Monday, August 30, 2010


The Internet: Serious Business

Reasonable Doubt: Innocence Project Co-Founder Peter Neufeld on Being Wrong
We took a deposition last week of a guy who was the lead detective in the prosecution of a young man named Jeffrey Deskovic. Jeff Deskovic was a 16-year-old white kid in Peekskill, N.Y., with no criminal record, when a 15-year-old girl was raped and murdered on her way home from school. This was in 1990. Jeffrey went to the police and said, "I knew her, I liked her, is there's anything I can do to help you solve this crime?" Well, the detective he spoke to had been told by somebody in the police academy that people who commit crimes often come forward offering to help. So this guy locked his sights on Jeffrey and after multiple encounters, the kid confesses. They then did DNA testing on the semen recovered from the girl, and Jeffrey was excluded. But [the prosecutors] never disclosed that; they simply dropped the rape charge and argued at trial that she must have had consensual sex with somebody else and Jeffrey was the murderer. Twenty-five years later, we took that DNA profile and ran it through the convinced felons database, and the profile of the semen matched a serial rape-murderer who was serving life in prison for attacking and killing another teenage girl in another town in Westchester a year and a half after the victim in Jeff's case was killed.
Given that factual backdrop, you'd think that people would say, "You're right, we made a terrible, terrible error, we investigated the case incorrectly, and it led to this tragic result." But no. Even with the DNA evidence, even though the serial murder-rapist gave a full, detailed confession and provided all kinds of details that no one knew, but the real perpetrator could know, this detective just last week said, "I'm sorry, that's ridiculous, Jeffrey Deskovic is guilty. The only false confession in this whole matter is the false confession given by the serial rape-murderer."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A reducibly complex mousetrap
To illustrate the concept of irreducibly complexity, Behe uses the common snap mousetrap. "If any one of the components of the mousetrap (the base, hammer, spring, catch, or holding bar) is removed, then the trap does not function. In other words, the simple little mousetrap has no ability to trap a mouse until several separate parts are all assembled. Because the mousetrap is necessarily composed of several parts, it is irreducibly complex." (Behe, 1996).
It is not my purpose here to point out all of the philosophical flaws in Behe's argument; this has been done thoroughly in many of the resources collected on John Catalano's excellent web page. Instead, I wish to point out that the mousetrap that Behe uses as an analogy CAN be reduced in complexity and still function as a mousetrap. The mousetrap illustrates one of the fundamental flaws in the intelligent design argument: the fact that one person can't imagine something doesn't mean it is impossible, it may just mean that the person has a limited imagination. Behe's evidence that biochemical pathways are intelligently designed is that Behe can't imagine how they could function without all of their parts, but given how easy it is to reduce the complexity of a mousetrap, I'm not convinced. (Of course, the reduced-complexity mousetraps shown below are intended to point out one of the logical flaws in the intelligent design argument; they're not intended as an analogy of how evolution works.)

Scott Adams On the Difficulty of Building a 'Green' Home
"Scott Adams built himself a new house with the goal of making it as 'green' as possible, and detailed his experience for those interested in following in his missteps. Quoting: '... So the architect — and later your building engineer, too — each asks you to sign a document saying you won't sue them when beavers eat a load-bearing wall and your entire family is crushed by forest debris. You make the mistake of mentioning this arrangement to your family, and they leave you. But you are not deterred because you're saving the planet, damn it. You'll get a new family. A greener one. Your next hurdle is the local planning commission. They like to approve things that are similar to things they've approved before. To do otherwise is to risk unemployment. And the neighbors don't want to live next to a house that looks like a compost pile. But let's say, for the sake of this fascinating story, that everyone in the planning commission is heavily medicated with medical marijuana and they approve your project over the objections of all of your neighbors, except for the beavers, who are suspiciously flexible. Now you need a contractor who is willing to risk his career to build this cutting-edge structure. Good luck with that.'"
As always, the comments are the best part of Slashdot.  Particularly good are threads like this, because they give good ideas to remember for the future.  Examples:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Win or Lose
Approval voting, as used in the last round of old Venetian elections, is a rating system with just two grades: approved and not approved. In the late thirteenth century, cardinals began to use it to elect Popes, too, though they stopped in 1621, perhaps because combining it with the Holy Ghost’s two-thirds rule complicated matters. Approval voting was revived in the nineteen-seventies, when several American mathematicians and political scientists independently began to study it. (It is explored and defended by the N.Y.U. game theorist Steven Brams in his 2008 study “Mathematics and Democracy.”) Campaigns to introduce approval voting for public elections have so far failed, but many mathematicians seem to like the way it works. The American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, among others, use it for internal elections, though the larger Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which also adopted it, came to have second thoughts.
Range and approval voting deal neatly with the problem of vote-splitting: if a voter likes Nader best, and would rather have Gore than Bush, he or she can approve Nader and Gore but not Bush. Above all, their advocates say, both schemes give voters more options, and would elect the candidate with the most over-all support, rather than the one preferred by the largest minority. Both can be modified to deliver forms of proportional representation.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Smart Trash Carts Tell If You Haven't Been Recycling

