Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Wave of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

"New strains of 'Gram-negative' bacteria have become resistant to all safe antibiotics. Though methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the best-known antibiotic-resistant germ, the new class of resistant bacteria could be more dangerous still. 'The bacteria, classified as Gram-negative because of their reaction to the so-called Gram stain test, can cause severe pneumonia and infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, and other parts of the body. Their cell structure makes them more difficult to attack with antibiotics than Gram-positive organisms like MRSA.' The only antibiotics — colistin and polymyxin B — that still have efficacy against Gram-negative bacteria produce dangerous side effects: kidney damage and nerve damage. Patients who are infected with Gram-negative bacteria must make the unsavory choice between life with kidney damage or death with intact kidneys. Recently, some new strains of Gram-negative bacteria have shown resistance against even colistin and polymyxin B. Infection with these new strains typically means death for the patient."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Awful Anti-Pirate System That Will Probably Work

"Much virtual ink has been spilled over Ubisoft's new, harsh DRM system for Assassin's Creed 2. You must have a constant internet connection, and, if your connection breaks, the game exits. While this has angered many (and justifiably so), most writers on the topic have made an error. They think that this system, like all DRM systems in the past, will be easily broken. This article explains why, as dreadful as the system is, it does have a chance of holding hackers off long enough for the game to make its money. As such it is, if nothing else, a fascinating experiment. From the article: 'Assassin's Creed 2 is different in a key way. Remember, all of its code for saving and loading games (a significant feature, I'm sure you would agree) is tied into logging into a distant server and sending data back and forth. This vital and complex bit of code has been written from the ground up to require having the saved games live on a machine far away, with said machine being programmed to accept, save, and return the game data. This is a far more difficult problem for a hacker to circumvent.'"

Spy cameras won't make us safer

Pervasive security cameras don't substantially reduce crime. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly: in San Francisco, California, public housing; in a New York apartment complex; in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; in Washington; in study after study in both the U.S. and the U.K. Nor are they instrumental in solving many crimes after the fact.

Friday, February 26, 2010

California Legislature Declares "Cuss-Free" Week

"The California legislature, which previously tried to ban incandescent light bulbs, just added to the list of banned things... swear words! Fortunately, the measure only applies for the first week of March, and compliance is voluntary — although, apparently, there will be a 'swear jar' in the Assembly and the Governor's mansion. No word yet on whether the Governator intends to comply."

I wish my state could be more like California.  Which long ago solved all problems and has a perfectly balanced budget and so has literally nothing better to do than pass the most inane things possible.

To be fair the Federal government isn't far behind in the race to do nothing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

History of Iron Production

If you are interested in the process of turning iron ore to various forms of usable iron and steel (and I know you are), then this is a good overview.

To sum up so far: wrought iron has a little carbon (.02 to .08 percent), just enough to make it hard without losing its malleability. Cast iron, in contrast, has a lot of carbon (3 to 4.5 percent), which makes it hard but brittle and nonmalleable. In between these is steel, with .2 to 1.5 percent carbon, making it harder than wrought iron, yet malleable and flexible, unlike cast iron. These properties make steel more useful than either wrought or cast iron, yet prior to 1856, there was no easy way to control the carbon level in iron so as to manufacture steel cheaply and efficiently. Yet the growth of railroads in the 1800s created a huge market for steel. The first railroads ran on wrought iron rails which were too soft to be durable. On some busy stretches, and on the outer edges of curves, the wrought iron rails had to be replaced every six to eight weeks. Steel rails would be far more durable, yet the labor- and energy-intensive process of cementation made steel prohibitively expensive for such large-scale uses.

Ongoing PA Webcam Spying Case

While I was searching for a pic of Mike and Ikes my doppelganger blog was conducting a highly detailed analysis of the PA school webcam spying case.  It's pretty damming; this should put to rest any claim that the school wasn't in the wrong.

This investigation into the remote spying allegedly being conducted against students at Lower MerionLMSD Staff List, Mike Perbix is listed as a Network Tech at LMSD. Mr. Perbix has a large online web forum footprint as well as a personal blog, and a lot of his posts, attributed to his role at Lower Merion, provide insight into the tools, methods, and capabilities deployed against students at LMSD. Of the three network techs employed at LMSD, Mr. Perbix appears to have been the mastermind behind a massive, highly effective digital panopticon.

The primary piece of evidence, already being reported on by a Fox affiliate, is this amazing promotional webcast for a remote monitoring product named LANRev. In it, Mike Perbix identifies himself as a high school network tech, and then speaks at length about using the track-and-monitor features of LanRev to take surreptitious remote pictures through a high school laptop webcam. A note of particular pride is evident in his voice when he talks about finding a way outside of LANRev to enable "curtain mode", a special remote administration mode that makes remote control of a laptop invisible to the victim. Listen at 35:47, when he says:

"you're controlling someone's machine, you don't want them to know what you're doing"
-Mike Perbix
It isn't until 37 minutes into the video till Perbix begins talking about the Theft Tracking feature, which causes the laptop to go into a mode where it beacons its location and silent webcam screenshots out to an Internet server controlled by the school.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Proposed List Of Amendments To The Constitution

So here are a list of amendments that I think should be made.

