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Ideas, Linked; Ideals, Inked.

Rethinking Middle East Intervention

In an post that puts in sharp relief the timing of American sabre-rattling in the mideast, Dave of Fire makes a great idealink-y connection

All I can say is, awesome thinking, DoF.  Adding a little… OPEC, the monopolistic oil cartel, controls all the oil production in the world. They use the dollar as their standard. Now if an oil-rich country decides to work outside of OPEC, suddenly the monopoly is facing competition.  Here’s where it gets kooky: for some reason, it seems that American companies (culture?) hate competition. The competition destroys market dominance, and without market dominance, the rich American economy falters.

No wonder farm subsidies continue. In all honesty, no wonder the American push for free trade has failed – the US government props up American companies and strategic non-American assets to assure market dominance. And the rest of the world sees it and refuses to play along. No wonder electric cars failed as well. But I talked about that topic previously.
In any case, DoF’s less straightforwardly-profit-driven analysis, and more market policy analysis, adds further evidence to the economic motives for a destabilized Middle East with a strong US presence.

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Filed under: Politics, Science

Classroom Best Practices: Scare ‘Em with Damnation

… Or “How to Run a School”

Scenario… Public school teacher tells students that they belong in hell if they reject Christianity and accept evolution. Student records conversation. School district bans recording devices.

HUH?!?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-bohrer/student-tapes-teachers-s_b_40221.html

Schools have always been at the forefront of 1st Amendment cases, but the teacher’s action is absurdly in violation of the Constitution. As for recording devices on public property, I can see a case for not wanting them there to protect other students, but to protect a teacher? Having been a middle school teahcer, I sometimes came up against the rules, and have ranted at children. I never crossed the line into acting illegally, or subjecting children to rights-removing action. Teachers are there to enable learning, growth, and civic leadership, not to take a moralistic stand and lecture about the students’ likelihood of damnation. That’s what churches are for.

PS – In the above-linked Barnette case, the best EVER summation of the American experiment appears: “But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” – Justice Robert Jackson

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Weird/Funny

Mind Matter over Matter Matter

OR, why we respect quitters.

It turns out it’s not that I don’t have an addictive personality (meaning I don’t get addicted to substances easily), it turns out I don’t have an addictive brain

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/26/science/26brain.html

I was thinking about all those people who quit smoking, especially those who were addicted for years and tooklong and hard to get un-addicted. They fought their own brain to do so. That is more impressive than I previously thought. But it also mean that addiction is in the brain, and is a physiological response to stimulus.

So people who overcome addiction actually use their mental abilities to get over something that their brain physiologiclly promotes. That makes quitting all the more impressive, to me.

Filed under: Culture, Science

RFID Solution – Aluminum Foil!… Maybe

I love low-tech solutions to high-tech problems (see my previous RFID post and other post). Simply put, aluminum foil. I cannot take credit for the solution, but I think there’s something to be said for using some sort of foil protective cover to keep card info from being stolen.

http://www.rpi-polymath.com/ducttape/RFIDWallet.php

First, this is not a sure thing. There is some controversy over whether doing this, basically creating a Faraday cage, will work. Assuming it does, we have a simple, inexpensive and stylish solution. Okay okay… Most people don’t want an aluminum foil wallet. If you’re female, you might carry around a bag everywhere anyway. I have a solution. Create a foil-based “bag” (using duct tape). Those with bags can use the foil-based bag as satchel. Or something.

Well, if you’re fashion conscious (realspeke: superficial about your stuff and how they look, like me) there is also the market-based solution. Buy something that doesn’t exist to protect you from something that people are creating. Basically, the companies pushing RFID are creating a niche market: RFID blockers.

Yay. More money.One such market-based solution:
http://www.engadget.com/2007/01/12/elecom-intros-skim-prevention-kit-for-wallet-cellphone/

There are others out there which you can find online.

Finally, there’s a brute-force solution to the RFID passport problem. Fun for your “mad at the government” moments.

Filed under: Gadgets, Philosophy, Science, Tech, Weird/Funny

RFID – Hackalicious

So… I decided to do a simple, informal test, by entering “hack rfid” into the Google search bar and see what came up. For the uninformed, see my post on what RFID is and how it works.

