One of the most insidious aspects of the privacy overreach by government agencies is that law enforcement agents, acting without any kind of court order, would order routinely order the data providers not to tell you that your data was being collected by the cops. But now some of the big data providers, such as Google and Apple, are starting to push back and the result is good for you and me. More info.
Own an iPhone?: You may want to get an extended warranty. According to an article in Computerworld, 26 percent of iPhones break or fail in some way within their first two years. Now I do have a wee bit of doubt about that 26 percent number because the company that provided that number for the Computerworld story sells extended warranties for iPhones. Still, if it’s anywhere near accurate, that’s a lot of expensive broken phones. Owner beware.
- Apple is watching you. Apple has added a new clause to their user agreement that allows them to share your location and moment-by-moment movement with others. What others? It doesn’t say, so for practical purposes that means anybody. You are required to agree to this change in their user agreement before you can receive anything more from Apple, such as software downloads. The same clause and policy presumably apply to the iPad too. Before you flee to Google and its Android phones and tablets, be aware that Google has always had a clause like that in their user agreements, and though it it seems less intrusive it’s also more vague, so it’s hard to know if Google is better or worse. See the full article in the Los Angeles Times.
- Speaking of surveillance: Are you being bugged? Not the insect kind, but the kind of bug that records what you say and sends it to the FBI, Russian FSB, or whoever is after you. In the movies some guy walks around the room with a little gadget that has a little antenna and winking red lights; when it beeps he reaches under the phone or into a lampshade and yanks out a tiny thingy that often has a little blinking red light too. (In the movies bad guys are always required to have little blinking red lights on their nefarious devices, just like bombs are always required to have a red wire and a blue wire.) But audio bugs do exist in the real world — not as often as in the movies, but they do exist and there are people who make a living detecting them. If you’ve ever wondered how that’s done, here’s an intro. In the U.S. it’s perfectly legal to buy (though often not legal to use) audio bugs and there are lots of places that sell audio bugs and of course the detectors. It’s interesting technology, but I don’t recommend you even think about bugging someone unless you have — and have consulted — a good lawyer. (Note that in the foregoing I’ve deliberately linked to a vendor that is outside the U.S. If you want to buy this stuff in the U.S. you’ll have to find it yourself. For those outside the U.S. the lawyer advice also applies.)
- Cassini sails on: The Cassini space probe (formerly known as Cassini-Huygens until the Huygens probe was space-bombed onto Titan’s surface) continues its complex dance around Saturn and its panoply of moons, returning volumes of scientific data each day and returning spectacular photos like the one at right.
- One big reason not to live in Nebraska: On this day in history in 2003, down from the sky fell one great reason not to live in Nebraska: The world’s largest recorded hailstone fell to Earth at about 100 mph, striking the siding of a house in Aurora, Nebraska. In the impact it lost some of its weight, but what was left measured 7 inches across, or about the size of a soccer ball. That also makes about the size of a human head, and it’s easy to imagine the result of the 100-mph head-sized ice ball striking a stationary human cranium. And lest you think that was a fluke, a previous record-setting hailstone, measuring slightly smaller and weighing 1.5 lbs, was found in Potter, Nebraska in 1928. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen in, say, the Arizona desert.
- Also on this day in history: In 1978 at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona (where it gets very cold and they do get some big hailstones) astronomer James Christy discovered that the planet Pluto (and yes, dang it, it’s still a real planet in my book) has a moon. It was officially named Charon after the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology, following the International Astronomical Union rule that new solar-system bodies are named after Greek characters. But James Christy himself pushed for Charon from the beginning in honor of his wife, Charlene, who goes by the name “Char.” It was only later that he found that the name Charon coincided with the name of a mythological Greek character.
- And so you can quit wondering, that photo at the upper right that looks like a disco ball is the best approximation we have of what Charon looks like. Being a low-resolution computer-generated image the individual pixels look like facets, but that’s just a computer artifact; Charon doesn’t really look like a disco ball. It’s a composite image put together from many photometric measurements by Marc Buie, a Lowell Observatory astronomer who in the astro world is known as “Mr. Pluto.” (I once interviewed Mr. Buie about Pluto and I can attest that what he doesn’t know about Pluto probably isn’t known.)