Starting next year Cleveland residents face paying a $100 fine if they don't recycle, and the city's new high-tech trash cans will keep track if they don't. The new cans are embedded with radio frequency identification chips and bar codes which keep track of how often residents take them to the curb. If the chip shows you haven't brought your recycle can out in a while, a lucky trash supervisor will go through your can looking for recyclables. From the article: "Trash carts containing more than 10 percent recyclable material could lead to a $100 fine, according to Waste Collection Commissioner Ronnie Owens. Recyclables include glass, metal cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard."

Fixing The Hinge On A Dell Inspiron 6000 Laptop

Story So Far:
I have a five year old Dell Inspiron 6000.  For a long while the screen has wobbled somewhat while open.  As in it would move about an inch back and forth.  A few months ago I decided to open it up and attempt to tighten whatever was loose.  I discovered what was loose was the screws holding the screen to the hinges.  When I tightened these screws it become obvious that the holes were stripped and that they wouldn't hold.  Shortly after that my left hinge failed entirely.  The right hinge could hold the screen open when it was nearly vertical, but not if it was close to being closed.  Also, the screen would slam shut when it reached the threshold for where it would no longer hold.  In this state the laptop was usable, but I knew the right hinge, already weakened, wouldn't last much longer.  Sure enough, after about a month it also failed, and with that the screen was no longer able to hold itself open.

Details of Problem:
Before I go into my attempts to fix this, I think I need to go into details about what exactly is wrong with the hinges.  A search for "inspiron 6000 loose hinges" reveals this is a common problem.  First off, let me clarify that the problem is not with the hinges.  Rather, it is that the piece of metal that the screws holding the hinges to the screen screw into becomes stripped and won't hold the screws anymore.  Here are some pics of the problem area:

Both of these are from guides that fix this problem by replacing the screws with larger screws.  The first pic has the original screws; the second has a larger screw.  As you can see the screws attach to some sort of metal block.  That block is permanently attached to the whole plastic screen backing.  That means if you want to replace the pieces you need to buy a whole new screen backing.

Attempts at Fixing It:
My first idea was to use JB Weld on the screws as a sort of super threadlocker.  I had a very high level of confidence in this plan.  After some research I bought JB Kwik which sets faster than the normal JB weld.  There must have been a defective batch at the Home Depot, because the tube burst when I squeezed it, and the hardener was already dried.  I took it back and exchanged it, and the second one was the same way.

After that I just went with JB Weld.  As I said above I had high hopes for JB Weld's mythical strength.  I coated the full surface of both the hinges and the pieces they attach to.  I used the stock screws, with JB Weld on the threads, and tightened them fully.  I clamped this with some alligator clips and let it set over night.  I reattached the hinges to the laptop body and it seemed to have worked quite well.  I knew it would likely either fail very soon, or not at all.  Sure enough, after about a day of normal use the one hinge had clearly failed.  Still, the other hinge had managed to hold on for a few weeks.  Eventually it too failed.

I decided to try the JB weld again.  I figured that it seemed the one hinge had worked well, and only failed because it had to support the full weight after the other hinge failed.  I thought that if I could get both hinges to work they'd last much longer.  I did some more research into JB Weld and followed the advice I found online.  I used a dremel to scratch up the areas to be bonded, giving it greater surface area.  Then I cleaned them thoroughly with acetone.  I also didn't use any clamps, as I had read that only minimum clamping should be used, and the screws were quite able to hold the hinges in on their own; they just failed when there was additional pressure.  Finally, I let it set for over 24 hours without touching it once.

As before it worked well at first.  I had decided to move the screen as little as possible, no longer closing it at all.  However, both hinges failed within a couple of days.  I tried the JB Weld one more time, going even more overboard with scratching up the surface, cleaning with acetone, using an excessive amount, and waiting a full 48 hours.  Even with all that, they failed in a few days.

