Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Immortality

Call me a dreamer but this seems like a first step.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Graphing Calculator Story

A really admirable work ethic...

Marriage law reform

Eric Meyer has some really good points on why the recent votes in the US against gay marriages are (obviously) misguided.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Australian: Resist Israel but not violently: Abbas [December 16, 2004]

Mahmmod Abbas, who is virtually certain to be chosen as the new Palestinian leader in elections next month, voiced his opposition to the Palestinian uprising in an interview this week and declared it must stop. He needs to be helped against Hamas see here

Do markets predict elections better than polls?

Well, at least on the last American elections they did not.

Capitalism bad for peoples health

research shows fairly conclusive that social gradient affects people's health

Friday, December 10, 2004

Really Hi-res camera

An article on a really hi-res camera. The photo mentioned is here. Other photos by the artist, such as this one, are also very cool.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Wired 12.12: Roads Gone Wild

This is really cool.

"Monderman is one of the leaders of a new breed of traffic engineer - equal parts urban designer, social scientist, civil engineer, and psychologist. The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they'll be safer."

And one part usability engineer or user interface designer...

"In Denmark, the town of Christianfield stripped the traffic signs and signals from its major intersection and cut the number of serious or fatal accidents a year from three to zero."
"A study of center-line removal in Wiltshire ... found that drivers with no center line to guide them drove more safely and had a 35 percent decrease in the number of accidents."

Wired News: Florida E-Vote Study Debunked

Wired News: Second Career for Old Robot: Art

Writing betterer emails...

What corporate America can't build: a sentence | CNET News.com

"People think that throwing multiple exclamation points into a business letter will make their point forcefully," Andrews said. "I tell them they're allowed two exclamation points in their whole life."

Joel on Software

These two posts are interesting: Saturday, December 04, 2004 and Monday, December 6, 2004.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Undoing the Industrial Revolution (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Christmas Price Index

An amusing alternative to the traditional CPI, based on the gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Though, I can think of much better ways to spend US$66,334...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Everyone is a potential torturer

Fab labs

"His success suggests that manufacturing - like publishing, coding, music and film distribution, and communications before it - is about to bust out of its industrial confines."

Nintendo DS Review

This thing is pretty cool...

Call of India lures European workers

"although the employees are paid local salaries, they receive other compensation in the form of free housing, a furnishing allowance and subsidised meals."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Faith-Based Encyclopedia

An interesting piece on the Wikipedia from a former editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Weird

An intriguing story in Wired on mysterious radio transmitters.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Wal-Mart Data Warehouse

The New York Times has a story on Walmart's insanely big (and a little scary) sales database.

Friday, November 12, 2004

US Election Results

  • A really cool set of The maps showing the US election results distorted by voting population (i.e. a cartogram). More typical maps.
  • Some more on the conspiracy theories from jwz and Wired.
  • An even worse election result?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Delicious Library

ArsTechnica has quite an interesting software review for Delicious Library, a piece of Mac software, that talks quite a bit about what drives Mac culture and software:

"There is simply a "climate of excellence" on the Mac platform. Any developer that does not live up to community standards is looked down upon, or even shunned. Commercial, open source, freeware, shareware, it doesn't matter: pay attention to detail, or else."

(I think the application itself is pretty cool too, and it looks delicious!)

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Infinite Cat Project

The New York Times > Warplane Strafes a School in New Jersey

"...custodians arriving at the school found 13 cannon slugs - 5 in a parking lot and 8 inside the school in various classrooms and offices..."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

format c:? sure...

It seems amazing that this bit of computer lore hasn't been tested before (well, not to my knowledge at least):

"So there you have it. Stop telling people they should run 'format c:' because it won't get you or them anywhere. Same goes for 'rm -Rf /'"

Star Wars: The Changes

An interesting (well, pedantic and nerdy) series of articles on DVDAnswers.com:

"this is perhaps the single most objectionable change in the entire trilogy. Putting aside the fact that it transforms Han Solo from the aforementioned ice-cold space pirate to a lucky son of a bitch, the effects used to bring the new scene to life are simply atrocious."
"One of the little-known edits to the film included the trimming of a few frames to remove the flashes when the bolts hit the human officers ... What makes matters worse is that this censorship isn’t even consistent..."

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Mini-me!

New Scientist and Wired have articles on a tiny new species of human unearthed in Indonesia. Slashdot has some great comments. Except for the isolation the tie-ins with faery tales and folklore are intriguing...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Friday, October 22, 2004

marcus132: Bite: The World's Best Topless Vampire Musical

Essentially the entire show is one continuous, hour long, tightly choreographed topless dance punctuated with trapeze acrobatics, pyrotechnic stage effects, and crappy magic tricks. To put it another way, it's Spiderman Rocks if you took out the Green Goblin and replaced him with undead girl on girl simulated sex acts. Or to put it another way, it was the most awesome thing I've ever seen, ever.

