Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Army Quietly Opens JetBlue Probe: "The Army's investigation is likely the third federal inquiry into possible violations of law stemming from JetBlue's handing over almost 5 million passenger records -- in violation of its own privacy policy -- to a defense contractor. That contractor, Torch Concepts, then augmented that data with Social Security numbers and other personal data which it bought, with JetBlue's permission, from data giant Acxiom."

Hopefully, the story will get some traction this time 'round. An update to an earlier post. Probably smoke and mirrors...

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Master/Slave: "Another example of this phenomenon surfaced recently in reference to 'master/slave,' a term commonly used in computing (and related industries) to describe the unidirectional control of one device or process by another. Equipment vendors who do business with Los Angeles County received a message in November 2003 from the county's Internal Services Department (ISD) informing them that 'based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County,' labeling or describing equipment with the term 'master/slave' is no longer acceptable: "

Accompanying the (verified) memorandum is a nice article on the collision between linguistics and "political correctness run amok."

Monday, November 24, 2003

Interracial Interactions are Cognitively Demanding: "A new Dartmouth study reveals that interracial contact has a profound impact on a person's attention and performance. The researchers found new evidence using brain imaging that white individuals attempt to control racial bias when exposed to black individuals, and that this act of suppressing bias exhausts mental resources."

As El Reg puts it, "As for us, we reckon there's a bit of a chicken/egg debate to be had here: does racism make you stupid, or are racists thick to begin with?" Yes.
Can America trust electronic voting?: "What has resulted is a set of uncritical mandates heavily weighted in favor of the local purchase of untested and unreliable electronic voting systems, supported by large federal subsidies of your tax dollars -- or rather borrowed dollars that future taxpayers will eventually have to pay off, with interest.

Election officials nationwide failed to demand that HAVA include meaningful regulation of voting-system manufacturers and vendors. Congressional staff were apparently persuaded that the mere application of electronic technology would be sufficient to protect the security of the right to vote, and the integrity of elections.
But this is at best a willing suspension of disbelief, a confusion of the difference between hope for the future, and money in the bank."

Written by the Yolo County clerk/recorder and a professor of law at UC Davis. We're starting to see more of these articles from people who do know what they're talking about. They all point towards extreme caution, and most question motives.
The Implications Of Food Dye On Poop Color: "The year was 1996. I was a biochem major at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont. I had consumed copious quantities of Purplesaurus Rex Kool-aid in a one night time frame. A few hours later, I pooped. It was green. Bright green. I was fascinated, and called as many of my floor-mates as would come into the stall to marvel at the miracle of the 'not brown, not bloody shit'. "

Fine, so we know how to make green. Where's the rest of the spectrum?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Uranium Pebbles May Light the Way: "To developers, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor design promises to deliver an 'African Renaissance' -- a rebirth of nuclear energy. The PBMR is safer, cleaner, smaller and more affordable than conventional nuclear power plants, says Tom Ferreira, spokesman for the PBMR consortium. In fact, proponents insist that the reactor's design features make it 'meltdown-proof' and 'walk-away safe.' "

Nice to see PBMR getting some press. This is a very promising technology, as much for its benefit as for its waste storage and disposal approach. The reactor is designed to operate over a 40-year life cycle, with all wastes stored on site for an additional 40 years thereafter. Back to background 80 years after starting. It is also small and modular, so multiple plants would be a common approach in larger scale implementations.
Electronic Voting Debacle: "Security pros also need to work to change the perceptions of public officials. Unfortunately, many of them are ignorant about security, some willfully so ('In response to the Hopkins report [by Avi Rubin], Linda H. Lamone, the state election administrator, said yesterday that Maryland's experience in the 2002 election gave her 'absolute confidence' in the Diebold touch-screen system'). Couple that with a back-against-the-wall defensiveness, and you get statements like this, made by Penelope Bonsall, director of the Office of Election Administration at the Federal Election Commission: 'The computer scientists are saying, 'The machinery you vote on is inaccurate and could be threatened; therefore, don't go. Your vote doesn't mean anything.'' No, Ms. Bonsall, that is most definitely not what security experts are saying. But believing so does help solidify your refusal to look at their concerns, doesn't it?"

Another grand roll-up with links-o-plenty.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Strip search that spares your blushes: "Last year a powerful scanner which can detect plastic explosives and illicit drugs was installed and tested at London’s Gatwick Airport as part of a pilot programme.

"But the scanner has been sitting idle because its remarkable technology allows it to use a special wavelength of light literally to see through clothing. This, for obvious reasons, infringes civil liberties and means the machine cannot be used."

So, first we spend a lot of money on a machine that lets us see people naked, then we spend lots more money making it come up with a dummy image so we don't. Of course, this wouldn't be an issue if we all flew Naked Air.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Movie moguls in piracy quandary: "'As an industry, we are going to have to adjust. The tide is coming in whether we want it to or not,' says Sony America Chairman Howard Stringer. 'We've got to redefine our relationship with our customers and recognize that it's a two-way dialogue. We can't sit back and close our eyes for five years, the way the record business did before they began to deal with new technology.'"