- If you’re wondering why the Lowell Observatory keeps coming up in discussions of Charon and Pluto, that’s because the Lowell Observatory is sort of the “home” of Pluto. It was at the Lowell Observatory that founder Percival Lowell predicted the existence and general location of Pluto, it was at Lowell Observatory in 1930 that Pluto was discovered by Kansas-farm-boy-turned-astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, it was at the Lowell Observatory in 1978 that Pluto’s moon Charon was discovered, and over the years much of the pioneering work on Pluto has been done there. In the world of astronomy, Lowell Observatory, though originally founded to research Mars, is now the place for Pluto.
The bridge also rises: A bascule bridge is the proper name for a bridge where the two halves of the bridge tilt upward to allow tall ships to pass, perhaps the most famous being Tower Bridge in London. But it was at the Liteiny Bridge, which spans the Neva river in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, that on the night of June 14 a group of dissident artists protested the Russian-sponsored International Economic Forum being held nearby. Their protest was in the form of a 220-foot (65-meter) image of a phallus painted onto the roadbed on one side of the bridge so that when a tall ship came along and the bridge was erected… well, you get the idea. Police worked through the wee hours of the morning to remove the image, but not before thousands of drivers were forced to wait in traffic as ships went by, watching the giant phallus rise into the night sky of St. Petersburg. See the story (and yes, a photo) in the English-language site of Pravda (which reads remarkably like the American tabloid National Enquirer, but with more politics and perhaps even less credibility)
- Tablets to push out desktops: According to Forrester Research, who are paid to be right about predictions like this, the growth in tablet PC sales will be at the expense of desktop PC sales. See the pretty little chart here.
- But here’s my take on it: I think by late next year tablets will surpass netbooks (those tiny notebooks with Intel Atom processors that go for $300 or so) and will be eating into the low-end laptop market, while desktops will continue to shrink in market share just as they have for years. Remember you heard it here first. If you’re wondering about my rationale, write me in the comments and I’ll post an explanation.
- Blessed innovation: The most interesting applications of tablet PCs are in places and applications where no computer has gone before. One such interesting application was recently created by the Rev. Paolo Padrini, an Italian Catholic priest who consults for the Vatican. His new iPad application replaces the traditional Catholic missal, the book that contains the order of the worship for every mass of the year. Like most innovative applications of new technology, it seems obvious once someone does it, so why didn’t someone think of it before? We’re going to see thousands such obvious-after-it’s-invented applications for thin tablet PCs.
- The greatest of the greatest: In the history of aviation there have been many great planes, but few will disagree that the ultimate planes, generation after generation, have been the famed X-planes. These are the planes that in each generation have pushed the boundaries, set the records, expanded what it means to fly, sometimes even beyond the atmosphere. CNET News has a wonderful pictorial essay on X-planes from the X-1 — the plane in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 — to the X-51A that last month achieved Mach-5 hypersonic flight. It’s a wonderful series of 24 images and accompanying text. (I’m trying to figure out a way to pack it all into a single PDF I can save on disk. Any ideas, please let me know.)
- On this day in history, on the night of June 21, 1942 the Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River and the town of Brookings, Oregon, and fired 17 of its 5.5-inch shells at Fort Stevens, which was there to guard the mouth of the river. The shells did some damage to telephone cables and took out the home plate backstop at the fort’s baseball field, but not much else. Fort Stevens, as a coastal defense fort, was equipped with large 10-inch artillery capable of taking out even large ships, which the little I-25 submarine was not. But in a less-than-shining moment in American coastal defense, the fort’s commander turned off all the lights and forbid the gunners to fire back, fearing that firing back would give away the fort’s position to the Japanese. With its massive 10-inch guns the fort should have been able to destroy the small, stationary, lightly-armed submarine, but the commander was apparently more concerned about hiding from the enemy than engaging with it. Some American planes on a training mission nearby called in a bomber which did engage and drop ordnance on the submarine, but the sub was able to evade, dive, and get away unscathed. It was the only time in WWII that an American mainland military facility was attacked by the Axis Powers.