Friday, October 15, 2004

In the Beginning was the Command Line, by Neal Stephenson

This is an excellent essay/short book on the history, philosophy and future directions of computing. There is a HTML version too.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Counting Source Lines of Code (SLOC)

An interesting analysis of Red Had Linux that estimates that it would cost $1,000,000,000 and 8,000 person-years to develop it from scratch!

Wired News: Now, for Your PC: Mac OS X

A lighter approach to computer contro - New Scientist

“Instead of having mechanical mouse, you could just take light beam and communicate with the computer because the screen would know where it was being hit.”

Wired News: New Tack Wins Prisoner's Dilemma

"[The Southampton players] were designed to execute a known series of five to 10 moves by which they could recognize each other. Once two Southampton players recognized each other, they were designed to immediately assume "master and slave" roles -- one would sacrifice itself so the other could win repeatedly.
If the program recognized that another player was not a Southampton entry, it would immediately defect to act as a spoiler for the non-Southampton player."

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Guardian: Things get worse with Coke

"So now the full scale of Coke's PR disaster is clear. It goes something like this: take Thames Water from the tap in your factory in Sidcup, Kent; put it through a purification process, call it "pure" and give it a mark-up from 0.03p to 95p per half litre; in the process, add a batch of calcium chloride, containing bromide, for "taste profile"; then pump ozone through it, oxidising the bromide - which is not a problem - into bromate - which is. Finally, dispatch to the shops bottles of water containing up to twice the legal limit for bromate (10 micrograms per litre)."

Friday, October 08, 2004

Wired 12.10: Hot Wheels

Wired looks at the Smart car.

"As a startup, Smart was defiantly independent from its owner. Even uttering 'Mercedes' at the office cost employees a 5-mark fine"

Not quite a fully-fledged hypercar, but getting there.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Persuaders: The Hidden Machine of Political Advertising

This sounds like a great book, unfortunately I probably found it too late for our election:

Sally Young, "The Persuaders: The Hidden Machine of Political Advertising"

There is a good interview with the author on hack (realaudio).

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Jewish winners of the Novel prize

A significant contribution one would have to say.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Engadget HOW-TO: Upgrade your organic dog

"Over the course of a day or so, we had the dog take photos. Most of them were pretty good, for a dog."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Cures before cash

New Scientist has a very interesting interview with Victoria Hale, who has set up a non-profit pharmaceutical company to address diseases the big companies are ignoring:

"The problem is the [pharmaceutical] industry is so profitable, so these diseases don't make it onto the radar"

Eric's Archived Thoughts: They Got It Fixed Right On

Interesting comments on an "age of innocence" (pop songs in this case) that certainly never existed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

How to handle media attention...

...According to the West Coast Brownlow medal winner, Chris Judd:

"If there is a microphone, I try and talk, and if there is a camera, I'll try and look pretty"

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

New Scientist: Traffic deaths rise after terror attacks

I knew that you're more likely to die in a car accident than a terrorist attack, but terrorist attacks causing car accidents makes the whole thing a lot more complicated!

Where'd I leave my boat?

The NASA Earth observatory has an amazing before and after photo of Pensacola, Florida, after Hurricane Ivan hit.

Monday, September 20, 2004

My New Favourite Language

I think I've jumped on the Python bandwagon after reading Dive into Python

Update: I'm a bit slow off the mark though.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The weirdness of crowds

This is a very interesting idea. Would make a really good high-school maths class project. Also see the follow-up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

projectcensored.org

The Age of the Essay

Yet another excellent Paul Graham essay, this time on essays!

Monday, September 06, 2004

Hey, Hold my Beer and Watch this...

Toxic tatties | New Scientist Lastword

This is a bit scary. May have to think again about how I prepare potatoes!

perl.com: Hacking Perl in Nightclubs

Creating music using a little "band" of programs all edited and controlled in real-time.

Changing the System

From The Big Issue. Interesting point that there is nothing in the Australian Constitution to prevent our Government going to war against our wishes.

Monday, August 30, 2004

GMail invites...

Somehow, I've got more gmail invites than I know what to do with. Any ideas? These look interesting:

Friday, August 27, 2004

Peer-to-Peer politics.

Wired reports on a website that's helping people make a difference. Still, not all is going well, despite raising millions to show political ads and a nifty distributed telephone poll/information system.

Top 10 Sci-Fi films of all time?

...it is a perfect piece of film-making in its genre, which I would call 'action movie' rather than 'sci-fi movie' if it were not for the fact that there are very few, if any, movies that genuinely deserve to be called sci-fi.

