Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Monday, April 29, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Robbins on soul

You gotta have soul: Tom Robbins' 1993 essay from Esquire on the soul.

Mental Bungee-jumping may not be your sport of choice, but there's a cerebral ledge that sooner or later each of us has to leap off. One day, ready or not, we glance in a mirror, cuddle an infant, attend a funeral, walk in the woods, partake of a substance Nancy Reagan warned us to eschew, chance a liaison, wake in the night with a napalm lobster in our chest, read a message from the pope or the Dalai Lama, get lost in Verdi or lost in the stars - and wind up thinking about our soul.

[via wood s lot]

Sunday, April 28, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Written origins

Indus Script: the Mother of All Alphabetic Scripts: a review of Natwar Jha's and N.S. Rajaram's The Deciphered Indus Script.

Science historians have long acknowledged that the international numeral system (1,2, 3,), based on the concepts of placement and zero, as well as the decimal system were invented by the ancient Hindus. (Nonetheless many Western publications continue to call these numerals Arabic-- Arab historians themselves have always acknowledged the numerals' Hindu origins.)

An even more fundamental contribution to human knowledge-- the origin of alphabetic writing--must now be credited to the ancient Hindus. This claim arises from the deciphering of the ancient Indus script recently accomplished by Natwar Jha. In 1996, he published Vedic Glossary on Indus Seals, which briefly explained his methodology and presented readings of more than 100 seals. It was an English language summary of his monumental publications, Sindhu Mudra Lipi Bhasa, in Sanskrit, and Sindhu Sabhyata ki Mudraon ki Bhasa aur Lipi, in Hindi.


History in a Cell: an interview with Steve Olson on the work behind his book, Mapping Human History, where he looks at the history of the human race as seen through DNA.

Clicking-thru art

The Google AdWords Happening: on one man's attempt to publish poetry in Google's AdWords. [via Vincent's Glossblog]

Clicking-thru art

The Google AdWords Happening: on one man's attempt to publish poetry in Google's AdWords. [via Vincent's Glossblog]

Defective clones

Gene defects emerge in all animal clones: a discussion of a new paper by Ian Wilmut which shows that health and genetic problems are showing up in every cloned animal so far.

A review of all the world's cloned animals suggests that every one of them is genetically and physically defective. Ian Wilmut, co-creator of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, published his findings this weekend.

The study coincides with claims by researchers trying to create the first cloned human. In Italy, Dr Severino Antinori has claimed that three women are pregnant with cloned babies; in America, Dr Panayiotis Zavos has said he will achieve such a pregnancy within two years.

Saturday, April 27, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Making friends with Big Brother?: on the mixed promises of ambient intelligence, or ubiquitous computing, research. The technology will require sensors essentially everywhere so that systems will know where (and who) people are in order to provide the services they require. The downside is of course the continual tracking that implies.

There is no doubt recent advances in information and communication technologies have had a major impact on the way we live, work and interact with each other. Yet if computer technology of the present has raised some concern over privacy, that of the future should lead us to near panic. Research into "ambient intelligence", a network of hidden intelligent interfaces that recognise our presence and mould our environment to our immediate needs, could bring about an even more radical change.

Questioning national IDs

IDs -- Not That Easy: Questions About Nationwide Identity Systems

Nationwide identity systems have been proposed as a solution for problems from counterterrorism to fraud detection to enabling electoral reforms. In the wake of September 11, 2001, and renewed interest in the topic, the Committee on Authentication Technologies and Their Privacy Implications of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board developed this short report as part of its ongoing study process, in order to raise questions and catalyze a broader debate about such systems. The committee believes that serious and sustained analysis and discussion of the complex constellation of issues presented by nationwide identity systems are needed. Understanding the goals of such a system is a primary consideration. Indeed, before any decisions can be made about whether to attempt some kind of nationwide identity system, the question of what is being discussed (and why) must be answered.

[via Divinest Sense]

Inflation reconsidered

Multiple Big Bangs: NPR covers Paul Steinhardt's and Neil Turok's new model of the universe: endless (though extremely long) cycles of expansion, contraction, and big bangs. See their sites for papers and lecture notes with more details.

Inflation reviewed

Guth's Grand Guess

The Big Bang theory, based on speculations dating back to 1922 and confirmed by astronomers in the 1960s, posited that the universe began as a minuscule fireball of extreme density and temperature and that it has been expanding and cooling ever since. But the theory said nothing about what came before or even during the split second when everything went bang. In December 1979 Guth, then 32 and an obscure physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, emerged as the first scientist to offer a plausible description of the universe when it was less than one-hundredth of a second old. During an unimaginably explosive period between 10-37 second and 10-34 second after its birth, Guth said, the universe expanded at a rate that kept doubling before beginning to settle down to the more sedate expansion originally described by the Big Bang theory.

See also: Inflationary Models and Connections to Particle Physics

[via evacuate & flush and this Metafilter thread]

Cleaning up our own mess

US Forces In Philippines Facing CIA-Trained Abu Sayyaf Terrorists

According to former Philippine Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel, the Abu Sayyaf are remnants of about 800 Filipino Muslim Moujahideens who, together with thousands of other Muslim jihad warriors from several countries, were recruited, trained and financed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fight the CIA-sponsored proxy war in Afghanistan against the Russians in 1980.

This article doesn't look like it will get archived, but here are some similar ones:

[via Ethel The Blog]

Time for another cup [via dangerousmeta]


Alice's Adventures under Ground, transcribed for the web. This is the original shorter version of her adventures in Wonderland. [via Plep]

Friday, April 26, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Ticking away

To boldly go...: Paul Davies talks about his new book, How to Build a Time Machine and the theory behind it.