- But that wasn’t the end of it: That particular submarine, the I-25, turned out to have a most illustrious history in the Japanese Navy. After its successful patrol in which it attacked Fort Stevens and torpedoed several vessels along the American coast, on a subsequent patrol it returned to the Oregon coast with a small seaplane stowed in a watertight enclosure on the deck. On the night of September 9, 1942 the little seaplane, piloted by Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita, flew over the coast and dropped two small incendiary bombs in an attempt to set the American forests afire. The seaplane returned safely to the I-25 and the next night another incendiary attack was undertaken. An American bomber and Coast Guard units eventually chased off the submarine, inflicting little damage. But the I-25 sailed away with the distinction of having inflicted the only attack during the war on an American mainland military installation and the only aerial bombardment of the U.S. mainland during the war.
- And there’s a happy ending: After the war 1n 1962 the pilot of the seaplane, Nobuo Fujita, made a pilgrimage to the coastal town of Brookings, Oregon, to present his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword as a token of penance and friendship. (He was very ashamed of what he had done, and he had planned that if the town did not welcome him he would use the sword to commit seppuku, suicide by self-disembowelment.) Despite some early controversy he was welcomed by the town, served as Grand Marshall of the local Azalea Festival, and the sword is today on display at the Brookings City Hall. He returned in 1992 and planted a tree at the bomb site as a gesture of peace and was later made an honorary citizen of Brookings. He died in 1996 and two years later his daughter, Yoriko Asakura, buried some of his ashes at the bomb site, a man of great courage in war and great honor in peace.
- Travel to Mars without leaving Moscow: UniverseToday offers a video tour of the Mars500 capsule, a facility in which a multinational crew of six will be sealed for 520 days in an environment simulating a voyage to Mars (minus the cold, heat, solar radiation, particle impacts, and the terror of being a hundred million miles from the nearest Starbucks). In two minutes we get to see the sleeping quarters, exercise room, rec room (complete with Nintendo Wii), shower (allowed only every 10 days), and bathroom facilities. (I could have done without the explanation and video shot of the urine sample bottles.) The whole thing is housed in a warehouse in Moscow, which will help keep the participants from trying to get out. Mars500 is applying some of the lessons from Biosphere, the most important lesson being not to build things like Biosphere.
The Mars500 experiment is actually in its third and last phase, the first having been a 14-day isolation experiment, the second a 105-day experiment in extended isolation, and the current 520-day full-mission simulation. It’s interesting to consider the composition of the three crews, listed below. One would be forgiven for wondering how Mars will ever be colonized if women are not allowed more than two weeks from Earth. Or is it that Russian men cannot be trusted around single women more than two weeks at a time?
- Phase 1 (14 days): Five Russian men, one Russian woman.
- Phase 2 (105 days): Four Russians (including the commander), one French airline pilot and a German military mechanical engineer. All male.
- Phase 3 (520 days): Three Russians (including the commander), a French engineer, a Colombian engineer, and a Chinese individual listed as “professional astronaut.” All male.
- Americans being denied banking overseas: In March President Obama signed a law which requires foreign banks to reveal the accounts of Americans citizens living and banking abroad with balances over $50 000, else the banks would face a 30% tax penalty on all payments made to them in the U.S. That gives the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) a long, long reach to anywhere in the world. It’s also seen, by both Americans overseas as well as foreign banks and governments, as a very arrogant action, in effect claiming that American tax regulations apply outside the U.S. and must be enforced by banks all over the world. The aim of the law was to ensure that Americans aren’t “hiding” money overseas, but the effect has been that banks all over the world are telling their American expat customers to take their banking elsewhere. It has also resulted in an unprecedented rate of Americans being led to resign their citizenship, and I predict it will also lead to a bumper crop of banks that trumpet their avoidance of any presence in the U.S. and even existing foreign banks pulling out of the U.S. Full story at the Wall Street Journal (with thanks to Instapundit). Things are just getting better and better.