There's also a list of top sci-fi authors.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

How 8 pixels cost Microsoft millions

Banner ads

This site has a massive collection of the best kind of banner ads — ones that you can't click on.

Wired News: BugMeNot Gets Booted, Restored

Monday, August 23, 2004

Living on the edge

The Washington post reports half of Americans have needed food stamps at some stage in their lives.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Ploughshares

Hack spoke to Ciaron O'Reilly on the Ploughshares movement and the dismantling U.S. war planes as they passed through Ireland (Real stream until Thursday).

The interview covers some interesting stuff, including the point that the USA is one of the few 1st world countries that is still predominantly religous.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A new form of advertising

Wired has a story on the advertising company FreeiPod.com that has an interesting idea...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Meatless Monday

New Scientist has an interview with Robert Lawrence where he discusses the true cost of meat, and why we should eat less.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

French author urges slacking

Slashdot | SHA-0 Broken, MD5 Rumored Broken

This /. story has some interesting comments. Particularly the one in regards to the strength of 256-bit encryption.

Wired News: Flight ID Fight Revived

I hope this guy wins, and I wonder what the equivalent Australian situation is?

Combat robots

New Scientist reports on a robot gladiatorial contest in Japan. The videos are quite neat — but for some reason I'd imagined the robots would be bigger...

Wired News: Let the Web Games Begin

CRAIGSLIST / On the record: Craig Newmark

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Against meritocracy

see also http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002325.html

Maths and STDs

Love (at high school) is a Spanning-Tree Network with no 4-Cycles ...

Friday, August 13, 2004

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Super ant colony hits Melbourne

A giant colony of ants stretching 100km (62 miles) has been discovered in the Australian city of Melbourne, threatening local insect species.

Big Brother UK

Big Brother and the looming anti-feminist backlash

Meet the Catholofascists by Johann Hari

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Smart phone virus

New Scientist has an article on a smart phone virus (well, trojan really) hidden in a game that sends rogue texts. This kind of thing could be really annoying...

Shifty tiles bring walking to VR

Wouldn't want to try running on them though...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

What are you looking at?

The New York Times (see BugMeNot! in post below) has an article on a funky system for capturing what you're looking at by photographing it's reflection on your eyeball.

Pass the salt?

An article with phenomanal photos of a huge crystal cave found in Spain.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

On Mieville and the economies of fantasy worlds

Wired News: Bike Writer Pedals for Protests

A nifty computer-controlled graffiti-sprayer on the back of a bike that lets you sms messages to be written on to the street.

Dear John...

Letters from Richard Berry syndicated in TNT magazine to John Howard have been published in a book. Also an article in the SMH (requires registration, try BugMeNot!)

"I suggest, to save you time and money, that you stop writing to the Australian Prime Minister as it is not possible for him to be your pen pal."

Friday, July 30, 2004

Software patents are stupid...

Microsoft has been granted a patent for organising digital photos by the time they were taken. Duh! Sounds suspiciously like how I organise my photos...

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Arabs shock Europeans, refuse to condemn anti-Semitism

Great Hackers

Some comments from Paul Graham on the responses to Hackers and Painters.

MailFrontier Phishing IQ Test

This is an interesting little test to see if you can spot legitimate emails from fakes trying to get your password/credit card details (eg from banking sites).

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Digital manipulation of photos

Some nice before and after shots of digitally manipulated photos used in advertising: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Don't believe anything you see...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Dutch auctions

The Degree Confluence Project

Load Testing Gmail

I doubt anyone ever did this kind of thing to Hotmail...

Terrorism Laws: ASIO, the Police and You

The booklet from the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network on your rights and responsibilities under Australian anti-terrorism laws.

Monday, July 26, 2004

CD settlement delivers duds

To prevent the companies from dumping unwanted inventory, lawyers for the states came up with a formula based on how much time artists spent on the Billboard charts, ... But he conceded, "it may be hard to believe looking at the selections."

Friday, July 23, 2004

JWZ - CensorZilla

The programmers look like they were as pissed-off with Netscape as the users!

The Project Apollo Image Gallery

Lots of very nice photos from the Apollo 11 missions, which were 35 years ago, as of a few days back.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Army rations rehydrated by urine | New Scientist

An excellent idea that combines a filter with the dehydrated rations, allowing any source of water (not just urine, it can be clean or potentially contaminated with bacteria) to be filtered by osmosis before it re-hydrates the food.