First my sunset law idea.  To review, every law (federal, state, and local) would automatically "sunset", or become null and void, if they weren't renewed occasionally.  The renewal vote would be the same as the vote need to initially pass the law (so normal 50% in two houses, in most cases).  The time period needed would be 5 years for any first renewal, that would allow almost all of government to go through an election, and would prevent panic laws from having a huge first time limit.  After that the periods would be based on the majority the law passed with.  Something like (P - 50) / 2 = T (rounded up to nearest integer), where P is the percentage of whichever house was lower, and T is the time in years before the next renewal.  If the House passed a law with 55%, and the Senate with 60% the time would be (55 - 50) / 2 = 2.5, rounded to 3 years.  With 100% in both houses the maximum would be 25 years.  All existing laws would start with 10 years from the date of ratification.  I'd be willing to change the details of the time limits, however I feel 5 years for all first time renewal periods and a maximum of 25 years are key.  Also laws could only be renewed in the year they came up for renewal (except the existing laws could be renewed anytime during the 10 year period).

Next I would repeal the 17th Amendment, which changes the method of electing the Senate.  It changed from being elected by the states to by the people.  This wouldn't be popular, because people like the idea of direct democracy, despite not actually caring enough to use the form of democracy they have.  However, I am a supporter of state's rights and feel that the Senate represents the states, while the House of Representatives represents the people.

A major problem is unconstitutional laws.  I think this stems from the fact that there is no penalty for passing unconstitutional laws, and that the only way for the laws to be removed is for someone to be arrested under them and appeal it up to the Supreme Court.  Thus two amendments should address this.

First make it easier for unconstitutional laws to be repealed.  I think there should be a number of different ways to do this.  First allow states to declare a law unconstitutional.  Next would be the creation of some body whose job it was to verify that laws were in fact constitutional before they came into force.  Some European countries have bodies like this.  The first choice may be the Supreme Court, however I think it is best to create a new body whose sole purpose is to review laws for constitutionality.  It would probably be quite similar to the Supreme Court in make up and specifics.

Next there should be some penalty for representatives that pass unconstitutional laws.  This one is tricky though; it would be easy to abuse for political reasons.  The problem I want to avoid would be the above body declaring laws they don't like unconstitutional just to hurt whoever passed them.  There's a few ways to avoid this.  First you could specify that the punishment would be proportional to how unconstitutional the law was.  You could gauge this by the majority with which whatever body ruled the law unconstitutional did so.  So if 26 states ruled a law unconstitutional then there would be little to no penalty.  On the other hand if 40 of them found it unconstitutional there could be a big penalty.  The other method would be basing the penalty on how many times that person had passed something unconstitutional.  If someone passed laws that were often found unconstitutional there would be a more severe penalty than if it had been one of the first times it happened.

As for the actual penalty that would probably depend on the factors I just mentioned.  Anything from a small fine, to barring them from public office, to jail time could be justified depending on the the severity.

The next one shouldn't even have to be put into the constitution, but I guess it does have to be.  Representatives should have to actually read laws before they can vote on them.  It boggles my mind that they openly admit to not reading laws they've passed, insane.  Include a mandatory waiting period between a bill being introduced, and it being voted on.  Perhaps 5 days + 1 day for every 50 pages.  I guess you'd have to define a page as a number of characters or words.  Perhaps this would help keep bills less than 1000 pages, but realistically it would just lead to them using short words, or combing words or something else.

Also as soon as the bill is introduced it should have to be published online and some other offline ways.  Going along with this every single vote should have to be published.  As it stands votes are only recorded if 1/5 request it.  With technology and the money Congress has there is no reason not to just record every single vote.  Even totally trivial things, there is really no downside to just putting them all on some public searchable website.

Another problem is that bills are often bundled together with totally unrelated bills in order to get them passed.  For example a bill would be introduced which outlawed eating babies, bundled onto this bill would be some unrelated nonsense like creating a new Federal agency whose job it is to regulate waffles.  If a representative voted against this people would  accurately claim he voted against a bill that outlawed baby eating.  Honestly though I'm not sure of how to prevent this.  You can simply say that bills must have one subject and bar unrelated bills from being combined.  However, it would be too easy to say anything is somehow related.

Another thing should be that Federal laws should have to specify what specific part of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to do whatever the law is doing.  Many people don't realize the Constitution isn't a list of rights citizens have.  Rather it is a list of powers the US government has.  If the Constitution doesn't grant the US a power then it doesn't have it.

