polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

A BLOG about science, technology, consumerism, philosophy, higher education, media and other bothersome stuff that makes up modern life...

20080926.1207 Tidbits

  • Got to love this picture of a schoolbus driver who was recently suspended for driving while playing his PSP - and was subsequently filmed by a student with a video-phone...
  • Take these plans & build them.  It was Einstein's invention but someone else is going to sell you one.  I say, build it yourself now.
  • I have been saying for years that American business has been outsourcing their Innovation and that there is a distinct need to develop new ideas HERE.
  • If you are into AJAX development, then you might want to look at this gallery of AJAX components for ideas.


20080925.0945 Old News Slips Through

I was digging through some old news stories and found this little gem from back on August 21:

The New York Times reports a Justice Department may soon allow FBI agents to open an investigation if anyone conduct surveillance prying into private records. And take other investigative steps without any clear basis for suspicion. According to the letter signed by a group of senators briefed on the issue that the plan might permit an innocent person to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race ethnicity or national origin religion. Or unprotected First Amendment activities.

How exactly did this just slip by EVERYONE?  What exactly is the mainstream press doing if they ignore a story like that?

For all I know, I am already under investigation just for having this blog.  This is a clear abuse of power, it should not be allowed to stand and I can't believe that anyone is stupid enough to think this is necessary or proper in any way shape or form??

 And can someone please define for me precisely what "unprotected First Amendment Activities" means?  Is that some sort of code-word for 'using free speech in a way we don't like'?  Does it simply equal "protest"? 

Usually, in the English language, when you want to obscure the meaning of a phrase, you start adding syllables - "unprotected First Amendment Activities" is twelve!

Why haven't we heard anything else about this Justice Department impropriety?  What exactly is congress up to?

20080923.1704 The News in Review

 Today I found myself staring at a file called myFeeds.opml and I realized that ever since my hard drive crashed on the work/Windows system I have been out of touch...

So to solve this I downloaded RSSOwl and imported my newsfeed list.  (Since that is what an OPML file is)

Of course now that I have done that I have a whole new tsunami of data pouring in to sift through for interesting bits.  Since I have to do that now anyway, here are a few interesting stories that I have saved up before even using the RSS reader:

This is not something new in general, it is merely something from Google that I have been experimenting with lately and find rather useful and compelling.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, here are a few stories that caught my eye fresh off the wire:

20080918.1035 Applets!

Normally when you think of Applets you think of something slow & pointless.  That is a shame, but it is a historical fact that much like Virtual Reality technology, it was released to the public and over-hyped far too early and therefore reaped a legacy of a forever tarnished reputation.

However I am here to tell you that the technology caught up a while ago, at least where Java is concerned.  Applets work much better now because the networks that they are sent over and the computers they are run on are much much faster today.

That being said I have two finds for the day:

Wordle -

You can use this to create word maps.  Here is one that I created from the content of this blog.

Nodiatis -

A fun fantasy adventure MMO

And they are both free.  Enjoy!


20080917.1549 Patents Are Pointless

I think that most of us have known about the Patent process being completely broken thanks to such incidents as the Amazon one-click-checkout patent and the Australian man who patented the Wheel.

But it would appear that Nathan Myhrvold has combined a Ponzi scheme with old-world guild extortion and has created a Billion Dollar Business.

The racket is simple - sit on a patent that you never plan on developing yourself - wait for someone to infringe upon it by actually working - then demand licensing fees from them in the form of investment dollars for Intellectual Ventures.  That money goes to buy more patents, which the new investors now get a piece of, and the cycle repeats.

One has to wonder exactly in the New World Economy and the age of extreme rendition why some corporate head hasn't put a hit out on him yet.  Something tells me it would be cheaper in the long run.  There must be some jurisdiction somewhere in the world that might find that legal, no?  :-P

For that matter - what is it going to take to fix the patent system?  This is over a decade's worth of grift now.  It has to stop!  It is not protecting nor encouraging innovation, quite the opposite actually.  I mean how would you feel if you worked hard to actually invent something and then got an extortion letter from someone who filed an overly broad patent with no actual prototype or intent of ever developing one?

20080917.0828 Tweaking the Jott Fantastic

Sometimes when I get a new toy I really go nuts with it.  This is one of those cases.  Perhaps I am easily amused but I'm still having fun with Jott.

