Thursday, July 29, 2010

FBI May Get Easier Access To Internet Activity
"It appears the White House would like to make it easier for the FBI to obtain records of a person's internet activities without a court order to do so, via the use of an NSL. While they have been able to this this for a long time, this may expand the type of information able to be gathered without a court order to include things like web browsing histories."

Nuclear Energy Now More Expensive Than Solar
"According to an article on the New York Times, a historical cross-over has occurred because of the declining costs of solar vs. the increasing costs of nuclear energy: solar, hardly the cheapest of renewable technologies, is now cheaper than nuclear, at around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. Furthermore, the NY Times reports that financial markets will not finance the construction of nuclear power plants unless the risk of default (which is historically as high as 50 percent for the nuclear industry) is externalized to someone else through federal loan guarantees or ratepayer funding. The bottom line seems to be that nuclear is simply not competitive, and the push from the US government to subsidize it seems to be forcing the wrong choice on the market."
First off, the study doesn't read like much of a scientific study.  The PDF has lots of colors and select quotes.  It's a PR press release by a company called NC WARN who define their mission as:
NC WARN is a member-based nonprofit tackling the accelerating crisis posed by climate change – along with the various risks of nuclear power – by watch-dogging utility practices and working for a swift North Carolina transition to energy efficiency and clean power generation. In partnership with other citizen groups, NC WARN uses sound scientific research to inform and involve the public in key decisions regarding their wellbeing.
Still it's possible that they could have conducted an impartial study.  However, it's clear they did not.  It relies heavily on future projections, and includes a number of factors that are just silly.
Ten billion dollars has been expended over two decades to license the Yucca Mountain repository for used commercial fuel rods, but in 2010 the Obama administration is attempting to cancel the project. That wasted sum was accumulated through utility bills, so it was included in the kilowatt-hour cost of nuclear power. To date there are no credible plans or cost estimates for managing this highly radioactive waste for thousands of years, but much or all of the outlay will be borne by the federal taxpayer.
Why should nuclear power have to foot the bill of the political Yucca Mountain project?  Also, as for plans for managing nuclear waste, how about what we are already doing?  That is storing it on site.  Also, by definition if nuclear waste is highly radioactive then it can't be radioactive for thousands of years.
While the study includes subsidies for both solar and nuclear power, it estimates that if subsidies were removed from solar power, the crossover point would be delayed by a maximum of nine years.
So it's not actually cheaper today, unless you get someone else to pay for it, but hopefully it'll be cheaper in a decade.  I'm thinking about publishing my own earth shattering study.  It turns out living in your parent's basement beats nuclear, solar, and coal.  I use several hundred watts and pay $0.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tennessee Town Releases Red Light Camera Stats
SonicSpike links to what he calls "a transparent look at some statistics released by a small town's red-light camera program," writing "Specifically, in the last fiscal quarter, 7,213 incidents were recorded, 2,673 incidents were rejected by the reviewing officer, and 662 incidents were not processed due to technical issues or lack of information. All in all 3,878 citations were issued between April I — June 30 in a town of 17,000 residents. Interestingly enough there are two nearby cities claiming that individuals 'have no presumption of innocence' when accused by the red light cameras." Fines for no-harm-no-foul rolling stops bug me, and remind me of Gary Lauder's suggestion to merge stop signs and yield signs.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Facing 16 Years In Prison For Videotaping Police
"The ACLU of Maryland is defending Anthony Graber, who faces as much as sixteen years in prison if found guilty of violating state wiretap laws because he recorded video of an officer drawing a gun during a traffic stop. ... Once [the Maryland State Police] learned of the video on YouTube, Graber's parents' house was raided, searched, and four of his computers were confiscated. Graber was arrested, booked, and jailed. Their actions are a calculated method of intimidation. Another person has since been similarly charged under the same statute. The wiretap law being used to charge Anthony Graber is intended to protect private communication between two parties. According to David Rocah, the ACLU attorney handling Mr. Graber's case, 'To charge Graber with violating the law, you would have to conclude that a police officer on a public road, wearing a badge and a uniform, performing his official duty, pulling someone over, somehow has a right to privacy when it comes to the conversation he has with the motorist.'" Here are a factsheetthe video at issue. (PDF) on the case from the ACLU of Maryland, and the video at issue.
In unrelated news:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