Going hand in hand with that is clarifying the "general welfare" and "commerce clause".  Article I Section 8 of the Constitution conveniently lists the only powers Congress has.  The list is quite limited in powers, as was the point.  However, two loopholes have been exploited to give Congress practically unlimited power.  The first line reads "The Congress shall have Power To ... provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;"  Congress has argued that many things it does falls under the umbrella of "general welfare".  They are right that "general welfare" can justify almost anything.  That is exactly why it isn't actually granting any power.  Why would they even bother listing the rest of the powers if "general welfare" meant Congress could basically do anything it wanted?  Note also that right before welfare, it mentions defense.  However in the actual list of powers Congress has the power:
"To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;"
See how the Constitution still specifically gave Congress the power to provide a military, despite having previously mentioned defense?  Here is the entire first clause:
"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;"
Note that it is actually saying that Congress can collect taxes to provide defense and general welfare.  That is the reason they are allowed to collect taxes.  It isn't saying Congress can do anything as long as it is for the "general welfare"

The second loophole though, is the one most often abused:
"The Congress shall have Power To ... regulate Commerce ... among the several States"
Congress can regulate commerce between the states, seems simple enough.  However almost everything Congress does it claims it has the power to do so because of this clause.  Here is a good review of this I wrote.  To sum it up, even if something is produced entirely within a state, never crosses a state line, and is used for personal use Congress still claims to have authority over it.

Google Italy Execs Convicted Over YouTube Bullying Video

"Three Italian Google executives have been convicted of privacy violations in Italy over the contents of a YouTube video showing a boy with Downs syndrome being bullied — despite the fact that the video was removed as soon as it was brought to their attention, and that Google assisted the authorities in locating those who posted it. Prosecutors argued that Google should have sought the consent of all parties involved with the video before allowing it to go online. Quite how they were meant to achieve this is another matter."

Utah Considers Warrantless Internet Subpoenas

"The Utah State Legislature is considering a bill granting the Attorney General's Office the ability to demand customer information from Internet or cell phone companies via an administrative subpoena, with no judicial review (text of the HB150). This represents an expansion of a law passed last year, which granted that ability when 'it is suspected that a child-sex crime has been committed.' Since becoming law, last year's bill has led to more than one non-judicial request per day for subscriber information. Pete Ashdown, owner of a local ISP and 2006 candidate for the US Senate, has discussed his position and the effects of this bill."

Why is it that when something is done via computers suddenly the system we already have won't work?  What is wrong with warrants with judicial oversight for ISP data?  Child porn and terrorism are the ways they get these unconstitutional powers, then they can expand them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Judge: Student's online rants are protected speech
A federal judge has ruled that Katie Evans, who had been suspended from high school for creating a Facebook group calling one of her teachers "the worst teacher I've ever met", can proceed with her suit seeking attorney's fees from her principal for violating her First Amendment rights. Evans, now a journalism student at the University of Florida, is represented in her suit by the ACLU of Florida.

Tale of a Would-Be Spy, Buried Treasure, and Uncrackable Code

Al-Mabhouh Assassination

Ostrovsky said although the operatives scattered to various parts of the world after the operation was completed, he believes they're all back in Israel now. He says other countries are likely sifting through their airport surveillance tapes now to track the final destination of the team members.
He added that the Mossad was likely surprised by how the Dubai authorities pieced everything together so well and publicized the video and passport photos of the suspects.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

PA Webcam Spying Case

So I'd like to review what happened in this case.  Some Philly suburb high school gave out laptops to the kids.  The laptops had webcams, and software which allowed the school to remotely enable the webcam and take pictures.  The school claims this was only to be used in case of the laptop being reported stolen as a way to help identify the thief.  The problem is that the reason everyone knows about this is because the school took a pic of some kid using his unstolen laptop at home eating Mike and Ikes.  Naturally they assumed these brightly colored candies were in fact deadly drugs and attempted to punish him.  At which point the kids parents responded with approximately "wait, you're spying on our kid at home?", and the school followed up with "oh... never mind".

The school claims the webcams are only remotely activated if the laptops are reported stolen.  I've seen some claim the kid took the pic himself and then the school found it when he returned the laptop.

Local News Story

It appears the school was almost certainly spying.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

FBI Probing PA School Webcam Spy Case

On Thursday we discussed news that a Pennsylvania high school was spying on students through the webcams in laptops that were issued to the students. The FBI is now taking an interest in the case, investigating whether federal wiretap and computer-intrusion laws were violated in the process. "The FBI opened its investigation after news of the suit broke on Thursday, the law-enforcement official said. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman may also investigate, she said Friday." Ferman said her office is "looking to see whether there are potential violations of Pennsylvania criminal laws."

To be fair the school claims this is greatly over blown: 

It appears the school was almost certainly spying.

Friday, February 19, 2010

PA School Spied On Students Via School-Issued Laptop Webcams

"A Pennsylvania high school is using laptops they issued to students to spy on them in homes and outside of school. According to a class action filling the webcams and microphones in these laptops could be remotely activated by school officials, and have been used in this role. One student was accused of 'improper behavior in his home' and the school provided a photo taken via his laptop as proof."

Luckily people under 18 are pretty much regarded as having no rights, and school officials never get in trouble for anything they do, no matter how bat shit insane.

To be fair the school claims this is greatly over blown: 

Edit 2:
It appears the school was almost certainly spying.