Travel into the future is straightforward; it merely requires the time traveller to move very fast. So far, only microsecond time trips are possible -- far too small for anyone to notice. But significant time warps would occur if a propulsion system were developed to boost a spacecraft to near the speed of light. There are many proposals for this (for example, antimatter drives), but they remain well beyond current technology.

Going back in time is far trickier...

But is it news?

U.S. Media Interests: Champions of Profit, Propaganda and Puffery: on the decline of American free press under media conglomeration.

With precious few exceptions most notably the nation's "City Papers," independent Internet sites - like the Indy Media Center -- and grass roots broadcasters such as Pacifica, U.S. print and broadcast organs from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, from NBC to Fox, and from AM radio bands to FM bands, spew out a vile and banal concoction of information that numbs the mind and homogenizes the thought processes of a U.S. citizenry scurrying about to support the "war effort." So-called "news programs" seek to pacify and assure during the commute, the thunderstorm, the shopping spree, the murder. Weather, roads, guns, cars, food are all endowed by newsreaders with character as if those "things" are conscious entities. As Herbert Marcuse so adroitly pointed out, in this environment people don't "see" themselves, they project themselves into "things". Viewers are commodities to the U.S. media interests. "Thought" need not apply here.

[via also not found in nature]

But is it art?

Diminutive, but perfectly formed: Umberto Eco discusses art in the short form as he reviews Isabella Pezzini's book Trailers, Ads, Clips, Websites, Banners: The Short Forms of Audiovisual Communication, which appears to be only available in French. [via Arts & Letters Daily]

But is it fiction?

High-Tech Futures: Charles Sheffield on the differences between science, science fiction, and fantasy. [via Arts & Letters Daily]

Thursday, April 25, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Station tourists

The Soyuz carrying the second tourist, Mark Shuttleworth, to the space station took off this morning from Baikonur for an eight day visit to the station. Meanwhile, news is starting to emerge about an overly rough return flight for the first visitor, Dennis Tito, last year. [via NASA Watch]

Are contradictions a root cause?

The Futile Search For "Root Causes" Of Terrorism: Michael Radu argues that looking for the underlying reasons for terrorism is a hopeless cause and then goes on to propose just such a reason: the Muslim poor's lack of political power.

Socioeconomic grievances, or so some assert, explain (though they do not justify) terrorism in general and Islamic terrorism in particular -- the factors Al Gore famously called this February "another axis of evil in the world: poverty and ignorance; disease and environmental disorder; corruption and political oppression," all of which lead to terrorism. But do they?

Reasons not to clone

Crossing Lines: Charles Krauthammer sets up four arguments against therapeutic cloning.

The heart of the problem is this: Nature, through endless evolution, has produced cells with totipotent power. We are about to harness that power for crude human purposes. That should give us pause. Just around the corner lies the logical by-product of such power: human-animal hybrids, partly developed human bodies for use as parts, and other horrors imagined--Huxley's Deltas and Epsilons--and as yet un imagined. This is the Brave New World Factor. Its grounds for objecting to this research are not about the beginnings of life, but about the ends; not the origin of these cells, but their destiny; not where we took these magnificent cells from, but where they are taking us.

See also: A Weak Argument Against Cloning

Down the road

Time Out! A Pause for Longer-Range Thinking

As the daily political and military atrocities magnetize our attention, it does us good now and then to take a step back and try for some longer-range perspectives on the world situation, and politics in the U.S. of A. So here, in short takes, are some reflections on four areas that could use some deeper examination: political despair, Bush's coming downfall, the new face of warfare, and America's response to Islam.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Weblog BookWatch: listing the top 10 books mentioned recently on weblogs.

Basket snake

India's Snake Charmers Fade, Blaming Eco-Laws, TV: wildlife protection laws and increased education about snakes via nature TV programs is contributing to the decline of a profession, according to the people affected.


Death of a Movement: is the anti-globalization movement turning into an anti-war or anti-American movement? William Hawkins thinks so after observing the recent protests in Washington. [via Metafilter]

Tuesday, April 23, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Roots and branches, part 2

Human Evolution: A family tree of the human species. [via leuschke]

Monday, April 22, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Black and White

Beyond Good and Evil

In general, America's cultural and political perspectives on the world outside of itself (spurred on by decades of its political and cultural isolationism on the part of the mass public) has produced a situation where good and evil are the defining, moral and cultural categories that are applied to make sense of a multitude of political situations both here and abroad. The simplicity of these categories forces us into a specific way of seeing the world, one which is metaphysical rather than political and with connotations of the supernatural rather than the sociological. Of course, it is arguable that such folk ways of seeing the world have been common to a mass public and that it has been the task of journalists and of intellectuals to melt away such fuzzy thinking through explanation and critical analysis. But the weeks following the tragic bombings at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have shown that dividing the political and cultural universe into good and evil may be more pervasive and dangerous than previously expected.

Sunday, April 21, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Terrorism court cases

FindLaw has a section collecting court documents on cases related to the War on Terror. [via Red Rock Eater]


Sen. Mary Landrieu is introducing a bill to force adult oriented sites into a new high level domain as a means to protect children from seeing them. The fact that whether a domain ends in .prn vs. .com makes no difference to any software running today, the design of the net, or to whether anyone, regardless of age, can type it into a brower seems to have escaped her.

