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March 2006
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Call Me Mr. Traveller. Less than a week after returning from Oregon, we are off to Yosemite for the weekend to stay at the Awahnee Hotel, a reservation that must be made a year in advance. The long lead time explains why I didn't notice that this trip comes less than a week after Spring Break--in fact, I don't think the 2005-2006 school calendar had yet been adopted when I made this reservation! Alas, rain and snow are expected, but we'll probably get out in it anyway… The following week, The Tech, the MIT newspaper, celebrates its 125th anniversary in Boston (just across the river from Cambridge, Mass). Yours truly was editor in chief (EIC) of Vol. 93. Since the staff elects the editor, I still take pride in that accomplishment, a reward for hard work, a sparkling personality, and what was then considered a just-barely sufficient capacity for alcohol. Do they drink any more? I doubt it. Anyway, both these trips will be shorter than the vacation in Oregon, more action-packed and, in the case of Boston, less likely to leave me feeling relaxed, but there you are. Some things you do because you must.

The Blarney of Bush, The Cost of War

Bush glad Cheney not running: Bush continued with a lengthy explanation of his leadership philosophy, which included advice not to use force until diplomacy is exhausted, to give government support whenever putting people in harm's way, not to make decisions based on polls, to stand firm when making a decision, to be ready for the unexpected, to base decisions on principles and to realize that freedom is a universal right of all men and women.

Given the George put all of these people in harm's way of the bilge he was dispensing, one wonders if, in accord with his philosophy (or the philosophy being dictated to him through the wireless receiver on his back) he supplied boots and shovels to the entire audience. This is further evidence George is totally out of touch with reality if he a) believes what he said or b) believes anyone believes what he said)


Richard Dalton notes:

Costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently about $322 billion. I've seen those costs compared to what that amount of money might buy in education, housing, child health, and other domestic spending possibilities.

The Globalist (, a Washington-based research organization, suggests some other comparisons. According to their research, the wars are the financial equivalent of:

All US development aid since 1979, or; More than 50 years of State Department operations, or; All loans given by the World Bank since 1989.

Pretty sobering. Even more so if you realize that the administration that got us into this senseless quagmire, is asking for an additional $122 billion for FY 2007.



by Craig Reynolds

Goings on at Google: Google has launched its long anticipated Calendar web-application (take the tour) and the reviews are good: Google Calendar Makes an Impressive Debut and Google's Time Keeper. I was always a little hinky about storing my email at Gmail (although I do have an account there which I use as a backup for sending mail from unfriendly networks) but I am less worried about my calendar. Not that exposing your appointments to the world isn't a potential disaster. I guess I am desensitized by years of using Yahoo's calendar. It is just too convenient to have my calendar available from whatever machine/OS I am using. An Israeli-born grad student hit the jackpot when he and his Orion referential search algorithm were snapped up by Google.

Dear AOL, get a clue! To recap: (1) over the years AOL and other ISPs have demonstrated that they lack the technical competence to identify and stop spam, (2) AOL came up with with a maniacal scheme: classify all email as spam, then allow senders to pay AOL a bribe to ensure delivery -- note that this does nothing to prevent spam from well-heeled senders, and will prevent lots of legitimate mail from getting through, (3) outrage ensues, the user community forms anti-pay-to-send advocacy groups, such as, (4) AOL reacts by blocking as "spam" all email which mentions Dear AOL, (5) more outrage ensues.

SF Wi-Fi: now that San Francisco has awarded the contract to wi-fi-ize the city to a group led by EarthLink and Google, various aggrieved parties are raising objections: Some Worries as San Francisco Goes Wireless and Critics hit SF Wi-Fi plan on privacy, interference.

RunBot to BigDog: a new speed record for legged robotics: Speedy robot legs it to break record (video 1, video 2 , author's page and abstract of paper). Sort of a cross between the Amundsen expedition and the Mars rovers: Robotic route for Polar pioneers. On that same theme of using robots where pack animals were once used: see Boston Dynamic's BigDog ("The Most Advanced Quadruped Robot on Earth") be sure to watch the video (wmv format). Finally, a cool Lego Pneumatic Wheel (via).