Monday, July 19, 2004

European Copyright Clock Ticking on Elvis Hits

Amazon.com Knee-Jerk Contrarian Game

This is good, trawling Amazon for bad reviews (ie negative) of what are generally considered the best books, albums and films. I like this one of the King James Bible:

"This was the worst piece of fiction I've ever read. The characters were cliched and their actions were just unbelievable. A total piece of trash."

And, of William Gibson's Neuromancer:

"Read 2 chapters and call me in the morning. Zzzzz..."

Using Mobile Phones on Aeroplanes

New Scientist has a story on a "base station" that can be installed in a plane to relay mobile phone calls to a satellite.

I had been wondering for a while why mobile phones can't be used on planes, the usual explanation of interfering with navigation equipment seemed a bit lame (and this article refutes it).

One possibility I'd heard was that the phone could "see" too many base stations and therefore overloaded the system by communicating with 100s of them rather than the usual 3 or 4, but being out of range of the base stations seems a more likely reason.

Wired News: P2P Company Not Going Anywhere

Please take notice: EarthstationV Ltd., a Palestinian corporation, does not accept any legal process via e-mail, nor will we accept any attachments via e-mail. For service of process, you must serve our legal department located at our offices in the Jenin refugee camp, Jenin, Palestine.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Software That Lasts 200 Years

This article looks at what is required (and not going to work) when we look at computers as part of our societies infrastructure, just like roads, power grids and so on. It looks like open source will be the only option, and also that software engineering may actually have to be engineering.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Wired News: Searching for The New York Times

It's not just annoying to have to sign in to view NYTimes articles, they could be shooting themselves in the foot too...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Video-conferencing that may just work...

Facetop is a video conferencing system that uses a very neat idea: It makes your screen into a semi-transparent window out of the other persons computer. You share a desktop that you can both point at and discuss, and can still see each other through it. Very nice.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Successlessness

"One day we'll be poor no more
I'm almost sure enough
Before then let's not let successlessness
Get the best of us, my love" — The Lucksmiths

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 911, Dave Kopel, Independence Institute

Don't know who Kopel is, nor who the Independence institute is Nor have I seen the film nontheless this is interesting.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Election Summary. Antony Green Election Guide. Federal Election 2004. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

see also the pendulum and Key Seats by State and Margin. For the first time in my life I am not sure what will I vote (between Green and Labor that is).

Friday, July 02, 2004

Tranceplant.org

A neat idea and an interesting organisation.

Arcosanti : Project

Arcology is Paolo Soleri's concept of cities which embody the fusion of architecture with ecology. The arcology concept proposes a highly integrated and compact three-dimensional urban form that is the opposite of urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy and time, tending to isolate people from each other and the community. The complexification and miniaturization of the city enables radical conservation of land, energy and resources. check also this,Arcology: Solution for the Information Age?, and the Eden project.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Big Displays

Apple released a big 30" screen the other day, and ViewSonic have topped them with a 22" screen, but with 4× the pixel density — making it ideal for editing photos (pretty much at the same resolution as prints!

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

You Car's Crashed: Just reboot...

Wired News: Teched-Out Cars Bug Drivers talks about some slightly worrying glitches as cars become more computerised.

3D Desktops

Some interesting 3D X window managers: Metisse and Project Looking Glass. The possibilities are intriguing.

War is Heavy Metal

Hack on Tuesday night was a special on "Music in war", which used audio interviews with soldiers and civilians by George Gittoes in Iraq. There will be a related documentary, "The Soundtrack to War", shown on ABC TV in September.

It's a pretty amazing look at what part music plays in daily life for the soldiers, and comforting to know that a $4.3 million tank has an audio input so you can plug your discman in!

Reminds me of a Spearhead lyric (Crime To Be Broke In America):

They say they blame it on a song
when someone kills a cop
what music did they listen to
when they bombed Iraq?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Mona Lisa's Smile

New Scientist is reporting on what looks like a plausible theory on why the Mona Lisa's smile has caused people such confusion over the ages...

Metric conversions going wrong again...

There's an incredible amount of variation in people's ideas of how many inches there are in a meter. Pretty scary really...

New Projector Screen Technology

This diagram doesn't really explain how the new projector screen developed by Sony will work, but it seems like a good idea none the less. Except for the cost, US$1,700...

Sparrow Electric Car

Boy is it ugly! Nice try though, I like that it's classed as a motorcycle though, no doubt makes it very cheap to run.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The New Republic Online: Silence and Cruelty

The New Republic Online: Silence and Cruelty

Thirsty?

An interesting question and resulting answers from New Scientist's The Last Word: If you're lost in the desert should you save your water or drink it? To be honest, I didn't think there was a choice, and would have probably saved it, good thing I read this in time.

