Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Yahoo! News - Study: File-Sharing No Threat to Music Sales: "Internet music piracy has no negative effect on legitimate music sales, according to a study released today by two university researchers that contradicts the music industry's assertion that the illegal downloading of music online is taking a big bite out of its bottom line.

"Songs that were heavily downloaded showed no measurable drop in sales, the researchers found after tracking sales of 680 albums over the course of 17 weeks in the second half of 2002. Matching that data with activity on the OpenNap file-sharing network, they concluded that file sharing actually increases CD sales for hot albums that sell more than 600,000 copies. For every 150 downloads of a song from those albums, sales increase by a copy, the researchers found."

Ahem. File sharing did not decrease sales, it actually had a positive effect on sales of popular albums. The recording industry has just closed its best year ever, despite their global attempts to bite the hands that feed them.

Monday, March 29, 2004

How E-Voting Threatens Democracy: "Up until 1995, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel had been chairman of ES&S (then called American Information Systems) before quitting the company in March of that year two weeks before launching his Senate bid. ES&S, based in Omaha, Nebraska, manufactured the only voting machines used in the state in his election the following year. According to Neil Erickson, Nebraska's deputy secretary of state for elections, the machines counted 85 percent of votes in Hagel's race; the remaining votes were counted by hand.

"Hagel, a first-time candidate who had lived out of the state for 20 years, came from behind to win two major upsets in that election: first in the primary race against a fellow Republican, then in the general race against Democrat Ben Nelson, the state's popular former governor. Nelson began the race with a 65 percent to 18 percent of the vote, becoming the state's first Republican senator since 1972."

First, sell a lot of your voting machines to your home state, then quit your day job, move back, and get yourself elected. Could it be that simple?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

County calls out Diebold execs: "After his phone inquiries to Diebold went unanswered, Alameda County Registrar of Voters Bradley J. Clark wrote a letter Monday invoking the performance clause of the county's $12.7 million contract.

"He demanded Diebold deliver within 10 days a written plan to correct multiple problems, foremost of which was forcing the county to use poorly tested, uncertified voter-card encoders that broke down in 200 polling places March 2."

Finally, the civil servants begin fighting back. Is this part of the larger "rebellion of the professionals" that's beginning to rise against political manipulation, or just an isolated case? Either way, props to Alameda for at least trying to enforce the contract terms. Now, wait for the California Attorney General to weigh in on Diebold's side...

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Stop the row, no one gets married! - The Economic Times: "In a new twist in the battle over same-sex marriage roiling the United States , a county in Oregon has banned all marriages -- gay and heterosexual -- until the state decides who can and who cannot wed."

Yes! Equal rights for all. Nice to see that some people understand.
Not So Happily Ever After: "Ron Fanelle, a Camarillo middle school teacher, had hoped to keep his personal life out of the classroom.

But that all changed when his seventh- and eighth-grade students recently asked him about a rumor that he was gay and had married his longtime partner in San Francisco. The social studies teacher told his students it was all true.

Since then, the parents of one of Fanelle's students pulled their child out of his class, the father of another accused him at a public board meeting of pushing a pro-gay agenda and Fanelle filed complaints against two teachers accusing them of helping to spread the word among students about his homosexuality."

Let's see: It's OK to be gay, it's OK to get married, but it's not OK to confirm that you're gay and that you got married. If a student asks you if you got married, you shouldn't answer. If another teacher says you did, you might get fired. If another teacher lets the students discuss it among themselves, you might get fired. Oh, and it doesn't matter if their kid is in his class, just knowing that there's a gay teacher in the school is enough to get some parents up in arms.

Confirming suspicions and answering direct and discreet questions can get you in trouble for "promoting a homosexual lifestyle." Since when is providing factual information a bad thing? Aren't the students there to learn?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Vigilantes Troll for Pedophiles: "Perverted Justice has made more than 600 such busts since it was formed in July 2002. The group's volunteers pose as kids in chat rooms, and when an adult engages them in sexual banter, they publish the person's personal data on the site so the group's supporters can harass the adult by phone and e-mail.

"The group says it's protecting children from sexual predators, but critics say its aggressive tactics seldom lead to convictions. "

They don't have to make arrests. They are probably more effective. Sometimes shame works. If you've ever chatted up jailbait online, you should explore this site then go look in the mirror.
Live from the Nuke Free Zone: Uncle Diebold's Clubhouse: "On March 2nd, I was a poll worker for this year's California primary election. More specifically, I was a Systems Inspector in San Diego county, whose problems with voting machines and procedures received some coverage in the national media.

"First, a summary of my personal opinion: I think that current electronic voting systems are better than the traditional systems in terms of security, and also in terms of usability for most people. However, I share the opinion of many bloggers that major security issues remain in the new machines and implementations, and that these issues should already have been fixed."