Planetary astronomy: the European Space Agency's Venus Express completed its five month voyage: Probe makes encounter with Venus. It has begun to send back great pictures, like these twists and vortices at the south pole: First Images from Venus Express and Unexpected detail in first-ever Venus south pole images. The solar system's rankings for most likely home to alien life have been revised: Saturn's moon Enceladus 'best bet for life'.

AT&T/NSA Pipeline: last week I cited Whistle-Blower Outs NSA Spy Room about how AT&T apparently routed all of their phone and Internet traffic through secret rooms run by the NSA. Maybe this is why the Bush administration wasn't willing to comply with even the minimal provisions of the FISA law: they were already listening to everybody. More on this: Wiretap Whistleblower's Statement, AT&T Seeks to Hide Spy Docs and Whistle-blower says AT&T gave spy agency access to network. This can all be seen as an argument for Why VOIP Needs Crypto.

The Emotional Hearing Aid: as first mentioned here two weeks ago there is fascinating work at MIT Media Lab by Rana El Kaliouby et al. on developing a device that will help autistics better understand the nuances of human facial communication: Face Reader Bridges Autism Gap, see this technical paper: The Emotional Hearing Aid: An Assistive tool for Children with Asperger Syndrome (pdf format).

Technobits: from the EFF: Unintended Consequences: Seven Years Under the DMCA --- Red Hat and JBoss: No turning back for open source --- Border Security System Left Open --- This Boring Headline Is Written for Google --- Natural light 'to reinvent bulbs' --- up to their keisters in Burmese pythons: Biologist battles killer pythons in Florida park --- generic blogging, meta comments --- The Future was so Cool in 1961 ("If the futuristic architecture of the mid-20th century has a singular icon, it's the Theme Building at LAX") --- 13 minutes of Japanese Rube Goldberg.

Lasusa Links, Wolfe Whispers, Cheatley Links, Dan Grobstein File

Gathered by Tom Lasusa with a little help from his friends…Mentos = Freshmaker. Mentos + Diet Coke = Face BreakerOnline sex gamesThe latest auction eBuffyCounterfiet money -- truly, one of the OLDEST scams aroundA Cell phone in Your Mouth -- No Tooth to That!Bake a Cake with Cadbury Creme eggs… Today is Corey Appreciation Day: Haim and FeldmanTake a word association testNow all we need is the sharks to carry the lasersForget the Grassy Knoll -- did Lincoln's Assasin really work alone? (no)… One Red Paperclip Heard about this guy? He started off with a single red paperclip and decided on the experiment -- To trade it for something else, and to keep going until he has himself a house. He's already up to free rent for a year in a place in Phoenix!…

Marjorie Wolfe, a frequent contributor to and friend of this column, now has her own web site, where, this week, she deals with de vants (Yiddish for bedbugs).

David Cheatley offers two links: the art of writing Google Friendly headlines alters the art of writing headlines (what, no more puns!?!) and what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said "the medium is the message."

Dan Grobstein File

  • Pentagon Channel Adds Video Podcasting to Product Line: WASHINGTON, April 10, 2006 - The Pentagon Channel has added video podcasting to its line of products that distribute the channel's military news and information to the nation's men and women in uniform. "We work hard to communicate with the men and women of the department around the world," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "I am pleased that we are using video casting and other increasingly important technologies to reach our global audience with all the news and information available on the Pentagon Channel."

Manzanita, Oregon

I spent last week on the Oregon coast. Normally, I stay in beachside  motels there, or sometimes in a rental home near Salisham  Lodge, but friends of the family recently purchased a beautiful home a few  miles north of Manzanita, Oregon, and they graciously  allowed me to use it. Alas, the phone wasn’t turned on yet. Horrors—a week  without Internet access. No one in the nearby housing development apparently  has Wifi. My cellphone  doesn’t work here either. This may be the most relaxing vacation I’ve taken in  ages. My goal was to read at least two books and see 4 old movies a day. It was  a rigorous schedule, but I felt I was up for it. (I actually saw a total of 6  movies, not 16, and finished only one book, The DaVinci  Code—now I’m ready for the movie!)

