Category Archives: Interesting Reads

Understandable standards for system and components

I love this Tech Report article on setting standards for computer systems and components, but don’t have any idea how we could make this reality.

Discrete or integrated, nobody knows what graphics solution to choose anymore. No, I’m not talking about people like you and me who actually read hardware reviews. I’m talking about the vast majority of the market, composed of regular, non-technical people who simply want to buy or upgrade a computer. That apparently simple task has become an ordeal. I mean, you know there’s a problem when even my most computer-literate friends come to me for clarification—and I often can’t help without looking at Scott’s graphs.

I confess this is even true for me, and I try to keep myself moderately well informed of what is going on in the world of graphics cards. I’m still running an nVidia 670 card in my desktop, and would love to upgrade (don’t need to, but I want to), but I don’t have the time right now to properly evaluate the current generation and make sure I get something that’s a legitimate upgrade while still maintaining a reasonable spending budget.

Conservatives respond to DHS report on “right wing extremists”

Very interesting video compilation of various conservative commentators on the report issued by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month regarding risks of right wing extremists:

What is particularly interesting is the last 10-15 seconds of the report.  This is the part almost no one seems to be reporting when expressing their false outrage over this report:

. . . this is an element of the story which has largely gone unreported.  There are two assessments.  One looks at right wing groups as you mentioned, and a second focuses on left wing groups.  Significantly, both were requested by the Bush administration, but not finished until President Bush left office.

But of course, that’s the kind of information entertainers like O’Reilly and Limbaugh wouldn’t want you to hear.

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Dental care in the UK?

I don’t know if the story I am about to link to is a very widespread issue or not, but if you believe the article it would seem that it is, and growing worse.  This is an article about a young lady who could not find proper dental care under the new national program put in place in April 2006 by the British government.  I am neither in support of nor opposed to nationalized healthcare here in the US.  I believe both sides of this debate make some preposterous claims as well as some viable claims.    Setting aside your own beliefs over whether nationalized healthcare is good or bad, read at the Daily Mail about a young lady who had to have all her teeth removed due to long-term gum disease issues that she could not find a dentist to help resolve.

Like so many young women, Amy King always took great pride in her appearance.

Standing in front of the mirror to check her make-up before a night out, the 21-year-old would always try a smile – friends told her they loved the way it lit up her face.

Eight weeks ago, all that changed. The student from Plymouth was admitted to hospital where, in a single operation, she had every tooth in her mouth removed.

Amy, whose dental problems were caused by untreated gum disease, does not go out any more. And when she looks in the mirror she hardly recognises the face staring back at her.

This is absolutely an extreme case.  It is not indicative of how nationalized medicine does or does not work.  The problem here appears to be over the management of the nationalized dental care, not the mere fact that it is nationalized.  I point this out, because one cannot look at this one case and claim nationalized care programs do not work.  On the other hand, proponents of nationalized healthcare cannot wave this away as a complete aberration that should not be evaluated when discussing nationalized coverage.

According to the article, teeth extractions in the hospital are up a statistically significant amount.  There is also an increase in the time it takes to get dental care, as well as suggestions that more advanced problem cases are not getting proper treatment due to how the national dental contract works.  Furthermore, there is an increase in home-care for dental issues.  This article even mentions a specific case of a woman pulling her own teeth when she couldn’t get to see a national provider.  Ouch.

As I said above – I’m neither for nor against national healthcare programs.  I see problems and benefits for providing universal coverage as well as for staying with what we have now.  I don’t think it’s a simple problem, and anyone who tells you one side or the other is clearly correct can only say that because they haven’t studied the cost and benefits well enough.  I do believe there is a true push toward nationalized care here in the US that will eventually succeed.  I do believe there will be benefits for many people as a result.  I also believe that some people will be left worse than what they have now, and that while some people will pay less overall for this coverage, many will also pay more.  I think it’s an important discussion to have, but I also think that knowing more than just the facts that support your own side are vital.

And a final note – the story says that Ms. King doesn’t like to go out any more, nor to smile.  But honestly, looking at her picture I still think she looks great.

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Laptop 64 – Ben Heck strikes again

Commodore-64 portablized

Commodore-64 portablized

Is there anyone else out there capable of pulling off the work Ben Heck does? Honestly, I’ve seen a few people do similar mods to portablize game consoles or vintage computers, but no one with the breadth of neat hacks that Ben has done. The latest bit from him is the rejiggering of “Classic” computer the Commodore 64.

