Saturday, September 29, 2007
Privately owned missile silos:
There's a hot market for demilitarized ICBM silos. There are three of them on offer at eBay right now, with the asking price of $500,000 per silo, which includes underground and above ground support facilities. Hundreds of ICBM silos have been sold off in the last twenty years, as new missile forces were reduced with the end of the Cold War, and the enactment of arms reduction treaties. Most of these are located in remote areas. For example, the three silo complex being offered on eBay sits on 57 acres in central Washington State.
This one is kind of prime because, unlike most of the others, it is dry. Your typical missile silo complex sits under the water table, and needs pumps to keep the water out. When these silo complexes are demilitarized, most electrical and mechanical gear (including a lot of the plumbing) is removed. The water, and some wildlife, return.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Classic essay on nerds and tact filters:
All people have a "tact filter", which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most "normal people" have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction. Thus whatever normal people say gets the appropriate amount of tact applied to it before they say it. This is because when they were growing up, their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!"(Via Mental Floss.)
"Nerds," on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "They're just saying those mean things because they're jealous. They don't really mean it."
When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one's feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one's feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people's feelings often get hurt because the nerds don't apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.
So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can't do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn't be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
"New GPS Wartime Restrictions":
The U.S. announced that it can now degrade the GPS signal in a small area, and will no longer buy GPS satellites equipped to degrade the signals planet wide. The degraded signal (originally the "civilian" signal) is only accurate to within 100 meters, while the most accurate signal (originally the "military" signal) is accurate to ten meters (31 feet) or less (with additional ground equipment.) The newly announced capability can degrade the civilian signal to a different degree. Since 2000, the only signal available has been the military one, so that more commercial applications could be implemented. To access the military signal, you need special codes. But since 2000, everyone got the military grade signal, without needing special access codes.
Russia, the European Union and China have been developing competitors for GPS, but so far these efforts have spent a lot of money, and not produced any real competition. This new announcement about GPS accuracy was meant to reassure non-U.S. users that they would never have to worry about losing the 10 meter signal. The U.S. Department of Defense has also spent a lot of money on developing ways to deal with enemy attempts to jam the GPS signal, and creating the ability to degrade the signal for non-U.S. users in a combat zone.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
A journalist tries the nonlethal US Army pain generator:
...It is a bit like touching a red-hot wire, but there is no heat, only the sensation of heat. There is no burn mark or blister.It sounds like a real-life version of the neural pain stimulator from Dune. And of course, there's one more obvious application:
...When turned on, it emits an invisible, focused beam of radiation -- similar to the microwaves in a domestic cooker -- that are tuned to a precise frequency to stimulate human nerve endings.
It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.
Because the beam penetrates skin only to a depth of 1/64th of an inch, it cannot, says Raytheon, cause visible, permanent injury.
But anyone in the beam's path will feel, over their entire body, the agonising sensation I've just felt on my fingertip. The prospect doesn't bear thinking about.
"I have been in front of the full-sized system and, believe me, you just run. You don't have time to think about it -- you just run," says George Svitak, a Raytheon executive.
Perhaps the most alarming prospect is that such machines would make efficient torture instruments.(Via Boing Boing.)
They are quick, clean, cheap, easy to use and, most importantly, leave no marks. What would happen if they fell into the hands of unscrupulous nations where torture is not unknown?
The agony the Raytheon gun inflicts is probably equal to anything in a torture chamber -- these waves are tuned to a frequency exactly designed to stimulate the pain nerves.
I couldn't hold my finger next to the device for more than a fraction of a second. I could make the pain stop, but what if my finger had been strapped to the machine?
Online alibi service:
Need an alibi for a tricky situation, something to get you out of the house, or into someone else's? Explain a missed meeting? Just log on to one of the increasingly available Internet sites that offer the latest in ebusiness, an alibi service.
...The Swiss site, alibi-beton.com launched in May, offers a choice of three languages -- French, German and English. "We can provide alibis carved in stone that are personalised and credible," it says, claiming to have bailed out about 100 clients since its launch.
The site offers a range of proofs, such as restaurant and hotel bills, invitations, requests to speak at a conference, handouts and notes, plane and train reservations, badges, pens and phone calls with a male or female voice.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
"Face-morphing robot can look like anyone":
The WD-2 robot is a pretty amazing piece of technology. It can't walk, talk, compute awesomely complex equations, or carry heavy objects. What it can do, however, is morph to look like anyone's face. Created by researchers at Tokyo University, the WD-2 has "17 facial points, for a total of 56 degrees of freedom," whatever that means.More information here.
