Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lockpicking is fun!

Both people who read this know I've picked the lock to my own house.

This is a cool story about picking locks with your kids for fun family time activity.

It includes a link to the MIT guide to lockpicking, which taught me most of what I know, outside of How Stuff Works.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stupid Hippies

So, lots of blogs are talking about possible energy savings from darker computer screens. The theory, based on a very old DOE web page, is that darker screen save energy and prevent global climate change.

Thus, the creation of Blackle, a page that sends your searches to Google, but is black.

The thing is, the energy savings are only on big old fat, CRT screens. Every computer I use, and 3/4 of the computers in use today, have flat LCD screens. Which actually use MORE energy to be black than they do to be white. I find that most screens are too bright anyway, and turn down the brightness, which does use a little less energy.

Ah, knowledge. You'd think that dark used less energy than bright. But you'd be wrong.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Buddhas and Bedmaking?

People who play Dungeons and Dragons are pretty nerdy. Takes one to know one. But the idea behind Chore Wars is that you make your life a role playing game. Ew.
Now a role playing game where you do ordinary things for ordinary consequences, that is an interesting idea. Not one I'd come back to often, but interesting.

But Lore Sjoberg has the best idea for a role playing game.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Baby Name Voyager

This is awesome. It's a website that lets you look at US Census data on first names since 1880. Behold Jennifer, Denzel, Marilyn and Adolf. See Jacob supplant Michael as #1 for boys. Behold the mystery of girls named John.

So awesome. What's your favorite graph?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Treasury Department can take my money

Apparently, the President decided that The Secretary of Treasury may declare me an enemy combatant and seize my assets.

I would prefer a little due process with my government powers, like a judicial hearing, or even a trial. There is honest disagreement on this question, since it's supposed to be used to fight terrorists.

And it's an executive order, not a law. Whether the rule violates the 5th amendment ban on depriving me of my property without due process aside, the president doesn't get to make the laws. Yet he just keeps executive ordering and statement signing his days away.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Did I Violate International Law?

So, the Canadian Red Cross is fighting to prevent video games from using a red cross as a symbol. The historic rules on using the red cross emblem have a pretty good reason behind them: they want only legitimate medical personnel to have red crosses, so the military won't shoot at them. If copycats put red crosses on everything, then it's not a symbol of neutrality.

But how is it a problem if a medic or first aid kit in a video game has a red cross on it? The symbol has become synonymous with medical care. And in low resolution graphics, it's a lot easier to draw a red cross than a caduceus.

This isn't just a philosophical question for me. I've made crude computer games with Red Cross labeled medicine in them. And shown it to hundreds of students. I think I called it Anders' Game, too. I don't think I'm a criminal. But if I ever start a computer repair business, and call it PC First Aid, I won't put a Red Cross in my logo. Unless I want to piss the Swiss off.

For added irony, I'm going to the Red Cross today to give blood. :)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Eternal Sunshine nonfiction?

The Luddite tells an interesting story about a drug.

Apparently Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind isn't as fictional as we might hope. There are drugs now being tested that strip away the pain of traumatic memories. I haven't suffered any major trauma, and wouldn't want to say whether someone should or shouldn't block out the memories of a truly horrific event. But the fact that we might be able to gives me pause.

Because I expect we'd start blocking out any pain, no matter how major. And end up in a Brave New World, where we live our lives in a drug-enduced stupor of mild pleasure.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Fountain

The Fountain is a good movie. Symbolic and breathtaking, ambiguous in its meaning, with a strong tension between science and faith, which the director explored as well in Pi. It's about a man and a woman, and the search for eternal life. And there's a play within a play. Absolutely gorgeous images, and compelling acting for a story well told, and worth pondering.

Talking about it afterwards, I mentioned his other work, Requiem for a Dream, and came to a new discovery. Requiem is mostly unpleasant, but there are a few passages that are exciting, thrilling and captivating. It's a movie about drug addiction, and the pattern is clear. When the characters get high, the movie is pleasing to watch. When the characters' lives are destroyed in a relentless spiral of doom, it's unpleasant. Just like the life of an addict. Of course, the highs become shorter and less satisfying as the movie goes on. That movie contains a brilliance I hadn't realized. It's also one of the most unpleasant things I have ever watched.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Email may get more private

Despite the fact that email is actually as private as a postcard, a judge ruled recently that it's like a phone call. I think email is more like a written letter than a phone call, but I'm not a lawyer and I don't know what police search laws apply to letters.