I am almost certain that they are using outsourced labor to do the transcription as opposed to software, based on my experiments.  One of those experiments proved that Japanese at least, is not supported.

Speaking of which - security seems to be on the slack side, since I can simply give anyone a URL to one of my recordings. (Note the accuracy problems between what I said in the clip vs. the text that they wrote.)

The hash code in the URL is long, but something tells me that a brute force attack would not be all that hard.  Scraping the contents of the site for subsequent IP mining could theoretically be automated with some sophistication using existing techniques.

So security is an issue.  Add to that the integration with so many other social networking services and you have a recipie for a Profiler's wet dream or much more likely, fantasy gone wrong...

20080916.1437 Twitter Today

[oops. I didn't realize everyone needed to log in to see this...]

20080916.1402 Techno Toyz Du Jour

I'm trying to be upbeat in a world gone crazy - so today I am going to focus on a new toy that I found today: Jott 

Essentially this is a service that will turn 15-60 second clips into text for you.  Based on experiments that I have performed today it would seem as though a human being is involved in the process.  That, I believe is the reason for the 60 second limitation.

This makes it not a suitable replacement for a stenographer, for example.  You can not use this to transcribe a meeting nor lecture.  You can use it to memorize important points fresh in your mind after a meeting or lecture.

To that point - if it is only 15-60 seconds, you might just bother to type it yourself, or else if you have access to cheap/free labor like interns, then you might just email audio clips to them to transcribe for you and get a slightly better service cheaper.

But for the rest of us that have no personal staff, we can build a virtual one by using services like this.

I think that the real test will be when they pull the plug and are only a pay-as-you-go service.  That will prove out whether this is another UrbanFetch concept - awesome on the service side, but too awesome to sustain or scale.  So awesome that people like me can not stop using it until it completely evaporates, killing it by obsessively using it.

But that was long ago.  Now that more people have internet access it might work now that they're trying again.

One thing that was at first very convenient and now represents yet another privacy leak is the integration with other services - for example Twitter.

I have tried using my Twitter account again recently and using the integration between Jott and Twitter I discovered a side effect that I did not expect.  My voice is now posted on the internet.

So now, to my knowledge, there are now a few web sites that bear my username, my one profile picture, my educational and work history, pretty much all of my contact information and an awful lot of nasty rants - all neatly cross-referenced for any HR person, or casual stalker to troll through for the rest of my life.  I have been somewhat careful over the years, but it slowly accrues - data point by data point - until there your profile is for anyone who takes <1 hour to find out.

This is not tinfoil hat stuff.  This is very real.  Everyone thinks it is so neato that they are listed out there...  It reminds me of people who do amazingly stupid things that they would never do under any other circumstances just to get on TV for example.

But there I go being negative again...

20080915.1528 Mis-Interpreting the Law

I came across this video today where they ran a story about how someone was arrested and had their video-phone confiscated for recording their friend who was being arrested at the time. (10 minutes of YouTube searches and I see just how commonly this happens these days...)

What is interesting in this case is how the public relations officer for the police tried to spin the law into some kind of interception of communication.  I'm no lawyer, but it sounds as though that law is there to keep people from recording you while speaking over the phone - not while speaking in a public place.

IF it indeed constitutes ANY recording of people communicating - then effectively anyone with a video camera that is recording is presumably breaking the law unless they have a fist-full of releases in their hands.  For that matter, don't leave anyone voice mail while in public for fear that you might overhear someone!!

I also seem to think that recording the conversation is not the illegal part - but rather what you might do in terms of distributing it.  THAT is what the release forms were always used for in the past, AFAIK.

What is most telling however is that there is a specific exception to the law that allows the 'chase-cam' mounted on a patrol car to record at will.  This specifically puts the citizen at a weaker bargaining position than the police.  Why can't I have a 'being chased-cam' pointing the other way - or maybe out the driver window - or both even, which could record MY side of the confrontation with the law.  

How would a jury respond to seeing what it is like to have a gun pointed in your face?

And since when is recording something a criminal act AT ALL?  It seems obvious that the police do not want any evidence to be created that they do not control.  I see no reason why the normal pre-trial procedures of discovery in a court case would fail to provide them all the control they deserve.

This is a crime against Liberty and should NOT be allowed to stand.  Even if the charges are dropped, the phone and recording MUST be returned to the owner/author, or else the Police can simply destroy evidence at will and engage in any thuggery they might conceive.