AU Government Censors Document On Planned Web Snooping

"The Australian Government plans to force ISPs to record and retain all citizens' communications traffic. The Sydney Morning Herald requested that the proposed policy documents be released under Freedom of Information laws. What they received was a document that was 90% censored, in order to prevent 'premature unnecessary debate.' More discussion on the Greyhat Security site. Here is the redacted document (PDF, 3.6 MB)."

"premature unnecessary debate" is a classic line.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No charges over G20 man's death
A police officer who was filmed pushing a man to the ground during the G20 protests will not face charges over his death.
Ian Tomlinson, 47, died after being caught up in the clashes on 1 April 2009 in the City of London.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said there was no prospect of conviction because experts could not agree on how Mr Tomlinson died.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Oregon, Wind Power Surges Disrupting Grid

"The Oregonian reports gusts of wind cause synchronized power surges, more than the transmission lines can handle. Windmill farms are ordered to fan their blades, despite tremendous demand for 'green' power from California."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Relativity of Wrong

My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

DRM vs. Unfinished Games

Rod Cousens is the CEO of Codemasters, and he recently spoke with CVG about how he thinks DRM is the wrong way to fight piracy. Instead, he suggests that the games industry increase its reliance on downloadable content and microtransactions. Quoting: "The video games industry has to learn to operate in a different way. My answer is for us as publishers to actually sell unfinished games — and to offer the consumer multiple micro-payments to buy elements of the full experience. That would create an offering that is affordable at retail — but over a period of time may also generate more revenue for the publishers to reinvest in our games. If these games are pirated, those who get their hands on them won't be able to complete the experience. There will be technology, coding aspects, that will come to bear that will unlock some aspects. Some people will want them and some won't. When it comes to piracy, I think you have to make the experience the answer to the issue — rather than respond the other way round and risk damaging that experience for the user."

Sound As the New Illegal Narcotic?

"The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is warning parents and teachers of a new threat to our children: sounds. Apparently kids are now discovering binaural beats and using them to get 'physiological effects.' The report goes on with everyone suggesting that such aural experiences will act as a gateway to drug usage and even has one student claiming there are 'demons' involved. Anyone who has used one of those light/sound machines knows all about the effects that these sounds will give and to state that they will lead kids to do drugs is nonsense at best. It seems the trend in scaring the citizens with a made-up problem has gone to the next level."

One Day I'll Be This Nerdy

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

RIAA Paid $16M+ In Legal Fees To Collect $391K
"In a rare outburst of subjectivity, I commenced my blog post 'Ha ha ha ha ha' when reporting that, based upon the RIAA's disclosure form for 2008, it had paid its lawyers more than $16,000,000 to recover $391,000. If they were doing it to 'send a message,' the messages have been received loud & clear: (1) the big four record labels are managed by idiots; (2) the RIAA's law firms have as much compassion for their client as they do for the lawsuit victims; (3) suing end users, or alleged end users, is a losing game. I don't know why begrudges the RIAA's boss his big compensation; he did a good job... for the lawyers."

The Oh-My-God Particle
On the night of October 15, 1991, the Fly's Eye detected a proton with an energy of 3.2±0.9×1020 electron volts.[1,2] By comparison, the recently-canceled Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) would have accelerated protons to an energy of 20 TeV, or 2×1013 electron volts—ten million times less. The energy of the Oh My God particle seen by the Fly's Eye is equivalent to 51 joules—enough to light a 40 watt light bulb for more than a second—equivalent, in the words of Utah physicist Pierre Sokolsky, to “a brick falling on your toe.” The particle's energy is equivalent to an American baseball travelling fifty-five miles an hour.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Microwave Popcorn

I eat a lot of microwave popcorn.  A few weeks ago I read somewhere the microwaving a cup of water first would improve the popcorn.  I usually pretty skeptical of people claiming better tastes for stuff that shouldn't matter.  However, it did seem like the steam could help keep the popcorn moist.  Either way I tried it and it does seem to work.  It could be psychological, but I've been too lazy to conduct a double blind study.  The stuff I've read online recommended one cup for one minute.  I've been doing a cup for three minutes, figuring that if it is steam that would lead to more steam.  Then quickly switching the popcorn bag in (quickly to prevent a lot of steam from escaping).

