Archive for February, 2009

Darwin Day, 2009

February 11, 2009 3 comments

It’s Darwin Day!  Oh, and Lincoln’s Birthday, too!  What a fine day it is, with two such adornments. 

Well I heard somewhere that sixteen thousand books have been written about Abraham Lincoln.  No idea how many about Darwin, though.  There’s a meme circulating around to dethrone Darwin, but I don’t think anyone puts him on a throne.  He was not a saint, but by any standard relevant to his time he was a profoundly decent human being. 

As a scientist he was careful not to go beyond the evidence available to him, and he was right as far as he went.  Subsequent discoveries have expanded tremendously on his work.  He did for man’s place in the biological world what Galileo did for man’s place in the cosmos.  I have little difficulty thinking his long-term effect on humanity will be far greater than Lincoln’s.  And that is not to reduce Lincoln, by any means.

There are different theories of history.  One is the ‘great person’ theory; that a certain individual is the axis of historical change.  No Darwin, no Theory Of Evolution.  Another – I don’t know the name for it – is that when it’s time for an idea, somebody will bring it out.  And it was time for Evolution.

What’s your theory of history?

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The umbrellas of wind

February 11, 2009 Comments off

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History of the Internet in 8 minutes

February 10, 2009 Comments off

Do you suppose modern conservative bloggers would be upset to find out that the French had a lot to do with the creation of the Internet?

Please note that the Internet is not the “Web”.  That came later, and actually involved someone named Bush.  Ok, Bush’s part was earlier, and conceptual in nature; the actual web came later. (H/T Gizmodo.  And I was intrigued by the PICOL icons.)

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Can we please stop taking Republicans seriously now?

February 9, 2009 5 comments

Rush Limbaugh couldn’t be happier.  The president of the United States has dissed him personally:

“I am Rush Limbaugh, the man President Obama has instructed you not to listen to!” he crowed, adding to a long list of self-appellations that includes America’s Truth Detector; Doctor of Democracy; Most Dangerous Man in America; and All-Knowing, All-Sensing, All-Everything Maha Rushie.

By his own account, he is the most prominent voice of conservative thinking—“the last man standing”—now that Republican lawmakers have decided to, in his judgment, bow before the president. Indeed, Limbaugh seems more energized than ever. “Things just keep flying out of my fertile mind,” he said during a recent reckoning of how “Obama the Unifier” had sprinted to the liberal left.
LA Times: Rush Limbaugh has his grip on the GOP microphone

It’s no wonder that Limbaugh is a celebrity in a party that consults the intellectual tea leaves of Joe The Plumber War Correspondent.  That turns to “infrastructure constructions jobs aren’t real jobs” Michael Steele for party leadership. This is what’s left of the party of Lincoln, of Eisenhower?

No.  The last vestige of that party passed away on 26 December, 2006.  All that remains is a distorted echo, a tortured soul imprisoned in memories.

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Monday Morning Music: ‘At least you been told’

February 9, 2009 1 comment

Things to avoid when speaking in public, set to music:

(From the new Terry Talks, which are modeled after the awesome Ted Talks, only it’s students up on the stage.)

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Really, really cheap TV

February 8, 2009 3 comments

I heard something about a switch from analog TV broadcasting to digital.  This is of some concern to me because we get our TV off a $25 antenna up in the attic that I installed 25 years ago.  Granted we’re not huge TV addicts but Diane has to watch NCIS and I have to watch House.

First, this is an awesome time to get a free TV; people will be throwing them out on the curb after buying the latest model.  A friend of ours bought a fancy plasma TV and gave us their enormous old Sony CRT, which weighs about as much as a Buick but has a quite acceptable picture for my purposes. 

Then there’s the matter of the digital tuner.  I got a coupon from the TV Converter Box Coupon Program, which has reached its funding ceiling.  Took that to WalMart and got a little box which I connected to the old antenna up in the attic.  If you work with technology much you know most A/V components can be hooked up in about 10 different ways – I connected the video/R+L audio outputs from the little box to one of the input sets in the TV. 

We got five channels of far superior quality to the analog signal.  It’s pretty much like Cable TV, which I have never been able to think was important enough to pay for.  As long as the signal is good, the picture is perfect, but digital signals don’t degrade as gracefully as analog, so we may need a better antenna.

The selection is good-news/bad-news.  It includes the two commercial channels we watch – but no PBS!  That means no Nova or American Experience; another reason to think about getting a better antenna.

