Friday, October 31, 2008

Stupid Insurance Companies

So, it turns out that "health insurance" companies charge women more. I guess women are more likely to avail themselves of medical services, but are they really more expensive? And is it ethical, much less legal, to charge women more for the same healthcare plan? I'm not a lawyer, but it certainly smells bad.

And while the corporations might claim that childbirth creates costs that men don't incur, most of their policies charge extra for maternity coverage. Bastards.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christian Science Monitor going all online

Wow. The Christian Science Monitor is going to stop printing. But they're not shutting down. They're just going to be all online.

The newspaper business has been dying in recent years, for a number of reasons. The only people who buy a paper are old and going to die, and the advertising market has evaporated.

Of note in this news is that the CS Monitor is a non-profit paper. I wonder if all original reporting in the future will be funded by non-profits, like public broadcasting is now. I'd prefer a variety of sources, and a hegemonic Google-funded AP is scary in its power over the Word.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Airport security is an act

From the folks who brought you "Mailing your ID home to get through security faster", here's: "Acting like a Terrorist".

A guy behaves like a terrorist at an airport, and no one stops him. Brings big bottles of liquid on the plane, not to mention Hezbollah paraphernalia. And gets through security with forged documents.

Interesting to note that the "no-fly" list (which allegedly doesn't have anyone on it) doesn't even work. It's remarkably simple to get around.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mapmaker, mapmaker make me a map...

I think this is interesting.

A guy worked for a company and came up with a way to use software to figure out where neighborhoods are. The boundaries between neighborhoods are, after all, fuzzy and indeterminate things. But apparently there's great amounts of money to be made, telling people where real estate values will and won't go up. And where tacos will be popular, and where people are more likely to prefer pancakes.

But now the copyright to this algorithm has been bought, and the original programmer is being sued, and may be banned from ever making more maps, unless he pays a license fee for the results of his work. Man, work for hire sucks if you're a genius.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Physics vs. Engineering

As I read this column about quantum cryptography, I was struck by the difference between physicists and engineers.

Physicists like quantum cryptography, teleportation and computing because they're interesting. Using lasers to transport electrons across space, creating an unbreakable code, and light-powered computers that can crack any classical code in the world are awesome. Sure, the most complicated quantum computers in existence can barely manage to count your fingers AND toes, but the idea is still cool.

From the engineering side, though, quantum teleportation is a useless trick. Like quantum computing, it only works with a handful of particles, and until you can operate with the millions (or googols) of particles it would take to be useful, it's just a weird trick.

While quantum cryptography works now, it's unnecessary. Classical cryptography is strong enough, because getting someone to give you their password is easier than cracking either code. So a code that's mathematically impossible is functionally the same as one that's really really hard. And since it's way more expensive, it's useless.

But since I'm a physicist, I still think it's cool.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Usually, the Republicans are content to have anonymous surrogates spread their lies, but the Sacramento Republican Party has no shame. They have posted ads on their website (gone now, I'm sure) advocating torturing Obama, and spreading false quotes and faked photos.

They're pretty desperate. It's frustrating to me that they can't accept that their ideology of low taxes and huge government, and government based on loyalty and ideology, with weakened regulations, has led to disaster. And disastrous disaster management. At least Senator McCain does repudiate falsehoods when he sees them on the campaign trail. Too bad no one who works for him does.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ha ha!

So, Senator McCain was among those who voted to pass the DMCA, the internet copyright act that among other things, has a "safe-harbor" clause that immunizes sites like YouTube from copyright suits unless the person whose stuff was stolen tells YouTube that somebody posted stolen stuff.

Now McCain's campaign is unhappy that their campaign ads are being taken down from YouTube for copyright violation. McCain's lawyers are arguing that the content of their ads is fair use. Fox and CSPAN don't see it that way.

And YouTube points out that it's their job, under the law McCain helped pass, to immediately take stuff down if they are asked to. It's just not practical for them to examine every video and decide whether it's fair use.

Kind of sucks to have to obey copyright law, doesn't it senator? Maybe the law is too stringent, and the rights of corporations are too strong? Welcome to the 1990s.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


This is awesome.

The word "maverick" is a family name. The first person to make it famous was a Texas cattleman who didn't brand his steers. Others fought McCarthyism, invented the word "gobbeldygook" and even fought the Iraq war.

Apparently, this dyed-in-the-wool liberal clan is none too pleased with Sen. McCain's claim that he's a maverick. Especially since he seems to be 90% loyal Republican.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

X-ray art

A rebel out there has made metal plates that display messages when viewed through the X-ray scanner at the airport.

I'm amused, but I doubt TSA will be. And I suppose that's his point. If you want to line your bags with lead so they personally search you, that's your right. Good luck with that!

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm not a lawyer, but...

Last week I successfully acted like a lawyer. And not on stage.

My sweetie got a bill for last month's rent at her old apartment. Despite the fact she'd already paid it. Twice. (They lost the first check, and then demanded a late fee.)

I wrote up a simple letter, full of legal jargon: "In accordance with the Fair Debt Collection Act of 1971, I demand you cease and desist all further attempts to collect payment." She mailed it off, certified mail, return receipt requested, with a copy of the canceled check.

A few days later, we got the evidence the letter had been received, and then she got a letter saying her account has been updated to reflect a balance of zero, and her credit report will be updated to accurately reflect payment.

I win! It's all about the paperwork, baby.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Texas ballot still counts

Unsurprisingly, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit that would have kept Obama and McCain off the ballot in Texas. This, despite the fact that they didn't file paperwork until after the deadline. The Democrats didn't even file tentative paperwork in time. (Republicans filed something, even though they didn't yet know who their VP candidate would be.)

I have to say, I think Bob Barr was in the right on this. And he'd be just as right if it were in California. The rules for elections should be upheld fairly for everyone, not laxly for the 2 parties and strictly for everyone else.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little Big Computer

This is awesome. A soon to be released video game lets you build stuff. Somebody built a computer inside their computer. Suck it, Babbage!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Through the power of Netflix, I've been watching Dexter lately. The first season, anyway.

It's a very well made TV show. It totally lives up to its pitch: a show about a good serial killer. One who only kills serial killers.

Lots of subtle, clever symbolism, and lots of tortured morality. It manages to get you to feel like the murderer shouldn't get caught, and root against the police. Although he is in the police department.

So complicated. I'm sure I'm conditioning myself to be afraid, but at the same time the acting and writing are so good. And they're taking ordinary fears about fitting in, being an impostor, not knowing how to act around other people, and turning them up to 11. And spilling lots of blood and showing lots of naked people.

So, definitely in the "guilty pleasure" file.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Palin baby name generator

This is pretty funny.

You can find out what your Sarah Palin name is. Or would have been, if she were your mom.