Thursday, August 31, 2006

Update on "The Scream": Looks like the stolen painting was just recovered by the police. No word on who gets the M&M rewards. (Via Danny West.)
Interesting profile of MIT professor Richard Lindzen, who also happens to be one of the most high-profile of the global warming skeptics.
Astronomers believe they have discovered a supernova exploding in "real time".
The M&M's chocolate company is offering a reward of 2 million dark M&M's candies for the safe reward of the stolen painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch. (Via Fark.)
Ecological cause of the day: "Scientists seek to save baby-eating sharks from themselves".

I especially liked this snarky commentary from Slate.com (halfway down the page):
Scientists are trying to stop fetal sharks from eating each other in the womb. A mother gray nurse shark carries 40 or so embryos in her two wombs. But once an embryo develops jaws, it starts eating its siblings. Results: 1) Only one embryo survives in each womb. 2) The species is endangered. Solution: Scientists are developing "artificial uteruses" so each embryo can grow without being eaten by others. Crunchy spin: We're saving another of nature's creatures. Extra crunchy spin: This shark's been around for 70 million years. Don't you think nature knows what it's doing? Anti-crunchy spin: This is even dumber than paroling repeat felons.
(Via Volokh.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"6 formerly forbidden snacks that are actually good for you":
Pork rinds
Alcohol
Beef Jerky
Sour cream
Coconut
Chocolate bars
"Make a Survival Kit out of an Altoids Tin". (Via BoingBoing.)
"All I Really Need To Know About Football I learned by playing Madden 07."
If you're interested in security engineering, Ross Anderson has made his book available for free online. (Via IPList.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Urban Legends: How They Start and Why They Persist". (Via Gravity Lens.)
Some Web 2.0 sites to check out.
Liquid armor.
Is Matt Damon going to play the role of James T. Kirk in the upcoming Star Trek XI movie?

Monday, August 28, 2006

"The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science". (Via Marginal Revolution.)
Poetic justice story of the day: US Marines guarding Saddam Hussein have been "tormenting" Saddam by forcing him to repeatedly watch the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which features Saddam as Satan's gay lover. South Park co-creator Matt Stone responded, "That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy." (Via Fark.)
Orin Kerr on the group dynamics of mass unsolicited e-mail lists:
Every once in a while, some random person sends out an unsolicited e-mail to an assembled distribution list of anywhere from 50 to 200 addresses found on the web trying to either settle some personal score or bring attention to a cause.

In my experience as an occassional recipient of such e-mails - whether because of blogging or the day job, or some other random connection - the dynamic usually goes something like this:
1. A few people will respond with a "reply all" suggesting to the sender that it's really not nice to spam so many people like that, and/or that the message of the e-mail is wrong or offensive.

2. One or two people will respond with a "reply all" asking everyone else to "please take me off this distribution list."

3. A bunch of people will then chime in with "reply all" responses urging recipients to "STOP REPLYING WITH 'REPLY ALL' AS NO ONE CARES, AND HITTING 'REPLY ALL' IS REALLY ANNOYING!!!."

4. After the flurry of "reply all"s condeming the use of "reply all"s, some time will pass, and then someone on the list will have to follow up "reply all" with some kind of comment on the substantive message of the initial e-mail.

5. The comment will draw one last "reply all" condemning the use of "reply all"s, and then the round is over.
It's the folks who participate in Step 3 without a hint of irony that I find the most amusing. But then the whole thing is sort of funny, I guess.
"Some leading English soccer players are storing stem cells from their newborn babies as a potential future treatment for their own career-threatening sports injuries..."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Interesting and detailed article on the battle over who proved the Poincare Conjecture. (Via Waxy.)
Remotely operated military robo-surgeon.
"The World's Longest-Running Experiments"
The evolution of speechballons in art and in comics. (Via BoingBoing.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