New Plan Lets Top HS Students Graduate 2 Years Early

"The NY Times reports that education commissioners in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont have pledged to sign up 10 to 20 schools each for a pilot project that would allow 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college. The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, England, Finland, France and Singapore. 'We've looked at schools all over the world, and if you walk into a high school in the countries that use these board exams, you'll see kids working hard, whether they want to be a carpenter or a brain surgeon.' says Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Kentucky's commissioner of education, Terry Holliday, says high school graduation requirements have long been based on having students accumulate enough course credits to graduate. 'We've been tied to seat time for 100 years. This would allow an approach based on subject mastery — a system based around move-on-when-ready,' says Holliday. However some school officials are concerned about the social and emotional implications of 16-year-olds going off to college. 'That's far too young to be thrown into an environment with college students who are about 18 to 23 years old. ... Most of them are just not mature enough to handle that,' says Mary Anderson, headmaster of Pinkerton Academy."

I never understood the not mature enough argument.  Do people really mature significantly in 2 years from 16 to 18?  And what difference does it make if they aren't mature?  How is being immature in community college any different than being immature in high school?

Civilization V Announced For This Fall

"2K Games announced today that they will be releasing Civilization V in the fall. For the first time in the series, the square tiles will be changed to hexes, which 2K Games says provides 'deeper strategy' and 'more realistic gameplay.' Civilization V will also include a new graphics engine, new combat system including ranged bombardment, multiplayer and good support for the modding community. 'Each new version of Civilization presents exciting challenges for our team. Thankfully, ideas on how to bring new and fun experiences to Civ players never seem to stop flowing. From fully animated leaders and realistic landscapes, new combat tactics, expanded diplomacy and shared mods, we're excited for players to see the new vision our team at Firaxis has brought to the series,' Sid Meier said. In addition to Civilization V, the Facebook-based Civilization Network will also be released during 2010."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

French Net Censorship Plan Moves Forward

"French lawmakers have voted to approve a draft law to filter Internet traffic that Slashdot previously discussed. The government says the measure is intended to catch child pornographers. The Senate, where the government has a majority, will soon give the bill a second reading. If the Senate makes no amendments to the text, that will also be its final reading, as the government has declared the bill 'urgent,' a procedural move that reduces the usual cycle of four readings to two."

Child porn and terrorists, let nothing prevent us from eliminating them from the face of the Earth.  Especially not common sense or basic rights.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Case You Are Just Joining Us

Here's two lists of 99 things you should have seen on the internet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Australian Government Wants To Ban Small Breasted Women

That title is only slightly sensational:
Breasts came under the spotlight a year ago, as Senators Barnaby Joyce and Guy Barnett commenced a campaign against publicly available porn. Rounding up magazines from corner shops and filling stations, Senator Joyce claimed that publications featuring small-breasted women were encouraging paedophilia.

The result of this campaign is now visible in the decisions being made by the Australian Classification Board, which is beginning to apply RC (refused classification) categories to such material, as opposed to the previous X-rating. According to Fiona Patten, Convenor of the Australian Sex Party: "We are starting to see depictions of women in their late 20s being banned because they have an A cup size."

"It may be an unintended consequence of the Senator’s actions but they are largely responsible for the sharp increase in breast size in Australian adult magazines of late."
Australia's rules about films and video games are especially um, rigid. They have a rating system similar to the United States: G, PG, M for mature, R (restricted to 18 and over) and X. RC means Refused Classification; and it's illegal to offer these items for sale (although in some parts of the country, it's legal to own RC material, unless it is, in itself illegal — like child porn).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Death To Those Who Oppose Beards

Support for Gays in the Military Depends on the Question
In the poll, 59 percent say they now support allowing "homosexuals" to serve in the U.S. military, including 34 percent who say they strongly favor that. Ten percent say they somewhat oppose it and 19 percent say they strongly oppose it.

But the numbers differ when the question is changed to whether Americans support "gay men and lesbians" serving in the military. When the question is asked that way, 70 percent of Americans say they support gay men and lesbians serving in the military, including 19 percent who say they somewhat favor it. Seven percent somewhat oppose it, and 12 percent strongly oppose it.
This is a great example of why statistics are so easy to manipulate.  There are obvious things you can do, like only call old people, but this wording change leads to a non obvious change.  If you told me to guess which wording favored gays more I would have a hard time guessing.  So someone could do a small sample with a bunch of different wordings find which one favored their opinion and then ask that to a larger group.  They could even publish the question and all and it wouldn't seem dishonest.

Electronically Testeo

Product of China -- where locals rely on such products to avoid birth control penalties (the government legally enforces birth control and fines "overage")

Bulk condoms from China = best decision ever.