While I can’t say I personally would want one, this really is a pretty cool project for folks who have to get their retro on. (via MAKEZine)

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World’s Biggesterest laser – pew pew pew

There are some things in the world that never get old. Zombies. Pirates. Ninja. Sharks. Dinosaurs. All these things we can count on to be perpetually cool. Top of the list for me, however, (and you already know this if you hang around the Blahg or me very much) is the topic of lasers. Sure, sure, sure – the previous things are great. But put sharks together with lasers and you far exceed the awesomesauce held by the mere category of sharks. Everyone likes the idea of pirates versus ninja. Suppose, however, you got a pirate and a ninja fighting on top of a laser beam? Only pirates and ninja could pull off a fight carried on completely on a beam of focused light, and they are way more fantastic for doing so. I think, by this point, that you get my point.

So with lasers consuming the position as awesomerest of awesome everything, just what could I want to talk about to impress even the laser fan? Well, how about the most powerful laser EVAR? Could this thing lift a squirrel into orbit? I don’t know. But it is a shit-ton of power:

Scientists working at the National Ignition Facility of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, have built the most powerful laser in the world, capable of simulating the energy force of a hydrogen bomb and the sun itself.

“The system already has produced 25 times more energy than any other laser system,” said NIF Director Ed Moses.

These scientists worked more than a decade to come to this. They generate this power by combining 192 laser beams. And the whole facility is contained within a ten-story building that’s roughly the size of three football fields (American football, for my dear foreign readers). So just how much is 25 time more energy than any other laser, exactly?

NIF’s 192 laser beams, housed in a ten-story building the size of three football fields, travel a long path, about 1,000 feet, from their birth at one of the two master oscillators to the center of the target chamber. As the beams move through NIF’s amplifiers, their energy increases exponentially. From beginning to end, the beams’ total energy grows from one-billionth of a joule (a joule is the energy needed to lift a small apple one meter against the Earth’s gravity) to four million joules, a factor of more than a quadrillion – and it all happens in less than 25 billionths of a second.

Yep – fully focused and powered up, this laser could lift 4 million apples one meter off the ground. Hmmmm. That doesn’t sound nearly as cool as it should. Let’s try again – this laser could lift 1 apple 4 million meters off the ground! Might need more exclamation points, but I think you get the idea. And that estimate of the value of a joule isn’t quite accurate, but it does simplify it and still leave us close enough.

Of course, that assumes the laser wouldn’t instantly vaporize the apple. But maybe if it’s a zombie dinosaur apple, it will survive the trip.

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OSSTMM version 3 coming soon?

In a previous life, I was a computer security specialist.  I had a really cool job, and worked with really, really damn cool people (hi Gerald, Doug, Jon, et al).  I read (a tiny fraction of) all the cool security news.  I kept up to date on as many security topics as I could.  I read security books.  I studied a lot of security web sites.  I took training from SANS.  I subscribed to a few security mailing lists, although much of the detail in many vulnerability announcements messages was above my understanding.

But in all that reading, research, study, training, and other learning, one of the coolest things I ever consumed was the OSSTMM project. Rather than try to explain this project, I’ll just snag the introductory text from the project home site:

The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) is a peer-reviewed methodology for performing security tests and metrics. The OSSTMM test cases are divided into five channels (sections) which collectively test: information and data controls, personnel security awareness levels, fraud and social engineering control levels, computer and telecommunications networks, wireless devices, mobile devices, physical security access controls, security processes, and physical locations such as buildings, perimeters, and military bases.

The OSSTMM focuses on the technical details of exactly which items need to be tested, what to do before, during, and after a security test, and how to measure the results. New tests for international best practices, laws, regulations, and ethical concerns are regularly added and updated.

The version I read when I first found this was 2.2.  It has been years since I used it, and I periodically check in for updates on the version 3.0 release.  I haven’t seen an update on the web site, and I’m not a team member/subscriber to the service, so I didn’t expect I would know unless I checked in on my own.  Well tonight, while catching up on email, I get this message from the project:

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Cool new type of laser?

Since we haven’t covered any really cool laser news in a while, it’s time to throw out our shark-powered story-hounds (and yes, I recognize the incongruity of that analogy) and see what pops up.

Looks here like there is a story out on a new type of laser. While studying laser generation from a device called a quantum cascade laser, scientists noticed that a secondary laser with some unusual properties was generated.

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — A Princeton-led team of researchers has discovered an entirely new mechanism for making common electronic materials emit laser beams. The finding could lead to lasers that operate more efficiently and at higher temperatures than existing devices, and find applications in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics.

In particular, this new type of laser apparently requires less energy to produce than a traditional laser. While the story in question makes no mention of strapping these frikkin’ lasers to frikkin’ sharks’ heads, I suspect a lower power draw would come in quite handy in any world take-over attempts based on such a premise. Assuming the scientists in question can figure out how to create this secondary laser without the primary laser still being there, of course.