"YouTube's new ad model"
Swiss Army Knife overkill. Only $1200! Includes the following features:
1. 2.5" 60% Serrated locking blade
2. Nail file, nail cleaner
3. Corkscrew
4. Adjustable pliers with wire crimper and cutter
5. Removable screwdriver bit adapter
6. 2.5" Blade for Official World Scout Knife
7. Spring-loaded, locking needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
8. Removable screwdriver bit holder
9. Phillips head screwdriver bit 0
10. Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
11. Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
12. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm
13. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6 mm x 4.0 mm
14. Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0 mm x 6.5 mm
15. Magnetized recessed bit holder
16. Double-cut wood saw with ruler (inch & cm)
17. Bike chain rivet setter, removable 5m allen wrench, screwdriver for slotted and Phillips head screws
18. Removable tool for adjusting bike spokes, 10m hexagonal key for nuts
19. Removable 4mm curved allen wrench with Phillips head screwdriver
20. Removable 10mm hexagonal key
21. Patented locking Phillips head screwdriver
22. Universal wrench
23. Laser pointer with 300 ft. range
24. 1.65" Clip point utility blade
25. Metal saw, metal file
26. 4 mm allen wrench
27. 2.5" blade
28. Fine metal file with precision screwdriver
29. Double-cut wood saw
30. Cupped cigar cutter with double-honed edges
31. 12/20-Gauge choke tube tool
32. Watch caseback opening tool
33. Snap shackle
34. Telescopic pointer
35. Compass, straight edge, ruler (in./cm)
36. Mineral crystal magnifier with precision screwdriver
37. 2.4" Springless scissors with serrated, self-sharpening design
38. Shortix key
39. Flashlight
40. Fish scaler, hook disgorger, line guide
41. Micro tool holder
42. Micro tool adapter
43. Micro scraper-straight
44. Reamer
45. Fine fork for watch spring bars
46. Pin punch 1.2 mm
47. Pin punch .8 mm
48. Round needle file
49. Removable tool holder with expandable receptacle
50. Removable tool holder
51. Multi-purpose screwdriver
52. Flat Phillips head screwdriver
53. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm
54. Spring loaded, locking flat nose nose-pliers with wire cutter
55. Phillips head screwdriver bit 0
56. Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
57. Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
58. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm
59. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6 mm x 4.0 mm
60. Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0 mm x 6.5 mm
61. Can opener
62. Phillips head screwdriver
63. 2.5" Clip point blade
64. Golf club face cleaner
65. 2.4" Round tip blade
66. Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, can opener
67. Golf shoe spike wrench
68. Golf divot repair tool
69. Micro straight-curved
70. Special tool holder
71. Phillips head screwdriver 1.5mm
72. Screwdriver 1.2 mm
73. Screwdriver .8 mm
74. Mineral crystal magnifier, fork for watch spring bars, small ruler
75. Removable screwdriver bit holder
76. Magnetized recessed bit holder
77. Tire tread gauge
78. Reamer/awl
79. Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, wire stripper
80. Special Key
81. Toothpick
82. Tweezers
83. Adapter
84. Key ring
85. Second key ring
(Via Gizmodo.)
1500 of your favorite 80's music videos.
The Beloit College Class of 2010 Mindset List is now out. Some highlights:
1. The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
6. There has always been only one Germany.
15. They have never had to distinguish between the St. Louis Cardinals baseball and football teams.
16. DNA fingerprinting has always been admissible evidence in court.
19. "Google" has always been a verb.
23. Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.
70. They have always "dissed" what they don't like.
75. Professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The politically incorrect alphabet. (Via BBspot.)
The prestigious Fields Medals for mathematics have been awarded. One of the winners is UCLA's Terence Tao. The article notes:
At 31, Tao is the youngest of the medallists, but with over 80 puplished papers to his name he had been tipped as a potential winner for some time. "I am still shocked. It hasn't sunk in yet," he said at a press conference after the ceremony.

Charles Fefferman, a mathematician at Princeton University and a Fields Medallist himself, remembers Tao as a 12 year old prodigy who was brought to Princeton by his father to be evaluated. "I thought that he had a little extra edge over other prodigies I had met. It turned out it was a big edge," says Fefferman.

Today Tao is known as one of the most powerful mathematical minds on the planet with major proofs under his belt in areas as diverse as number theory and the mathematics behind relativity and quantum mechanics.

Fefferman says Tao often works by assembling world class teams to work on problems and manages to bring the best out of each collaborator. "That's a rare ability," he notes.