See also: .xxx Considered Dangerous [via Politech]


Plugging into Bourgeois Time: The Meaning of "Speed Ramping": David Cox discusses the manipulation of time in movies, television, and commercials.

In a nutshell: The role of time itself in contemporary culture has been radically altered by the role played by technology and communications time is represented in ways consistent with its effects on people in our society. Time is a fluid, changeable, negotiable entity. It is measured and chopped up and sold like every other commodity. We are living in Bourgeois time - hence like commodities themselves, how time appears and is thought is available on the marketplace as well: some products offer fast time, others slow time, others both.

Seat belts required

Unsafe at any Clock Speed: Jim Morris compares where we are in the computer industry today with when Nader started exposing automobile safety problems in the 70s.

This week my laptop started freezing up, so I took it to tech support and had them look at it. They ran some virus checks and tweaked some of my setting and sent me on my way. The connection to my cell phone still doesn't work. Sometimes when I boot it up it can't find all the RAM I have installed. Sigh. I guess it's time to upgrade.

Saturday, April 20, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Silly patent games

Boy takes swing at US patents: a look at the five year old (and his patent attorney father) behind the swinging patent. [via The Daily Grail]


In the Name of Homeland Security, Telecom Firms Are Deluged With Subpoenas: on the rapid increase of subpoenas for telecom and ISP subscriber records being made under the PATRIOT Act.

Behind the rising pressure for the fullest use of new technology and surveillance is homeland security. As police and intelligence agencies seek to deter future terrorist threats, the government is testing the limits of the expanded authority Congress provided when it passed the Patriot Act with broad bipartisan support in October.

"The amount of subpoenas that carriers receive today is roughly doubling every month -- we're talking about hundreds of thousands of subpoenas for customer records -- stuff that used to require a judge's approval," said Albert Gidari, a Seattle-based expert in privacy and security law who represents numerous technology companies.

[via genehack]

Thursday, April 18, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Surfing the net in 5-7-5

Haikoo!: the haiku powered directory. [via aaronland]

Barely translucent

Censorship Wins Out: on the obstacles to the Internet being used as a free flow of information from opaque countries, in particular the control of governments over technological and economic access to the net.

A decade or so ago, it was all clear: the Internet was believed to be such a revolutionary new medium, so inherently empowering and democratizing, that old authoritarian regimes would crumble before it. What we've learned in the intervening years is that the Internet does not inevitably lead to democracy any more than it inevitably leads to great wealth.

[via Snowdeal]

Violent diversity

Earthquakes, Volcanoes Tied to Species Diversity?: on the strong ties shown by Sagar Kathuria and K.N. Ganeshaiah between geologically violent and biologically diverse areas of the planet.

Based on the results, they conclude that, in contrast to the huge losses of life and property that often occur in the immediate aftermath of volcanoes and earthquakes, major upheavals such as these offer a sort of "safe haven" for living things over long geological periods of time.

This happens because the cataclysmic events cause variations of altitude in the surrounding areas, provide volcanic and magma mineral nutrients, and bring about climatic changes, all of which translate into diverse habitats conducive to supporting a wide range of species.

See also: Tectonic activities shape the spatial patchiness in the distribution of global biological diversity, published by the team in the Indian science journal Current Science.

Wednesday, April 17, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Militarizing space

NRO, Space Command, NASA Tout Common Language Of "Space Supremacy" at Conference: on the increased attention to military use of space, as demonstrated at this year's National Space Symposium.

Teets and U.S. Space Command Commander in Chief Gen. Ed Eberhart were not shy in reiterating the message that the U.S. controls the planet through control of planetary space. Teets updated an earlier saying of former NRO Director Keith Hall by proclaiming that "Afghanistan has reinforced something about space dominance: We have it, we like it, and we're going to keep it."

Civilian interests under NASA are bowing to the new realities of the military setting the agenda. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe revealed that the agency's top budget priority for fiscal 2003 will be to spend close to $1 billion in nuclear propulsion, exploring both radioisotope thermal generators such as those used for Cassini, as well as possible mini-reactors for deep-space missions. O'Keefe, a former Navy secretary and Pentagon comptroller, also reiterated how well NASA had served the Pentagon in providing imagery for the Afghan war, such as SeaWiFS and Terra spacecraft images provided to the Navy. O'Keefe said that NASA was looking forward to providing agency resources for the "war on terror."

See also: Under Secretary of the Air Force Peter Teets Briefs on Space Transformation [via New World Disorder]

Tuesday, April 16, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Constitutional luxuries

Warner says Constitution can be a luxury: I haven't seen a transcript of this speech from Thursday at the University of Florida, but this report has Tom Warner, Florida's Solicitor General, saying that we don't have the luxury of sticking by the Constitution when national security is threatened.

According to Warner, there is a point where, as Thomas Jefferson said, the higher law of self-preservation must take over and an imminent danger must be controlled.

Warner, a UF law school graduate, said there have been times during the Civil War and World War II when presidents have adhered to this principle.

"If we get word," he said, "that some guy is walking around Gainesville with a nuclear bomb in a suitcase, we are not going to worry about illegal searches and seizures and profiling."

One problem is, of course, in defining when national security is at stake. Avoiding the "luxury" of sticking by the constitution is in itself a threat to national security.

Note that Warner is running for Attorney General in Florida. [via BookNotes]

Gould profiled

The time lord: a profile of Stephen Jay Gould marking the release of his new book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. [via wood s lot]

Monday, April 15, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Supernatural Selection: a review of Robert Pennock's new book, Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, on the newest attempt to get evolution out of the classroom.