But apparently - today - it it illegal to watch the watchers.  At least in Oregon...  and I used to really like it there.


20080915.0929 Digesting the Inner Virus

I got into one of those "What is the definition of Life?" type debates recently.  They are always sticky.  One of the concepts was "do you consider a virus to be alive?" and as it happens I just found out about a new discovery regarding the 'origin' of one virus that puts a very interesting spin on the whole argument.

It certainly is a very aggressive survival strategy to infect a victim and modify its DNA in order to copy their own sequences onto it in such a way that it will be passed through chromosomes to offspring of the host, thereby creating new platforms to spread from an entire generation later. 

Think of it like being stung by a bee - and then a bee's nest grows out of your chest that you then have to deal with - and after you have dealt with it, once you have kids, they will now likely grow beehives in their chests too.  And their kids, and so on.  That is one nasty bee, no?

20080911.0842 Big Fizzle

It would appear that no black holes have emerged from the Large Hadron Collider as of yet, so the doom-sayers must still be biting their nails.

I find the project interesting in particular for two reasons, both of which are somewhat arbitrary.  The first is that in Richard Feyman's Six Not So Easy Pieces, he mentioned that the principles he was discussing were not as of yet proven directly by experiment in a complete circle but that one could easily infer that it is true.  

The second was simply because we had started to build one in this country and bailed out on the project in 1993 after starting it because of budget overruns.  Anytime you have delays like that in doing science, it can be a bit heartbreaking.

So now hopefully we should start getting some closure to a large number of dangling theoretical threads.  I look forward to it.  I also look forward to the era of insight that will follow where all new theoretical problems will be created to argue about.  Whee!  Science!


20080910.1723 Vulture War

Originally this was supposed to be called "Culture War" but I liked my typo better.

This is a small point I want to make - it just struck me as I overheard someone in New York with a Texan accent talking about getting delayed in an airport.  The comment was "'s OK, there was football and beer in the airport, so I was alright."  

 Is irony so dead that I need to explain why that bothers me?  Or is the actual Culture War that is going on in America so stealthy that no one even knows that it is going on?  Are people just becoming bored and wondering why there's nothing interesting to watch or listen to anymore?  Has the Disneyfication of all media lowered the intellectual stimulation available to the point that we are all numb yet?

So here's the point - You are allowed to have fun in this country, provided that it is of the "Football & Beer" variety.  THAT is American culture - or so the Greedheads would have us believe.

Anything that actually resembles 'culture' like music or the arts, must be philosophically neutered before it is approved for public consumption. So you're not likely to find it at say, the Airport.

So why the 'Vulture War'?  Simply because the 'warriors' themselves come off as opportunistic mealy mouthed zealots, with the self-important notion that they have an exclusive license on True Morality, using any chance to advance an unpopular agenda silently while no one is paying attention.

Oh but wait you say?  I'm only picking on One side of the War?  That is because that is the only side that I perceive as on the attack - and I outright resent that.

20080910.1548 Virtualized Oracle

This is not a big deal per se, it is merely something handy.  Oracle has prepared a few downloadable virtualized environments to facilitate testing, etc..  It merely saves a lot of time by dropping a pre-configured environment into a virtualized server.

I do throw many stones at Oracle, I figure it is only right that I should point out what they're doing right too.  Between this & the way that they seem to be handling the technological assimilation of the BEA tech stack, they have done some Smart things recently.


20080908.1717 Stuff

Stuff That Sucks:

Interesting point there - I got a receipt from Apple for all of the Free applications I downloaded - as though I was paying for them.  This underlines to me that they keep statistics on how I use my device and what I choose to load onto it.  

How utterly heinous.

Stuff That Doesn't Suck:



And finally I'm going to point out something that is both: New Giant Buddha found in Afghanitstan

Awesome that they found it - scary that it might be next on the hit list...

If a religious artwork significantly predates the law of a subsequently formed religion - you would think that it would be of no significant threat to it - but the Taliban needed to thump their Qu'rans and blow up history in an attempt to rewrite it anyway.

Karma can be brutal to the unenlightened.

20080905.1025 My Blood Boileth Over

If anyone cares why I will not be going back to the UK ever again you can see the reason right here.  Read it - they admit to running a 100 computer cluster to crack people's security!  Oh & if they actually can't crack your code - you just don't get to see the sun again until you give up the password.  