Texas Textbooks Battle Is Actually an American War

"I've been lackadaisical when it comes to following stories about Texas schoolboard attempts to slip creationism into biology textbooks, dismissing the stories as just 'dumbass Texans,' but what I didn't realize is that Texas schoolbooks set the standard for the rest of the country. And it's not just Creationism that this Christian coalition is attempting to bring into schoolbooks, but a full frontal assault on history, politics, and the humanities that exploits the fact that final decisions are being made by a school board completely academically unqualified to make informed evaluations of the changes these lobbyists propose. This evangelical lobby has successfully had references to the American Constitution as a 'living document,' as textbooks have defined it since the 1950s, removed in favor of an 'enduring Constitution' not subject to change, as well as attempting to over-emphasize the role Christianity played in the founding of America. The leaders of these efforts outright admit they are attempting to redefine the way our children understand the political landscape so that, when they grow up, they will have preconceived notions of the American political system that favor their evangelical Christian goals."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

RIAA Insists On 3rd Trial In Thomas Case

"Not satisfied with the reduced $54,000 verdict which the Judge allowed it in Capitol Records v. Thomas-Rasset, representing approximately 6500 times the amount of their actual damages, the RIAA has decided to take its chances on a third trial, at which it could only win a verdict that is equal to, or less than, $54,000. Since a 3rd trial in and of itself makes no economic sense, and since the RIAA's lawyers inappropriately added 7 pages of legal argument to their 'notice', it can only be assumed that the reason they are opting for a 3rd trial is to hope that they can somehow bait the Judge into making an error that will help them on an appeal."

Armed Robot Drones To Join UK Police Force

"British criminals should soon prepare to be shot at from unmanned airborne police robots. Last month it was revealed that modified military aircraft drones will carry out surveillance on everyone from British protesters and antisocial motorists to fly-tippers. But these drones could be armed with tasers, non-lethal projectiles and ultra-powerful disorienting strobe lighting apparatus, reports Wired. The flying robot fleet will range from miniature tactical craft such as the miniature AirRobot being tested by one police force, to BAE System's new 12m-wide armed HERTI drone as flown in Afghanistan."

It is important that we prevent any crime from taking place ever, no matter what the cost in terms of both money and loss of freedom.

Feds Push For Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

"An article at CNET is reporting on the Obama administration's push for warrantless tracking of the location of cell phones (Verizon Wireless stores location data for one year, for instance). The Justice Department says no warrant is necessary: 'Because wireless carriers regularly generate and retain the records at issue, and because these records provide only a very general indication of a user's whereabouts at certain times in the past, the requested cell-site records do not implicate a Fourth Amendment privacy interest.'"

Hydrogen Fuel Cells vs Batteries

So while diligently working to catalog every episode of Top Gear I saw their review of the Honda FCX Clarity in series 12 episode 7.  To summarize they loved it.  The Clarity is a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle.  This began a lengthy bout of research into hydrogen fuel cells, which I had pretty much ignored.  Instead of giving a clear and concise list of pros and cons let me instead launch into a rambling, probably error filled, lecture on energy which no one will ever read.

When you read about replacements for fossil fuels you often come across something explaining the difference between an energy source and an energy store.  The laws of thermodynamics state that energy can never be created or destroyed.  Rather it can only be transformed from one state to another.  So gasoline isn't an energy source, because there is no such thing as an energy source.  Where does the energy that powers your gasoline car today come from you ask?  The big bang flung matter apart, giving it gravitational potential energy (GPE), the same as water you pump up into a tower has.  It takes energy to pump the water up, and when it comes down it will release that energy.  The spread out matter (mostly hydrogen) then clumped up and formed balls of gas.  The compression of gravity increased the temperature (total heat energy remains constant but since it's in a smaller space the average energy goes up, temperature is average heat energy).  At extremely high temperature hydrogen atoms undergo nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion releases some of the energy stored in matter itself (all matter is simply very dense energy, the conversion factor being E=mc2).  That energy radiates away in all directions, and a tiny portion warms the surface of the Earth.  Plants use that energy to separate carbon from oxygen.  The energy is now stored as carbon in the plants.  The plants eventually die and most of that stored energy (carbon) is used by microorganisms for power and released back into the air as CO2.  However, sometimes the plant is sealed up and nothing is able to use its carbon.  After millions of years of this we get large stores of carbon (energy) underground in the forms of coal and oil.

Oxygen is highly reactive, and will bond with carbon or hydrogen readily.  Thus oxygen typically doesn't exist by itself, when it does it's a sign that it is being constantly replenished by some process (like life).  When oxygen combines with carbon it forms CO2, and when it combines with hydrogen it forms H2O.  Both those reactions are exothermic, which means they give off heat (energy), as opposed to endothermic, which would mean they absorb heat (energy).  So when you burn either carbon (coal, oil, wood) or hydrogen all you are doing is combining it with oxygen in a reaction that gives off energy.  The carbon or hydrogen remains (bonded to oxygen) and can be separated in a reaction that will consume energy.  In theory the energy needed to separate them, and the energy gained by combining them is the same.  In practice you will lose some energy in both processes, so there will be a net loss.

So as you can see gasoline is simply storing the energy of the sun, which is itself storing GPE from the big bang.  Why then do people say that fossil fuels are energy sources instead of energy stores?  Because we don't have go through the process of storing the energy as carbon, the work was done over millions of years by plants.  So practically carbon is an energy source.

