Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Books I've Read (Winter/Spring 2006): Best Software Writing I

Joel Spolsky, ed., Best Software Writing I.

Since this is up for a Jolt Award, I really can't say a lot about it until March. But I definitely recommend it to anyone in the development biz. Finished it in two sittings, which says a lot right there.

British Climate-Change Conference Report: It's Worse Than We Thought

Associated Press12:00 PM Jan, 30, 2006 EST

The threat posed by climate change may be greater than previously thought, and global warming is advancing at an unsustainable rate, Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a report published Monday.

The government-commissioned report collates evidence presented at a conference on climate change hosted by Britain's Meteorological Office last year. It says scientists now have "greater clarity and reduced uncertainty" about the impacts of climate change.
In a foreword, Blair said it was clear that "the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought."
"It is now plain that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialization and economic growth from a world population that has increased six-fold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that is unsustainable," he wrote.
Over the next century, global warming is expected to raise ocean levels, intensify storms, spread disease to new areas and shift climate zones, possibly making farmlands drier and deserts wetter.
The U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says temperatures rose by about 1 degree during the 20th century. Computer modeling predicts increases of between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees by the year 2100, depending on how much is dome to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists have warned of climatic "tipping points" such as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting and the Gulf Stream shutting down.
In the British report, the head of the British Antarctic Survey, Chris Rapley, warned that the huge west Antarctic ice sheet may be starting to disintegrate, an event that could raise sea levels by 16 feet.

Wired News: Global Warming Risks Severe

Sic 'im, Russ! Feingold Calls Gonzales on Apparent Wiretap Deception in Confimation Hearings

Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps
Feingold Says Attorney General Misled Senators in Hearings
By Carol D. Leonnig Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006; Page A07
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
In a letter to the attorney general yesterday, Feingold demanded to know why Gonzales dismissed the senator's question about warrantless eavesdropping as a "hypothetical situation" during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January 2005. At the hearing, Feingold asked Gonzales where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Sen. Russell Feingold asked about warrantless eavesdropping, and the nominee called it "hypothetical."
Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was "not the policy or the agenda of this president" to authorize actions that conflict with existing law. He added that he would hope to alert Congress if the president ever chose to authorize warrantless surveillance, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Gonzales Is Challenged on Wiretaps

Ruby on Rails on OS X

I was having the worst time getting my Rails applications to work from my Mac G5; they'd work fine from our Linux boxen. I kept getting this error when trying to do "script/generate" from my G5 (running OS X 10.4 Tiger) and connecting to our database server (a Linux box):

Access denied for user ''@'my.domain.name' (using password: NO)

think it may have been that I had an old version of the MySQL libraries and was running into the password-hashing problem. Regardless, I did a clean sweep (although I did leave ruby-gems itself intact, come to think of it) and now everything's copacetic.

  1. Clobbered Ruby. I wanted to upgrade to 1.8.4 anyway, so I deleted /usr/bin/ruby and /usr/lib/ruby entirely.
  2. Got rid of Rails: sudo gem uninstall rails.
  3. New Ruby. I built 1.8.4 from source; note that if you want to overwrite Tiger's default install of Ruby, run configure to tell it so ("./configure --prefix=/usr").
  4. Installed Lucas Carlson's Complete Fix for Ruby on OS X 10.4 Tiger
  5. Downloaded and installed MySQL 5.0 for OS X. (Note that when I tried to use the 64-bit version, the mysql gem did not compile.) If you use the binary package, the installer places all the files in /usr/local/mysql-5.0.whatever and makes a symbolic link to it in /usr/local/mysql. Nice behavior, that--uninstalling is as simple as deleting the folder. I love the Mac.
  6. Installed the mysql gem: sudo gem install mysql --with-mysql-dir=/usr/local/mysql
  7. Reinstalled Rails: sudo gem install rails --include-dependencies
Compiling the RDoc did fail for Active Record, but everything else appears to work, so that I can now debug locally (but with the databases on our Linux DB server) instead of having to copy stuff around to our Web server or another Linux box.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Dr. Fun on RFID and privacy

Leonard Pitts: How a black guy joined the Klan in Utah (hilarious!)

A black man fooled the Klan, joined the ranks
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.lpitts@herald.com
And now, here's this week's episode of Great Moments In Black History.The year is 1979. Carter is in office, disco is on the radio, and Ron Stallworth has just joined the Ku Klux Klan.We are indebted to the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City for revealing this in an article earlier this month commemorating Stallworth's retirement from the Utah Department of Public Safety. Since then, the story has made MSNBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and blogs from here to eternity.And if you're wondering why the fuss, well ... it's not every day a black man becomes a Klansman.