One distraction: there is Wifi  and a Cybercafe in Manzanita  (open 10-4). On the other hand, nearly everything else in town was closed  Monday and Tuesday, which reduced the temptation to bop into town, and  increased the likelihood that I would make most of my own meals and so avoid  gaining weight.

Another distraction is the view. I can see  about five miles of Oregon coast from this perch, and since I enjoy looking at  and listening to the Ocean more than I enjoy spending time in it, this house is  close to perfect.

I feel my batteries recharging already, and it  is only Tuesday as I write this. Alas, my gosh-darn Palm III Palm Pilot lost  its mind during the trip up here, so I couldn’t call anyone even if I did have  a working telephone. Is God trying to tell me something about relaxing??

The President Made Me Do It

Papers:  Cheney Aide Says Bush OK'd Leak

It was George (and Dick) who authorized the leaks, as was intuitively  obvious to the most casual observer at the time. As PSACOT has previously  reported both George and Dick were and are clear and present dangers to the  national security and have caused exceptionally grave damage to national  security, Arguably, without a formal written declassification order, the  material is still classified. Further, the people to whom the disclosures were  made did not have appropriate clearances or a need to know for a reason  benefiting the nation as opposed to a private interest. See also:

·  Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) Letter to Bush  about Classification Issues from Plame Investigation

·  Filing  in US v. Libby: Govt's Response to Defendant's Third  Motion To Compel Discovery, see esp. pages 19 and  20.



·  Daily KOS: Bush to Resign  for Health Reasons?

·  Free Shocking Diebold conflict of interest revelations from Secretary of  State further taint Ohio's electoral credibility

· The Tethered Goat  Strategy, By Sidney Blumenthal from the Guardian newspaper. Amazingly, the  State Department continues to find new ways to foul up Iraq.

·  Kerry  introduces resolution calling for Iraq pullout this year

·  Gonzales  suggests that Bush has the authority to order warantless  wiretapping of calls, emails


by Craig Reynolds

Apple gives Windows the boot: tech tongues have been wagging since Apple released a public beta of Boot Camp a pre-release feature of Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) that will allow you to dual boot your Intel-based Mac to Windows XP. (MS software definitely NOT included -- BYOWXP.) The GUI of this "ALT reality" is pure delicious Applesauce, I am confident that never before in the history of computing has there been an easier way to re-partition a live disk. Probably the main motivation for Boot Camp is to encourage fence-sitting "switchers" who want to use Macs, but have a few Windows apps they just can't do without. Virtual PC used to be the best bet, but that became a victim of the move to Intel based Macs (but see Parallels Workstation 2.1 Beta). Certainly there is no risk that Mac users will boot XP then forget to came back (as IF!). There is a typically well-reasoned analysis of Boot Camp and its implications at Daring Fireball. Back when Intel-based Macs were first introduced, there was a lot of speculation about whether the new OS X could be run on non-Apple hardware. Boot Camp is definitely not that capability, but Cringely suggests it might be down the road.

The X-ray observatory never blinks: This struck me as such a very clever idea: normally telescopes alternate between observation and "slewing" into position for the next observation. These two states are mutually exclusive and in fact the instrument is traditionally shuttered during the slew to protect the optics. But operators of the space-based XMM-Newton X-ray observatory realized that keeping the shutter open and recording the data during slew allowed them free sky survey time. This lets them find dynamic phenomena that might otherwise be missed: Telescope profits from 'downtime'.

Canonical MIT/Caltech hack: MIT likes to think it has a friendly rivalry with its Cambridge neighbor Harvard, while Harvard mostly ignores MIT. Similarly MIT is generally ignored by what it considers its west coast "rival" Caltech. MIT also has a rich history of hacks. So it must have made the MIT geeks' hearts swell with pride to be the target of several hacks by Caltech in 2005. Finally, some "respect"! Now MIT hackers (aka the Howe Et Ser Moving Company) have pulled off a 3000 miles transplant of Caltech's 130-year-old 2-ton Fleming cannon (more here). The big gun appeared Thursday morning, just in time for the start of Campus Preview Weekend. Note the exquisite workmanship on the "brass rat" (the MIT class ring) that adorns the barrel.