You will often hear people state that hydrogen is the most common element in the universe.  This is true, but also very unimportant.  First off the Earth is very much a closed system, isolated from the universe.  It doesn't much matter if there is an abundance of hydrogen in the Sun, since it is very unlikely we'll be harvesting hydrogen directly from the Sun any time soon.  Hydrogen is only the 10th most common element in Earth's crust.  This too is irrelevant though.  We are in no danger of running out of any element ever.  With the exception of nuclear reactions the elements are never changed, rather they are simply organized differently.  What matters is that while hydrogen is the 10th most common element in the Earth's crust virtually all of it is bonded to other elements, largely oxygen (and confusingly for this greatly simplified lesson carbon).  As we know from above bonded hydrogen is worthless.  We won't be running out of carbon or hydrogen any time soon.  What we are running out of is free carbon (as in unbonded), and there is virtually no free hydrogen on Earth.

Now that we have all the unnecessary theory out of the way what does this mean in practice?  Well if we want to get power we have a couple options, get it from the (running out) free carbon, get it from the Sun (via solar or wind), get it from residual heat from the formation of the earth (geothermal), or from nuclear reactions.  This is all well and good for stationary things like houses that can be wired up to a massive grid and provided power from whatever source we want.  However, for mobile things like cars and planes we must store energy from one of those sources, or use the already conveniently stored carbon energy.

There are many ways of storing energy, but most aren't that great.  In fact we don't have any method that can beat carbon in terms of density, ease of use, practicality, and cost.  A kg of gasoline holds 44 MJ of energy, and occupies about 1.3 liters of volume.  It can be stored easily, and to use it you simply provide an initial source of heat.  Contrast this with hydrogen, which holds 142 MJ per kg, which at first seems much better.  The problem is that a kg of hydrogen at normal temperature and pressure will fill 11 cubic meters which is roughly the size of a small car.  In order to store a reasonably amount of hydrogen you have to either pressurize it, or liquify it.  This brings up two problems.  First pressurizing things is notoriously energy intensive (ask your fridge), and second storing pressurized things requires strong heavy containers.  To be fair the energy used to pressurize the gas could perhaps be partly recovered, that would add complexity and cost though.

The other main way of storing energy is batteries.  Most people are aware of the problems with using batteries in cars.  Mainly they are heavy, expensive, and take a long time to charge.  I feel obliged to point out there are also mechanical ways of storing energy, which are actually some of the best ways for many applications.  Power plants pump water up to store energy, and flywheels have a lot of potential.  However, our subject is cars, and they are unpractical for use in cars.

We've broken the problem into two parts.  First power generation (fossil, nuclear, solar, geothermal), then power storage (carbon, hydrogen, battery).  These two parts are not quite as independent as they may seem at first.  Carbon storage effectively mean gasoline, which doesn't require generation.  While it will have some extraction costs which could be viewed as generation costs, they are largely dependent on whatever main generation method we use.  Battery storage requires electrical energy.  We already have a grid for providing electrical energy almost everywhere.  This grid would be inadequate to provide all the power needed for transportation, but any change will require investments in upgrades.  The main issue is that electric cars will require largely constant electrical energy.  While people will tend to recharge over night, they will also likely want to recharge while at work, during the day.  Switching to battery stored electrical energy for transportation will likely require an increase in constant generation capacity equal to the power demand of transportation.

Hydrogen storage has the advantage here.  The hydrogen would be created on site at power plants, and once created can be stored indefinitely without loss.  Because of this it could be created at night using excess capacity.  Indeed it could be used as a buffer so that a power plant always ran at capacity.  When the grid power demands went up hydrogen production would go down, and when the grid demands lowered the production would increase.  Hydrogen production also lends itself to variable generation (solar/wind), which is otherwise difficult to utilize in the grid.

The main negative hydrogen faces is that it is much less efficient than direct electrical energy.  In a battery stored energy system the only inefficiencies that matter are transmission losses, and then charging and battery losses.  These are already well understood as we have been using batteries powered by the grid for some time.  Efficiency of power generation is the same for both, and so irrelevant.  Wikipedia claims 86% efficiency from grid to wheels using batteries.  Hydrogen on the other hand has numerous steps and inefficiencies, some of which are difficult to predict and estimate.  First hydrogen must be generated, then compressed, then transported, then finally used in a fuel cell.  Wikipedia lists 70% for generation, and 40% for fuel cell, and a total grid to wheel efficiency of 25%.  Using these numbers for every 4 joules generated only 1 joule will end up at the wheels in a hydrogen powered car, a battery powered car would get 3.44 joules.

Here are the pros and cons or batteries vs fuel cells (you should probably skip down to this point instead of wasting your time reading all that):
3.44 times as efficient as fuel cells.
Potential for break through to eliminate many of the cons.
Heavier than fuel cells (even with a pressure vessel to hold hydrogen).
Very slow to recharge.