Aqua Alta

The NASA Earth Observatory has a nice photo of Venice. Something that didn't occur to me: Obviously it's a big hassle for people during high tides when the city often floods, but it's also problematic for boats which can't fit under the bridges over the canals. Boats being made useless by too much water... Who would have thought?

Friday, June 18, 2004

T minus 3 days

Wired has a piece on the upcoming SpaceShipOne flight. The second picture attached to the article shows that it really is going high!

Update: Well, they made it! (info in New Scientist and Wired)

"I went to the backup, and the backup saved the day," he said. He hesitated before adding, "But that was planned — it was planned to have a backup that saved the day."

History of Programming Languages

A nice PDF chart of the evolutionary tree of programming languages (part of an advertising campaign by O'Reilly publishers.)

Work Clubs

Arstechnica has a reports on the interesting concept of "work clubs", where you telecommute from a "third place" rather than home. Nice idea, I especially like the possibility of working with friends, without requiring the unlikely possibility of all being in the same company and avoiding the nasty politics that that may cause.

Hackers and Painters

Re-reading Paul Graham's essay "Hackers and Painters" (in book form), the following passage stood out. I'd like to go back to university, but always suspected that there's no research topics that I'd like to do. This gives some kind of justification:

In the best case, the papers are just a formality. Hackers write cool software, and then write a paper about it, and the paper becomes a proxy for the achievement represented by the software. But often this mismatch causes problems. It's easy to drift away from building beautiful things toward building ugly things that make more suitable subjects for research papers.
Unfortunately, beautiful things don't always make the best subjects for papers. Number one, research must be original — and as anyone who has written a PhD dissertation knows, the way to be sure that you're exploring virgin territory is to to stake out a piece of ground that no one wants. Number two, research must be substantial ‐ and awkward systems yield meatier papers, because you can write about the obstacles you have to overcome in order to get things done. Nothing yields meaty problems like starting with the wrong assumptions. Most of AI is an example of this rule; if you assume that knowledge can be represented as a list of predicate logic expressions whose arguments represent abstract concepts, you'll have a lot of papers to write about how to make this work. ...
The way to create something beautiful is often to make subtle tweaks to something that already exists, or to combine existing ideas in a slightly new way. This kind of work is hard to convey in a research paper.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Why Nerds are Unpopular

I'm reading Paul Graham's Hackers and Painters. The first chapter, "Why Nerds are Unpopular" is a must read. There is an earlier version of it on his site. It will be pretty hard to send a kid through a normal high school after reading this.

OpenTextBook

These guys are creating an open source textbook by collaborating on-line using techniques borrowed from open source software design. The textbook(s) can be freely downloaded & printed out, this is an excellent idea as textbooks are way too expensive and often out of date by the time they're printed. Unlike the wikipedia, they're aiming for a real book, not an online resource (though, they can do that easily too.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Wireless Access in London

This review is quite detailed and contains some interesting data about wireless networks in the Greater London area. It looks like there is a lot of wireless going on, with an estimated 19,451 nodes found by flying over london in a plane. People generally seem to be leaving them "open" by accident, but some are naming their nodes with "hobo" style codes used in war-chalking such as ")(" to signify a freenetwork, and "Fuck Off and use your own" to signify, well...

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Undead Zone

This article on why realistic graphics make humans look creepy in computer games is quite interesting.

If something behaves in only a slightly human way, we'll fill in the blanks—we'll read humanness into it.
...we identify more deeply with simply drawn cartoon characters ... [that don't] trigger our obsession with the missing details the way a not-quite-photorealistic character does, so we project ourselves onto [them] more easily

Utilitarianism and Censorship

I haven't yet had a chance to look through Utilitarianism: past, present and future, but it seems interesting.

Taking me to that site was this experiment on censorship, which highlighted some of the problems with ISPs reactions to potential copyright violations.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Transit of Venus

I'd been rather unimpressed by the prospect of the transit of venus (see Wired News: Thousands Spy Venus' Rare Transit), but it does raise some points to ponder: No one alive had seen it before yesterday; and more people saw it yesterday than ever before in all of human history (it can't be seen with the naked eye, and only a few people had used telescopes the last few times round). I might pay a bit more attention to the next transit in 8 years.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Electric land-speed record

New scientist is reporting that an attempt on the land-speed record for an electric vehicle is soon to take place. They've just put together more or less off the shelf components (including 52 car batteries) and hope to go at least 400 km/h. Not bad. The existing record was set by a car with 6,000 AA NiMH batteries!

AirPort Express

Apple have come up with what could be the missing link for wiring your computer into your entertainment system -- without wires. This is very nifty, makes me wonder how long until someone can duplicate the functionality on a Linksys wireless router.

Monday, June 07, 2004

If you happen to have one of these lying around...