At least some among them get it. Not so others, including Jack Valenti, their spokesweasel.
Opening Doors With the DMCA: "A universal garage door opener is not in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, even if used on a system made by another company, a U.S. District Court ruled Thursday. "

That's the second of the highest profile red herrings. This brings it back to mostly the entertainment industry (RIAA/MPAA) abusing a bad law.

Friday, November 14, 2003

U.S. takes hard line on Greenpeace: "But 15 months after the APL Jade incident, the U.S. Justice Department in Florida’s Southern District dramatically upped the ante. Drawing on an 1872 law, it filed criminal charges against Greenpeace USA for boarding a ship before its arrival in port, and with conspiracy to do so — in a case scheduled to be heard in December."

UPDATE: Kari Huus kindly provided the text of the code and the case history from its last use in 1890:

Title 18, Sec. 2279. - Boarding vessels before arrival

Whoever, not being in the United States service, and not being duly authorized by law for the purpose, goes on board any vessel about to arrive at the place of her destination, before her actual arrival, and before she has been completely moored, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The master of such vessel may take any such person into custody, and deliver him up forthwith to any law enforcement officer, to be by him taken before any committing magistrate, to be dealt with according to law


Here is an explanation of the prohibition, from a decision on United States v. Sullivan, in 1890:

The evil which this section is intended to prevent and remedy is apparent, and in this district notorious. For instance, lawless persons, in the interest or employ of what may be called "sailor mongers," get on board vessels bound for Portland as soon as they get in the Columbia river, and by the help of intoxicants, and the use of other means, often savoring of violence, get the crews ashore, and leave the vessel without help to manage or care for her. The sailor thereby loses the wages of the voyage, and is dependent on the boarding house for the necessaries of life, where he is kept, until sold by his captors to an outgoing vessel, at an enormous price.

Despite precedent to the contrary, this looks like an appropriate charge. Boarding a vessel is a major offense, much more than harassment or interference with navigation. When I was in the Navy, we occasionally worried about having to scuttle Greenpeace craft or repel boarders by force. We would have had few choices -- rules of engagement tied our hands. In this case, it is also interesting that the second clause gives the captain rights to detain -- that's much more in line with what we've come to expect from Ashcroft, but I'm not sure it's relevant in this application.
You Gotta Stop, Smell the Roses: "During the past two weeks and 1,212.5 miles down Route 1, we've met witches and whirlpool survivors, smugglers, sailors and spies. We've experienced snow and ice (Caribou, Maine), torrential rains (Portland, Maine), mega-fog (all of Rhode Island), major mugginess (Alexandria, Virginia), one small tornado (Poolesville, Maryland) and a really swell total lunar eclipse."

BOGUS ALERT: If they're travelling Route 1, and they're in Poolesville, MD, they've tumbled into an alternate universe. Poolesville is west of Route 1 by over 30 miles. Poolesville, VA, is even further off in the other direction. Hooray for fact checking.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Uncensored Gore: The take-no-prisoners social critic skewers Bush, Ashcroft and the whole damn lot of us for letting despots rule: "Do you not think of Bush and Ashcroft as Americans?

"I think of them as an alien army. They have managed to take over everything, and quite in the open. We have a deranged president. We have despotism. We have no due process."

Vidal, that is. The original writer of Caligula discusses the founding fathers, the DMCA, Enron, the PATRIOT act, Iraq, and electronic voting in a wide-ranging interview.
Diebold with a Vengance: Secrets, lies, and electronic voting: "Napsterized memos are perhaps the least of Diebold's problems. Allegations have surfaced that upgrades to voting software used in the most recent California elections had not been independently certified, a violation of state law. The more conspiratorially minded have even attributed surprising results in hotly contested 2002 congressional races to e-chicanery on the 's part. That suspicion is tied in no small way to the fact that Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell is a major GOP fundraiser who told Buckeye State Republicans in an August fundraising letter that he was 'committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.' "

A nice roll-up, with links-o-plenty.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Post Office Gets Pressured to Pry: "Chris Hoofnagle, associated director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, argues that a system requiring postal identity cards or secure stamps would sacrifice anonymity for little gain in security, since anyone who could acquire anthrax would be clever enough to filch a few stamps. "

"Those that would sacrifice essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security." -- Ben Franklin
Vote count marred by computer woes: "A lengthy collaboration between the county's information technology director and advisers from the MicroVote software producer fixed the problem. But before that, computer readings of stored voting machine data showed far more votes than registered voters."

You have to appreciate the extensive detail regarding the problem and the supposed "fix". Or the complete lack thereof. Note that this is the third e-vote vendor to deliver an irrational overvote.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

E-Vote Firm's Bill Comes Due: "Starting in 2004, the state will also conduct random audits of voting systems to ensure that all software and hardware is certified. And in the future, the state will require CEOs of vendors to affirm under penalty of perjury that the company will not change systems without obtaining written approval from the secretary of state. Failure to do so may result in de-certification and possible criminal charges, Kyle said."

