, it's all a little surreal. He gets up in the morning, helps his wife feed their children, and then sits down at his cord-and-computer-choked desk to watch his PayPal account fill up with donations from grateful BitTorrent users - enough to support his family. Then he goes online to see how many more people have downloaded the program: At this rate, it'll be 40 million by 2006.

It isn't exactly Cohen's karma that's earning him money; it's his product. But he certainly generated a lot of goodwill by distributing his program for free and by continuing to upgrade and support it.

Laser Wielder Faces Big Penalties

Remember that guy in Jersey who did some very stupid shit with his green laser? The guy's an ass (even more so for trying to blame it on his daughter), but do we really need to prosecute him under out wonderful new anti-terror laws? He could get up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.

[whisper] No, really, trust us - we would never abuse these new powers [/whisper]

And, FYI, I drafted this before any WGB post - I've just been lazy about blogging the last few days. There are two more coming that also made the board before I had a chance to blog them. Grrrrrrrr.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Who Elected Stephen King Mayor of LA?

Ick! Hat tip to the Agonist.

Education Dept. Paid Media Commentator to Promote Law

Definitely unethical and probably illegal. That's the "liberal" media for ya. Right.

What a shumck. Hat tips to the Agonist and Boing Boing

That Vientiane Feeling

The whole day yesterday I had that Vientiane feeling. Well, not exactly, but something close to it. Although I usually fail, I enjoy trying to describe states of mind and feeling for which our language has no shorthand.

So the "Vientiane" feeling comes from the time when Mrs. Primate and I were in Laos in early 1999. We'd been traveling around Asia for several months, but Laos was the only place we felt anything like "culture shock." Specifically, in Vientiane, we'd be walking down the street and one of us would whip around on our heels, certain that someone was just behind us, too close to be there of necessity in this sparsely populated city. And of course no one would be there. We felt spooked the whole time we were in Vientiane, as if there was something we should know, something hidden from us yet whose hints and signs were all around us just at the periphery of our comprehension.

That's how I felt yesterday. Not so much with the someone was there part, more the sensation that something was there, some important bit of information representing the convergence of several lines of causality hovering just below my threshold of consciousness. Little things throughout the day, like a turn of phrase in an otherwise throwaway conversation or the way the sun looked in the late afternoon seemed to be signs but ones I couldn't read; I had a feeling similar to leaving the house certain you've forgotten something but with no idea what it might be. Or perhaps it was more like losing your train of thought while talking to someone. Maybe it was most like that period between being asleep and awake where an idea comes to you - some solution to a previously intractable problem or some insight into a perplexing situation - but you can't remember it once you're fully awake, only lament that you've lost something but you have no idea what.

Anyway, the feeling is gone now. I hope whatever my subconscious was trying to tell me wasn't all that pressing.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

More Colored Electron Microscope Photos


Cool German site (with an English version) called Eye of Science - hat tip to boingboing

I am such a sucker for these photos. It's a small world after all....

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Exit Poll Results Leaked Out, Causing Even More Questions

Not that it matters now, but here's more presidential exit poll tomfoolery with a link to the leaked raw data.

Gonzales Requested Torture Memo

Good piece at dailykos detailing our future Attorney General's involvement in "justifying" the use of torture.

Ya know, once upon a time, we used to wear the white hat. What the fuck has happened to us that not only is this man not going to jail, he's being appointed sheriff.

FDA's Lead Attorney Helping Corporations Get Out of Lawsuits

Anyone still doubting that the current regime is more interested in making (more) money for the rich than safeguarding the public interest should have a look at the link above.

Here's a sample: (The) FDA is spending taxpayer dollars to defend drug companies who are being sued in state court. Since August 2001, the FDA has expended over 600 hours to file at least six briefs on behalf of these companies in four such cases across the country.

Googling unsecured webcams

Spy on strangers doing mostly boring things. Hat tip to boing boing.