- Does New Jersey stink? Quick: In five seconds, think of three good things about New Jersey. (Brief Jeopardy! “Think” music.) Did you think of three good things? Naw, I couldn’t either, and I’ve spent time in the “garden” part of the Garden State. (Is that the Pine Barrens?) Well then, you need to check out JerseyDoesn’tStink.com. It’s a new site designed to convince people (starting with people in New Jersey) that New Jersey isn’t a terrible place. There’s even a video of a guy dressed like a giant pine-scent air freshener (I’m not making this up) going around asking New Jerseyans (yes, that’s correct) if they think New Jersey stinks. Unfortunately, almost all the New Jerseyans he asks think New Jersey does stink. A lot of work to be done, I think.
- And while we’re at it: The Jeopardy! “Think” music linked above was originally called “A time for Tony.” It was a lullaby written by entertainer Merv Griffin for his son Tony. Merv Griffin was the creator of Jeopardy! (and several other game shows) and wrote the various themes used in the show over the years. That’s totally useless knowledge, but since I went through the trouble to look it up I thought you’d like to know.
- A Father’s Day tribute: John Nolte of BigHollywood.com crafts a Father’s Day lesson from a famous scene in director John Ford‘s classic How Green Was My Valley. (It’s the same lesson I learned from my father, a police officer, and it upset my mother just as much as it did young Huw’s mother in the film.) It’s perhaps a politically incorrect message in today’s era of the metrosexual male, but Nolte cites Ford’s film as a tribute to the role of fathers across the land, most of whom deserve more thanks than they get.
- Trigger for autoimmune disease? Bacteria in the intestine could be the trigger for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, ankylosing spondylitis, and many more. The findings of a study at Harvard Medical School seem to show conclusively that the introduction of segmented filamentous bacteria into arthritis-prone but otherwise healthy mice triggered the onset of arthritis within a matter of days. See the full article at Science Daily. Photo below: This might be segmented and filamentous, but it’s not the segmented filamentous bacteria. (It’s actually a balloon animal made by aliens on a Saturnian moon — perhaps. Read on.)
Methane-based creatures on Titan: It sounds way too much like something from a low-budget sci-fi movie, but in fact there’s at some evidence to suggest that on Saturn’s moon Titan there might be — long-shot might be — some strange new form of life that is based on methane. If such a thing could exist it’s theorized it would feed on acetylene (yes, the stuff used for fuel on welding torches) (I’m not making this up) and hydrogen. Based on extensive data from the Cassini space probe, something on Titan does seem to be consuming hydrogen and acetylene, and in theory that could be a sign of very primitive and certainly exotic creatures. (I think it could also be very advanced and very artistic aliens who make hydrogen-filled balloon animals and welded metal artwork, but that theory doesn’t seem to be in the running.) See the full story — it’s really rather interesting, though I’m not giving up on the alien balloon animals.
- Have you watched the Harry Potter movies? No? I have, and they’re OK if there’s no other movie on the flight. But there’s a better way: Harry Potter in 5 seconds. (Well, it actually runs 26 seconds.) If you want to quick-watch some other films you’d rather skip there’s All Rocky movies in 5 seconds, The Matrix in 5 seconds (optional: How The Matrix should have ended), and Transformers in 5 seconds. Trust me, with the 5-second versions of these movies you’re not missing anything.
- Feed your Prudent Paranoia: All your Web communication should be private from prying eyes. Unfortunately it’s not: 99+ percent of what you send and receive over the web is in the clear, readable by anyone at Starbucks or anywhere else where your wire or wireless can be reached. So here’s a solution (or at least a good start at a solution): the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in for the FireFox browser. It’ll ensure all your communication with supporting sites (some of the most common ones like Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and the list keeps growing) will be HTTPS encrypted at all times. That’s a very good thing.
- “But what if I’m not using Firefox?” Simple: Then you’re not serious. Get it — it’s free (the maker, Mozilla, is a non-profit corporation), it works very well, and the myriad free plug-ins available make it by far the best browser going for any platform (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, others). Really, Firefox is the only real choice if you’re serious about your privacy and security.
