Sophont
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
 
Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter?
Freestar Media, LLC : "On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called 'The Lost Liberty Hotel' will feature the 'Just Desserts Café' and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel 'Atlas Shrugged.'

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

'This is not a prank' said Clements, 'The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development.'
"

Monday, June 27, 2005
 
UC scientist says ethanol uses more energy than it makes
A lot of fossil fuels go into producing the gas substitute:
"Ethanol, touted as an alternative fuel of the future, may eat up far more energy during its creation than it winds up giving back, according to research by a UC Berkeley scientist that raises questions about the nation's move toward its widespread use.

A clean-burning fuel produced from renewable crops like corn and sugarcane, ethanol has long been a cornerstone of some national lawmakers' efforts to clear the air and curb dependence on foreign oil. California residents use close to a billion gallons of the alcohol-based fuel per year.

But in a recent issue of the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, UC Berkeley geoengineering professor Tad Patzek argued that up to six times more energy is used to make ethanol than the finished fuel actually contains.

The fossil energy expended during production alone, he concluded, easily outweighs the consumable energy in the end product. As a result, Patzek believes that those who think using the 'green' fuel will reduce fossil fuel consumption are deluding themselves -- and the federal government's practice of subsidizing ethanol by offering tax exemptions to oil refiners who buy it is a waste of money."

Sunday, June 26, 2005
 
Little dogs take care of big jobs
News-Register.com: "Wright, 40, has her own service dog, a 5-pound Chihuahua named Joe. He sniffs out changes, undetectable to humans, that occur about 20 minutes before the onset of an epileptic seizure.

Joe's warning gives his owner time to prepare herself so she won't fall and hit her head during a grand mal seizure.

'That keeps me safe,' Wright said. 'It puts me back in control.'

Before she had the dog, she had no way to predict when seizures would strike. Since Joe moved in, he has accurately predicted more than 20 seizures."

 
Synagogue Sued Over Missing Ashes
The DemocratHouston Chronicle
June 10, 2005
When relatives of Vivian Shulman Lieberman went to visit her final resting place in a Houston mausoleum one year ago today, they discovered that the cedar chest containing her ashes was missing.
In its place, behind the locked, glass door of Lieberman's niche in Congregation Beth Israel's mausoleum, was a can of sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.

jaynote: This is not surprising, as Vivian was known for saying "are you hungry? oy, you look so thin. Have a nosh."

Thursday, June 23, 2005
 
Longer Yellow Lights Reduce Accidents
American Chronicle:s: "Longer yellow lights will do more to reduce crashes at intersections than any other method, including the use of red-light cameras, according to a new report.

The report from the Texas Transportation Institute is the result of a three year study of 181 intersections using police reports in three Texas cities. The purpose of the research was to determine the most effective solutions for problem intersections.

The research revealed that many yellow lights are shorting than the recommended minimum, causing a jump of 110 percent in the number of red-light violations. The finding gave support to motorists who are caught by red-light cameras. They frequently complain that a short yellow light forced them to chose between slamming on the brakes and getting rear-ended and continuing through the intersection.

The report concluded that the best way to improve safety statistics at intersections is to lengthen yellow lights to one second more than the minimum standard, which will reduce accidents by 40 percent and violations by 53 percent."

Saturday, June 18, 2005
 
voices ring the halls
WIL WHEATON dot NET: "This may seem like stupid semantics on my part, but actors are so often misrepresented in the press, I feel it's important to set the record straight here. Residual payments are not profit-sharing. Residual payments are reuse fees that producers pay to actors when they've re-used the actor's performance a certain number of times.

For example, when an actor works on a TV show (commercials are a much more complicated beast, so I'll stick with TV for this example) the initial fee that actor earns usually includes one or two re-airings by the producer. If the producer chooses to run the show again, a cycle begins, where the producer pays the actor a residual, or re-use fee, that slowly diminishes over time. The logic behind this is that if producers are re-running an old show, rather than creating a new one, actors have fewer opportunities to work. Also, if a show is re-run very often, the producer will continue to profit from advertising sales, while the actor gets over-exposed as one character, which can severely hurt that actor's chances of being hired in different roles. I suppose one could make the argument that, in that case, it is profit-sharing, but I think that's largely semantic as well. The point is, producers and actors have had this residual payment agreement for my entire career, and it's not exactly a controversial issue.

Profit-sharing, on the other hand, is entirely different from residual payment. True profit-sharing, which is usually a percentage based on the amount of money a film earns, isn't addressed by SAG contracts, which only set minimum wages and working conditions for actors. Profit-sharing has to be negotiated, and the only actors who can grab that brass ring are superstars like Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts."

Friday, June 17, 2005
 
Kodak to End B&W Paper Production
.imaging-resource.com: "Kodak to End B&W Paper Production
By Mike Pasini, The Imaging Resource
(Thursday, June 16, 2005 - 12:25 EDT)

With publications turning to color digital imaging and amateurs to their inkjets and image editing software, sales of black and white photo paper have been steadily declining.

The Associated Press has reported that Eastman Kodak Co. will discontinue production of black and white photo paper by the end of the year. The move follows bankruptcies by Britain's Ilford, the largest black and white paper manufacturer, and Germany's AgfaPhoto GmbH.