In the last decade or so, creationism has grown sophisticated. Oh, the old-fashioned creationists are still around, especially in the Bible Belt. They're the ones who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, that God created it and all its inhabitants in six days and that fossils are a product of Noah's flood. In the early 1990's, however, a new breed of creationists appeared. These ''neo-creos,'' as they have been called, are no Dogpatch hayseeds. They have Ph.D.'s and occupy positions at some of the better universities. The case they make against Darwinism does not rest on the authority of Scripture; rather, it proceeds from premises that are scientific and philosophical, invoking esoteric ideas in molecular biology, information theory and the logic of hypothesis testing.

[via Snowdeal which, as always, has a nice collection of related links]

Workin' on the railroad

During yesterday's third spacewalk by the Atlantis astronauts they got the station's Canadarm2 robot arm hooked up to its new Mobile Transporter, a railcar which will let the robot arm move around on the space station. There's one more piece that needs to be added for that to work: the Mobile Base System, which will be installed in June.

See also: The Amazing Canadarm2

Math and music

Studio 360's theme this week is Numbers, Theorems, Truth. I haven't heard the whole thing, but this piece with Eve Beglarian on the application of math to composing was interesting.

Saturday, April 13, 2002 Permanent link to this day
It's here

Inventing the Future

So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn't until much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call "the alpha geeks," the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they "roll their own" when existing products don't give them what they need.

[via BookNotes]

That's why you use "const"

The inconstant constant: on the evidence which seems to indicate that the fine structure constant (alpha), which is derived from the charge of an electron, the speed of light, Planck's constant, and pi, has changed over the history of the universe.

See also:

Get the vacuum

Network in a dust storm: Berkeley scientists, led by Kris Pister, are working on distributed computing technology involving "smart dust", processing nodes the size of a few cubic millimeters. [via Nanodot]

Drexler on nanotech

Back in December, Eric Drexler of the Foresight Institute gave a talk on the dangers of nanotech at an AAAS symposium on the effect of the WoT on science. The audio of that talk, as well as the others that day, is now available. [via Nanodot]

No wake zone

Hawaii's Wake: scientists using the QuikSCAT satellite have discovered the Hawaiian Lee Counter Current, the disturbance in the Pacific Ocean's currents caused by Hawaii, extends just a bit more than the 300 kilometers previously thought. Instead, the wake extends almost 8000 kilometers.

See also:

It's not a game, it's a file system

It's Still Loading?: Scott Bilas on designing a file system to support today's games.

Every year, engineers are handed more and more content to churn through their game engines, often with the files numbering in the thousands and filling up multiple CD's. Designing a file system to efficiently deal with this kind of quantity will take some careful planning. It will have a significant impact on memory footprint, load times, and general game play chunkiness. Plus, during development it will affect the overall production process, the frustration level of the team, and the tightness of the feature-to-bug-to-fix loop. This paper describes the requirements of a "good" file system and then details how to design and build one. Topics covered include: resource packages, proper use of memory mapping, integrating filters and compression, building tools for packaging, and production process gotchas that proper planning can easily solve.

[via Confessions of a Mozillian]

Integrated blogging

mozBlog: an add-on to Mozilla that supports the Blogger API, letting folks post to their blogs directly from the browser. Now that's cool. [via Confessions of a Mozillian]

More work on the station

The second of STS-110's spacewalks is scheduled to start this morning at 10:34 Eastern. They'll be continuing to work on the new S0 truss they attached to the station on Thursday.

Thursday, April 11, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Shuttle astronauts attached the S0 truss to the station today.

Quark stars

Two stars have recently been identified by astronomers using the Chandra as being possible quark stars. These have so far just been a theory: that the extreme pressure in neutron stars could break the neutrons down into their constituent quarks.

See also:

Hear also: This NPR story on the discovery, which is where I first heard of it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Patently absurd

Be careful how you swing. You might need a license from the holder of this patent: Method of swinging on a swing. [via also not found in nature]

Pick a hand

Fearful asymmetry: a review of Chris McManus' book on handedness in people and their underlying biochemistry: Right Hand, Left Hand.

With that kind of information available in profusion, you can tell that this is not just a serious exposition of scientific theory, but a collector's scrapbook. Chris McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College, London, has devoted his career to "handedness and lateralization", and his files are full of curious observations. Among them are many items of left-hander lore that he is at pains to demolish, such as the old-wives' claims that left-handers are more creative than the rest of us, or die younger, or that because the Gaelic root of their name means "awkward", people called Kerr and Carr are more predominantly left-handed than the population at large.

The footnotes are available online. [via dangerousmeta]

Where from here?

The future of humanity: Colin Tudge, author of In Mendel's Footnotes and The Variety of Life talks about the genetic future of the human race. Are we at a genetic logjam? If so, what, if anything, will break it?

But in us, the neo-Darwinian mechanism seems logjammed. Some genetic variants are being lost, as small tribal groups continue to die out; and others are constantly gained by mutations, some of which persist. There are fluctuations: genes that confer resistance to Aids are gaining ground in Africa, for instance, while Kenyans are currently breeding faster than Italians, so any genetic variants that are peculiar to either group must be increasing or falling. But the permanent losses of genes through extinction of minorities are small compared to the whole pool, and while the particular genes of Kenyans may wax in one century, they may wane in another. Most importantly, there is no consistent pressure to push our gene pool in any particular direction. Nobel prize-winners and professional basketball players are lauded, but do not typically leave more offspring than the ordinary Joe. Infant mortality is still high in some societies but, in genetic terms, it strikes randomly because the poor are not genetically distinct.