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Ahh, the delightful aroma of spring

February 6, 2009 4 comments

It isn’t really Spring.  But the temperature edged above freezing today, thawing out several weeks of droppings from dogs, cats, squirrels, possum, and thousands of crows who call our campus home during the winter.  Oh, and there must be a dead skunk thawing out somewhere near the intersection of Hovey and University in Normal, Illinois.  It’s all part of the circle of life (Cue music…)

Mind you, that’s a minor point compared to the delight of relaxing outdoors in the sunshine at a balmy thirty-six degrees (about 2 degrees c).

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RFID: the blabbermouth in your pocket

February 5, 2009 20 comments

The story has been making the rounds of a security researcher who was able to drive around and swipe information from RFID passports and ID cards.  It’s scary stuff, and it got me thinking.

RFID chips are widely misunderstood.  Many people envision them as broadcasting information, even spying on the carrier.  But they’re not that energetic.  The majority of them just pick up some inducted power from a handheld reader,  then broadcast an identifying number in response, back to the reader.  The problem is that the range (normally a few inches or feet) can be significantly enhanced if the reader is modified with a directional antenna.  So if you could interrupt the induction power signal, and further interrupt the broadcast response, you’d greatly limit the range of the RFID chip.

I just happened to have a crude, if somewhat specialized signal-strength meter in my pocket; a cell phone.  The picture above shows I have really good signal in my kitchen; five bars.  Drop the phone in a silver anti-static bag, though, and it drops to one bar.  (The bright part on the second picture is just a reflection of my ceiling lamp off the silver bag.)

For a device like an RFID chip, that would be one-fifth the power, plus attenuating the resulting broadcast response by four-fifths as well.  Schlepp that through the inverse-square law and the bad guy would have to start carrying an awfully large antenna.  He’d have to aim it very carefully, too.

This is just a crappy, ‘materials-on-hand’ demonstration.  Silver anti-static bags, like the kind electronic parts come in, aren’t made for RF shielding; they just need to be slightly conductive on the surface, to dissipate static electricity before it can zap delicate components.  A ‘full metal jacket’, like an aluminum-foil lined bag, should stop RF communication cold.  I wonder if that’ll become standard for passport folders and wallets someday?

This is not to say that RFID chips in cards are a good idea; they’re not.  Chips in cards are fine, but chips at a distance, no thank you.  I suggest you take the foil wrapper from a Hershey bar and wrap it around your RFID cards.

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Blogroll Awesomeness Day!

February 3, 2009 11 comments

Remember that one kid who always seemed to be doing his own thing off in the corner of the classroom, oblivious to the teacher’s assignment?  That’s me.  I often failed to understand the gist of the assignment and spent my time doodling or reading something else.  Got me in trouble on many occasions, as my school transcripts would certainly show if the schools had not carried them with tongs and dropped them into a plasma furnace to keep them from contaminating the other transcripts.

And so it is with Blogroll Amnesty Day – I really didn’t understand the assignment, so I’m doing my own thing.  Following are TEN blogs I think are awesome.  Some of them, I am certain, have more traffic than I do, and a few may have less.  If you look at my right column, you’ll see way more than ten blogs, and I try to visit them all at least occasionally.  This list consists of a few who come to mind just now, and it certainly leaves out a lot of other blogs that belong on it.  Some of them have been visiting my blog recently, some of them I suspect have never heard of me. 


Tangled Up In Blue Guy, humanist values on hard questions.
Obsidian Wings says what I wish I’d
Mahablog, Buddhist politics, really? Try it.
TwoBlueDay, Beautiful photos, world-encompassing thoughts.
Eunoia, surprisingly sane, considering it all
Buridan’s Ass, Atheism, and the human show.
Joe’s Big Blog think funny, think serious, no?
Cafe Philos, Relationships, sex, enlightment, pow!
Digital Cuttlefish; Now actually my favorite poet.
Joe Irvin’s blog, news I missed somehow, plus
Negative Smart, spotting the hidden flaw, Aha!
Mike The Mad Biologist that’s, I realize, a tautology.
En Tequila Es Verdad Snark, science, stories, silliness, and
Margaret And Helen, Look Out! Experience sees the
Millard Filmore’s Bathtub, is a compass in history.
Unapologetically Neurotic, Justice knows the maddening almost
Greg Laden, a scientist, raconteur, is.
I see invisible People; Touch upon humanity, not unseen.
Stupid Evil Bastard, truly one of the good guys.
***Dave Does The Blog, technology, Christianity, Humanity, really!

OK, that was like, ten blogs, right?  I started to get bogged down trying to ‘splain one-by-one just how awesome these blogs are, and I couldn’t really stop at ten.  Then it hit me: five words each, hey I could do that!  But there’s so many cool blogs in my RSS, I still had to stop because it’s time for bed. 

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Firefox nudges out IE

February 3, 2009 4 comments

Relax, Steve; Open Source is no threat to a real software company like Micros…  Wait, what?

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