MiamiHerald.com | 01/23/2006 | A black man fooled the Klan, joined the ranks

New TSA Guidelines from The Onion

The Onion's airline-search guidelines at left sparked this comment on Bruce Schneier's Schneier on Security blog:

Excellent. I was hoping they would add a free reach around to the body cavity search. On a related topic, I was thinking it would be neat to start my own airline. We would have metal detectors like any other, but if no weapon was found on you, you would be provided with one. I can't think of a name for it. Possibly "Armed Air" or "High Redneck".

p.s. Motto:
"Leave the flying to us, and we'll leave the shooting to you."

Posted by: jammit at December 24, 2005 12:49 PM

Friday, January 27, 2006

Gates Vs. Jobs: Who's the Greedy Capitalist?

Until recently, Bill Gates has been viewed as the villain of the tech world, while his archrival, Steve Jobs, enjoys an almost saintly reputation.Gates is the cutthroat capitalist. A genius maybe, but one more interested in maximizing profits than perfecting technology. He's the ultimate vengeful nerd. Ostracized at school, he gets the last laugh by bleeding us all dry.Leander KahneyCult of MacOn the other hand, Jobs has never seemed much concerned with business, though he's been very successful at it of late. Instead, Jobs has been portrayed as a man of art and culture. He's an aesthete, an artist; driven to make a dent in the universe.But these perceptions are wrong. In fact, the reality is reversed. It's Gates who's making a dent in the universe, and Jobs who's taking on the role of single-minded capitalist, seemingly oblivious to the broader needs of society.Gates is giving away his fortune with the same gusto he spent acquiring it, throwing billions of dollars at solving global health problems. He has also spoken out on major policy issues, for example, by opposing proposals to cut back the inheritance tax.In contrast, Jobs does not appear on any charitable contribution lists of note. And Jobs has said nary a word on behalf of important social issues, reserving his talents of persuasion for selling Apple products.

Wired News: Jobs vs. Gates: Who's the Star?

Downloading the Entire Internet

Just in case you wanted to squirrel the whole thing away to peruse while you're offline on vacation:

the dialog box comes up, wait for a little while.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Chilling Story about Lack of Privacy in Phone Records

You are exposed

When even the privacy commissioner's cellphone records are available online,
we've all got security problems.

Jennifer Stoddart is a dedicated public servant who has spent years -- first working for the province of Quebec, and since 2003 as the federal privacy commissioner -- trying to protect Canadians' personal information from prying governments and greedy businesses. A lawyer by trade, she has impeccable qualifications for the job, with a strong background in constitutional law and human rights.But there's a point to be made about the type of highly confidential data that can be obtained by anyone with an Internet connection and a credit card, and Stoddart has the misfortune of being the perfect illustration. Not that she's pleased about it. Her eyes widen as she recognizes what has just been dropped on the conference
table in her downtown Ottawa office -- detailed lists of the phone calls made from her Montreal home, Eastern Townships' chalet, and to and from her government-issued BlackBerry cellphone. Her mouth hangs open, and she
appears near tears. "Oh my God," she says finally. "I didn't realize this was possible. This is really alarming."

| Top Stories | Canada | You are

This is just mean

But I like it. Heh heh heh. Source unknown:


A tragic flood this morning destroyed the personal library of
President George W. Bush.

The flood began in the presidential bathroom where the books were
kept. Both his books have been lost. A presidential spokesman said
the president was devastated, as he had almost finished coloring the
second one.

The White House tried to call FEMA, but there was no answer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Take a Closer Look at CERT/CC Vulnerability Numbers

The Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC) has released its annual report of vulnerability statistics. At first blush, Windows looks to be way ahead: 812 Windows holes reported versus 2328 Linux/Unix ones. But, as Groklaw and NewsForge point out, "Linux/Unix" lumps together everything from HP-UX to BSD to Solaris, plus the hundreds of "minor" distros, into one sum. Furthermore, there is considerable duplication in the Linux/Unix list; Groklaw cites one example where the same vulnerability is reported five times.

If I seem to be defensive about Linux in this arena, it's because Microsoft will predictably launch a well-funded PR blitz based on these numbers, and I'm tired of them trying to sell the Big Lie. I use Windows from time to time. It's not the Anti-OS. But Microsoft has had a history of pitching it with "half-lies and statistics", and I for one am pretty fed up with that.