This is neat. These kids (well, they were kids) had a toy "robot car" they wanted to customize, but at the time the computer hardware wasn't really up to scratch. 18 years later and they can finish the job.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Colossus

The story of the Colossus, a British code breaking computer from WWII, is getting a bit of attention due to the D-Day anniversary. A few interesting points:

  • It predates the ENIAC as the world's first electronic computer, but this wasn't widely known as it was kept secret (I can't imagine why, they even went so far as to destroy it.)
  • They built ten of them! There was only one ENIAC as far as I know.
  • It would supposedly break the codes at roughly the same rate as a modern computer (this is a bit hard to believe, but it was a custom built for the task and could perform many operations in parallel.)
  • It wasn't switched off until the war finished, so the valves didn't burn out.
  • As always, the key to breaking the German cypher was a human failure. Just goes to show that no matter how hard you try, some idiot will go and stuff it up.

Friday again...

  • I've noticed some interesting spams that try to get past filtering software by including what could be legitimate text. This blog chronicles some of the more "creative" (well, they are presumably randomly generated.)
  • An interview with VisiCalc's creators 25 years after it was released (it was the first spreadsheet for personnal computers.)
  • Killer Robot, a machinima film, was created by a single guy entirely on the computer. It was "filmed" using computer game technology and the voices were generated by computer too. Machinima is really cool, Wired has an article on a similar concept, creating comics out of computer game graphics.
  • The Mathematics of Futurama and The Simpsons.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Start your own phone company?

Cringely has written a nice rant about the Linksys WRT54G. This is a very neat bit of technology, but what is really interesting is what could be done with it. It is very cheap, runs Linux and can be upgraded with custom software so that it can do many tasks the manufacturers didn't anticipate (or choose to highlight). Cringely suggests franchises could be sold in a distributed, wireless phone company and ISP. The franchise would consist of an internet connection and a wireless router or two. The franchisee would then sign up users in their area for internet and VoIP (phone) access. The franchisees would be connected to each other in a big "mesh" that would dynamically adapt to the demand and be extremely cheap to roll-out. Bye, bye Telstra...

Update: There seems to have been quite a bit of interest in Cringely's article, and he has a followup.

More Phone Fun

The latest Nokia gadget is a clip on cover that lets you write messages in the air by waving the phone around. There used to be digital clocks that did a similar thing, displaying the time on a swinging pendulum. This addition to phone capabilities may well be another annoyance, but it does have the potential to have some kind of disruptive social effect (like SMS), time will tell. What I particularly like is that it pushes the boundaries of what a phone can be.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Hacking in the Kitchen

Wired has a nice story on Alton Brown, a chef who approaches cooking from a rather more scientific point of view than most people (and has a bigger motorbike than Jamie Oliver, as you can see on his blog.) Quite interesting, especially the disposing of myths about cooking and the focus on the "why" of cooking, rather than the "how". This pizza recipe gives you the general idea.

"Every war with fascism is our business"

Chrenkoff a right wing blogger translated the following interview with Marek Elderman the last surviving leader of the Ghetto Warsaw uprising. Every war with fascism is our business. ..... If we will keep closing our eyes to evil, then that evil will defeat us tomorrow. ..... Please don't tell me what the Spanish did. So what? Do you seriously think that it will save them from further attacks? No. The weak just get punched in the head. Pacifism lost a long time ago. read it here

The Wall Street Journal Electoral College Calculator

Go to the calculator and up pops a map showing each party's base. Republicans (red) have 22 states--much of the South, the Great Plains and the Rockies, plus Alaska and Indiana--worth 190 electoral votes. Democrats (blue) have 11 states--a Northeastern cluster, plus California, Hawaii and Illinois--and the District of Columbia, worth 168 votes. That leaves 17 battleground states. Republican base consists of the states George W. Bush won by a margin of at least 7%, plus Tennessee, where Bush's 3.6% margin was surely closer than it would have been were it not for Al Gore's connections to the state. The Democratic base, likewise, consists of those states in which Mr. Gore won by more than 7%.Historical results avaible. Come on ABC I want one of this for Australia!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring

It was a photo of the amazing Grand Prismatic Spring that prompted me to include Yellowstone in my US itenary.

Background Briefing on Asbestos

Asbestos is pretty scary stuff, and this is a good story. I'm not a fan of the renovation craze, too many TV shows and the people upstairs are no doubt responsible for that, but now I finally have a much better reason. Renovators are at a very high risk of asbestos related illnesses due to their lack of knowledge, low budgets for safety (and hiring professionals) and tendency to get dodgy contractors in to do a quick and dirty job.

Construction workers are also obviously at a high risk, and the numbers are pretty huge -- 300 deaths per year from accidents and another 2000 or so from illnesses contracted while on the job.