Made from a material called Septom, which is both very rigid as well as malleable, it's able to shift to match nearly any facial structure. It's certainly a creepy idea, one that I can't quite see the practical benefits of. It's also incredible to watch doing its thing, as a realistic face seems to morph on the fly into another, completely different realistic face.
"Happiness is a warm electrode":
For the past 20 years, [Diane Hire] has suffered from severe depression, a crippling strain of the disease that afflicts as many as four million people. Years of therapy, at least 10 different drugs and six courses of the whole-brain shock technique known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) all failed to bring Hire lasting relief. Her final hope is this operation, a radical form of neurosurgery called deep-brain stimulation, or DBS.
Whereas ECT -- a treatment that's been demonized in movies like One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest but is still used on roughly 100,000 patients a year -- floods the brain with electricity from the outside, this technique delivers a smaller dose of better-targeted current to an area of the brain believed to be a key regulator of mood. Wires thread beneath the skin from their place in the brain and plug into two battery-run stimulators implanted in the chest. About the size of an iPod nano, each stimulator constantly pumps out current, bathing a small region of brain tissue in electricity. If ECT is the equivalent of slapping defibrillators against a heart-attack victim's chest, deep-brain stimulation is the pacemaker that prevents the attack in the first place.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The legality of using your own music as a ringtone. Here are some points of interest to iPhone owners:
...the RIAA wanted to be able to distribute ringtones of its artists without having to pay them big money to do so (surprised?), and it won a decision last year before the Copyright Office saying that ringtones weren't "derivative works," meaning they didn't infringe on the copyright of the songwriter. It's a little more complicated than that, but essentially, if the RIAA hadn't won, ringtones would cost even more, since no one would be able to make them without a license from the songwriter.(Via Daring Fireball.)
"But I just want to make ringtones from the music I already legally own."
As long as you're talking about music you've ripped from a CD, go ahead -- no one's trying to stop you. Since making a ringtone doesn't count as a derivative work, you're not infringing any copyrights. Just don't sell or distribute anything, and you should be fine. Funny how this piece of advice keeps coming up, eh?
"So why won't Apple let me make ringtones inside iTunes with tracks I've ripped from CDs?"
Judging from the fact that the iTMS EULA prohibits the use of downloaded files as ringtones, we'd say it's more than likely because Apple's contracts with the various labels represented in the iTMS specifically forbid it. We haven't seen them, but we'd bet that ringtones -- and the licenses for using songs as ringtones -- have their own lengthy section in Apple's contracts, and that Apple isn't allowed to sell files for use as ringtones without coughing up more dough. Steve has said as much, after all. Otherwise the selection would include more than just the 500,000 songs you can get right now.
"So basically it's legal to make ringtones for my own personal use, but only because of the RIAA -- and I'm not allowed to use iTMS-purchased music, and I still have to jailbreak my iPhone or use something like iToner."
Monday, September 17, 2007
"Have explorers had feasts of woolly mammoth?" Here's an excerpt from the answer:
Anyone picturing a whole delicious world of mammoths up there in nature's freezer case needs to face some basic facts. First, undamaged carcasses don't turn up too often. Only a few near-intact mammoths have been discovered in the last 30 years or so -- the extremely well-preserved calf found in Siberia this May being the latest -- and a 1961 article in Science magazine reports that of 39 carcasses found to that point just 4 were reasonably complete. True, more remains will emerge as global warming thaws out the permafrost, but this brings us to our second problem: the meat that does survive is nearly always revolting. The Science article says that "all the frozen specimens were rotten," and though some firsthand accounts of long-ago mammoth finds have claimed the flesh looked OK, typically it smelled horrifying and only wild scavengers and the locals' dogs would eat it.
Even when mammoth meat isn't actually putrid, it still doesn't make great eating. According to Richard Stone's book Mammoth (2001), Russian zoologist Alexei Tikhonov (who figures in articles about the recent Siberian find) once tried a bite and said "it was awful. It tasted like meat left too long in a freezer."
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Story of the day from Craigslist:
I have 2 dogs & I was buying a large bag of Pal at Big W and standing inline at the check out.
A woman behind me asked if I had a dog.
On impulse, I told her that no, I was starting The Pal Diet again although I probably shouldn't because I'd ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IV's in both arms.
I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Pal nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry & that the food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again.
I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story, particularly a guy who was behind her.
Horrified, she asked if I'd ended up in the hospital in that condition because I had been poisoned. I told her no; it was because I'd been sitting in the street licking my balls and a car hit me.
I thought one guy was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard as he staggered out the door.
Stupid b*tch...why else would I buy dog food??
Friday, September 14, 2007
American ingenuity is apparently not dead:
Warning: Some might consider these links NSFW. (Via Instapundit.)