Anyway, here is a thread where it is discussed.  They seem to attribute it to the steam or the preheated components (or it being hogwash).

To the Supercave

Feces, garbage bags, destroyed apartment, insanity.

A great story about a dude's roommate that goes insane.  I've read it years ago, but it's good enough to reread from time to time.  The first five parts are the actual story.  The next four are answers to questions.

Here's the original thread (although the above links are much better for reading):

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Key point:
35 million spam emails sent = 28 people who bought stuff.  We can all blame our spam on those 28 people.

If the Earth Stood Still

Debate: Does the world need nuclear energy?

I'm pro nuclear power.  I simply think that the only realistic choices are between coal and nuclear and that coal isn't acceptable.  I won't go into too much detail here, but if you truly care I've discussed it here.

While watching this video debate here are some of the issues I had with the anti-nuclear arguments:
Didn't address the cost of wind/solar, which is by far the biggest problem.  Proliferation outside the US doesn't have any bearing on what we in the US should be doing.  In his graph about CA use of wind/solar for a year he mentions the use of hydro power.  Hydro power is often used as quick source of lots of power.  It is ideal for balancing the load from unpredictable sources like wind/solar.  The problem is that hydro isn't available in most places.  His argument about time lag is absurd, wind/solar has much greater time lag.  In two decades we could have coal completely replaced by nuclear.  Instead in two decades we will still have most of our power come from coal waiting for wind/solar to become practical.  Many appeals to emotion (nuking a city, glacier melting).  Why would we need to transport the waste as opposed to keeping it on site like it is now?

Mercury attacks Aluminum

But when aluminum rusts, it forms aluminum oxide, an entirely different animal. In crystal form, aluminum oxide is called corundum, sapphire or ruby (depending on the color), and it is among the hardest substances known. If you wanted to design a strong, scratchproof coating to put on a metal, few things other than diamond would be better than aluminum oxide.

Applied to aluminum’s surface, mercury will infiltrate the metal and disrupt its protective coating, allowing it to “rust” (in the more destructive sense) continuously by preventing a new layer of oxide from forming. The aluminum I-beam above rusted half away in a few hours, something that would have taken an iron beam years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judge declares US gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional
A federal district court judge in Boston today struck down a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman, according to the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Judge Joseph L. Tauro, in a 36-page ruling that touched on the history of marriage laws, found that the federal Defense of Marriage Act violates Massachusetts’ right to recognize same-sex unions.

“This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status,” Tauro wrote. “The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment.”
I'm amazed that he mentioned the tenth amendment.  However, I have to guess this is more a case of wanting to allow gay marriage, than actually caring about limits on federal power.

Tallest Building In The World

Hours spent reading about buildings on Wikipedia.  Here's what my research has found:

The Burj Khalifa (aka Burj Dubai) is ridiculously tall.  At 2,717 ft it's taller than 17 state highpoints.

FloridaLakewood (Britton Hill)345
Washington, DCFort Reno410
DelawareEbright Azimuth448
LouisianaDriskill Mountain535
MississippiWoodall Mountain806
Rhode IslandJerimoth Hill812
IllinoisCharles Mound1,235
IndianaHoosier Hill1,257
OhioCampbell Hill1,550
IowaHawkeye Point1,670
MissouriTaum Sauk1,772
New JerseyHigh Point1,803
WisconsinTimms Hill1,951
MichiganMount Arvon1,979
MinnesotaEagle Mountain2,301
ConnecticutMount Frissell (South Slope)2,380
AlabamaCheaha Mountain2,407

Its height exceeds the vertical climb of 36 highpoints (Florida, Washington, DC, Delaware, Mississippi, Ohio, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island , Missouri, South Carolina, New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, North Dakota, Georgia, Connecticut, Vermont , Minnesota, Maryland, Oklahoma, Virginia, South Dakota).