Such is Tao's reputation that mathematicians now compete to interest him in their problems, and he is becoming a kind of Mr Fix-it for frustrated researchers. "If you're stuck on a problem, then one way out is to interest Terence Tao," says Fefferman.
"3-D TV That Actually Works":
A new line of 3-D televisions by Philips uses the familiar trick of sending slightly different images to the left and right eyes -- mimicking our stereoscopic view of the real world. But where old-fashioned 3-D movies rely on the special glasses to block images meant for the other eye, Philips' WOWvx technology places tiny lenses over each of the millions of red, green and blue sub pixels that make up an LCD or plasma screen. The lenses cause each sub pixel to project light at one of nine angles fanning out in front of the display.

A processor in the TV generates nine slightly different views corresponding to the different angles. From almost any location, a viewer catches a different image in each eye...

The uncanny 3-D illusion stops people in their tracks, as it's meant to...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Pac-Man: The Game That Won't Go Away". One historical tidbit:
In 1999, at the ripe old age of 19 -- elderly for a video game -- Pac-Man saw his first perfect score made by Floridian Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell scored 3,333,360 points after playing for six hours, beating the game's 256 mazes, gobbling up every piece of fruit and every ghost with each "power up," and never losing a life.

"My ability as a player, I'd like to say, is unmatched by anyone else," said Mitchell in an interview with "Good Morning America" last year.

"I'm absolutely the best. It meant everything to be the best on Pac-Man. It was the Holy Grail of video games, racing to see who would get the perfect Pac-Man game."
"Personality Traits of the Best Software Developers"
"How to Spot a Liar". (Via SciTechDaily.)
Consumer electronics and military culture: "iPods at War".

Monday, August 21, 2006

Counterintuitive math puzzle of the day: Warning, get your morning cup of coffee before tackling this one:
The names of 100 prisoners are placed in 100 wooden boxes, one name to a box, and the boxes are lined up on a table in a room. One by one, the prisoners are led into the room. They may look into up to 50 of the boxes to try to find their own name, but must leave the room exactly as it was.

The prisoners are permitted no further communication after leaving the room. They do have a chance to plot a strategy in advance. Good thing. Unless they all find their own names, they will all be executed.

If each prisoner examines 50 boxes at random, the probability of the group's survival is a miniscule (1/2)^100, or about 0.00000000000000000000000000000008. Even worse, if they all happen to look into the same 50 boxes, their chances drop to zero.

However, there is a strategy that the prisoners can use to increase the probability of success to more than 30 percent. Incredible but true! The trick is to find this strategy.
Here's the answer:
Beforehand, the prisoners randomly assign "ownership" of one box to each prisoner. As a result, each of the 100 boxes now has a "label" on the outside.

Each prisoner goes to the box with his name on it. He finds another prisoner's name in the box. He then looks into the box labeled with that prisoner's name. He continues in this fashion until he finds his own name or ends up looking into 50 boxes.

Why does this procedure greatly increase the prisoners' chances of survival?

The random assignment of a box with a name in it to each prisoner is just a permutation of the 100 names, chosen uniformly at random from the set of all such permutations, Winkler explains.

So, in inspecting boxes, each prisoner follows a cycle of that permutation, beginning with his box. If they don't exceed the 50-box limit, they succeed in finding their own name. If the particular permutation chosen by the prisoners happens to have no cycle of length greater than 50, the process works, every prisoner finds his name, and no one gets executed.

Indeed, the probability that a random permutation of 2n objects has no cycle of length greater than n is at least 1 minus the natural logarithm of 2.

In this case, the probability of the prisoners surviving is a bit larger than (1 - ln 2). It comes to 31.18 percent.

The strategy works because the prisoners, in effect, impose a structure on their search and take advantage of a basic property of random permutations.
Some more detail can be found in this excellent paper (PDF format), "Seven puzzles you think you must not have heard correctly (with solutions)".
Martial arts science. One interesting tidbit -- a kung-fu punch can be up to 4 times faster than a snake. (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"Your Brain Boots Up Like a Computer". (Via BBspot.)
The Economist has an interesting article entitled, "How to make digital photography more trustworthy".