Here’s the search: http://www.google.com/search?q=hack+rfid

Note the results… Wired Magazine, Forbes, eWeek, Engadget (a respected technology blog), CNet News.com (a respected technology news company), and more. And most of the results explain how it has been demonstrated that RFID can be hacked.

Yay.

I’m on the trail of a solution, and I’ll post it once I’m sure it works.

Filed under: Philosophy, Science, Tech

Challenge: Make an Affordable Electric Car

Just saw Who Killed the Electric Car? What makes me angry is that no one thing killed the electric car more than greed profit motive.

Car companies were (justifiably) afraid that electric cars would net them less money. Here’s why: electric cars have many fewer moving parts, and uses a lot less of after-purchase consumables (oil, filters, plugs, etc.). Car companies ctually make much more on these parts than they do on the cars themselves. When they sell a car to you, the expectation is you will need to maintain it, and you will need their parts. All car corporatons make big bucks on these parts. If someone took the total retail cost of all the parts in a new car, I believe the number is approximately 300-400% greater than the cost of the car. Car companies would be destroyed without this true profit center.

Of course oil companies lobbied against electric cars. I don’t even need to explain why. It’s the same reason they are for hydrogen fuel cells -you still; need oil to obtain the hydrogen.

The government is complicit. The rebate you get from buying a 6,000 lb. SUV is greater than that you get from buying a 2000 lb. gas-saving electric car.

Tesla Motors has created an amazing new electric sports car. Yum. But it’s still basically $100,000 dollars

CHALLENGE: Make an affordable electric car that meets these criteria:

  1. It is fully electric, like the General Motors EV1
  2. The range is no less than 200 miles
  3. It costs no more than $30,000 (base price). Note: the range must work a this price.
  4. It is fully compliant with US regulations relating to passenger vehicles.
  5. I can buy it in the US.

I would love to be able to sponsor an award, and make this a huge pubicity thing, a la the X-Prize. I’m trying to think of a good promise to make. I can’t promise to buy one because I have very particular safety tastes for my cars, and I live in New York. Any ideas? Sponsors? Anyone?

EDIT (4 Jan 2007, 10:43): Links added. Corrected maker of EV1 (don’t know why I put Chrysler in there).

Filed under: Culture, Science, Tech

iPod Turns Five, iTunes Sales Lagging? Or not?

The iPod turned five in October. Amazing how, from 1996 to 2001, Apple went from nearly closing its doors to being a dominant player (pun vehemently intended) in the technology business. It is testament to how Steve Jobs, megalomania notwithstandng, truly does understand how to surround himself with smart people and guide smart decision-making (Lisa and Newton notwithstanding), Now Apple understands what it is like to be Microsoft, monopolizing a market. How the tables have turned.

Meanwhile, an interesting article re-frames recent headlines that iTunes is not as successful as it first was, as related to iPod sales. I tend to agree with this opinion. The nuts and bolts of it are that the media reporting this are not being very thoughtful in their analyses…

http://blogs.zdnet.com/hardware/?p=188 

Filed under: Gadgets, Science, Tech

What’s the Big Deal? – RFID Edition

RFID technology has been around for a while, already embedded in a lot of things, like those “EZPass” electronic toll booth time-savers. RFID “tags” are also showing up in “PayPass” credit cards and have been at “SpeedPass” gas stations for sometime. (“Pass” is jargonspeke for easy! Which means “EZPass” actually means “EZ easy”! Yay!)Long story short, RFID is a technology that allows things to communicate wirelessly with extremely low power.

Here’s a poor explanation of how typical RFID works:

1) A base station – like the tool booth – transmits signal (constantly).
2) An RFID device – like an EZPass in a car – has an RFID chip inside it, and picks up a signal on a specific frequency and reflects it back. BUT the reflection is changed, intentionally, to contain data. Here’s how:
– The power of the frequency from the base station actually transmits enough power to the RFID tag for the tag to send the signal through a chip which then sends a digital coded message in the reflection. This all happens more or less instantly (like echo-location). The distortion in the reflection is deliberate and readable by the base station, which can confirm if a signal is authentic.