The new laser phenomenon has some interesting features. For instance, in a conventional laser relying on low momentum electrons, electrons often reabsorb the emitted photons, and this reduces overall efficiency. In the new type of laser, however, this absorption is reduced by 90%, said Franz. This could potentially allow the device to run at lower currents, and also makes it less vulnerable to temperature changes. “It should let us dramatically improve laser performance,” he said.

The device used in the study does not fully attain this level of performance, because the conventional, low-efficiency laser mechanism dominates. To take full advantage of the new discovery, therefore, the conventional mechanism would need to be turned off. The researchers have started to work on methods to achieve this outcome, said Franz.

So work is still underway. And has been for a while, in fact. Word from the brains behind this work is they actually discovered this effect sometime last year, but have been working on perfecting or improving it since then. My current suspicions are if this doesn’t end up in shark-based warfare, it will be part of the coming robot uprising. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords (unless the zombies take over first).

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Chicago returns to its political roots

Hell yes! This, dear reader, is how a political corruption scandal should break. None of this suspicion of vote fraud, no question of people kept away from the booth, no question of “Well maybe he didn’t really do that.”

On December 9, federal agents arrested Democratic Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on charges that he had put president-elect Barack Obama’s senate seat up for sale–though not on eBay, which probably would have made things a lot easier. The Blagojevich portrayed in the 76-page criminal complaint is, according to the New York Times, a “[d]elusional, narcissistic, vengeful, and profane” man who has been under investigation for years. They’re not kidding.

You want corruption?  They did it old-school in Chicago.  “Here’s a powerful position.  How much you pay me to get it?”  Plain.  Simple.  Direct.  Like was done in Capone’s time.

The really touching thing about this scandal is we also get to find out what kind of family the Blagojevichs have.

111 a. On or about November 27, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH, his wife and daughters, and BLAGOJEVICH’s chief of staff JOHN HARRIS ate Thanksgiving dinner together. BLAGOJEVICH’s wife asked BLAGOJEVICH to “please pass the potatoes.” BLAGOJEVICH asked what his wife was willing to give him for “the f—ing potatoes” because “these f—ing things aren’t f—ing cheap.” HARRIS said that BLAGOJEVICH’s wife might donate $250,000 to Friends of Blagojevich in exchange for the potatoes. BLAGOJEVICH’s wife said she thought that was a high price for a spoonful of mashed potatoes and asked BLAGOJEVICH to carve the turkey instead. BLAGOJEVICH said “What am I, your f—ing butler?” and reminded her that “I don’t f—ing work for free.” HARRIS asked BLAGOJEVICH to consider carving the turkey in exchange for a helping of BLAGOJEVICH’s wife’s cranberry sauce. BLAGOJEVICH said he “hated f—ing cranberry sauce, you stupid f–k,” and reminded his wife that the “only reason we have this f—ing turkey in the first place” was because Senate Candidate 5 had personally delivered it to the BLAGOJEVICH residence that morning. BLAGOJEVICH’s wife said BLAGOJEVICH could take Senate Candidate 5’s turkey and “shove it up your a–.” BLAGOJEVICH said she could have the turkey “but if you feel like you can do this and not f—ing give me anything, then I’ll f—ing go.” HARRIS volunteered to carve the turkey if BLAGOJEVICH did not want to and the group returned to eating in silence.

Not only is he an inspiring, honest, upright public servant, he also is a loving, caring, good-natured provider for his family.  Most areas of the country have tiny little bribery or abuse of power corruptions going on.  In Chicago, they show the rest of the country what a government employee should do to abuse power and stamp out democracy.

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Would you take a job where you were paid *NOT* to work?

Would you take a job where you were paid *NOT* to work?

In recent discussions on the future viability of US auto manufacturers, one of the topics to come up was the UAW job bank program.

According to that document, the basic guarantee from the 1987 agreement is that no eligible employee will be laid off over the term of the agreement, except under the following specific circumstances. 1)Reduced customer demand, a maximum of 42 weeks over the life of the agreement (commonly known as loss of marketshare); 2)Acts of God or other conditions beyond the control of management; 3)Conclusion of an assignment known in advance to be temporary; and 4) Plant rearrangement or model changeover.

Eligible employees can not be laid off because of new technology (robots), sourcing decisions, or company-implimented efficiency actions. There are generally three states of layoff: temporary layoffs where workers know their return date, indefinite layoffs where workers get 48 weeks of unemployment benefits and a supplemental from their employer equal to 100 percent of your salary. After 48 weeks workers are reemployed by the Job Bank, at which time they receive 95 percent of their salary.

Now if you are like me, you’ve never heard of this program before very recently. Ultimately, what the program is used for is to keep paying some number of UAW union members a worker’s salary while they don’t work. This is part of a program implemented in the 80s as a concession by auto manufacturers to the union to get support for productivity improvement efforts. In other words, the union realized that improving worker efficiency would mean fewer workers needed, so brought in this program as a way to keep paying some of the people who lost their jobs as a result.