Friday, August 18, 2006

There's a growing movement to ban the CapsLock key.
Google Maps flight simulator. (Via Solsberg.)
"What Are Web Surfers Seeking? Well, It's Just What You'd Think". (Via Techdirt.)
Fascinating article on the psychology and neuroscience of the expert mind. (Via Cosmic Log.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Why coffee is now a health drink. (Via Instapundit.)
"Online Dating Service Planned for Apes"
The Onion also tackles the "Pluto Not A Planet?" issue.
Lots of argument about the proposed new definition of "planet". And "plutons".
Do extraterrestrials prefer Firefox? (Via GMSV.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Everything You Wanted to Know About Getting a Job in Silicon Valley But Didn't Know Who to Ask". (Via BBspot.)
"What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"The U.S. government has misplaced the original recording of the first moon landing, including astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind...'" Update: Here's more background context which suggests it's not as bad as it seems.
Humans with echolocation ability. No, really. (Via Gravity Lens.)
The Evolution of Desktops - 1984 to 2006.
How to use social network analysis to identify terrorist ring-leaders. Or the person easiest to replace at work.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Hoarders vs. Deleters: What your inbox says about you". (Via Clicked.)
Improvements in computer-aided detection of breast cancer.
Mainland China has banned The Simpsons from primetime television.
"The seven ways that people search the Web".

Friday, August 11, 2006

The problem is the bad guys, not our carry-on luggage. Image probably NSFW. (Via Boing Boing.)
An incredibly cool card trick. And for those who like spoilers, here's how it's done. (Via Clicked.)
Explosives detection technology.
Bruce Schneier analyzes doping in sports, technology, and the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a new type of mobile robot that balances on a ball instead of legs or wheels."
Star Trek inspirational posters. (Via GMSV.)
Wired News has had to retract 3 stories, due to apparently fraudulent journalism on the part of one of their freelance reporters.
"Top 10 Weirdest Cosmology Theories". (Via Gravity Lens.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A California biotech company plans to begin trials of a treatment for spinal cord injuries next year using embryonic stem cells.
Why we won't see TV-computer convergence:
McCracken says most homes are consolidating around a two-hub model. A PC (or Mac) with some multimedia features anchors the home office, while a TV with some computerized gear -- think TiVo, not desktop computer -- owns the living room. Tech marketers talk about the "2-foot interface" of the PC versus the "10-foot interface" of the TV. When you use a computer, you want to lean forward and engage with the thing, typing and clicking and multitasking. When you watch Lost, you want to sit back and put your feet up on the couch. My tech-savvy friends who can afford anything they want set up a huge HDTV with TiVo, cable, and DVD players -- then sit in front of it with a laptop on their knees. They use Google and AIM while watching TV, but they keep their 2-foot and 10-foot gadgets separate.
Sounds a lot like our house! (Via Marginal Revolution.)
"Can high-pressure steam cut a body in half?"
"AOL's publication of the search histories of more than 650,000 of its users has yielded more than just one of the year's bigger privacy scandals. The 21 million search queries also have exposed an innumerable number of life stories ranging from the mundane to the illicit and bizarre."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"A parking garage in New Jersey seizes up when the city of Hoboken fails to renew its software license, leaving hundreds of drivers stranded in the automated garage."
Video of the day: "How to Open a Beer Bottle with a Piece of Paper". (Via Fark.)
Incredibly cool photo deblurring algorithm.
"In 2021, You'll Enjoy Total Recall"
How to look busy at work. These recommendations from Scott Adams are at the bottom of the page. The article also has some serious tips on data security at the beginning.
Complain that you're totally swamped at every opportunity. Use phrases like "up to my ass in alligators" and "jumping from one fire to another" to make your job sound kind of sexy and dangerous.

Carry a piece of paper wherever you go. To give yourself the necessary urgent facial expression and body language, imagine it's something incredibly important, like a stay of execution from the governor.

Never clean your cubicle. After all, if you had any spare cycles you wouldn't let yourself live like a pig.

Emailing looks like work. Email friends and family often.

If you feel like talking instead of working, talk to your boss. That counts as work no matter what you're chatting about. The ideal topic of conversation is how poorly all of your coworkers are performing.

If you wear glasses, leave an old pair on the desk as though you will be right back. Then go home.

Leave voicemails for coworkers at 1:00 am, even if you're getting up just to take a whiz. If you really want to inspire awe, leave a message for your boss with your thoughts on the company’s outdated filing system at 11:30 pm on New Year’s Eve.

Be sure to get involved in unquantifiable projects. You want to be doing a lot of consulting and advising and attending. Avoid anything with a hard and fast deadline.