Fighting German facism in World War II was not enough to keep the pattern from repeating domestically in England apparently.  The sense of entitlement that LE exhibits in that country to access your data reminds me of an angry rabid dog curling it's upper lip up and exposing it's foaming gnashing maw. 

And whilst I am utterly sickened with the manipulation of language in order to force ideologies onto people, let me take a moment to jump back into geek land and point out this lovely missionary protocol guide for Oracle.  I need a shower.

20080905.0927 What does a US$Billion Buy You in Software?*

In a fit of boredom-induced-spasm I reflexively downloaded a bunch of new software yesterday to see what's what & seek some comfort, convenience, or other abstract solace from some neat new tech toy.

I complained about browsers yesterday and today I'm going to mention Java IDE's.  

[ NOTE: If you are not a Java Programmer nor interested in such things, feel free to flick that channel now because it is getting very jargony and geeky and potentially even nerdy in a hurry.  You were warned. ] 

The Java IDE's that I downloaded were Eclipse Ganymede and NetBeans 6.1.

Eclipse is just like visiting an old friend and noticing all the improvements they've made to the house since you've been by last.  The main impetus to go there was to install the newly released set of Oracle plug-ins.  I have yet to dig into that properly yet.  I do not have high hopes that it will put Eclipse back on par with JDeveloper in terms of Oracle integration.  But I'm willing to have a look-see just in case.

NetBeans on the other hand has been a pleasant suprise from the get go.  Even the installer somehow impressed me.  Perhaps it was all of the features that it was promising me - a most formidable list.  It seems that I have installed both Tomcat and GlassFish onto my system now along with a lot of interesting tools including UMLIIRCJava Studio Enterprise had the best UML support I've yet seen and all of that has supposedly been integrated into NetBeans now.

The next bit that impressed me was the plug-in manager.  Eclipse raised the bar with how plug-ins should be managed some years ago.  When Sun came out with their JSR to standardize how IDE plug-ins would work I thought it was serious sour grapes and dirty pool.  Regardless, it seems to have worked and I have to admit that so far I am not left wanting.

Running through the HelloWorldApp demo, I found a few things strange, new and potentially annoying, but for the most part that is just me getting used to the layout & learning where to find the tools and how to follow the processes that I am used to with Eclipse, JBuilder or JDeveloper.  There were a few pleasant suprises too.

So all in all - while I have thrown stones at Sun for what appeared to be *a rather wonky acquisition with regards to NetBeans - I have to admit, they are at least trying  to get the value for their money.

That being said - I was impressed enough to go home and download it for my Mac.  That was not as pleasant.  No UML support for one thing - so they're just like everyone else.  There are plenty of other holes in the functionality map also, but I won't belabor the point.  Suffice to say - it is simply 2/3 as good as the Windows release, IMHO.

20080904.1205 Gigidy-Gigidy-Google Gimme Gimme

So last month I mentioned that I was greeted by this:

I am still waiting for the payoff there.  I looked at Sites briefly, but have done nothing yet - waiting for them to take action first.  Maybe that's a bad move now that I actually write it down.  I guess we'll see if I find the time to attempt the move on my own.  I wonder if they're going to give me URL redirection at least?

While we're talking about Google, I want to mention that I tried Chrome for Windows XP today.  I was motivated to try it because Firefox 3.0.1 crashes very often and has the unfortunate tendency to take other applications with it - something that I thought we were past at this point...

I have to tell you outright - the version of Chrome that I tried really sucks.  Almost none of the web pages that I went to displayed properly.  They claim that if you have tested your web application with Safari v3.1 then you should be OK, but I tried it with MobileMe - and none of the pages displayed except the login screen.  I can't think of a more Safari-centric web application than that.

That they are missing the quick google search field boggles the mind.  This IS google's browser, no?

I do not even know why they released it as is.  One of the pages I tried to look at was this blog.  That's another google product that doesn't seem to work with it.  Again, I couldn't get anything on the page to display.

I really do not see the point.

Of course - let us be honest now - you get what you pay for and all of this is totally free.  So I'm supposed to say "Who Cares?" right?  But the other browsers are free too - so why use this at all until it does something special?  The "most visited" page does not a Killer App make.  If anything it is intrusive, since anyone firing up your browser now knows your browsing habits.

That is an entire rant to itself - the tendency of web applications to pressure you into giving up your personal information...  I'll leave that one until later.


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