Fuel Cells:
Similar usability to gas.
Fast to refuel.
Flexible generation lends itself to take advantage of otherwise unusable generation capacity.
Weight comparable to gas means it could be used in planes as well.
Dealing with a high pressure gas or liquid will add complexity.
Many steps leads to inefficiency.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Appeals Court Rules On Internet Obscenity Standards

"The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that online content can be judged by the standards of the strictest community that is able to access it. The court upheld the conviction of pornography producer Paul F. Little, aka Max Hardcore, for violating obscenity laws in Tampa, despite the fact that the 'obscene' material in question was produced and sold in California. From the article: 'The Atlanta-based court rejected arguments by Little's attorneys that applying a local community standard to the Internet violates the First Amendment because doing so means material can be judged according to the standards of the strictest communities. In other words, the materials might be legal where they were produced and almost everywhere else. But if they violate the standards of one community, they are illegal in that community and the producers may be convicted of a crime. ... Jurors in Little's trial were told to judge the materials on the basis of how "the average person of the community as a whole — the Middle District of Florida" — would view the material.'"

The Amish are a community.  If anything you've ever posted online would offend the Amish you've broken the law.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is the most hilarious bible verse?

2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
I guess they won't be making fun of bald people any more.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Test your Risk Intelligence
"Risk Intelligence Quotient (RQ) is a measure of a person’s ability to estimate probabilities accurately. People with high risk intelligence tend to make better predictions than those with low RQ. This five minute test will measure your RQ."

I found this pretty interesting.  It's testing your ability to correctly gauge what you know.  Fifty questions over a pretty wide range of subjects.  I got a 90.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Feynman Fun to Imagine

"Physicist Richard Feynman thinks aloud about atoms and how they jiggle, and how we perceive that jiggling as 'hot' and 'cold'. From the BBC TV series 'Fun to Imagine'(1983)"

Robotic Audi To Brave Pikes Peak Without a Driver

"A team of researchers at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) has filled the trunk of an Audi TTS with computers and GPS receivers, transforming it into a vehicle that drives itself. The car will attempt Pikes Peak without a driver at race speeds, something that's never been done.""A team of researchers at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) has filled the trunk of an Audi TTS with computers and GPS receivers, transforming it into a vehicle that drives itself. The car will attempt Pikes Peak without a driver at race speeds, something that's never been done."

The Mountain Goats

For a while now I've wanted to do a post about the Mountain Goats.  I've managed to find some time so here it is.  The Mountain Goats is a band lead by John Darnielle.  For all practical purposes John is the Mountain Goats.  For the first few years he was very prolific song writer.  I went through my playlist and counted 463 unique song titles, and I am sure there's at least 100 that I don't have.  I feel his career can be broken into three eras.

Around 1992 he released his first cassette "Taboo VI: The Homecoming".  In the first few years he released at least 10 distinct tapes.  These all have a distinct lo-fi feel to them.  The quality though, is decent.  Many songs feature no guitar and instead have a keyboard beat which he sings over.

The next era I would say starts with the 4 song never released EP Jack & Faye in 1995.  This is the time I notice his first band member, Rachel Ware, singing backgrounds.  I must note I do believe she played bass in earlier recordings, but this is where I notice her singing.  This is probably my favorite era.

In 2002 with the release of Tallahassee the Mountain Goats moved into the modern era.  Major changes include end of recording on his Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox, the addition of two actual band members, and an obvious improvement in sound quality. This would be the point where you could say he "sold out" if you were the kind of person that likes to do that.  He had up to this point, released at least 300 songs, so it's probably fair to cut him some slack for wanting to change musical styles.

So now that we've covered a brief history here are my top 10 albums by songs/plays:
The Mountain Goats - Zopilote Machine
The Mountain Goats - Jack & Faye
The Mountain Goats - New Asian Cinema
The Mountain Goats - Full Force Galesburg
The Mountain Goats - Nine Black Poppies
The Mountain Goats - Songs For Peter Hughes
The Mountain Goats - Songs About Fire
The Mountain Goats - Ghana
The Mountain Goats - Devil in the Shortwave
The Mountain Goats - The Coroner's Gambit

And my top 25 songs by plays:
Orange Ball of HateZopilote Machine
Young Caesar 2000Zopilote Machine
Raid On EntebbeJack & Faye
Going to BristolZopilote Machine
Bad PriestessZopilote Machine
Grendel's MotherZopilote Machine
Azo Tle Nelli in Tlalticpac?Zopilote Machine
Song For Tura SatanaZopilote Machine
AdairJack & Faye
Alpha IncipiensZopilote Machine
Going to LebanonZopilote Machine
It's All Here In BrownsvilleFull Force Galesburg
Alpha Sun HatZopilote Machine
Sinaloan Milk Snake SongZopilote Machine
Going To GeorgiaZopilote Machine
Noctifer BirminghamGhana
The Black Ice Cream SongZopilote Machine
Quetzalcoatl Eats PlumsZopilote Machine
Orange Ball of LoveZopilote Machine
Alpha In TaurusZopilote Machine
MasherFull Force Galesburg
Weekend In Western IllinoisFull Force Galesburg
Treetop SongNew Asian Cinema
Standard Bitter Love Song #7Zopilote Machine
US MillFull Force Galesburg