Another first-person report, complete with the downloadable Diebold manual with redacted passwords. It sounds long on good intentions, and short on verifiable audit trails.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Muslim nations, Europe question U.S. motives: "A majority of people living in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey believe the United States is conducting its campaign against terror to control oil in the Middle East and to dominate the world, according to an international poll released Tuesday."

It doesn't have to be true -- it's enough that this is how our actions are perceived in other parts of the world. It's also why labelling Iraq as part of the "war on terrorism" muddies the waters.
Local officials nearly fall for H2O hoax: "City officials were so concerned about the potentially dangerous properties of dihydrogen monoxide that they considered banning foam cups after they learned the chemical was used in their production."

If you don't understand that dihydrogen (H2) monoxide (O) is indeed "'an odorless, tasteless chemical' that can be deadly if accidentally inhaled," maybe you should stay out of the pool.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

California Legislators Urge E-Voting Halt: "In Orange County, poll workers using a new voting system gave about 7,000 voters the wrong ballots, which resulted in ballots being cast for the wrong legislative districts, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 21 precincts, more votes were cast than there were registered voters. Additionally, in San Diego, 64 percent of the precincts failed to open on time because of problems with the machines, Perata said. He added he is sure there are other problems that officials will probably never know about, since there is no paper trail to audit the election."

Shock. Shock and surprise. At least they got a Republican on board...
ACTIVIST TRESPASSED INTO YARD, THINKING POOCH NEEDED COMPANY: "I just wanted to find out if a dog that seemed to be in distress was OK,'' Sherman said. "I do not think my actions were a crime in comparison with abuse or neglect of animals."

"By law, pets are property,'' Sherman said. "I don't accept that."

Then accept this: you're guilty of trespassing and prowling. You may think your actions are more important than the law, but you're wrong.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Bovine Simulator Project: "Bovine rectal palpation is a difficult procedure for veterinary students to learn and requires considerable practice to accurately identify structures. The majority of teaching takes place on farms with veterinary surgeons but it is increasingly difficult to ensure all students develop skills adequately by the time of graduation. This is partly due to the increased number of students in each year and reduced access to cows. Additionally, when a student is examining a cow the teacher is unable to observe what the student is palpating and the student may not be able to describe their hand position inside the cow. Therefore it is difficult for the teacher to instruct the student in the procedure."

First, you have to imagine Eric the half-a-cow because the simulator is only the upper rear quadrant of the cow. It has one leg (a white pole), no front, and holes in both sides and the rear. Almost every picture includes someone's arm inserted up to the elbow, but they don't mention whether doing that produces the expected sound. For those who like horses, there's also an equine model, presumably with a longer pole.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Science Blog - IM, machine translation on front lines of Iraq: "In late 2002, Rear Adm. David T. Hart Jr., deputy commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, suggested the U.S. and its allies use off-the-shelf technology to help them communicate rapidly and accurately, in a way that would reduce the costs and delays of conventional translation practices. In response, ONR's science advisor at the Naval European Command, Chris Hillenbrand, set up a working group with ONR's Tech Solutions office and the ONR math, computer and information sciences division to modify a program that MITRE Corp. had developed for several other service programs. TRIM, or trans-lingual instant messaging, was used in conjunction with a machine-translation engine from Logomedia Corp. and integrated with other commercial IT hardware. The result: the Coalition Chat Line. The technology is getting rave reviews from U.S. and allied-coalition personnel."

You'd hope they've got past that pesky "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" != "the wine is good, but the meat is rotten" problem with machine translations.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Why 2004 election will defy history: "It was Henry Ford who said 'history is bunk' as he was busy reinventing American industry a century ago. Well, Ford is the man to see about this presidential campaign. So far, patterns of the past haven't predicted a thing, and it's going to remain that way right up to Election Day. For, based on history, neither George W. Bush nor John F. Kerry has a chance."

Obviously, it's going to be Nader's year...

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Need Stem Cells? We Got 'Em: "On Tuesday night, two Congress members wrote to Bush criticizing his policies on stem cells. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) said he and the NIH misled scientists and the public by saying more than 64 stem cell lines were available. The NIH denied the accusation, saying it's still unclear how many lines are available."

If you can't say how many there are, how can you support a statement that there are more than a specific number? At least the states and private institutions are starting to avoid the ban on research using Federal funds by funding research themselves. Expect a reaction from Washington to stop the legal pursuit of science.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

DEA Accedes to Ecstasy Test: "Many therapists believe -- either from observation or anecdotal evidence -- that Ecstacy can help people suffering from post-traumatic stress and other psychological problems because the drug creates feelings of euphoria, warmth and empathy. Most say that combining the drug with therapy is key to helping patients learn to incorporate what they experience on the drug into their everyday lives."

It took long enough. It doesn't seem to matter what legitimate uses a drug may have -- once the drug warriors get it scheduled, it is usually an effective prohibition on research. If you don't know what's scheduled, you should.