One Aging Geek

Thursday, June 30, 2005

PBS | I, Cringely . June 30, 2005 - Accessories Make the Nerd

Good, as usual, insights from Cringely.

PBS | I, Cringely . June 30, 2005 - Accessories Make the Nerd

The fact is, as one of my friends likes to say, this Web 2.0 blather "supposes a world where entrepreneurship is not necessary to establish a large, successful, data-driven business. Why will the people do any of this extra-laborious mark-up? They won't. There has to be something in it for them. That something has to be invented and executed, earned with capital. Don't give me the socialist vision of 'the masses will undo the monopolies.' The new monopolies will undo the monopolies, and the masses will be along for the ride, deriving lots of value from the fighting: Prices will go down, new differentiating services will be invented, etc."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Astronomy Picture of the Day - Deep Impact craft

Now that's some serious Fourth of July fireworks.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Deep Impact spacecraft continues to close on Comet Tempel 1, a comet roughly the size of Manhattan. Early on July 3 (EDT), the Deep Impact spacecraft will separate in to two individual robotic spaceships, one called Flyby and the other called Impactor. During the next 24 hours, both Flyby and Impactor will fire rockets and undergo complex maneuvers in preparation for Impactor's planned collision with Comet Tempel 1. On July 4 (1:52 am EDT) if everything goes as scheduled, the 370-kilogram Impactor will strike Tempel 1's surface at over 14,000 kilometers per hour. Impactor will attempt to photograph the oncoming comet right up to the time of collision, while Flyby photographs the result from nearby.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Van Helsing

Just watched Van Helsing. Um... not much original in the movie. Kind of an amalgam of Frankenstein, Dracula, James Bond, Batman and Robin, and Star Wars with a pretty much 100% computer graphics set.

Ok as kind of mindless entertainment, though. There were bits that were really pretty funny, but I'm not sure they were intended to be.

iTunes does podcasting... will anyone care?

This has been rumored for some time now and was also rumored to be tied to a Big Corporate Partnership. I don't see any such partnership just yet but maybe that's yet to come. Doh! The partnership is obviously with The Mouse. Lots of ABC/Disney content.

On the one hand, this is probably good in that it will bring the term "podcast" to the lips of millions of iPod owners. That, of course, could be a double-edged sword. If any of the podcast publishers out there who are still on metered bandwidth and they suddenly get hit by a couple thousand iTunes experimenters ... could be a real problem.

On the other hand, I'm not sure there's much compelling content out there for the average pop music listener. So it may all just be a flash in the proverbial pan.

On the gripping hand, iTunes can't be much worse as a podcatching client than anything else out there. The software I've tried (all the most popular ones for Windows and Linux) has sucked. It's sucked so bad that I have been using a simplistic script called bashpodder while I slowly write my own podcatching client.

Bottom line: I don't think it can hurt but content is king and, aside from people like me who like the "geek radio" stuff that predominates the podosphere, the content is still weak.

Your ISP as Net watchdog | CNET

This would be double plus ungood.

Your ISP as Net watchdog | CNET

The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers' online activities.

Data retention rules could permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity months after Internet providers ordinarily would have deleted the logs--that is, if logs were ever kept in the first place. No U.S. law currently mandates that such logs be kept.

In theory, at least, data retention could permit successful criminal and terrorism prosecutions that otherwise would have failed because of insufficient evidence. But privacy worries and questions about the practicality of assembling massive databases of customer behavior have caused a similar proposal to stall in Europe and could engender stiff opposition domestically.

Friday, June 24, 2005 - Lawmaker wants Texans safe from home seizure

Back when I was in school we learned that "eminent domain" was essentially an exemption to the market economy for governments. It gave governments the ability to acquire land for "public use" without allowing the landowner to set their own price. But "public use", to my recollection, meant that the government ended up owning the land. Roads was always the example.

But in George W's "ownership society" as enforced by his pet justices, it seems that "public use" really means "someone with more money wants your land so get off it". In other words actually allowing the market economy to work is dependent on connections and pocket depth.