[via wood s lot]

Long screwdrivers?

Voyager Maintenance from 7 Billion Miles Away: on the planning and execution of JPL's switch to a backup navigation system for Voyager 1. The backup system had not been used since the launch 25 years ago.

Voyager 1's original attitude-control system showed slowly increasing signs of trouble in the past two years, said Tim Hogle, a flight-team engineer. Diagnostics pointed to an electronic component that takes analog signals from position-sensing devices and converts them into digital values for an onboard computer. Because of the system's design, switching to that component's backup also meant activating the backup Sun sensor and star tracker, which provide the reference points for the spacecraft's orientation in space.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Peril of Too Much Power: on the danger of America being such a dominant power in the world, a situation that has led to some calling the U.S. a "hyperpower", a term apparently coined by French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine.

Contrary to what many Europeans think, the problem with American power is not that it is American. The problem is simply the power. It would be dangerous even for an archangel to wield so much power. The writers of the American Constitution wisely determined that no single locus of power, however benign, should predominate; for even the best could be led into temptation. Every power should therefore be checked by at least one other. That also applies in world politics.

See also: Global Governance and the International System: a speech given by Thierry de Montbrial to the Trilateral Commission in 2000.

My first point will be on the concept of American "hyperpower." Hyperpower, as you know, is a French word translated into English. The author of that word is Hubert Védrine, the current French Foreign Minister. I think he did not at all mean to be anti-American when he formulated this concept. What does it mean? It means that the concept of superpower is no longer relevant to describe the United States, because the United States is not only the only superpower, but the only power ever to have the capacity to act worldwide, either on the economic scene or on the military scene. Of course, you could use other words. You could speak, for instance, of mega-power or giga-power. But the fact is that we need a new word because it's an entirely new situation. And this extraordinary achievement is due--at least in the recent past--to the admirable way the United States adjusted to the new technological revolution and its productivity achievements. It is also due to the very flexibility of its society. It looks as if the very fabric of the American society had been designed to fit with globalization, contrary to nations which are much more monolithic like Japan, for instance, which suffer a lot from adjusting to the new world. The European countries stand somewhere in between Japan and the United States.

Bookstore records

In a case brought by The Tattered Cover with the assistance of the ABFFE, The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects bookstores from being forced to turn over customers' purchase records to police. This could be a good sign in terms of a related clause in the PATRIOT Act mentioned here a few days ago, although the court did leave open the possibility that there were situations where such records could be obtained by the government.

See also: The court's ruling.


Atlantis lifted off yesterday and is on track for a noon Eastern docking on Wednesday with the space station.

Monday, April 08, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Benford and Hawking

Leaping the Abyss: Gregory Benford interviews Stephen Hawking.

"It now appears that the way the universe began can indeed be determined, using imaginary time," Stephen said. We discussed this a bit. Stephen had been using a mathematical device in which time is replaced, as a notational convenience, by something called imaginary time. This changes the nature of the equations, so he could use some ideas from the tiny quantum world. In the new equations, a kind of tunneling occurs in which the universe, before the Big Bang, has many different ways to pass through the singularity. With imaginary time, one can calculate the chances for a given tunneling path into our early universe after the beginning of time as we know it.

"Sure, the equations can be interpreted that way," I argued, "but it's really a trick, isn't it?"

Stephen said, "Yes, but perhaps an insightful trick."

Don't just listen

The Disturbing Sound of Silence

Is there ever a time when silence is the music of democracy? Not that I can imagine. In fact, I can't even think of a situation where a gentle lullaby or the sweet harmony of a string quartet could do it justice. Democracy is the stuff of rock 'n' roll -- loud and sometimes obnoxious -- screeching electric guitars, pounding drums and lyrics amplified to ear-splitting decibels. Freedom is about noise -- irreverent and raucous debate. Silence is the trademark of other forms of government, those that work in darkness and struggle to keep the will of the people hidden.

[via wood s lot]

Sunday, April 07, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Globalization debate

States of Discord: Friedman and Kaplan debate globalization. [via Arts & Letters Daily]

Footnotes to power

In a lecture I attended many years ago, a professor told us that the way to read a book was to start with the footnotes. With that in mind, here are the (quite extensive) footnotes for a new Chomsky collection: Understanding Power. [via Red Rock Eater]

CBDTPA letter

The ACM chimes into the CBDTPA debate with a letter to Hollings.

Although we are aware of the challenges to copyright protection imposed by computing and communications technology, USACM is utterly convinced that the solution is not to be found in legislation imposing limits on the technology that may be developed, purchased, or used by law-abiding citizens. Furthermore, respected scientists and technologists, including many USACM members, have concluded that the CBDTPA will threaten the ability of individuals to engage in critical research, interfere in the otherwise legal exchange of ideas and information fundamental to innovation, seriously restrict the quality of computing education, and undoubtedly threaten national security.

Virtually every significant computing device in use today transmits, copies, or displays digital information. While the CBDTPA-imposed restrictions seek to prevent copyrighted work from being copied from one place on a disk or the network to another, the far-reaching restrictions would also interfere with literally thousands of other legal, non-infringing uses of digital computing...

[via Red Rock Eater]

Keeping it legal

Jamie Zawinski writes about Webcasting Legally in light of copyright law, the DMCA, and CARP: "Today's word is `labyrinthine.' Keep it in mind." [via Red Rock Eater]

Media influence

FAIR has released its second annual Fear & Favor report, subtitled How Power Shapes the News.

