Watch ‘Perfect Disasters’ on Discovery channel

(via LiveScience)

I don’t know why natural disasters are so fascinating.  I guess it’s probably the immense power behind things such as tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and more.  Whatever it is, I think it will make for some good TV.  Be sure to watch the new ‘Perfect Disasters’ series on the Discovery Channel, starting this Sunday evening.

The series examines what might happen if some of Nature’s most destructive storms were unleashed on some of the world’s most populous cities.

Each catastrophe is presented as a mini-movie, complete with actors and fictional storylines, but unlike similar Hollywood creations, each episode is peppered with expert scientific commentary and slick computer animations explaining the science behind the storms.

The series’ tagline is “It may not happen tomorrow, but it is scientific prediction.”

Each episode takes a natural disaster and imagines what might happen if it were ratcheted up a notch to become the “perfect storm” of its type. Tornadoes become mega-tornadoes that reduce entire cities to rubble and solar storms are so powerful they can generate global blackouts that last for years.

[tags]Perfect Disaster, Discovery Channel, science predictions[/tags]

Swimming snake robot

I’ve been on a big robot kick lately. I even subscribe to Robot Magazine and read the articles – yes, I do more than just look at the pictures. So when I see things like this swimming robot snake (with video), I am curious. As before, I still want my robotic swimming minions with frickin’ lasers on their heads. Always allow for lasers, folks. Always.

Powered by a lithium-ion battery, the ACM-R5 is a radio-controlled amphibious robot designed to move like its real world counterpart. It can slither or swim underwater for 30 minutes on a full charge. Inside, you’ll find an intricate sensor system (attitude/torque), small-sized camera, and a 32bit micro controller.

[tags]Robot snake, swimming robot[/tags]

Booting XP on a Mac – game over

(via Hack-a-day)

It appears that XP on a Mac has been confirmed, and “narf2006” and “blanka” have won the prize money.  A link to the download is available on that site.  I especially like the Hack-a-day response to this, though:

With this new development the only reason not to run XP on a Mac is that XP sucks

And I agree with that even though I run XP.  It’s just the best way available for me to game, still.  I need to go back to Linux, but gaming is easier on XP, and with 2 kids and a sucky job, getting into my games most easily is a high priority.

[tags]XP on Mac[/tags]

Decode the numbers on the fruit you buy

(via BoingBoing)

Sure, this is useless knowledge to most, but it’s still interesting.  Some day, you might just win money for knowing trivial stuff like this.

The sticker labels on fruit: The numbers tell you how the fruit was grown. Conventionally grown fruit has four digits; organically grown fruit has five and starts with a nine; genetically engineered has five numbers and starts with an eight.


8th graders build their own roller-coaster

(via BoingBoing)

This is just really cool. I want to build my own roller-coaster. I’m sure my kids would like that too. And my wife would just roll her eyes if I suggested doing it. The truth is, I lack the space to build a roller-coaster, and I doubt the neighborhood association would approve it anyway. But some day, maybe I’ll find the time, money, knowledge, and whatever else to do it. In the meantime, I just have to be envious of the work these students have completed.

Painted mostly black and decorated with a solar system theme – the planets, the sun, Earth’s moon, Orion’s Nebula, the asteroid belt and a black hole – the roller coaster includes three lifts and drops, an enormous figure eight and a 360-degree loop. The track is 400 feet long, and students estimate that the car will reach a top speed of 35 mph coming down the final and tallest drop.

“It goes so fast you would swear it would fall off,” said Chris Rubio, a history teacher.

And because articles on the linked site are not guaranteed to be available long term, the complete article is pasted below the break:

[tags]Roller coaster, DIY[/tags]

Continue reading 8th graders build their own roller-coaster

How to make your own boarding pass

(via Schneier on Security)

Make your own boarding pass, and fly when you want.  It even works if you are on the no-fly list. The author doubts this can be used to actually get on a flight, but Bruce Schneier has written about this before, and it seems at the very least, you can trade tickets with someone.  So you can probably work your way on to a flight without even being actually booked for the flight.  Just something to think about next time you have any delusions about the effectiveness of so-called airport security systems.

[tags]Fake boarding pass, airport security[/tags]

Another university puts course offerings online

(via BoingBoing)

Following the lead by MIT (I’m probably wrong on that – someone other than MIT was probably first – it’s just the first biggie I know about), The Open University is making all course material available online.  This means more resources for study for those interested in learning without the means to attend further schooling.