- Self-assembling robot: Watch this. Then see the full article.
- On this day in history: In 1429 Joan of Arc kicked some English butt at the Battle of Patay, turning the tide of the Hundred Years’ War. Less than a year later she was captured in battle by the Burgundians (yes, the ones who make the red wine). She made an amazing escape by jumping out a window 70 feet high into a soft moat, but captured again. The weaselly French king for whom she had so valiantly fought, Charles VII, refused to ransom her, so she was in effect sold to the same English whose derrière she had so recently punted. Under the English she was convicted by an ecclesiastical kangaroo court, sentenced to death (very irregular on a first conviction for heresy, but it was a most kangaroo of courts), and on May 30, 1431 she was burned at the stake. After she expired in the flames the English executioner (who later feared for his soul for having executed her) raked back the coals to expose her body to prove to onlookers she had not escaped, then burned her body twice more to ensure there would be no relics to collect, and finally her ashes scattered in the River Seine. But that was not the end of it: Twenty-one years later in 1452 Pope Callixtus III authorized a new investigation of her case, a formal appeal was filed in 1455, theologians from all over Europe studied the testimony of the 115 witnesses against her, in June 1456 she was declared a martyr, and on July 7, 1456 she was formally declared not guilty. It was most unfortunate that, even after having been declared not guilty, she was still dead.
See photo at right. Can you tell what kind of earthmover that is? Look carefully — can you tell where it was made?
- Now: Did you notice the man standing in front of it? See here and here for more of Liu Bolin’s work.
- OK, now try this: Scatter some pieces of lumber on the floor. Prop up a broom in the corner along with an empty laundry bag, a bucket, some rubbish here and there. It would look like this. That’s not a messy room being cleaned up. That’s an expensive artwork by “artist” Susan Collis. That’s it, that’s the artwork, the room with the junk scattered in it. She calls it “Since I fell for you.” She got paid a bunch of money for that. One commentator said it should have been named “So glad you fell for this.” Artist, or scam artist? You decide.
- Forget about an iPad: Yeah, there’s a huge backlog on iPads, particularly 3G units, but take my advice and fugeddaboutit. Lots of reasons not to buy: six reasons, ten reasons, twelve reasons, and one big reason from me: it’s not for the prudently paranoid. This thing bares all to Apple and AT&T; there’s nothing you do that they won’t know, record, and do who-knows-what with it. You’re not even allowed to get software from anybody but Apple or connect to anything not Apple-approved. I’m a fan of Apple and tablets are a great idea, but don’t get a tablet from Apple. You can do much better for less money (also from Samsung, RIM/Blackberry, others) and get better security and privacy too.
- Universal Truths:
- “Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.” It’s true.
- “If it moves but shouldn’t, duct tape. If it doesn’t move but should, WD-40.” That’s my own dictum and I’ve found it universally true.
- Power to go — and go and go. Fuel cells are the Holy Grail of clean, efficient power production. They turn fuel directly into electricity with no combustion, no flame, no moving parts, and no pollution — fuel (like hydrogen or alcohol) goes in, electricity and a bit of water vapor come out. (More info on fuel cells.) The problem with fuel cells has always been very high cost, but for $99 this one will run small devices (phones, GPS, etc.) for many hours or recharges. Great emergency or travel gadget; for $99 there’s nothing even remotely like it.
- Female mutilation — just a little bit: If female genital mutilation is abhorrent and wrong, is it OK for U.S. pediatricians to do it just a little bit to avoid having it done worse? Interesting question.
And now a historical moment:
On this day in history — June 17, 1885 — the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor, a gift from the French on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which had been nine years earlier in 1876. Having arrived nine years late, the gift included a card stating “And you thought we forgot! Happy 100th! Don’t forget we’re French!”
The Americans didn’t realize that the statue came as a kit and required assembly, a practice later adopted by Swedish furniture stores. Across the nation there was a recruiting drive for dads with young children who had experience assembling foreign-made toys. The dads struggled with the instructions (which were only in French, Norwegian, and Korean) and with the oddly-sized screws, but the process went much quicker once they realized the French screws were all metric. The process went quickly after that and the statue was soon installed at its permanent display location on New York’s Central Park and became known as the Bust of Liberty (see photo at right)*.