Saturday, April 06, 2002 Permanent link to this day

Networking in the Mind Age: Alexander Chislenko looks at Hans Moravec's Mind Age and the future of networked robots and society.

It may be difficult to get used to dealing with a volatile distributed entity. Suppose your robot made some really stupid mistake. You are mad at it. The robot explains that the action was caused by a temporary condition in the experimental semantic subnetwork and suggests to present to you a hundred-terabyte volume of incremental archives, memory snapshots and audit trails from numerous servers involved in the making of the unfortunate decision, containing a partial description of the state of the relevant parts of the system at the time. If you can even find the culprit, it's non-material, distributed, and long gone.

Now, what do you kick?

See also: Moravec's Robots, Re-Evolving Mind

The incremental growth of computer power suggests an incremental approach to developing robot intelligence, probably an accelerated parallel to the evolution of biological intelligence that's its model. Unlike other approaches, this path demands no great theories or insights (helpful though they can be): natural intelligence evolved in small steps through a chain of viable organisms, artificial intelligence can do the same. Nature performed evolutionary experiments at an approximately steady rate, even when evolved traits such as brain complexity grew exponentially. Similarly, a steady engineering effort should be able to support exponentially growing robot complexity (especially as ever more of the design search is delegated to increasingly powerful machines). The journey will be much easier the second time around: we have a guide, with directions and distances, in the history of vertebrate nervous systems.

Light, faster than light

Superluminal phenomena shed new light on time: Graham Shore talks about the research into the possibility that photos can move faster than the speed of light as we know it and whether the existence of such photons would imply that time travel is possible.

Quantum effects such as vacuum polarization in gravitational fields appear to permit "superluminal" photon propagation and give a fascinating new perspective on our understanding of time and causality in the microworld. To understand these new developments, we first need to question the origin of the received wisdom that superluminal motion necessarily leads to unacceptable causal paradoxes.

See also:

It's too bad I'm a cynic

Jeb TM

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush moved to trademark his name, in an effort to prevent a Florida group that has launched personal attacks against Janet Reno from continuing to call itself Americans for Jeb Bush.


The High Energy Transient Experiment satellite, launched in 1996, never separated from the final stage of the Pegasus launch vehicle. It's coming back to earth in the next few days. Four 33 pound batteries are the only parts expected to survive reentry, but their impact point is not yet known. The current prediction for reentry is April 7th, at 4:41am Eastern and updates can be found here.

After the first failure, MIT quickly moved to try again. HETE-2 was launched in October, 2000 and is working fine.

Launch delay

The shuttle launch has been pushed back to Monday, between 2p and 6p Eastern, due to the amount of repairs needed to fix the hydrogen leak.

It just looks like one war

Two Middle East Wars: Amos Oz provides an interesting perspective on what's going on between Israel and Palestine right now.

Two Palestinian-Israeli wars have erupted in this region. One is the Palestinian nation's war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam, from Iran to Gaza and from Lebanon to Ramallah, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause

Climbing higher or sliding down?

The New Face of Capitalism: Slow Growth, Excess Capital, and a Mountain of Debt

For a long time now, the U.S. economy and the economies of the advanced capitalist world as a whole have been experiencing a slowdown in economic growth relative to the quarter-century following the Second World War. It is true that there have been cyclical upswings and long expansions that have been touted as full-fledged "economic booms" in this period, but the slowdown in the rate of growth of the economy has continued over the decades. Grasping this fact is crucial if one is to understand the continual economic restructuring over the last three decades, the rapidly worsening conditions in much of the underdeveloped world to which the crisis has been exported, and the larger significance of the present cyclical downturn of world capitalism.

Life and Debt

Life and Debt: a review of the documentary of the same name which looks at the effect of globalization on the people of Jamaica.

"I guess I thought the IMF was like the Red Cross"

This surprisingly naive beginning was the starting point for Stephanie Black's myth-shattering analysis of globalisation, the film Life and Debt. Set in Jamaica, the film documents how the schizophrenic nature of the island, both an earthly paradise and a crippled nation, is aggravated by the economic trinity of World Bank, IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank.

See also:

AS been much discussion recently of the documentary film ­ Life and Debt. Set in Jamaica and based loosely on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place , this excellent film is a critique of globalisation. Given the upsurge in the anti-globalisation movement since the Asian Crisis, there is a rapidly growing demand for literature which delves into the 'other side' of globalisation. Thus, Life and Debt's appearance is timely.

Some reviewers have criticised the film as poor documentary, since it shows just one side of the story and makes a caricature of what is a complex issue. The criticisms are apt. Still, I also think they do not detract from the movie's merits. As I said at the Jamaican launch of Life and Debt, I think the film is best viewed not as documentary but as polemic. It sets forth a counter-position to the currently orthodox one on globalisation.

"When you come to Jamaica as a tourist, this is what you will see..."

Most developing countries end up as casualties when one examines the travesties inflicted upon them by huge corporations and ruthless organizations such as the IMF, IADB, and WTO. However, Jamaica is a country that has an international voice and is routinely visited by tourists, making it the perfect paradigm to show the disparity between the "haves and have-nots." Stephanie Black's incredible documentary, "Life and Debt," initially is seen through the eyes of a tourist in Jamaica (with an effective voiceover excerpted from a Jamaica Kincaid novel), to show audiences that Western perceptions about the Land of Wood and Water differ from its harsh realities.