The Final Solution:
In the time that all this had happened I had been thinking about other possible solutions.  The best idea I came up with was to just replace the screws with larger screws.  I figured I could go with thicker screws and create new threads.  The problem would be that they would probably fail just like the first ones had.  Still, if I could get even a year before they failed that would be quite good.  Also, I figured that I could use the JB Weld with the new screws to give it even more holding power.  However, I also thought that instead of using thicker screws I could use longer screws.  I could simply drill through the back of the screen backing, which is just plastic, and then use washers and nuts on the outside of the screen.  I was pretty sure that would work forever.  The only issue was if the plastic of the backing was strong enough, but I figured that if it was holding the existing pieces the hinges screwed into that it must be strong enough.

I went to home depot, and bought #4-40 screws and nuts.  These screws were both wider and longer, so I figured I'd get the best of both worlds.  Plus I'd throw some JB Weld on there as a threadlocker.  As I was browsing around I saw some 1" C clamps, and figured they might work as a temporary solution to hold the hinges to the screen to allow me to do some more research before trying the screws.

When I got home I used the C clamps to attach the hinges to the screen.  Right away I could tell they worked quite well.  The screen seemed quite sturdy.  I did some more research into the screws, but the clamps were working very well.  I decided that I would see how well they held up.  I had to do some slight adjustments to the clamps (i.e. move them up so the screen could open past 90 degrees, and glued the handle up so that they were out of the way).  They also look regoddamndiculous, but have held up very well.  I've been using the laptop like this for over a month.  From a functionality point of view the only problem is that the screen only goes from about 45 to 135 degrees.  This would be alleviated by smaller C clamps.  Still, they seem to be perfect for my purposes.

I may well try the screws, but there is a certain charm to the huge red clamps.  When researching this problem I couldn't find anyone that had done anything to actually fix this problem.  When searching for pics of the stripped pieces for this post I found a writeup of a guy who used larger screws to fix the problem, as well as a link he gave to someone else who had done the same.

How the Lincoln Myth Was Hatched
Anyone who has read The Real Lincoln (or scanned the "King Lincoln Archive" at would not be surprised at all to hear that Lincoln was hated and reviled by most of the "great men" (and the Northern masses) of his time. As Tagg hesitantly admits in his Introduction, Lincoln was widely criticized in the North as a "bloody tyrant" and a "dictator" for his "arbitrary arrests, the suspension of habeas corpus, and the suppression of newspapers . . ." More specifically, imprisoning tens of thousands of Northern civilians without due process for verbally opposing his policies; shutting down over 300 opposition newspapers; deporting an opposing member of Congress; confiscating firearms and other forms of private property; intimidating and threatening to imprison federal judges; invoking military conscription, income taxation, an internal revenue bureaucracy, and huge public debt; and ordering the murder of hundreds of draft protesters in the streets of New York City in July of 1863 are all good reasons why Lincoln was so widely despised.
Of course, they all knew that in his first inaugural address Lincoln supported a constitutional amendment that would have explicitly enshrined slavery in the Constitution; that he wrote a public letter to Horace Greeley explaining that his sole objective in the war was "to save the union" and not to disturb slavery; and that his real "last best hope" was "colonization," or the deportation of all black people from America. This all had to be forgotten, and history rewritten. And it was. Senator James Grimes of Iowa immediately recognized that the deification of Lincoln by the Yankee clergy and the Republican Party "has made it impossible to speak the truth of Abraham Lincoln hereafter."

My Life Now Has A Goal

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Julian Assange Faces Rape Investigation In Sweden — Updated
mpawlo was one of many readers who have sent news that a warrant has been issued in Stockholm, Sweden for WikiLeaks founder and spokesman Julian Assange. The investigation apparently involves "one report of rape and one report of harassment." The story was broken by Swedish tabloid Expressen (original in Swedish), and later picked up by more reputable sources like CNN and the BBC, who say the warrant has been confirmed by Swedish authorities. The WikiLeaks Twitter feed has commented three times about the charges so far, first saying they were warned of 'dirty tricks,' then that they hadn't been contacted by Swedish police, and then a statement from Assange saying the charges are without basis.
Update: 08/21 15:58 GMT by S : Multiple sources are now reporting that the warrant for Assange's arrest has been withdrawn. Aftonbladet has coverage in Swedish. Chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, "I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape."


Same guy, more good debunkings.

