Monday, March 31, 2008

Stupid Spammers

Security really is an arms race. Just when you think you have the best lock ever, someone figures out how to pick it.

So now, spammers have figured out how to automatically sign up for Gmail. So they'll have lots of gmail accounts to send spam from.

I'm sure Google has already shut down the particular place doing it, but damn. Like cockroaches, they'll just move to another server. Sad that the 1% of people who actually respond to spammers fund such ingenuity. It used to take a much higher rate of return to scam the population. And you had to leave the house.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Need more privacy

While this election is hopefully a chance for change, some aren't holding their breath. That columnist makes the point that Bill Clinton wasn't the best example of transparent government, holding secret meetings sometimes. W. Bush has been vastly worse, breaking the law and working as hard as possible to keep every action of government secret.

Which reminds me of articles I saw a while back about the imbalance of power between individual secrecy and government secrecy. Some argue that if there's no secrets, then we'll get better government. But that's crap. Because it's easier for the government to get my secrets than for me to get the government's secrets. I can't issue search warrants or throw government officials in jail.

Not to mention that if you create a website to rate the performance of police officers, it gets mysteriously shut down. Now, I can see how home addresses and photos of cops could be a bad thing. But government should at least be open and honest about shutting down websites that endanger public safety.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Comcast sucks less?

Even though Comcast has been more evil than usual lately, it looks like that may change.

They recently promised to change how they control internet traffic. See, in the past, they may have broken laws by sending forged messages to computers to get them to stop communicating, so they'd stop using bandwidth. Now they're just going to shut down users who use too much internet.

I'm sure how much is too much will be clearly communicated, and something you can control if you use too much. Or not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Demonstration Assassin

I've been trying to think of a good metaphor for my job for some time. Apart from the Ender's Game character Bean, I think of myself as a science assassin.

I get a target (topic), and then I determine the best way to eliminate it (ignorance). But yesterday I was the ultimate science demo assassin. I flew into another city with a duffle bag full of equipment, delivered my payload, and flew out the next morning. The bag contained equipment with lots of wires and biomass, even if it was a potato clock and a solar panel.

I was badass.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Make it Stop

Why, why, why can't I get the theme song from Friends out of my head?

It's not good music. It's not a very good TV show.

Make it stop.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cornstarch is great

These are great videos. First, the greatest demonstration of cornstarch and water the world has ever seen. This is great television.

That's awesome, but ordinary cornstarch behaviour.

Now behold what happens when cutting edge scientists start playing with cornstarch and water.

There are lots more awesome science demo videos


Monday, March 10, 2008

The Math of Candy Land

Read this post.

Candy Land is not the subject I would have most expected a mathematician to geek out on. But some guy ran multiple probalistic analyses of the likely outcomes of the game of Candy Land.

I enjoyed reading it.

Friday, March 7, 2008


A few stories in the news lately about autism.

First, a fascinating story in WIRED about an autistic girl who uses technology to communicate. Probably. She made a video of herself being very autistic, acting in ways that seem very wild and strange. And then captioned it with an inner monologue that makes a kind of sense. Autistic people tell us that they live in a different world from the rest of us, but one with just as much internal consistency and reason as our own. This girl advocates for acceptance of that other way of knowing as equally legitimate.

And then there's the parents who are freaked out by their kids becoming autistic around the time they get vaccinated. I'm sorry for their anguish and pain, but I get frustrated by their inability to recognize that vaccines don't cause autism. And more frustrated when NPR reports on a recent court settlement where parents are getting money in compensation for autism, but don't report the bare fact that vaccines don't cause autism. I wish we knew what the cause was. But we do know it's not vaccines.

These parents allege that the mercury-based preservative thimerosal is to blame. In Denmark in 1992, thimerosal was removed from all vaccines. Autism continued to increase. In 1999, thimerosal was removed from US vaccines. Autism has continued to increase. It ain't the thimerosal.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I love improv

I've been taking classes and performing in improv shows for a little over a year now. And I love it. It's lots of fun, making both ourselves and the audience laugh. And I realized last night that there are lots of brilliant moments that I may actually want to remember, even though we made it up on the spot.

Last Sunday, we were improvising a scene where we knew we'd have to make up a song based on the lines we said. I was playing an 8 year old child learning to bartend in his grandmother's Irish Pub, and 2 other players were the liquor control commission shutting us down. After 2 other songs, the final scene began. The cops broke down the door, declaring we were closed. I said, "You can't shut down O'Flanahanahannity's!" Whistle.

The audience knew the ref was going to tell me to sing that line as a song. But she was laughing so hard she couldn't get the words out. The suspense was awesome. Then I finally got to sing a song, doing fairly well at remembering the name I had just made up. The song rhymed and everything. It was awesome.

Then, last night, I played the game Story like I've never played before. I was listening really well, picking up in the middle of words from others, cutting off in the middle of words very smoothly. I played hard. And after I got eliminated for making up the town of Billings, Wyoming, I got to play to the last round of a game where we were making up the manual for the XJ-9 toothbrush. The whole game was awesome, making up the features of a ridiculously powerful and dangerous device that takes two people to lift, 17 batteries, summons demons, and has to be stored in a lead-lined locker.

But for me the best moment was when Alan, the other player, gave the part number for the battery or something. The part number was a random lengthy sequence. AQN/13-F8. The story switched to me, and I quickly reincorporated the serial number, nailing it. The audience was amazed. I don't remember clearly if they laughed or gasped. They were impressed. Ultimately I was eliminated for choking on a word, but it was a good call, and a great game.

I like improv. I look forward to much more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Daylight Saving Time wastes energy?

Ben Franklin and others claim that switching clocks saves energy. President Bush's only response to growing oil prices and global climate change was to add a month of daylight saving time (DST).

But thanks to that switch, a study in Indiana shows that electricity usage actually went up with more DST.

I was always skeptical that switching clocks could have much of an effect. But the argument was that if we're awake while the sun is up, we won't use as much artificial light.

Apparently, though, in places with hot summers, DST means more time awake in the humid summer heat, and more air conditioners running, so more energy used.

It's possible in other climate areas there are other effects, and it's possible that other benefits, like being able to see the sun when you go home from work, are worth the switch. But given how much effort we put into switching our clocks, it seems like we could just forget about it all.

I wonder why we don't just work different hours. If I switched my schedule to 7-3 instead of 9-5, then I'd get daylight. Why do we have to change what time it is? Why do all the sundials in the world have to be wrong half the year? Why can't we just go to bed sooner and get up earlier? (Teenagers excepted, because we know their brains keep them up late. It's true! High schools that delay classes see test scores go up!)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Traffic jam research

Japanese researchers followed up on great German research in traffic jams with a lab test the size of a stadium.

But you don't need to read the article, you can see the experiment!