Stormy weather

Its Even Worse Than It Appears: on reports of unpredictable and extreme weather being caused by the polar ozone holes.

Dr Solomon said the ozone hole over Antarctica, and lesser ozone depletions over the Arctic, have now established a pattern in which vortices of extremely cold air are becoming trapped over the polar regions instead of performing their natural function of spreading to lower latitudes and cooling global weather systems.

Dr Solomon led the 1986-87 research expedition to Antarctica that proved that chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, in aerosol sprays were accumulating above the poles and driving a complex chemical chain reaction that destroyed the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

After hearing from Dr Solomon and other researchers, some delegates said they would advise their governments that the option of waiting for more evidence of climate change was being overtaken by the real thing. Outbreaks of extreme weather would take an unacceptable toll of human life, farm production and social infrastructure, including transport systems and buildings.

This story originally appeared here in the Otago Daily Times, but the version I linked to is more readable.

Friday, April 05, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Black water, under water

Divers find evidence of black water's devastation: on the aftermath of the blackwater event off South Florida.

Here come the clones

Human cloning project claims progress: At a conference held in the UAE earlier this week, Severino Antinori claimed that a woman in his reproductive cloning program is eight weeks pregnant with what could be the first human clone.

See also: Cloning pregnancy claim prompts outrage

[via bottomquark]

If I had a rocket launcher

Sharonism: on the use of military force to solve Israel's diplomatic issues.

Sharonism is the political philosophy that military force decides all questions and politicians are no better than the armies at their command. Sharonism believes that the Middle East's future can be formulated through tank gun-sights, that a new regional political constellation favorable to Israel can be assembled by divisional maneuvers.

Ban pencils, too

The CBDTPA Is Immune to (Conventional) Criticism: on the illegitimacy of the CBDTPA and suggestions on how to fight it. [via 2020 Hindsight]

Sound of silence

Shut Up! Bernie Krause talks about building his collection of natural sound recordings and the loss of quietness to human intrusion.

But natural sound is not merely a profession for Krause. Aural wonders are Krause's obsession, and he has become a veritable missionary of naturalism and sound. He equates the loss of a vibrant soundscape with the loss of a natural habitat, and he says that nowadays he has to record about 2,000 hours to produce one hour of usable sound; when he first started three decades ago, it only took 15. And, he adds indignantly, 25 percent of the habitat in his audio library no longer exists because of environmental degradation by humans.

Power and security

Rule of Power or Rule of Law? the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research reports on the U.S. disregard for international security and human rights treaties. [via Follow Me Here]

Thursday, April 04, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Stories from the occupied zone

Live from Palestine: they're not all suicide bombers. Some are just trying to survive.

Evolving language

Simulated Evolution of Language: a Review of the Field: Amy Perfors looks at the evolution of language and how it's being studied through computer simulation.

What evolutionary forces propelled the development of language? Are the language abilities of humans the result of an innate, language-specific portion of the brain, or do they result from a more general application of our cognitive abilities? These questions are some of the oldest and the most difficult for linguists to answer. For a long time they were restricted to philosophers. It is only within the last century (especially the last few decades) that the sciences of evolutionary biology, computation, psychology, and cognitive science have begun to provide a direction and a focus in our search for answers. Verbal theorizing and mathematical modeling, both guided by rigorous empirical study, are now the backbone of linguistic thought in this realm.

Shuttle delay

The shuttle launch has been delayed due to a fuel leak. It's now no earlier than Sunday at an undisclosed time between 2pm and 6pm Eastern. It's been widely reported recently that the secret launch time is not so much of a secret as NASA might hope since it's shared with thousands of people involved in the space program and fairly easy to figure out with some math, a computer, and information on the orbits of the destination.

Mapping the terrorists

Uncloaking Terrorist Networks: on building a picture of the social network involving the 19 September 11th hijackers.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Desktop neutron stars

My Pet Neutron Star: the similarities between Bose-Einstein condensates and neutron stars give experimental physicists a way to study some features of the stars.

They're about the same size as Manhattan Island yet more massive than the Sun. A teaspoonful of one would weigh about a billion tons. On the outside, neutron stars are brittle. They are covered by an iron-rich crust. On the inside, they are fluid. Each one harbors a sea of neutrons -- the debris from atoms crushed by a supernova explosion. The whole ensemble rotates hundreds of times each second, and so spawns powerful quantum tornadoes within the star.

You probably wouldn't want one on your desktop.... That is, unless you're an experimental physicist.

Launch tomorrow

Atlantis is scheduled to lift off at tomorrow evening at 5:13 Eastern, but there is a 40 percent chance of a weather delay. See this entry from March for notes about the secrecy of the launch time and the plans for the mission.

Conserve or preserve?

Novelist turns paper tiger: a review of Nicholson Baker's new book, Double Fold, which looks at the push to scan old books into microfilm or computer media in order to preserve the contents and save space.

The nub of this story lies in the distinction librarians make between conservation and preservation. Conservation means keeping a physical artefact in usable condition. Preservation, on the other hand, means preserving the content in readable form. A book that has been scanned into a computer file and then destroyed has not been conserved, but it has been preserved.

[via Reductio Ad Absurdum]


Defining Terrorism Eludes Muslims: The Organization of Islamic Conference, a group of 56 Islamic countries, failed to come up with a definition of terrorism at a meeting, at least in part, for that purpose. They were able to determine that Palestinian suicide bombers do not qualify as terrorists because it is an independence struggle.