I find it interesting that the judge thinks we should reasonably expect privacy in our email. I don't expect privacy now: I know my boss can read my email if she wants, and hackers can intercept if they care enough. But SHOULD we expect privacy in our email, in the same way we reasonably DO expect privacy in mailed letters?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lessig no longer a copyright lawyer

My favorite copyright lawyer, Lawrence Lessig, is no longer a copyright lawyer.

He's moving on to bigger and better things. Lobbying reform and public corruption. It's true that if those things get fixed, then copyright is just one of several areas that will be improved.

Still, I really enjoyed his book. And had fantasized about taking his classes at law school. Now I never will.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Silly Protesters

Last night I heard a radio piece about the latest nominee for surgeon general.

During the piece, they play a clip of Planned Parenthood protesters, who object to the nominees religious conservative views.

They chanted, "hey hey ho ho, ideology has got to go".

I laughed and laughed. I happen to agree with the protesters' position, but they need a better chant. When you're ideologically opposed to someone, and you object to their nomination because of that disagreement, "ideology" isn't a good objection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fairness Doctrine, please come back!

Many news organizations are discussing
the possible return of the fairness doctrine, the rule that existed prior to Reagan that political views on radio and TV actually had to be balanced by opposing views. Reports say that conservatives are worried it might actually return. I wish.

Opponents like Rich Lowry argue that Rush Limbaugh is entertaining, and the market has decided that Al Franken isn't funny, and government shouldn't force media to broadcast ideas. The problem with the claim that audiences choose who to listen to is that giant corporations and rich people decide what's on the menu. Ed Schultz is a compelling liberal talk show host, but he can't get anyone to advertise on his show, because corporations don't want to sponsor someone who opposes their interests. Thom Hartmann is a very entertaining radio host, but it's hard to imagine giant corporations lining up to sponsor his message.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fast Food Nation - A good book

I read Fast Food Nation last week. It is an excellent book. Scary, but excellent.

The author writes about the history of fast food in our country, and documents a great number of problems which fast food either created or exemplifies. The butchering chapter is only a small part, and not as gross as I had feared. It is shocking, however, how little progress has been made since the publishing of The Jungle.

The book ends with a powerful set of prescriptions: recommendations for reform. I find the list compelling. One argument of note is the one for banning advertising to children. I support the idea that children aren't capable of understanding the motives of advertisers. I also understand the free speech implications. Schlosser points out that Congress banned cigarette ads years ago. Unhealthy fast food ads, aimed at children who can't assess the health of the food, are vulnerable to a similar argument.

It's nice that Kellogg has decided to institute such a ban.

Other recommendations seem beyond debate to me. We shouldn't have poop in our food. People should work in safe environments, in accordance with the law. Here's a letter I sent to my representatives on this issue:

Dear Senator Smith,

I recently learned about how E. Coli and other diseases like salmonella and "mad cow" spread in our food supply. I feel ashamed. I expect more from our government. The FDA and the USDA do not cooperate well, and they do not have the authority they need to keep our food safe.

I ask you to sponsor legislation reforming our food safety system. We need one agency that regulates all our food, which has the power to recall contaminated food. Corporations cannot be trusted to test our food for safety. The government must inspect our food supply, and ensure that it is free from disease. The FDA's inspectors are vastly overworked and underfunded. We need 5 times as many inspectors in our meatpacking plants and other food factories.

Cows are herbivores, as are chickens. The feeding of any animal to these animals is foolish and unnatural. I ask you to support legislation immediately banning the feeding of any mammal remains to any food animal. Cannibalism is wrong in cattle, just as it is in humans, and it is making people sick.

The other element of our food industry in massive need of reform is worker safety. OSHA is not enforcing workplace safety adequately, and the penalties for companies are ineffective. When the fine for a worker death is $800, companies will simply budget for a certain number of dead.

OSHA needs stronger inspections, tougher standards, and meaningful penalties that give factories a reason to change. With safer workers, we will also have a safer food supply.

Thank you,
Anders Liljeholm

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Innovation is Dumb

There's a book review in the New Yorker that critiques "innovation".

It's an attack on techological determinism, arguing that we decide how to use new inventions, and unless we adopt them they have no effect on society.

Fascinating food for thought about the choices we face in the future.