Archive for August, 2008

False sense of security

August 14, 2008 4 comments

I’m actually sympathetic to Boston for getting a court order to forbid three MIT students from giving a talk about security problems they found in the subway payment system.  I mean, after the city spent $180m to set up the system, how could those students jeopardize it by revealing the holes in the wall?  Nor is it surprising that city officials didn’t understand the security hole – according to security expert Bruce Schneier, they didn’t do their research, didn’t know how to buy a secure product in the first place.  They fell for a sales pitch.

They want “time” to fix the problem that they don’t even understand yet.  It’s what every company, every half-assed government agency charged with keeping our information safe from identity thieves, says.  The bad guys won’t figure it out if… Shhh!… we just don’t talk about it!

Yeah.  I’m sure Boston will give the problem all the attention it deserves without a spotlight on it. They wouldn’t drag their feet, sweep it under the rug, and just basically forget about it after news reports die down.  Would they?

Categories: Geeky, Security

The First Rule Of Fight Club is…

August 13, 2008 Comments off

I liked the movie Fight Club and now somebody’s ripping it off drawing it in web cartoon form: Rush.  They’re just up to the first chapter so far, 29 comics.

Categories: Uncategorized

Worlds within worlds

August 13, 2008 1 comment

One of the cool things about our campus is the wide variety of trees in our central quad.  Each one has a tag that gives its species so I can tell a red oak from a locust tree (truthfully I don’t bother with the Latin equivalents, which are also given).

But any one of the trees is also an ecology of its own, for lichens, molds, moss, birds, squirrels, insects, and microscopic life.  In a few moments over lunch hour I was able to spot four different species of ants making their way up and down the trunk of a maple tree today.  Two were almost impossible to see without my magnifying glass, and occasionally a gigantic carpenter ant would go stomping by. 

I don’t know enough about ants.  E.O. Wilson probably has a book I should read about them.

Categories: Nature, observations

Awesome lightning pictures

August 10, 2008 3 comments

Chicago had an unusually intense lightning storm a few nights ago, and Chicago Tribune readers sent in their pictures.  Beautiful, amazing stuff.

What camera would you suggest?

August 9, 2008 9 comments

I’m looking to replace my current digital camera, and I want a modernized version of what I have now.  Not necessarily from the same manufacturer, and I am open to suggestions for different types.

My current camera is an Olympus 5050.  It’s a small, magnesium-body hocky puck as digital cameras go, and the display on back can tilt up allowing waist-level operation.  I really like that feature. Operation is somewhat slow, which is not unexpected as this is a 2003 design.  But the main reason I want to replace it is that the exposure control has developed a problem in bright sunlight. 

Once upon a time buying a camera was easy; Olympus made professional-grade cameras that fit my hands perfectly and so that’s what I bought.  But two things have changed.  I have not made a living with a camera for 25 years so I can’t write off a $2K camera anymore.  And I’ve gone digital, and digital cameras don’t have nearly the service life that film cameras had. So it’s hard to justify spending a lot on one.

Two current candidates include:  The discontinued Olympus 8080, which is a four-year-old design, or a Canon G9, which is new and has Canon’s Digic III processor and genuine RAW output, but lacks a tilting display.  (Canon, what the hell?  the G6 had a tilting display.)

I’m not opposed to a Dslr, especially if there were anything like the Olympus E520 with a tilt display.. And just to make matters more complicated, if something incredibly great comes along (a top digital rangefinder, maybe?) maybe I could be persuaded to break the bank anyway. 

Suggestions, anyone?  If you are serious about photography, what do you use, and what would you recommend?  (And no, WeeDram, I’m not going back to film)

Categories: Personal

Tire-pressure politics

August 8, 2008 5 comments

Commuting on a bicycle keeps you in tune with certain realities.  One of these is that tire pressure has a huge effect on rolling resistance.  Get enough air in the tires and your bike just seems to glide down the street with hardly any effort.  Ride on under-inflated tires, and you’re worn out by the time you get to work. 

There’s no fundamental difference between a bike tire and a car tire.  So along with his comprehensive energy plan, Barack has talked about small conservation steps that people can take, like checking their tires more often.  They won’t fix the problem in one dramatic stroke, but they’ll help, sometimes quite a lot.  The reason is that conservation is a ‘high-payoff’ activity.  If you save a gallon of gasoline, that’s about four gallons of crude oil that never have to be pumped out of the ground in the first place.  It’s a big effect for a small change.

But conservation is one of those things that conservatives just don’t seem to want to think about.  It’s in the category of “Things they won’t do for their country.”  Which is weird considering that conservation doesn’t really involve any significant sacrifice.  It just involves a little care for a big payoff.

Now the Republicans are handing out tire pressure gauges and saying “that’s Barack’s energy plan.”  As Barack says; “It’s as if they’re proud of being ignorant.”

Well you bet they are, Barack; they’ve made ignorance a virtue.  And oh my, what a relief it is to hear it said out loud on the national stage. 

This is not to say that Barack’s energy plan is perfect; it isn’t.  It still contains some really stupid things like corn ethanol and carbon sequestration.  But I’m willing to consider that those things are political necessities.  I don’t think you can get elected president without some pandering.  On the whole, his plan is a good one, and it’s the right approach.  He isn’t trying to treat addiction with one more fix.  He proposes hitting the energy problem from a whole lot of angles at once, which makes sense because it is a multifaceted problem. 

In his novel Friday, Robert Heinlein described an energy storage device called a “Shipstone”, that could take energy from any source and store it compactly and without loss.  The Shipstone was a single, simple invention that solved all energy problems for an entire fictional society.  But in real life we already have most of the technologies and the methods we need to fix most of our energy problems.  We just need to stop whining about it and get off our butts. And if we don’t want to do it for our country, maybe we could do it for our grandchildren. 

Categories: Politics

Fiscal Conservative

August 8, 2008 10 comments

When you invest in America, you get a return.

By Steve Greenberg, from Stranger Fruit, who got it from Crooks And Liars.

Categories: Economics, Politics

Rainbows: the new apocalypse

August 7, 2008 2 comments

Perhaps you were not aware that metallic oxide salts in our water supply and in the oxygen supply cause rainbows.

The narrator does not mention that since God caused the first rainbow, then God is the first polluter.  This rainbow, therefore, must be a sign of the apocalypse.  If you really want her to worry, tell her that the liquid coming out of that sprinkler contains di-hydrogen monoxide, which in large enough doses can be fatal.  And remember, she can vote.
Hat tip to Lucas, who finds the damndest things

Categories: Stupidity

Abortion protest ethics

August 6, 2008 5 comments

Jeffrey Shallit at Recursivity points to a video of abortion protesters struggling to answer the simple question: “If abortion is made illegal, what should the punishment be for a woman who has one?” 

Surprising that they seem never to have thought about it after years of standing on the street with Joe Scheidler holding signs and yelling at passers by that abortion is murder. 
Hat tip to Lucas, whose shared items have been a gold mine

Categories: Issues, observations

Damn, now we’ll never find out

August 6, 2008 1 comment

BBC News reports that NASA is promising to share what they’ve found on Mars and what it probably means for the question of life there.  Unfortunately they told the White House first, and now they’re “promising” to be up-front about it.

Crap.  And I really wanted to know.

Maybe they found little green men holding “Obama!” signs…

Categories: Science & Technology