So Diebold has to pay to have an independant audit confirm that they violated the law (as already separately stipulated), while several counties are left holding the bag with warehouses full of Diebold equipment awaiting deployment. Expect further waivers and wrangling, especially with the warehoused systems.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Beauty contest gives special award to Afghan contestant: "JUDGES ANNOUNCED that, for the first time, they were handing out a “beauty for a cause” prize. They awarded it to Samadzai for “symbolizing the newfound confidence, courage and spirit of today’s women” and “representing the victory of women’s rights and various social, personal and religious struggles.”"

Two things. First, as mentioned previously, she left Afghanistan in 1996 and has lived in the US since. Second, while it's nice to recognize those who overcome adversity, how meaningful is it in a beauty contest?

Friday, November 07, 2003

Phone uses finger as earpiece: "The user puts his finger into his ear for the vibrations to be picked up by the eardrum, which then transcribes them back into sound signals for the brain. "

Stick it in your ... ear.
Jason Salavon - Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades: "The photographs in this suite are the result of mean averaging every Playboy centerfold foldout for the four decades beginning Jan. 1960 through Dec. 1999. This tracks, en masse, the evolution of this form of portraiture."

Very interesting. Don't expect nudity. Over time, the hair gets blonder, the waist gets thinner, the breasts get larger. But in the 70's, the legs were further apart...
Simpsons Plant Seeds of Invention: "Baur grafted a tomato plant onto tobacco roots, and voilà, he had a real, live tomacco plant. The two plants can successfully become one because they come from the same plant family, which also includes eggplant and the deadly nightshade. The tomacco even bore fruit, although Baur said he believes it's poisonous because it likely contains a lethal amount of nicotine. "

A follow-up to an earlier post with additional information.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Police to stop citing drivers who flash lights - Tuesday, 11/04/03: "Moore's decision came yesterday shortly after a Williamson County judge dismissed the city of Franklin's case against a man who flashed a warning and was charged and found guilty of interfering with a police officer's performance of duty. He appealed.

Judge Russ Heldman dismissed the city's ruling that Harlie ''Bill'' Walker, 75, violated a Franklin ordinance Aug. 14, when he flashed his lights at oncoming traffic to let drivers know there was a police car ahead."

An update to a story covered earlier. The appeals court made things right, and the police say they will change policy and obey the court. As it should be. As it should have been. Their mission is to keep people from speeding, not to profit from speeding tickets and charge those who interfere.
North Bay: Bolinas supports nature bid: "The measure, submitted by a woman who wears burlap and paints her face with chocolate, advises the Bolinas Community Public Utility District to adopt a policy defining the town as 'a socially acknowledged nature-loving town because to like to drink the water out of the lakes to like to eat the blueberries to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motor boats. Dakar. Temporary and way to save life, skunks and foxes (airplanes to go over the ocean) and to make it beautiful.' "

To like burlap, to vote chocolate, to live in bushes, to drink the tree-huggters, is not hatred for tie-dye, pot-smoking, or Buddhism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Calif. Halts E-Vote Certification: "Uncertified software may have been installed on electronic voting machines used in one California county, according to the secretary of state's office.

Marc Carrel, assistant secretary of state for policy and planning, told attendees Thursday at a panel on voting systems that California was halting the certification process for new voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems. "

Add this to the problems reported earlier with the certification process in Riverside. "Diebold officials, who were attending the meeting, seemed surprised by the announcement and expressed displeasure to several panelists afterward that it had been introduced in a public forum. They were unavailable for comment." Well, unavailable for comment except to say they were pissed to be embarassed in public. Tough, they should be. Or worse.
Tomacco Becomes A Reality!: "Rob Baur, a huge Simpsons fan, grafted a tomato plant to a tobacco plant, grew it, and tonight he has proof from the lab that it worked. 'What we found was nicotine in the leaves'. said scientist Ray Grimsbo. The plant grew off the tobacco roots and sucked up the nicotine, just like Tomacco on The Simpsons. The lab hasn't tested if the actual tomato has nicotine in it yet, but they say it probably does. 'Generally in the fruit there is more material concentrated because that's what everything's going through to produce the fruit for the next generation. I would expect there would be more.' And that would make the real life tomacco plant very poisonous. Rob Baur says he grew the tomacco plant just for fun, just to see if it would really work. But what's next for him? 'I'll have to review my DVD's to see if there is more Simpsons science available.'"

For video reports from KPTV, go here.
Biniki: "Biniki is a butt bra. It supports and provides gentle curves that those behind you will appreciate."
The Diebold Memos' Smoking Gun -- Volusia County Memos Disclose Election 2000 Vote Fraud: "'If you strip away the partisan rancor over the 2000 election, you are left with the undeniable fact that a presidential candidate conceded the election to his opponent based on [results from] a second card that mysteriously appears, subtracts 16,022 votes, then just as mysteriously disappears.'"

Based on an analysis of the leaked memos (that Diebold is attempting to quash using the DMCA), there are some very obvious questions, like how a precinct with 600 voters could cast over 16,000 votes, or negate them. Note the Diebold references to "the boogie man may be reading our mail," "second shooter theory," and "grassy knoll."