What is also a bit scary is that Canada is the world's largest exporter of asbestos, sending it to third world countries. It's easy to put Canada on a pedestal, they generally compare very well with the USA, but they're hardly perfect.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Leonardo's Dream Machines

This show screened on SBS and was fairly interesting. Though I was bugged by what I think were unfair comparisons between the Da Vinci glider and the Wright brothers' flyer. The Wright flyer was a powered vehicle that managed to fly 120 feet in 12 seconds (their first flight, their best was 24.5 miles in 39 minutes). A 30 second, 100 yard hang glider flight down a hill isn't really comparable. I'm sure there were a few hang-glider/kite style unpowered flights before the Wright brothers' that would have been a better match up.

Indonesia

Background Briefing on Sunday the 30th May (RealAudio, transcipt) had an interesting look into the "Jakarta lobby" and the Lance Collins affair.

Historically Australia and the US backed Suharto (or Sukarno?) as they were worried that Indonesia would "Balkanize" and some of the resulting states may turn communist. This presumably explains why Australia was so keen to appease Indonesia at all costs -- even to the extent of angering the US by withholding intelligence information. It's been a while since communism was a threat though, so you would presume that a group of third-world islands fighting amongst themselves would be less threat to Australia than a militaristic nation with 500,000,000 citizens.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Nanotechnology and GI Joe

Nothing like a war to get those scientiests going. For an article on the use of nanotechnology for personal armour see here. Also interesting is Israels "future infantry warrior" program and this article on Personal UAV's (unmanned air vehicle) for ground soldiers.

Was our universe created by design?

Michael said this better than I could:

Lightweight description of the "chaotic inflation" theory of the universe's origin, which apparently has the implication that the universe could have been created as an experiment, and with few resources, and now be so small that the experimenter has lost it...

The article mentions various ways that the creator could attempt to communicate with his creation, non of them seem to permit him decreeing that gay marriages are a sin, for example.

More reasons to stay away from antibiotics

Not only will taking too many antibiotics breed superbugs, it could give you asthma and allergies, according to this article. So eating dirt is no longer the only way to avoid getting asthma...

Maybe it wasn't just a bad movie...

New Scientist reports that "a US medical team has requested permission to perform the world's first face transplant." Supposedly the face won't look like either the person's original face or the donor's face due to the underlying skull and muscle structure (and hideous scaring I'd imagine...)

Guide to Springfield, USA

This site has lots of information about Springfield and a map, gleaned by watching The Simpsons a little too closely I suspect.

A Neat Camera Phone Application

This software lets you use a camera phone as wireless "mouse" or keyboard. Very nifty idea, the camera is used to detect the motion of the phone through the air. Must kill the batteries though...

Syntax

Lisp syntax ("lots of silly parentheses") (or more accurately, it's lack of syntax) is beginning to look good! Perl 6 is going to have a lot of operators, nicely displayed in this periodic table.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Sudan

In Darfur, a region in southern Sudan approximately the size of Texas, over a million people are threatened with torture and death at the hands of marauding militia and a complicit government. Imagine a militia that forces parents to choose whether their children will be burned alive or shot to death. Imagine that in the very same month the world remembers the genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda, the unfolding news of another in Sudan is barely heard and largely ignored. The Passion of the present is a new blog to encourage more coverage of this unfolding tragedy.

Fucking computer crashes...

My computer crashed just before posting the following links. Originally there were nice blurbs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Toyota Personal Mobility Concept Car

This nifty little concept car has some nice ideas. It's a single person "drive by wire" electric "car" with hubless motors and variable wheel base. This gives it very good manueverability and the ability to recline during high-speed travel and "stand up" to get in and out.

The best bit though, is that they can talk to each other, so you can have one person driving a small train of these cars.

Oil Producing Bacteria and Space Elevators

  • Physicists at the University of New Hampshire have found bacteria capable of producing "biodiesel". This reminds me of a small town (on the way to South Australia somewhere...) where they thought they'd discovered oil only to discover it was merely a bacteria that produced an oil like sludge. It's still cheaper to not use oil though...
  • JP Aerospace have developed what could be a practical "Space elevator" consisting of a large blimp at a low earth-orbit and other blimps that will carry payloads up to it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Various Tuesday offerings

Monday, May 24, 2004

Evolution and Action Figures

  • New Scientist reports that Archaeopteryx (the first "bird") may have had four "wings" and glided (like a sugar-glider) rather than flown. Makes sense.
  • These guys in the homebrew Atari 2600 scene are doing some pretty amazing things -- it's amazing that people were ever attracted to computer games, when that was all that was on offer.
  • Need a GeekMan action-figure?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

The First Prince of the Theocratic States of America

This is a long and somewhat spooky essay and a review of it. The main thesis seems to be that there is a group of christian fundamentalists that are slowly taking over the high court and the white house. I do not know enough to comment on the quality of the essay or to be able to judge wether its a good essay or hysterical propaganda. I decided to post it anyway because if its true its quite scary and because I'm curious about your opinion.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Blogosphere Ecosystem

Blogosphere Ecosystem is an application which scans weblogs once daily and generates a list of weblogs ranked by the number of incoming links they receive from other weblogs on the list. The top are all American but some of my favorite UK based blogs such as normblog, harry's place, and crooked timber make it to the top three category

A game with very good graphics only 96k?!