A US mother-of-three has invented a sex toy that connects to a vacuum cleaner to give an orgasm in just ten seconds.However, any potential customers should read the following user review for some important (and entertaining) pros and cons.
The gadget, called Vortex Vibrations, works by concentrating the air flow to create a rapid and gentle vibration, reports the Sun.
Inventor Joanne Drysdale claims it can give multiple, back-to-back orgasms lasting up to a minute a time - and it does not even touch the skin.
The 49-year-old former toolmaker was cleaning her carpets when she came up with the idea for Vortex, which sells for £35 through lovehoney.co.uk.
She saw how a piece of rubber that had got caught in the nozzle was gently resonating in the air flow. She also felt a soft stimulation to her fingertips as she tried to remove the rubber.
At the time Joanne, from Utah, had not had sex for 15 years following her divorce.
She said: "In my attempts to alleviate frustration, I began to think what I could do. I noticed how the rubber moved in the top of the vacuum.
"After several hours, I came up with the prototype. The first time I tried it I reached an orgasm within 10 seconds.
"That was when I knew I was on to something that could potentially bring pleasure to all women."
Warning: Some might consider these links NSFW. (Via Instapundit.)
"IBM Develops Virtual Deaf Interpreter":
The technology is meant for use in the real world and could be useful when human interpreters for the deaf are unavailable, or when a conversation is sensitive. Imagine sitting through a lecture and seeing a digital character projected on a screen behind the speaker, interpreting the speech in real time.
...[T]he system, known as SiSi (for "Say It Sign It")... works by using speech recognition to convert a conversation into text. From there, SiSi translates the text into the gestures used in sign language and animates a customizable avatar that carries them out.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
There's been lots of online discussion about Apple's policy of charging for ringtones on the iPhone. One commentor at TUAW makes the following interesting point:
But if I already legitimately own some music and can play it anytime I want on my iPhone, I don't see why I can't also use it as a ringtone.
FYI this has nothing to do with Steve Jobs and Apple. Last year the RIAA "snuck" into DMCA law that ringtones are considered separate, and that profits have to go to the record label. This means that if you own a song and turn it into a ringtone technically it's "illegal". This is the only reason Apple is requiring you to pay for ringtones. Once again the RIAA is screwing people over.I haven't yet verified if this claim is true or not.
Please digg this comment so everyone can scream MURDER to the RIAA. Most people shouldn't worry, you can take your songs and turn them into snippets with all kinds of tools out there an upload them to your iPhone. My guess is iTunes will only let you modify songs you paid for the ringtones because of the stupid LAW that got passed.
But if I already legitimately own some music and can play it anytime I want on my iPhone, I don't see why I can't also use it as a ringtone.
Friday, September 07, 2007
"Eels imitate Alien":
Researchers studying one species of moray eels have uncovered a deadly secret that helps the snake-like fish to swallow their prey. Like the fearsome extraterrestrial from the sci-fi horror classic Alien, these real-life beasts have a second, extendable pair of jaws — encrusted with sharp teeth — that thrusts forward to ensnare hapless fish and shrimp.Of course there's a video.
High-speed videos and X-ray photos show how the second jaws, called pharyngeal jaws, lie in wait inside the throat, and then extend forwards into the mouth to grab prey that has been captured by the eel's main teeth. The morsel is then drawn into the eel's oesophagus.
"Fate of a couple is sealed with first kiss":
While a kiss may just be a kiss for a man, for a woman it’s an all-important means of gauging a prospective partner's compatability. She uses it, the study suggests, to assess a "rich and complex exchange" of romantic and chemical clues that pass between partners as their lips touch.(Via Cosmic Log.)
A "good kiss" will help convince her that the partner is worth perservering with but a man who is judged to be a bad kisser is unlikely to find himself invited in for coffee.
In the longer term the woman treats kissing as a means to induce bonding and to help her assess whether her partner has remained faithful and interested.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
More theoretical work on a "pillar of invisiblity":
The researchers analyzed the properties of a simulated tube of special metamaterials (manmade materials with intricate, microscopic structures) that can force light to follow a specified path. With the ideal wall thickness, the tube would flawlessly guide light around the inner chamber, rendering the wizard inside invisible. You could walk about, unaware of the cloaked wizard's presence, unless you unceremoniously slam yourself into a pillar that looks like nothing but empty air.
The wizard, who would be unable to see anything outside of the invisibility cloak, could reveal himself by deconstructing the cloak a layer at a time. Imagine if he could wave his wand and remove a layer from the inside of the column, leaving it the same diameter on the outside but making that inner chamber a little larger.
With the inner layer removed, the wizard would appear as a thin line, and the background would be slightly distorted. As more of the inside is removed, the wizard would become more apparent and the background would become more distorted. Physicists haven't yet worked out exactly how these distortions would appear to human eyes.