See also: You might be a terrorist..., where Rand gives them some hints on figuring out the problem.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Is it safe to buy that book?

Most Far-Reaching Gag Order In 1st Amendment History?: not only are bookstores and libraries subject to demands for patrons' book lists, they can't discuss it afterwards.

John Ashcroft's war on terrorism includes the most far-reaching gag order in First Amendment history -- preventing the press from reporting on the FBI's seizure of the lists of books bought or borrowed in bookstores and libraries by noncitizens and citizens suspected of terrorist activities. Under the omnibus USA Patriot Act, the FBI has the authority to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- a secret body composed of rotating federal judges -- to seek "any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the American Library Association (ALA) have particularly alerted their members to part of the law that prevents booksellers and librarians -- once the FBI has come calling -- to reveal that a search has been made. The law states: "No person shall disclose to any other person ... that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained" these records.

[via New World Disorder]


If you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist. Unless you're Arafat.

President Bush now admits that the one-size-fits-all "Bush doctrine" on terrorism in fact doesn't fit Yasser Arafat.

Bush said Monday that the Palestinian leader's past as a peace negotiator exempts Arafat from the post-Sept. 11 U.S. policy that a country or entity that harbors terrorists will be dealt with as terrorists.

[via Metafilter]

Monday, April 01, 2002 Permanent link to this day
Looking outwards

Exploring Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt: on what we know about Pluto and it's moon, Charon, and the possibilties for an exploratory mission in the next few years.

The Pluto-Charon system is the only planet-satellite system in our solar system that has not been explored by spacecraft. Therefore, the state of knowledge about this system is necessarily more primitive than about any other planet. Despite this, however, many basic facts are established. These include the radius, mass, and density of Pluto (each known to better than 10%) and the radius of Charon (known to 5%), and the mass and density of Charon (known to about 25%). Importantly, Charon is almost precisely half the size of Pluto. Because the system barycenter is known to be outside Pluto (between the two bodies), the pair constitutes a true double planet - something unique in our solar system.

Bobby Fisher interviews

This caught my eye from my referrer logs: a collection of radio interviews with Bobby Fisher from 1999 to this January. There's also a bunch of material there related to Fisher. Some of the interviews are mirrored here and here.

West Bank

This, unfortunately, is not an April Fools joke. Despite multiple peace efforts, the conflict around the West Bank has been escalating.

There have been almost non-stop suicide bombings over the past several days. Bush and others have called on Arafat to stop the bombings and he of course has not done so. In fact, he has declared that he is ready to become a martyr himself.

Israel has occupied several towns, has troops inside Arafat's headquarters, and has expelled press from Ramallah. A U.N. Security Council resolution issued Saturday called on Israel to pull out of the West Bank, which they of course have not done.

In a speech Sunday, Sharon named Arafat the leader of the Palestinian terrorists and declared war. Can this end with anything other than a wider Arab-Israeli war?

See also:

Israelis of all political stripes questioned the aims of the IDF offensive in the West Bank, prompting speculation that if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's goal was to exorcize his personal dybbuk Yasser Arafat, Israel's focus on Arafat as the godhead of terror could backfire, with the Palestinian leader already taking on the mantle of a living, breathing martyr.

When you find yourself wondering whether the woman with the big coat sitting to your right at the movies is a terrorist in disguise, it becomes difficult to convince yourself that the attack in Netanya was intended solely to get us out of Elon Moreh. If one links the vagueness surrounding the Palestinian demand for the right of return and the mantra "but Barak gave them everything," to the attacks in the heart of Israel, it becomes easy to reach the conclusion that the settlers and the far right are correct in saying that `Judea and Samaria is here, the war is being conducted on our homes, and is better to kill them than to let them kill us.'

  • Excerpts with Arafat interviews for Arabic TV stations.

Interview With Al-Jazeera[1] Arafat: "They decided to take me as a prisoner, a deportee, or to kill me. No. I say to them [that I will be] a martyr, a martyr, a martyr, and a martyr. .'And they will be in the front line until Judgment Day'. and 'one of their martyrs [who falls in the battle for Jerusalem] is worth 40 martyrs'[2]... Allah, give me martyrdom in. [Jerusalem], the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens, and the place our lord Jesus was born. I may be martyred, but certainly one of our boys or one of our girls will wave the flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem, over the minarets of Jerusalem, and over the churches of Jerusalem. 'They think it is distant, but we know it is imminent, and we are right'. 'They will enter the mosque as they entered it for the first time'[3]... This is the path I have chosen. Allah, give me martyrdom..."

"We defend not only Palestine, the Arab nation, and not only the holy Islamic and Christian places - but also all men of freedom and honor in the world. This is our destiny. This is a divine decree..."

"Let those far and near understand: None, among the Palestinian people or the Arab nation, will be willing to bow and surrender. But we ask Allah to grant us martyrdom, to grant us martyrdom. To Jerusalem we march - martyrs by the millions. To Jerusalem we march - martyrs by the millions. To Jerusalem we march - martyrs by the millions. To Jerusalem we march - martyrs by the millions."

"This is a call to the Arab and Islamic nations and to all the Christians in the world. This is the sacred land called in the West 'Terra Sancta,' Holy Land. We defend these holy places..."

"We said to the Americans: You must act. Where are you going? Don't you know this will shake the Middle East? I say to our Palestinian people: 'Oh mountain, the wind will not shake you.' I say to our Arab nation: 'To Jerusalem we march - martyrs by the millions.'"

And the day is young

April Fools Day on the net:

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