People can be very specific with how they change the signal and how much data the reflection actually sends back. Recently, the US, along with several countries of the world, has been issuing “biometric” passports with RFID chips in them. These typically include biometric data on you in the coded message so officials can confirm a passport-holder’s identity. RFID signals have been proven to be insecure – someone with the right kind of technology can steal the data. It can and has been done (even with passports).

Filed under: Politics, Science, Tech

Stem Cell Absurdists: Edison’s Invention of Light Bulb Must Be Impossible

Absurdist Argument: the current embryonic stem cell lines have not shown any promise yet, so we need not research them. Thus, we might as well continue the ban which makes research into their promise nearly impossible.

If research is highly restricted, of course the lines will be less promising. Especially in a cutting-edge, emerging field. Like the electric car, it’s a question of will, not capability. Science, society, indeed, life is based on pushing the envelope of understanding, research, biology, and discovering new solutions. Just because there were 2,000 failed attempts at the light bulb does not mean Edison failed. If he gave up after a couple years, after trying three different approaches, then he would have failed.

Here are some arguments that use the same logic as the absurdists…

1) I am only allowed to have one sip of water, and I’m still dehydrated. Water, therefore, cannot have any usefulness in solving dehydration, so I might as well not demand more than one sip.

2) Science hasn’t solved the greenhouse gas problem, so I might as well produce cars which emit more of them.

3) US Gov’t, 1942: Nuclear weapons research (while theoretically possible) has not produced a single nuclear weapon. Thus, I might as well continue to not invest in research.

4) Crick, 1949: While there is likely a chemical basis for inheritance, very limited research hasn’t found it yet. Thus, I might as well not try to put more research into effect.

5) USA, 1859: Efforts to end slavery have failed, so we need not continue to try. Thus, we might as well continue enslaving people.

Others? Comment comment.

EDITS (29 Nov 2006, 13:22): Links added.

Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Science

Previews: Ubuntu, Net Neutrality, iPod, Stem Cells, MLB CBA, Iraq, TV…

I haven’t put a lot of time into the blog recently, due to circumstances beyond my control. However, I have a lot on the stove – here are previews of what’s coming up…

1) Ubuntu is Bad: Ubuntu (a Linux OS) messed with my system without telling me it’s going to. It rewrote my master boot record without asking my permission. Since Windows was still my main OS, this bothered me – it defaulted to Ubuntu and changed the default boot loader. It took considerable effort to restore it. If that’s mumbo-jumbo to you, don’t worry – Ubuntu pulled a Microsoft and changed my computer big time.

2) Net Neutrality: Speaking of mumbo-jumbo… The National Cable and Telecom Association has a new ad out on how net neutrality is bad. It’s classic political propaganda, an attack ad light on facts and heavy on mischaracterization and dismissiveness. Indeed, net neutrality is quite complicated and possibly very good.

3) iPod: The device that revolutionized the music industry turned five. The RIAA is still fighting against it, in its own ways. My thoughts on the revolution and where it’s going. Possibly, this’ll be tied to net neutrality.

4) Stem Cells: The new celebrity smackdown. Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Deborah, actress Patricia Heaton, has chosen her side, squarely against Michael J. Fox, famous actor and Parkinson’s-sufferer who strongly supports all stem cell research. To quote Ray, “Deborah!” No doubt a controversial issue, I come down on the side you all expect me to, but I have good reasons.

5) FYI MLB CBA: Major League Baseball and the players’ union have agreed to a new 5-year collective-bargaining agreement. Among the more interesting facts is draft-tiering, which hurts minor league players’ ability to negotiate a contract with the team that signs them. Other interesting points include a continuation of the luxury “tax” scheme and no threatened or actual lockout.

6) Iraq: This is a little analysis of military expenditures, death, and equipment.

7) Seinfeld, Society: I saw a repeat today, which got me thinking about the state of affairs we have in our country with respect to religion. The episode was the one where Elaine discovers Puddy is religious. I don’t think the networks would allow the episode to air in this day and age, even though it is really hilarious.

8) Studio 60, NBC Budget: Studio 60 is slowly dying. Good show, but not getting the audience it needs. Time slot issue? NBC also recently announced budget cuts to TV production.

There’s more floating around, but those are currently top-of-mind.

Filed under: Boston Red Sox, Culture, Gadgets, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Tech

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Idealink by vijtable is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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