Scientists have "traced the origin of the asteroid that hit Earth 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs."
A related Nature article notes:
A related Nature article notes:
Most scientists think that the age of the dinosaurs was doomed when a killer asteroid struck Earth 65 million years ago. But new findings suggest that the giant reptiles may have been destined for death some 100 million years earlier, with the fateful collision of two faraway asteroids.
Potentially interesting article: "Secrets Revealed: How Magicians Protect Intellectual Property without Law". Here's the abstract:
Intellectual property scholars have begun to explore the curious dynamics of IP's negative spaces, areas in which IP law offers scant protection for innovators, but where innovation nevertheless seems to thrive. Such negative spaces pose a puzzle for the traditional theory of IP, which holds that IP law is necessary to create incentives for innovation.(Via Marginal Revolution.)
This paper presents a study of one such negative space which has so far garnered some curiosity but little sustained attention - the world of performing magicians. This paper argues that idiosyncratic dynamics among magicians make traditional copyright, patent, and trade secret law ill-suited to protecting magicians' most valuable intellectual property. Yet, the paper further argues that the magic community has developed its own set of unique IP norms which effectively operate in law's absence. The paper details the structure of these informal norms that protect the creation, dissemination, and performance of magic tricks. The paper also discusses broader implications for IP theory, suggesting that a norm-based approach may offer a promising explanation for the puzzling persistence of some of IP's negative spaces.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
"The world's largest digital camera has been installed on a new telescope designed to hunt for potentially dangerous asteroids."
Typical consumer digital cameras offer imaging chips just a few millimetres across. The new Pan-STARRS camera, by contrast, boasts a light-detecting surface that spans 40 centimetres. Sixty separate chips lie on that surface, providing a total of 1.4 billion pixels.
Did the USSR really build a "doomsday machine"? One interesting tidbit about the American nuclear command and control system:
One crew member even disclosed to me a flaw in the "command and control" "permissive action" system that was supposed to prevent a madman missile commander from launching his "birds" and starting an apocalyptic nuclear war all by himself. The flaw: the system's susceptibility to the "spoon and string" improvisation.
So much focus has been placed—in film, fiction, and nonfiction—on our supposedly "failsafe" barrier to a lone-madman launch. We'd been told that to launch a missile, two keys must be inserted simultaneously into their slots by two separate launch officers, and that the slots for the keys were located at a sufficient distance from each other that one madman couldn't, say, shoot the other crewman and then use both his arms to twist both the keys simultaneously.
But the missile crewmen I talked to told me they'd figured out a way to defeat that impediment with a spoon and a string. Not that they were planning to do it, but that they knew someone could do it.
You just shoot the other guy and "rig up a thing where you tie a string to one end of a spoon," he told me, "and tie the other end to the guy's key. Then you can sit in your chair and twist your key with one hand while you yank on the spoon with the other hand to twist the other key over."
American ingenuity! Can't beat it for finding a new way to end the world.
New graph theory solution to the transplant recipient matching problem:
People are born with two kidneys but need only one to survive. That can be a blessing for those with two failed kidneys, because sometimes they can receive a donated kidney from a family member. But the good fortune can turn bitter: a third of the time, the donor and the recipient aren't a compatible match.
One solution is to arrange a kind of surgical double-date. When two donor-recipient pairs are in the same predicament of incompatibility, it can happen that the donor of one pair is a good match for the recipient of the other, and vice versa. Doctors and lawmakers are working to create a national database of kidney donation pairs that could vastly improve the chances of finding such matches.
Multiple transplants involving more than two pairs are possible, and have occasionally been performed, but the complex logistics of such procedures ensure that they can happen only rarely. But even matching up two pairs raises difficult questions about how to find the matches. A new mathematical study shows how to match up the maximum number of donors with recipients while simultaneously guaranteeing high compatibility in each case.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Blast from the Past: "Thoughts on (and pics of) the original Macintosh User Manual". (Via TUAW.)
"eBay hard drive spills out governor's campaign documents":
[A] California man stumbled upon a stash of confidential data belonging to the Arkansas Democratic Party after its computer consultant accidentally sold a hard drive containing the material on eBay.
Bill Ries-Knight, also an IT consultant, purchased the 120 GB Seagate hard drive for $69. Although the drive had been advertised as new, Ries-Knight quickly discovered it contained scores of files created by high-level party officials while campaigning for Mike Beebe, who successfully won the state's governorship last November.
Among the files were documents listing the private cell phone numbers of political allies, including US Senators Blanch Lincoln and Mark Pryor and US Representatives Marion Berry, Mike Ross and Vic Snyder. It also included talking points to guide the candidate as he called influential people whose support he sought.