Admittedly its got too many bugs, but how on earth did they do this

A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations

"If truth is not to be found on the shelves of the British Museum, where, I asked myself, picking up a notebook and a pencil, is truth?"
- VIRGINIA WOOLF

An excellent short story by the one and only Kim Stanley Robinson

How do we perceive light?

Some simple explanations on how primary colours "combine" and light waves are perceived by our eyes. Also contains this nice point:

People sometimes speculate about extraterrestrials picking up TV signals from Earth and watching our soap operas. But what is transmitted is so finely tuned to the peculiarities of the human ocular and perceptual system that aliens would struggle to make any sense of it.

The Infant Island of Surtsey, Iceland

Interesting that plants started growing on this island before the volcano even finished erupting.

Computerised Grading, um...

Some interesting comments to this Slashdot story:

If grading is intended as a motivator to encourage each student to perform his/her best, then more effort should yield a higher grade. Likewise, if grading is intended to reflect the student's ability to perform in a real-world situation, effort should probably yield a higher grade: folks who work hard tend to do better than folks who are marginally smarter but don't work hard, in real-life situations. But if grading is intended to reflect only the quality of the work that was submitted, then sure -- effort shouldn't count at all.
And:
Cool idea. Imagine high school students re-writing their essays until the grader software gives them an A+.
This was exactly what we could do in one of my programming classes and it was excellent. We had a deadline, but could make as many submissions as we liked until we were happy with the grade. A nice subversive suggestion in there too:
it would have been my goal to make the most wrong essay I could that would still generate a good grade from the system.

Reading List

Some sites we like:

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Is free Heroin, the best way to slash crime

Johann Hari Britain's Young Journalist of the Year discusses the legalisation of Heroin

Keep up the good fight!

Jose Ramos Horta on Iraq (From The Australian):

"As a Nobel Peace laureate, I, like most people, agonise over the use of force. But when it comes to rescuing an innocent people from tyranny or genocide, I've never questioned the justification for resorting to force."

see the rest here

Next Generation Airships

This New Scientist interview with Hokan Colting talks about airships being used as telecommunication relay towers, much cheaper and easier to install than satellites (with less signal delay too) and with very large coverage areas due to their height.

Quotations on simplicity in software design

There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies. And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies. -- C.A.R. Hoare

A friendly drink in a time of war

Paul Berman writer of Terror and Liberalism explains in Dissent magazine why the current war is an anti-facist war and why large sections of the left just don't see this.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

France and the Hijab

On November 17, 2003, the President of the French Republic announced on TV that, having heard the report of the Stasi Commission that was appointed some months ago, he would propose a law on secularism that will forbid any sign of religious or political affiliation in schools and public administration.

In the web site of the WLUML (Women living under Muslim law) progressive Muslim women explain why they supported the law.

Corporate welfare

Hack had an interview with Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute on Monday about the potential $85 million bail-out of Mitsubishi that touched on the issue of "corporate welfare" (The plant hires 3,000 employees with 14,000 in "spin-off" jobs and there was a meeting on Monday.)

Australia spends $16 bilion a year on subsidies (rent relief, tax breaks etc), which is 3% of our GDP. For example, the aluminium industry apparently receives subsidised electricity that works out to be about $40-50,000 per year per worker!

The economics of online gaming

EverQuest players have an average wage of US$3.42/hr, the game is ranked the 77th richest country in the world (with 450,000 "citizens") and it's currency is supposedly rated higher than the Yen and Lira (Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier). That is presumably if everyone "cashed in" for real money, and that probably neglects the labour "imported" from the real world.

This article includes the story of a kid who was bought a $500 level 50 character by his parents and then kept getting killed because he didn't know how play -- the time needed to gain level 50 obviously isn't entirely wasted, as you at least learn how to play the game.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Al Qaeda's fantasy ideology

Lee Harris explains in Policy review how the world looks from a fundamentalist point of view

A curiously unfortunate career

Thomas Midgley had the dubious honour of having invented both leaded petrol and CFCs.