Humans for Sale

Have you been thinking about putting yourself up for sale lately? Ever wonder how much money you could get on the open human market? will attempt to place a value on your life using a variety of criteria in 4 basic facets of life (physical,mental,lifestyle,personality). This is obviously a very subjective matter and is not intended and does not claim to be scientifically accurate. The more honestly you answer the questions, the more realistic the dollar value returned will be.

I am worth exactly: $2,220,170.00. Can I get a line of credit with that?

Hat tip to Eric.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Cyberpunk Microphones

These are Russian mics available only through the Guitar Center. Their MK 319 model is very, very similar to a Neumann U49, one of the most famous (and expensive) mics in the world - and it retails for less than $200 dollars.

I just got a factory matched pair of MK 012-B's (not shown on the website - you have to order them from the factory, but they look just like the MK 012s) to use as stereo overheads for my drums.

Matched pair in case.

Details of mic and (hyper) cardioid capsules.

But, the coolest thing was the Russian manual:

With what I think (it's been 18 years since I studied any Russian) to be factory certification that this is a matched pair; meaning, the mics have nearly identical frequency response curves, i.e., they will record sound the same way to give a nearly true stereo image.

The hand graphed frequency responses.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Digitized prints can point finger at innocent

This story is yet another good example of people putting their trust in the abstraction that is technology and its ability to do their work for them rather than using technology to implement common sense decisions. No matter how good or innovative, no technological solution is full proof. A cynical person might say that it's yet another attempt to make people feel that all the heightened security has some heft to it, when in fact it doesn't, when in fact it only increases the chances of innocent people being harassed or imprisoned


bobcatYou know it's going to be a strange day when it begins with bobcats. And you live 15 miles out from Midtown Manhattan.

About six weeks ago, my wife and I adopted a stray cat some friends of our in the neighborhood had taken in. The cat is about a year old and is sweet, playful and smart. He'd obviously lived with a family before as he was housebroken and kept trying to get me to give him wet food instead of the healthy dry food we give our other cat. We love him, but unfortunately our other cat doesn't. Fortunately, another neighborhood family has agreed to take him off our hands, and this family has no other pets and a five year old boy who loves nothing better than to play with this cat every time he visits our house.

So this morning I'm loading up the cat's litter box, food, toys, etc into the back of my car so that my wife can take the cat to his new home later on today. Some guy in one of those jeep-like SUVs drives slowly past my house then stops and gets out
Guy: "Are you throwing that away?"

Me: "What" (looking around)

Guy: "The cat box."

Me: "This litter box?" (the one I'm loading into my car at the moment)

Guy: 'Yes, that."

Me: "No, I'm giving it to a friend."

Guy: "But you still have the cat?"

Me: (Wondering where this is going) "Yes, I still have the cat for now."

Guy: Oh, I was asking because I have a bobcat."

Me: "A bobcat?"

Guy: "Yeah, I just got 'em in Arizona."

Me: "A bobcat, as in the wild animal? You mean one of those cats they bred to look like a wildcat?"

Guy: "No, he's a bobcat. Got him for 100 bucks from this man in Arizona."

(At this point I'm wondering what good a litter box would do a bobcat.)

Me: "How old is it?"

Guy: "Eight weeks."

(Now I'm wondering why he doesn't have a litter box already.)

Me: "Dude, you can't have a bobcat - I men, do you have any idea how big their claws get?"

Guy: "I had him declawed Dr. Dave did it. (As he said this he pointed North and gave me a knowing smirk, as if everyone knew Dr. Dave and his openly secret business of modifying exotic and potentially dangerous animals).

Me: "But it's a wild animal. When it's full grown it'll be this big (gesturing with my hands to show a big fucking animal), and it'll have very large, sharp teeth."

Guy: "He's a sweetheart."

Me: "But if he bites you, even just playing around, he could seriously screw you up you, or maybe a kid or somebody else."

Guy: "He bits me, I bite him right back laughing.

Me: (Looking perplexed) Well, good luck to you.

Guy: (Still laughing and getting back into his SUV) You too and happy new year."

I'm sure this must be some kind of omen, some strange start to the New Year. I'm just not sure I want to know what it is.