Next, Philadelphia continues to disappoint me.  Its tallest building doesn't even break 1000 ft.
Comcast Center is a skyscraper in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The 58-story, 975 feet (297 m) tower is the tallest building in Philadelphia and the fifteenth tallest building in the United States.
However, what I find really interesting is this.  "Leasing 1,094,212 square feet (100,000 m2), Comcast takes up 89 percent of the building."  That's equivalent to a square 1046 ft on a side.  Or, as the ever helpful Google tells me, 185 football fields.
The history of the world's tallest building is always fun to look at.  However, today I noticed something I hadn't noticed before.  The Washington Monument, in 1884, was the first non religious building to be the world's tallest.  Since then, no religious building has been the tallest.

Also I discovered this, which at first I thought was ridiculous.  But, now I think it is pretty sweet, although still ridiculous.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mt Washington's Weather Doesn't Look So Bad Now Does It?

Paperless Tickets Flourish Despite 'Grandma Problem'
 "Is a concert ticket a piece of property that its holder has the right to buy and sell as he sees fit, or is it merely a seat-rental contract subject to restrictions determined by its issuer? The Washington Post reports that in an effort to thwart scalpers and dampen ticket reselling on the so-called secondary market, musicians as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus, and Metallica have adopted 'paperless ticketing' for some or all of the seats at their live shows. Ticket issuers Ticketmaster and Veritix tout paperless tickets as a way to eliminate worries about lost, stolen, or counterfeit tickets, and to banish long will-call lines. But paperless tickets aren't really tickets at all, but essentially personal seat reservations, secured electronically like airline tickets. Fans buy tickets with a credit card and must then go to the venue with the same credit card and a photo ID to gain admittance. The problem is that Ticketmaster's paperless tickets can't be transferred from a buyer to a second party. The inability to pass along a seat creates what has become known in the industry as the 'grandma problem': it's almost impossible for a grandma living at one end of the country to buy a paperless ticket to giver to a grandchild living at the other end. Without the ability to transfer virtual tickets, brokers and dealers fear being run out of business, and consumers have a harder time selling unwanted tickets. 'People should be free to give away or sell their tickets to whomever they want, whenever they want,' says Gary Adler, a Washington attorney who represents the National Association of Ticket Brokers. 'An open market is really best for consumers.'"

Prince Says Internet Is Over

"According to the artist currently known as Prince, 'The internet's completely over.' At least that what he says in an interview with the British newspaper Mirror. Quoting Prince: 'The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you.'"
At first I didn't know why this was on Slashdot, but numbers can't be good for you is too good to pass up.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Swedish Pirate Party To Run Pirate Bay From Parliament
rdnetto sends in this clip from TorrentFreak. To pursue these plans the Pirate Party needs to win 4% of the seats in Parliament in an election coming up in September. "After their former hosting provider received an injunction telling it to stop providing bandwidth to The Pirate Bay, the worlds most resilient BitTorrent site switched to a new ISP. That host, the Swedish Pirate Party, made a stand on principle. Now they aim to take things further by running the site from inside the Swedish Parliament. ... The party has announced today that they intend to use part of the Swedish Constitution to further these goals, specifically Parliamentary Immunity from prosecution or lawsuit for things done as part of their political mandate. They intend to push the non-commercial sharing part of their manifesto, by running The Pirate Bay from inside the Parliament, by Members of Parliament."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Google To Add Pay To Cover a Tax For Gays

"Starting on Thursday, Google is going to increase the salaries of gay and lesbian employees whose partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax they must pay that heterosexual married couples do not. Google is not the first company to make up for the extra tax. At least a few large employers already do. But benefits experts say Google's move could inspire its Silicon Valley competitors to follow suit, because they compete for the same talent."