From NewsForge:

This is not to say that the data from US-CERT is a meaningless aggregation. You can easily spot the most vulnerable operating system in wide use today by taking a look at the Technical Cyber Security Alerts issued by US-CERT last year. Here's the bottom line:
  • 22 Technical Cyber Security Alerts were issued in 2005
  • 11 of those alerts were for Windows platforms
  • 3 were for Oracle products
  • 2 were for Cisco products
  • 1 was for Mac OS X
  • None were for Linux

NewsForge | US-CERT's FUD

Friday, January 06, 2006

Leonard Pitts on Bush's NSA wiretaps

Another president, perhaps.Maybe then it would be easier to look the other way, give a tacit nod to the abrogation of constitutional freedoms as a wartime necessity. After all, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War and history does not begrudge him for it, given that he faced an enemy massed almost literally within sight of the White House.But this is not President Lincoln we're talking about. It's not even President Roosevelt, succumbing to post-Pearl Harbor hysteria and interning thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry.No, we're talking about President Bush -- King George, if you will -- and last month's New York Times bombshell that a few months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on phone calls and e-mails of hundreds if not thousands of U.S. citizens.

Read the rest, citizen, at:

MiamiHerald.com | 01/06/2006 | Freedom cannot be defined by fear

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hoo-hoo! Score one for public education!

The Florida Supreme Court struck down the state's school-voucher system; according to the judges, the state's constitution doesn't allow taxpayer money to be used to fund private alternatives. Ya think?

Go Supremes! In yer eye, Jeb!

New York Times story

Oh, Puh-leeze! Presenting the $10,300 Brag-O-Puter

OK, OK, maybe I deserve this for bragging about the new box I built. But there's this company--for all I know it's just one guy--building ultra-super-tricked-out PCs and selling them for, as nearly as I can tell, about ten times the price of a "good enough" high-end, very fast machine.

What a racket! He/she/it/they even tout the "one-of-a-kind" aspect by removing most of the info and the pictures of the previous can't-top-this computer from the website as each megaPC is sold to the next conspicuous consumer. So the link might not point to the "Lian Elite" anymore, they may have replaced it with something else.

Wow. So would you rather brag to your fellow shallow executive stud-muffins about how fast Microsoft Word runs on your new "Lian Elite", or buy yourself a PC that's plenty good enough, and donate 90 laptops to some third-world school with the remaining money?


(Oh, and by the way, Michaelo, if you're going to try to impress us with tech specs you could at least get your grammar correct. AMD makes "dual core" processors, not "duel core" ones.)

Books I've Read (Winter/Spring 2006): Blood Music

Greg Bear, Blood Music. Like Vitals and Darwin's Radio, a molecular-biology-themed sci-fi thriller. Nicely crafted, right through the ending. It's really rewarding to see someone doing such excellent work around the life sciences. Plays the classic "what-if" game, but instead of extrapolating a technology's effect onto a hypothetical future, Blood Music takes us from one lonely loser scientist today and determines if he'll cause the end of the world.

Books I've Read (Winter/Spring 2006): Vitals

Greg Bear, Vitals. Sci-Fi with the by-now customary Greg Bear Daring and Disturbing Twist. This one's a mystery/thriller/conspiracy novel about biologically-mediated mind control. It's...daring and disturbing. Unfortunately it suffers from Heinlein Disease, that syndrome where a tightly plotted and brilliantly innovative story crashes into a brick wall twenty pages from the end of the book, flops feebly around in its own fluids for nineteen of them, then oozes quietly off the last. Worth a read, if not a full-price purchase.

Today's Interesting Links

Wired, new and vastly improved Lego Mindstorms ($249--gah!). The new software is from National Instruments, makers of LabView--should be worth seeing, since LabView is a really cool visual programming language for scientific instruments.

The ruling that kicked so-called intelligent design's sorry ass out of Dover, Pennsylvania, in all its PDF glory. Go Judge Jones!

Exceedingly profane and obscene, but hilarious: The Pirate Bay, a Swedish piracy site, responds to a letter from DreamWorks about copyright infringement. Their legal theory: Their movie and other ripoffs are not illegal in Sweden.

Ocean Thermal Gradient energy conversion is still ticking. No comment in this article about the environmental consequences of pumping heat into the ocean deeps in order to generate power, but they do link here, which explores the consquences in fairly alarming fashion.

Go Badgers! Lead the way! Wisconsin Technology Network describes here a new bill (passed 91-4 and 29-2!) that will require touch-screen voting machines to (a) open their source to the public and (b) provide an immediate paper record to the voter. (PDF of the bill's language)

New item on a hybrid blimp/airplane heavy-lifter project; they've built a 2-person prototype, and they (Ohio Airships) are planning a version almost 1,000 feet long!