I'm with Justice O'Connor on this one and I applaud San Antonio Representative Corte's stance. I hope he follows through. - Lawmaker wants Texans safe from home seizure

The Supreme Court ruled against a group of property owners in New London, Conn., who challenged a city plan to demolish their riverfront homes to make way for offices, a hotel and other commercial buildings.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in the majority opinion, said such projects are within the scope of a clause in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that authorizes condemning property for "public use."

Stevens wrote that promoting economic development, the stated goal of the New London project, "is a traditional and long accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the court has recognized," such as taking land for roads, parks or libraries.

In a sharply worded dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the majority's interpretation of "public use" was so broad that "the specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - Buy off your 'car guilt' - Jun 21, 2005

I'm shocked. Shocked and amazed. SUV drivers aren't guilt-ridden?!!? This whole thing smells like an Enron-style shell game to me.

Full disclosure: I commute 25 miles each way in a full size pickup that gets about 15mpg. - Buy off your 'car guilt' - Jun 21, 2005

Since car drivers are under no legal compulsion to try to compensate for their tailpipe emissions, the TerraPass will only appeal to those who feel some guilt about their driving, and want to do something about it.

Not surprisingly, few SUV drivers have been buying them. Most have gone to owners of fuel-efficient cars that produce relatively few pollutants.

That initially surprised Arnold.

"We fully expected to target SUV drivers with SUV guilt," he said. "It just doesn't exist"

Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system

Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system: "Tor: An anonymous Internet communication system

Tor is a toolset for a wide range of organizations and people that want to improve their safety and security on the Internet. Using Tor can help you anonymize web browsing and publishing, instant messaging, IRC, SSH, and more. Tor also provides a platform on which software developers can build new applications with built-in anonymity, safety, and privacy features."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out - New York Times

In contrast, it seems, to a lot of geeks I'm not a big fan of Neal Stephenson's writings. I find his stuff mostly derivative. But this bit is pretty interesting.

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out - New York Times: "The first 'Star Wars' movie 28 years ago was distinguished by healthy interplay between veg and geek scenes. In the climactic sequence, where rebel fighters attacked the Death Star, we repeatedly cut away from the dogfights and strafing runs - the purest kind of vegging-out material - to hushed command bunkers where people stood around pondering computer displays, geeking out on the strategic progress of the battle.

All such content - as well as the long, beautiful, uncluttered shots of desert, sky, jungle and mountain that filled the early episodes - was banished in the first of the prequels ('Episode I: The Phantom Menace,' 1999). In the 16 years that separated it from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don't even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture."

Friday, June 17, 2005

Ed Foster's Gripelog || A Very Fishy License Agreement

I want to get a EULA for my pet fish Eric... Ed Foster's Gripelog || A Very Fishy License Agreement:

'Now there are EULAs for fish,' a reader recently wrote me. 'Yes, as in the kind with fins and gills you would buy in a baggie and bring home to put in an aquarium. I stumbled across the website for GloFish, a genetically-modified form of Zebra fish that have a fluorescent glow. The license agreement there is short and sweet, but it does contain one big shocker.'

Thursday, June 16, 2005

EFF Releases Legal Guide for Bloggers


Read EFF's Legal Guide for Bloggers
Whether you're a newly minted blogger or a relative old-timer, you've been seeing more and more stories pop up every day about bloggers getting in trouble for what they post.

Like all journalists and publishers, bloggers sometimes publish information that other people don't want published. You might, for example, publish something that someone considers defamatory, republish an AP news story that's under copyright, or write a lengthy piece detailing the alleged crimes of a candidate for public office.


Check it out and pass the word along.

EFF Releases Legal Guide for Bloggers

Gettysburg address rendered as PowerPoint

Came across this in a random troll on

If A. Lincoln had a copy of PowerPoint.

Very very funny!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

jlassen: When Bears Growl (Or how I become the subject of a Secret Service Investigation)

Very spooky story of someone coming to understand the phrase "chilling effect" up close and personal.