The Moon Hoax Hoax

No one that actually believes in the hoax will be swayed by silly things like facts.  Still, it's an interesting read for rational people.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Calling Shenanigans On Super SATA's Claimed Audio Qualities
"Veteran Hi-Fi journalist Malcolm Steward has pushed newfangled Super SATA cables via his blog as a way to improve the sound quality of music, saying: 'My only guess is that the Super SATAs reject interference significantly better than the standard cables and in so doing lower the noise floor revealing greater low-level musical detail and presentational improvements in the soundstage and the "air" around instruments.' If that doesn't sound right to you, you're not alone. As PC Pro blogger Sasha Muller argues: 'How on earth can a SATA cable delivering 0s and 1s to their respective destination have any effect on those 0s and 1s? The answer is, it can't. Unless it's a magical one made of pixie shoes.' So maybe don't invest in Super SATA cables unless you have proof they're magical first."

With digital connections it either works or it doesn't.
See also:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It would seem the entire purpose of those shows is to give people unrealistic goals and make them unhappy with what they have.  Upon writing that I guess that's pretty much the purpose of all mainstream media.

Ahead Stop

Every single time I read one of those I'm confused for a second and have to remember to read it backwards.

I Never Liked Hey Arnold

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Jersey Utility Plans Major Solar Project
The utility expects to spend $773 million on the project, which it said would generate 120 megawatts of electricity, one-third of which should come from the panels on utility poles. That amounts to barely 1 percent of the power consumed in the state, but is about 7 percent of the state’s goal of power generated from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Drunk Driver Mugshots Featured On Facebook
"Get yourself a DUI and your mugshot may get some exposure on Facebook. That is, if you get caught in New Jersey by Evesham Township's police, which have begun posting mugshots of arrested people, convicted or not, on its Facebook page. Now, we know that if you get arrested, your privacy is pretty much limited to the brand of your underpants, but the local police department has started a controversy and may find itself in hot water. How much value does a public mugshot on Facebook have to the public? What privacy rights do you have if you get arrested?"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The 6 Most Misguided Causes Ever Made Famous by Celebrities

6 Completely Legal Ways The Cops Can Screw You

WikiLeaks Insurance File
In the wake of strong U.S. government statements condemning WikiLeaks' recent publishing of 77,000 Afghan War documents, the secret-spilling site has posted a mysterious encrypted file labeled "insurance."
The huge file, posted on the Afghan War page at the WikiLeaks site, is 1.4 GB and is encrypted with AES256. The file's size dwarfs the size of all the other files on the page combined. The file has also been posted on a torrent download site.
Regardless of what you think about Wikileaks it is an interesting story.  

If programming languages were religions...

There's a lot of these if program languages were X things out there.  However, I thought this one was pretty good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WWII Photos Over Modern Photos of the Same Locations

FBI Instructs Wikipedia To Drop FBI Seal
"The FBI got in contact with Wikipedia's San Francisco office to inform them they were violating the law in regards to 'unauthorized production' of this seal. The FBI quoted the law as saying, 'Whoever possesses any insignia... or any colorable imitation thereof... shall be fined... or imprisoned... or both.' Wikipedia refused to take the image down and stated that the FBI was misquoting the law. The FBI claims that this production of this image is 'particularly problematic, because it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations of restrictions by Wikipedia users.' Wikipedia's lawyer, Mike Godwin (please omit certain jokes), contacted the FBI and asserted, 'We are compelled as a matter of law and principle to deny your demand for removal of the FBI Seal from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons,' adding that the firm was 'prepared to argue our view in court.' Wikipedia appears to be holding their ground; we shall see if the FBI comes to their senses or proceeds with litigation."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tor Developer Detained At US Border, Pressed On Wikileaks

"A security researcher involved with the Wikileaks Web site — Jacob Appelbaum, a Seattle-based programmer for the online privacy protection project called Tor — was detained by US agents at the border for three hours and questioned about the controversial whistleblower project as he entered the country on Thursday to attend a hacker conference. He was also approached by two FBI agents at the Defcon conference after his presentation on Saturday afternoon about the Tor Project. Appelbaum, a US citizen, arrived at the Newark, New Jersey, airport from Holland flight Thursday morning, was taken into a room, frisked and his bag was searched. Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US Army then told him he was not under arrest but was being detained. They asked questions about Wikileaks, asked for his opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and asked where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is, but he declined to comment without a lawyer present, according to the sources. He was not permitted to make a phone call, they said." Appelbaum told me that he just spoke at length with The New York Times, and quipped that his Defcon talk about Tor was "just fine, until the FBI showed up"; this post will likely be updated with more details.