Learn to sleep with your back to the cubicle entrance. You’ll have to practice to keep your head from slumping over, but it's worth it. If you can't pull that off, try a neck brace painted the same color as your skin.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Japanese scientists plan to create their own "baby universe":
A radical new project could permit human beings to create a "baby universe" in a laboratory in Japan. While it sounds like a dangerous undertaking, the physicists involved believe that if the project is successful, the space-time around a tiny point within our universe will be distorted in such a way that it will begin to form a new superfluid space, and eventually break off, separate in all respects from our experience of space and time, causing no harm to the fabric of our universe.
(Via Gravity Lens.)
Mobile interfaces:
Nearly a quarter of phones returned for being faulty are working properly, a recent survey suggested. The problem is people just cannot figure out how to use them.
Differences between male and female brains: A nice overview of the known science.
Heat mining. (Via Howard Roerig.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Crop circles are becoming increasingly intricate. Like these.
"WorkFriendly is a proxy that will reformat any web-page to look like a Word document, so that your snoopy boss and cow-orkers won't catch you reading non-work-related sites." Includes a "Boss" key. You can try it here. (Via Boing Boing.)
"How To Totally Fake Being A Geek". (Via BBspot.)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Japan plans to build manned Moonbase by 2030. (Via Fark.)
Two interesting critiques of Wikipedia: One from The New Yorker (via Evan Picoult) and one from The Atlantic.
"How Does Glue Work?"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"The 25 Most Important Questions in the History of the Universe." (Via BBspot.)
Nice update on the high-end electric sports car by Tesla Motors. My favorite portion:
Some of the petrolheads at Tesla's launch party complained that the silence of the electric motor was too alien. They missed the grunt and growl of an internal-combustion engine. A Tesla engineer nearby came back with an idea: "We'll program the software to have a variety of engine roars, just like ring tones on mobile phones."
Invention of the day: The self-timing egg.
A self-timing egg imbued with the powers of heat-sensitive invisible ink that turns black the minute that it is ready. All you need to do is decide whether you prefer your eggs soft, medium or hard-boiled, and buy accordingly.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"Can you be compelled to give a password by the government?"

This has been an interesting discussion on the IPList. Here's one of the more detailed answers:
As a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, allow me to comment.

Information may be obtained by the government from a person in one of four ways: (1) it is voluntarily provided; (2) by regulation in a heavily regulated industry; (3) by subpoena; and (4) by a search and seizure warrant. We are concerned with number 3, the subpoena.

A person can refuse to produce incriminating information in response to a subpoena under the Fifth Amendment. Please note that the password is not protected. If it is written down somewhere, the document on which it is written is not protected by the privilege. The *act* of producing the document or the password itself *may* be privileged, if such an act is itself incriminating. For example, if the password was used in a crime, and the fact that you have the password in your possession tends to show that you participated or conspired in the crime, and then the Fifth Amendment privilege is applicable to protect you from implicating yourself in the crime. The Government *can* immunize you to the limited extent necessary to obtain the password - it cannot then use the fact that it got the password from you in order to prosecute you. This is known as "Doe" immunity, and there is an extensive line of cases that has developed in this area. Webster Hubbell, the former Associate Attorney General who was convicted of tax fraud by Ken Starr's IC Office, eventually had his conviction vacated because Starr's legal team failed to follow the rules when they obtained, from him (by subpoena), his tax records.

If the government is not investigating a crime, then it may use an administrative or civil subpoena to try and get the password. If the witness invokes the Fifth Amendment, then the government can immunize that person and compel production.

The second point, above, concerning a regulated industry, applies to such areas as Medicare and Medicaid, Government contractors for procurement matters, industrial health and safety mattes, environmental concerns, etc. The same analysis as above would apply.

Border searches are a different animal, since the government has the right to inspect items crossing the border without a warrant. However, if the password is in the traveler's head, then that is not an "item" that can be inspected at the border. The information on the laptop might very well be such an item, however, and if the only way to convince the government to allow you to cross the border is to show the border guards what is on the laptop, then the traveler might very well face the choice of turning on the laptop and opening files,, using the password, or not crossing the border. I do not believe that, even here, the traveler would have to produce the password itself.


Andrew Grosso, Esq.
Andrew Grosso & Associates
1250 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 261-3593
Email: Agrosso@acm.org
Web Site: www.GrossoLaw.com
When car thieves steal "unstealable cars" it can cause all sorts of problems for honest owners.
Numbers with names.