How much does this cost the auto manufacturers? Well, we don’t know for certain, but looking back a few years gives us at least some idea:

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D.C. tries new method for “controlling” guns in the District

After losing the fight to keep the Unconstitutional gun ban in the District, the Washington D.C. council has now turned to harassment law in hopes of reducing firearm ownership. Rather than saying you just can’t own a handgun, the new law will require permit renewals every 3 years and included a mandated annual recertification of ownership with district police.

Since September, D.C. residents have been allowed to register magazine-loaded semiautomatic handguns as well as revolvers. The legislation banned magazines that are capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Yesterday’s legislation would also require firearms owners to take a safety course and undergo a background check every six years.

After the vote, council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said in a statement, “Today’s vote puts the District at the forefront of using regulation to reduce gun violence, rather than the simpler, prior approach of hoping that an outright ban will be effective.”

I am not a firearm owner, but to me the 2nd amendment is pretty clear on the right of ownership. While my limited reading of the recent legislation seems to follow the letter of the law, I think there is some question as to following the intended rights protection inherent in the amendment. I have to question my visitors who partake of this right – doesn’t it seem that the proper way to reduce gun violence to implement much harsher penalties for misuse? Rather than making legal owners suffer under laws illegal users will just ignore, isn’t it smarter to make sure the chance of repeat offense is reduced? Increase jail time for theft of a firearm. Increase jail time for theft carried out via firearm. Tack on additional sentencing mandates for homicides carried out by firearm.

I don’t directly benefit from loosening firearm restrictions for legitimate users. I do, however, know that if someone tries to rob a McDonald’s or a bank while I am there, I want to have the hope of someone in the facility being a legal carrier. My interactions with those that carry suggests to me that I am safer with them around than with most police.

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Protected speech?

Should betting on predicted Presidential assassination date be legal?

Is betting on the assassination date of a newly elected President free speech? I would say yes, although it sure is poor taste. Is offering a betting pool on the assassination date and then saying Let’s hope someone wins similarly protected? I would argue that it is not. This changes expressing an expectation that an assassination will occur to something that instead looks to incite violence in a manner long ruled illegal. Or at least to be dangerously close to that. To me, the betting alone seems legal and protected, even if offensive and remarkably stupid. Including the indication of hoping for a successful assassination does not seem reasonably protected speech.

The Town Council in Standish condemned the sign on Thursday in a 6-0 vote and declared it reprehensible at a meeting where some residents defended the store owner, saying he had a right to free speech even if in bad taste, local authorities said.

. . .

The sign in the Oak Hill General Store asked customers to place a $1 bet on the date of Obama’s assassination, and said “Let’s hope someone wins,” the Portland Press Herald reported. It was called the “Osama Obama Shotgun Pool.”

Am I way off here? Is this something that should be allowed? If you say yes, would you believe the same if this had happened 4 years ago, and the betting were instead for what date President Bush would be assassinated? If you say no, am I being too lenient in believing that the betting pool itself is legal without the Let’s hope someone wins quote? Where is the line on talk about expected/anticipated assassinations of our leaders?

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One man’s tragic tale documenting the horrors of WWII concentration camp life from the inside

We all know there are terrible tales of military heroism that we don’t get to hear until far, far later. One recent example of this that has come out is the tale of Anthony Acevedo, military medic assigned to a satellite camp of Buchenwald with others in his tropp because they looked like Jews. Because of how the military handles many sensitive incidents, particularly during war, this is a story that was never intended to be known to the general public.

Acevedo’s story is one that was never supposed to be told. “We had to sign an affidavit … [saying] we never went through what we went through. We weren’t supposed to say a word,” he says.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History provided CNN a copy of the document signed by soldiers at the camp before they were sent back home. “You must be particularly on your guard with persons representing the press,” it says. “You must give no account of your experience in books, newspapers, periodicals, or in broadcasts or in lectures.”

I am not here to question silencing those who have suffered through such events. I have worked in a classified environment, and I fully understand and respect the need to initially treat sensitive matters as classified. The military says the reason for secrecy is to protect escape and evasion techniques and the names of personnel who helped POW escapees, and I have absolutely no reason to question that. I do, however, think there is a need for an office responsible for reviewing
these cases after the fact. This is a story that is well worth knowing, and the events Mr. Acevedo describes seem to have no impact on the need to protect that the military says is the case. Certainly, 60 years after the war, I would can’t imagine why he needs to be kept under confidentiality agreement. Understand I’m not saying I know that it is fine for him to talk – I just can’t come up with a reason based on what I’ve read and learned that would support keeping confidentiality in effect.

That said, see some more below the break about Mr. Avecedo’s experience, and learn a little about how his agreement hurt him in the shortterm.

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