Technobits: Whistle-Blower Outs NSA Spy Room --- Seeking changes to the DMCA --- openDRM: not quite as odious as proprietary DRM --- from Mr. PGP, really secure VoIP: A Pretty Good Way to Foil the NSA --- Intellectual Property Run Amok --- Firefox breaks 10 percent, Safari comes in third --- MIT Researchers Build Tiny Batteries With Viruses --- Arctic fossils mark move to land --- spicy chemotherapy --- How Islamic inventors changed the world.

The Top 17 Signs Your Mom Is Actually Your Dad

I am more or less proud to say No. 14 is mine…

April 3, 2006
  An Arizona mother  charged with abducting her two children was accused of posing as a man while on  the run, and authorities say the heavyset woman with cropped hair and a slight  mustache even went as far as to have the kids call her "Daddy."
   We've decided to flex our comedic  muscles and take a look at things from the opposite angle, using an inverted  humor prism to ascertain...
  Okay, I screwed up and worded the topic backwards. Sue me!

17> Every Mother's Day, it's yet  another dinner at Hooters.
  16> Your "Happy Birthday!" message is perfectly written in the  snow.
  15> Constantly bitching at herself about leaving the toilet seat up.
  14> She insists you use air quotes when you call her "Mom."
  13> You try to borrow a tampon from her purse, but all you find inside the  plastic container is a Slim Jim.
  12> She claims her weekly visits to the Platinum Pussycat club are to pick  up breast-feeding tips.
  11> "Son, that Pamela Anderson seems like one great catch!"
  10> After a bad day at the office, she eschews a pint of Chunky Monkey in  favor of a pint of Jim Beam.
   9> You ask her to sew a button on  your shirt and she reaches for the nail gun.
   8> Refers to Brad Pitt as "that pansy."
   7> Her lavender pumps point *toward*  the toilet when she pees in a public stall.
   6> None of the other third-graders  get Doritos, pickle spears and Bud Light in their school lunch.
   5> The only monthly visitor she ever  has is a $50 stripper.
   4> Her purse perfectly matches her  shoes. But at the same time, her five-o'clock shadow perfectly matches her mono-brow.
   3> Refuses to watch "Desperate Housewives" because "those broads get on my nerves."
   2> Caitlyn's mom sells Mary Kay  Cosmetics. Your mom sells Larry's Bait 'n' Tackle.
  and's Number 1 Sign Your Mom Is Actually  Your Dad...
   1> When you run to her and excitedly  announce that you just starting bleeding "down there," she shudders  and hands you a box of Band-Aids.
   [ The Top 5  List ] [  Copyright 2006 by Chris White ]
  Selected from 102 submissions from 38 contributors.
  Today's Top 5 List authors are:
  Sandra Hull, Arlington, VA  -- 1, 9 (45th #1/Hall of Famer)
  Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA – 14

The Top 14 Evangelical Christian Wrestlers

When you’re hot, you’re hot, says No. 9… (Number 13 with Part I: “Whalin Jonah”)

April 7, 2006
  14> The Rock of Ages
  13> Punch and Judea
  12> The Sermonator
  11> The Angel of Merciless
  10> The Ouchbishop
  9> Stone Cold Moses
  8> The Bible Thumper
  7> The Youth Minister -- of Pain!
  6> Judas Iscarrion
  5> Punches Piledriver
  4> Painin' Abel
  3> John the Whaptist
  2> The Bad Samaritan
  and's Number 1 Evangelical Christian  Wrestler...
  1> Jesus That Hurt
  [ The Top 5 List  ]
  [ Copyright 2006 by Chris White ]
  Selected from 127 submissions from 45 contributors.
  Today's Top 5 List authors are:
  Paul Wiley, Westtown, NY  -- 1 (2nd #1)
  Paul Schindler, Orinda, CA – 9