Not long after that some French tourists saw the Bust of Liberty at Central Park and were outraged, insisting that the statue they’d sent was much larger than that. They raised such a ruckus that the dads decided to rummage some more in the box and, sure enough, found a bunch more pieces. They collectively sighed, groaned, asked for more beer, got back to work until October 28, 1886 when the full statue was officially unveiled, only 10-1/2 years late. (And yes, the original plan was for it to have been ready on July 4, 1876. The French started work on it in 1870 but, you know, things happen, and it took 16 years instead of 6. Instructions in English were promised for next time.)
Bits of trivia:
- Though the Statue of Liberty was not in place until 1886, in fact it had been exhibited, sort of, in 1876. At the time of the original deadline in 1876 the only part that was ready was the arm with the torch, so the French sent that to the U.S. and the arm and torch were exhibited in Philadelphia during the Centennial celebration. People were charged 50 cents and the money went toward building the base pedestal in New York.
- French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi is credited for the design of the statue, but in my view equal credit should go to the man who designed the unseen internal iron structure that allowed it to be assembled of moving copper pieces and to withstand all the storms and even an enormous explosion in 1916. That unsung structural engineer was Gustave Eiffel, the man who also designed and built the Eiffel Tower.
- Even before the statue was delivered and in a fit of capitalism, sculptor Bartholdi took out an American design patent on the statue so that no one in the U.S. would be allowed to build a similar statue or representation of the statue without paying him royalties. The patent covered not just replicas but reproductions “in any manner known to the glyptic art in the form of a statue or statuette, or in alto-relievo or bass-relief, in metal, stone, terra-cotta, plaster-of-Paris, or other plastic composition.” I wonder if all the trinket-sellers in New York know that. Or care.
* The “Bust of Liberty was displayed in a park for a time, but it was in a park in Paris before the statue kit was shipped, not New York. That’s what the photo is from.
“Swagger Wagon“: Toyota scores a hit, yo’.
- Can beer and wine help avoid dementia? Well, in fact, yes. Can too much beer and wine hasten dementia? Well, yes, there’s that too. But not enough is bad too. See the video at the link.
- Repeat after me: “I am an Obama Scholar.”
- Cooking is chemistry: A chemist explains what really happens when you cook asparagus and how you can use an apple to ripen an avocado.
- Wanna buy a jet pack? Now you can. Bring your American Express Black card. (Don’t know what an American Express Black card is? It’s real, but see this.) That said, I’m not happy about these new jet packs.Jet packs are cool James Bond-grade stuff, but the price of these new ones disturbs me, and not just because I can’t afford one. At $250K each, these new ones seem to be no different — no better and no cheaper — than the originals a half century ago. I would think that with modern technology and materials it should be possible to build jet packs both better and cheaper than what was being built when Eisenhower was President. Is this the best we can do?
- Angels in Australia: A retired couple in Australia have saved more than 160 lives with nothing more than a cup of tea and a smile.
- “Gee, look what came up in the fish net.”: Taiwanese Navy loses a live torpedo, is offering a reward to anyone who finds it.
- Nice golf course, nuclear bomb included: Before you laugh at Taiwan losing a torpedo, consider another interesting incident: The U.S. Air Force loss of two large nuclear bombs over (actually under) North Carolina in 1961. Few Americans have ever heard about this, and even fewer realize that both bombs were accidentally armed at the time of release, one was found snagged in a tree and within inches of the required ground contact to detonate, while the other is still in the ground near Goldsboro, NC, deep below a swamp that makes the ground so unstable that the bomb cannot be recovered. So it’s still there, under the swamp, within sight of a local golf course.And that’s not the only one: The U.S. has accidentally dropped or lost nuclear bombs on at least eight separate instances. See this listing (excerpted from the Congressional Record of the 102nd Congress) for more info, this list of all types of nuclear accidents, and this compilation of accounts of such events from 1946 to 2004. Now stop whining and quit worrying about it. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?