A word of caution about this song data, first off many of his early songs are re-released on compilations meaning that I have two copies of them, and that their play counts are effectively cut in half.  Second, this data is less than a year's worth.  It'd be much different if it included the first few months I started listening to the Mountain Goats.  There are many songs which I know should be way higher in the play counts but aren't for whatever reasons.  I'm tempted to make a list of songs to supplement the above list, however I fear it would be 400 songs long.  Instead I'll make a list of albums independent from the above list:
The Hound Chronicles - A good sampling of his early era work.
Zopilote Machine - This was the second album I got after Sunset Tree, and where I realized his old stuff blew his new stuff away.
Nothing For Juice - This is vastly under represented in my playcount because I have it in my car, and as such tend not to listen to it on the computer.  In particular I feel this best highlights Rachel's backup vocals.  The last four songs are the highlight of the album.
Full Force Galesburg - Almost every song on this album I would describe as a favorite.
New Asian Cinema - Five song EP, my copy is ripped from a vinyl and has the crackle and pop that goes with it.  Normally I'm not a vinyl snob but it complements these songs quite well.  The last song, Treetop Song, is easily in my top ten.
The Coroner's Gambit - While every song is great, Family Happiness rises above the rest as the definitive dark Mountain Goats song.
Protein Source of the Future...Now!; Bitter Melon Farm; Ghana - Three compilation albums.  Maybe it's unfair to list three albums totaling 83 songs as a single item, but too bad.  They offer a great mix of all his early work.
We Shall All Be Healed - Far and away my favorite modern era album.

So there it is.  Ten albums, and I don't know how I kept it to only ten.  However, writing this post has made me realize there is truly only one way to listen to Mountain Goats.  Get every album that isn't live, put in one playlist, set to random, listen until heat death of the universe.

How can chromosome numbers change?

"The end result is that the chromosome is broken into two chromosomes. I think this is a key concept that the questioner is missing: chromosome numbers really aren't significant at all! You don't need to add significant new information to create a new chromosome, and as I'll show you in a moment, a reduction in chromosome numbers does not represent a loss of genetic information. Chromosome are disorganized filing cabinets, nothing more; we can shuffle genes around between them willy-nilly, and the cell mostly doesn't care. A fission event like the one described above basically does nothing but take one pile of genes and split them into two piles."

Google and NSA Teaming Up

"The Washington Post reports that 'Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google — and its users — from future attack.'"

Google mines all the data it can, the NSA is known for its ability to process and analyze data.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

USPTO Won't Accept Upside Down Faxes

"This may seem like a joke, but it's not. The US Patent and Trademark Office will not accept patent filings faxed in if they arrive upside down. That's right, the home of innovation of the federal government is incapable of rotating an incoming fax file, whether electronically or on paper."

UK Government Crowd-Sourcing Censorship

"The UK public can report 'terrorism-related' Web sites to authorities for removal from the Internet under a new program launched by the British government. The program is a way in which the government is seeking to enforce the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006. These laws make it illegal to have or to share information intended to be useful to terrorists, and ban glorifying terrorism or urging people to commit terrorist acts."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

South Australia Outlaws Anonymous Political Speech

"If you're online in South Australia and want to comment about the upcoming state election, be prepared to hand over your real name and postcode first — because this month it becomes illegal to do so anonymously (even under a pseudonym). Media organizations must keep your details on file for six months and face 'fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.' This abomination was passed with the support of both major parties (Labour and Liberal), and to quote its sponsor, Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, 'There is no impinging on freedom of speech, people are free to say what they wish as themselves, not as somebody else.' Apparently incapable of targeting a few impostors without resorting to 'nuke it from orbit' legislative tactics, Atkinson has forgotten that protecting anonymity is important to the democratic process; hopefully both major parties will get a reminder come the polls on March 20."

Stick Control

Monday, February 1, 2010

Which Way Is She Spinning?

I've seen this before, but the colors make it much easier to reverse the spin. Also I'd like to point out that if this were on discovery channel they'd censor the nipples.

Undressing the Terror Threat

"Consider that on this very day about 6,700 Americans will die. When confronted with this statistic almost everyone reverts to the mindset of the title character's acquaintances in Tolstoy's great novella "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," and indulges in the complacent thought that "it is he who is dead and not I."
Consider then that around 1,900 of the Americans who die today will be less than 65, and that indeed about 140 will be children. Approximately 50 Americans will be murdered today, including several women killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and several children who will die from abuse and neglect. Around 85 of us will commit suicide, and another 120 will die in traffic accidents.
No amount of statistical evidence, however, will make any difference to those who give themselves over to almost completely irrational fears. Such people, and there are apparently a lot of them in America right now, are in fact real victims of terrorism. They also make possible the current ascendancy of the politics of cowardice—the cynical exploitation of fear for political gain."

Can statistics help catch terrorists?

"In the wake of the alleged attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound plane, Britain could step up airport security with targeted passenger profiling. But how effective is it?"

Would You Have Spotted the Fraud?

 "Pictured below is what’s known as a skimmer, or a device made to be affixed to the mouth of an ATM and secretly swipe credit and debit card information when bank customers slip their cards into the machines to pull out money. Skimmers have been around for years, of course, but thieves are constantly improving them, and the device pictured below is a perfect example of that evolution.
This particular skimmer was found Dec. 6, 2009, attached to the front of a Citibank ATM in Woodland Hills, Calif. Would you have been able to spot this?"