Britain’s Open University has just announced an ambitious program spend £5.65 million putting its courseware on the Internet under a Creative Commons license — it joins MIT and many other institutions in adding its material to the common pool of university curriculum that can be freely used, edited, shared, and repurposed.

[tags]Open University, Creative Commons courseware[/tags]

Thoughtful write-up concerning airport security failure

Here’s a good article by Bruce Schneier concerning how bad airport security is.  In particular, good security systems fail gracefully.  Airport security fails catastrophically.  What does this mean?  Well, when airport security fails, entire terminals have to be evacuated and re-screened.  I’m not saying I have a better solution, but it’s clear that this isn’t a good failure method.

Security systems can fail in two ways. They can fail to defend against an attack. And they can fail when there is no attack to defend. The latter failure is often more important, because false alarms are more common than real attacks.

Aside from the obvious security failure — how did this person manage to disappear into the crowd, anyway — it’s painfully obvious that the overall security system did not fail well. Well-designed security systems fail gracefully, without affecting the entire airport terminal. That the only thing the TSA could do after the failure was evacuate the entire terminal and rescreen everyone is a testament to how badly designed the security system is.

[tags]Schneier, security, airport security[/tags]

Massive monitoring of a Massively Multiplayer Gaming world

(via Schneier on security)
This is just an incredible article.  The author talks about efforts made to monitor the goings on in the virtual World of Warcraft article.

We live in a world where the technology exists that the government or other technically sophisticated group is able to monitor and analyze a substantial fraction of the communications of the world’s population, or can track their movements throughout the day, or keep tabs on their financial transactions.

And that world is called World of Warcraft.

[tags]World of Warcraft, virtual world[/tags]

Unenforceable “Child Internet Safety” bill proposed – likely to go nowhere

(via BoingBoing)

Here’s what happens when people who don’t understand the Internet write laws pertaining to the Internet.

Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Max Baucus, (D-MT) have proposed a bill that would require all commercial websites with material “harmful to minors” (in other words, sexually explicit content) to move to a .xxx domain within 6 months of this bill becoming law — or face civil penalties. Under the terms of the proposed law, the US Commerce Department secretary would be required to develop a domain name for adult sites (presumably .xxx) with ICANN.

For starters, the bill is very vague on what would fall under the “harmful to minors” category. The site from which I pulled this story, BoingBoing, gets censored by some Internet filtering software. Would the fact that BoingBoing has a link to Suicide Girls (a guaranteed not-safe-for-work site) cause BoingBoing to get moved to this adult sites domain? Who decides what is “harmful to minors” anyway?  BoingBoing is damn useful to me as a techie news site (among the other things posted there).  But sometimes, things intended for adults get posted there, as well.  So that means the site should be moved to a domain that I would almost assuredly be unavailable to me any place that has filtering?  Great.
And if that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, then consider how many sites on the Internet are not in the US. This law would have no impact on those sites at all. How would whatever agency has to enforce this piece of garbage make move to this new domain, when is based in Lithuania?

Going beyond those problems, what about the whole idea of free speech in the US, anyway?  This bill isn’t targetting just things like kiddie-porn.  This bill would even hit legal stuff, that currently is protected as free speech.  You may not like it, but that doesn’t make it illegal.

As suggested by others who have read about this bill, why not make a domain that is specifically built for hosting child-friendly sites?  Even make an agency which is responsible for reviewing sites before granting approval.  Then, instead of forcing so many sites to move because someone, somewhere might feel something posted on those sites could potentially be harmful to minors, just give the option to kid-friendly sites to move to this new domain.  When parents want to let their kids on to the Internet, give them a specialized browser that can only access the kid-friendly domain.

Blocking adult content by segregating it to a specific domain is a certain setup for failure.  Every time someone posts a new site, they can put whatever they want.  To keep this bad law functioning, every day new sites would have to be monitored and squirreled off to the adults only domain.  And it still wouldn’t touch sites hosted outside the US.  By giving an option to host kid-friendly content on a different domain, it makes verifying appropriateness easier and makes building the whole kid-friendly ‘net better.  But law-makers don’t seem capable of much logical thought, so something smart like this is unlikely to happen.