Someone once said “If you poke a bear with a stick, expect it to growl”. On April 20th, 2005, I poked a bear with a stick. On Tuesday, June 7th, it growled.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Discovering new music due to podcasting

It occurred to me today that I've listened to more music that was new to me in the last six months than I probably have in the previous six years.

I think most of us get fixated on the music that we listened to over and over when we were in our late teens and college years. For me that meant the end of the sixties and early seventies. Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues, Rolling Stones, ELO, Uriah Heep, Traffic. A mixed bag of hard and not so hard rock and odd stuff done mixing symphonies with pop music. All on real honest to goodness records. LPs. Vinyl.

I repurchased a number of my favorites on CDs over the years. There is a slug of aging LPs still in a closet but the turntable has been relegated to the attic for at least eight years and had gone unused for quite a while before that.

So. New music. Radio has sucked down here on the Third Coast for quite a while. The last blow was the conversion of KLOL, the last rock station in the area, to Spanish. But even before the plug got pulled it had been in decline. Too many deejays who think the airwaves are for airing their personalities and not music. And I've turned into a cheap bastard in my old age. So I just can't "justify" spending twenty bucks give or take a few on a CD of someone I haven't heard on the off chance I might find a song or two I like.

So my music listening has declined down to my mostly legal collection of MP3s and Ogg files. And I guess I was slowly getting tired of the same old 5,000 tracks.

When along comes podcasting. The first music program I listened to and really enjoyed (and am still listening) is Dave Raven's "The Raven 'n' the Blues". From there I've branched out to several other blues shows recommended by Dave. And Closet Deadhead (no, I'm not a Deadhead but I did have a college roommate who was into the Dead in their "Country Dead" phase.) Also I've tried a couple of rock shows but I've been less happy with what I've found there. I think it's because the rock featured is "their" rock and not "mine". In other words it's the music that the podcasters listened to over and over when they were teenagers, mostly a decade or two later than me. Eighties hair bands and such. Ugh.

I was never into the blues when I was a kid but I sure am enjoying it now. Odd.

Updated: Gr... posted from the Blogger web UI. Would be nice if the preview had shown me that I left out all the paragraph breaks!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

HIPAA penalties gutted

Good article from Bruce Schneier on yet another pro-corporation, anti-individual, ruling by the current administration. 

In the U.S., medical privacy is largely governed by a 1996 law called HIPAA. Among many other provisions, HIPAA regulates the privacy and security surrounding electronic medical records. HIPAA specifies civil penalties against companies that don't comply with the regulations, as well as criminal penalties against individuals and corporations who knowingly steal or misuse patient data.

The civil penalties have long been viewed as irrelevant by the health care industry. Now the criminal penalties have been gutted:

U.S. Medical Privacy Law Gutted

Monday, June 06, 2005

Hm... this might actually work.  But it depends on knowledgeable people actually looking at phishing emails and taking the time to act on them.  There are two problems with that.

  1. The people most likely to recognize a phishing mail for what it is have got mail filters that get rid of such messages
  2. Making up credible information take too much time.

This is crying out for a mail program plugin.  Instead of a spam filter that files or deletes phishing mails we need a phishing filter that automates the act of following the links and filling in the phisher's forms.

Seems doable if not trivial.


The Best Way to Stop These Scams Is by Drowning the Phish

06/02/05: Man Bites Phish


The simple way to kill phishing is by making it harder for the phisher to make money from it. Right now, a phisher sends out a million e-mails and gets back 100 replies that yield positive data. There is almost no effort involved in sending out the e-mails after the first one, and the quality of the return data is very high. No wonder this is such a popular business!

Let's change that. If you get phishing e-mail, go the web sites and enter false data. Make up everything -- name, sign-on name, password, credit card numbers, everything. Instead of one million messages yielding 100 good replies, now the phisher will have one million messages yielding 100,000 replies of which 100 are good, but WHICH 100?

This technique kills phishing two ways. It certainly increases the phishing labor requirement by about 10,000X. But even more importantly, if banks and e-commerce sites limit the number of failed sign-on attempts from a single IP address to, say, 10 per day, theft as an outcome of phishing becomes close to impossible.