According to Kodak spokesperson David Lanzillo, the story notes, demand for black and white paper is declining 25 percent a year. Lanzillo said the decline is the result of the imagining industry's transition from film to digital.

Kodak will continue to make both black and white film and processing chemicals. The decision to discontinue the paper made at plants in Rochester and Brazil is part of Kodak's previously announced goal of reducing its worldwide work force to 50,000 by 2007."

Thursday, June 16, 2005
 
Death by Tech Support
Mobile Magazine: "To test tech support, we made three calls to each of 10 major notebook manufacturers (we've added three additional vendors since last year). We also called three third-party providers of PC help. On the whole, what we found was a sea of ignorance -- and annoying fixation with pinning down our name, address, and serial numbers.
Just how bad is tech support? Things haven't gotten any better since our 2004 test -- and most of the vendors we tested have actually gotten worse. Read on to see our report cards on each manufacturer. And don't miss our review of three third-party tech support providers, plus our tips on how to fix PC problems yourself and avoid tech support altogether.

The Tests
We subjected each vendor to three increasingly difficult support tests designed to simulate frequent real-life technical problems. In each case, we used an actual notebook from the corresponding vendor, and made three separate calls."

Monday, June 13, 2005
 
…My heart’s in Accra
Iqbal Quadir at PUSH 2005: "Iqbal found himself challenging some myths about economic development and the poor. Can shared costs overcome the problems of low individual buying power? Can the value of purchasing a productivity tool make it possible for people to “overinvest” in communication technologies, because these technologies can increase income?

What’s the real problem with digital divides in Bangladesh? The lack of other infrastructures. There are no credit checks, rpads for repairmen, banks to collect bills, schools for the children of workers. Grameen Bank looked like a solution to a lot of these infrastructural problems. Would it make sense to put GSM towers within Grameen offices?

Grameen had 1138 branches in Bangladesh, 2.3 million borrowers, 94% female, with $33 million lent per month. The core model - a woman borrows money from the bank, buys a cow, sells the milk and repays the loan. So why can’t a cellphone be a cow?

There was a great deal of skepticism about the idea, so Iqbal moved home and started a company. He eventually convinced Telenor - the Norwegian national telephone company - to help fund the project and provide technical expertise. With Grameen’s distribution and Telenor’s technology, the business has grown radically, and now covers the majority of the nation - it’s by far the largest company in Bangladesh. By 2004, 95,000 women are selling access to phones that they own in 50,000 villages. And Grameen Phone provides $200 million a year to the government in taxes. Net income in 2004 was $125 million. And each phone owner is making about $700 a year, which is an excellent income in Bangladesh.

Iqbal’s lessons:

Governments don’t always need to support the poor. The poor can support the government.

Poor people aren’t a recipient - they’re a resource.

It’s not too expensive to provide services to the poor - the involvement of the poor reduces the cost of services.

Poor people are eager learners because they don’t have the luxury of not learning."

Saturday, June 11, 2005
 
Suicide Bridge
clevescene.com: "Her children stared at his brains, which oozed into the spikes of green and yellow grass. More neighbors gathered. Then the police. An hour or so later, the body was carted away.

Shreve knew the routine. After all, she lives beneath the suicide bridge.

Since its construction in 1981, the Y-Bridge has served as the launch site for 43 suicides and countless more attempts.

But unlike most bridges that seduce jumpers, the bodies here don't fall into rivers, lakes, or forests. They fall onto buildings and houses, and into backyards, like some weird, ominous plague."

Thursday, June 09, 2005
 
What if driving a car was as hard as using a computer?
techsupport: "------------------------------------------------------

Operator: 'AA helpdesk, Dave speaking.'

Customer: 'I can't back out of my garage.'

Operator: 'Is that because the garage door is closed, or because your car engine isn't turned on?'

Customer: 'All I know is I could back out of my garage yesterday, and now I can't.'

Operator: 'Are you in your car at the moment?'

Customer: 'Yes.'

Operator: 'Okay, I'd like you to turn around and look through your car's back window for me. What do you see?'

Customer: 'Grey.'

Operator: 'Grey like clouds, or like a garage door?'

Customer: 'Like a door.'

Operator: 'It sounds like your garage door is closed. You'll just need to open it, and you'll be able to back out.'

Customer: 'Look, I don't understand any of this automotive stuff. I just want to drive my car.'

Operator: 'Okay, first I'd like you to open your car door.'

Customer: 'How do I do that?'

Operator: 'Look for a catch on the door that you can pull towards you.'

Customer: 'I found it, but all that's happening is the window's rolling down.'

Operator: 'That must be the window button. What you need is a catch you can pull, instead of pressing.'

Customer: 'Okay, I found it. Something went click.'

Operator: 'Now, push the door open and put your feet on the ground.'

Customer: 'I pushed the door... what was that second thing you said?

Operator: 'Put your feet on the ground.'

Customer: 'Okay.'

Operator: 'Now, stand up and walk towards the garage door.'

Customer: 'Is this far enough?'

Operator: 'Are you at the door?'

Customer: 'No.'

Operator: 'Keep walking until you reach the door.'

Customer: 'Okay, now what?'

Operator: 'Pull the handle up.'

Customer: 'It's moving!'

Operator: 'Push it all the way up, then get back in your car.'

Customer: 'Okay, I'm backing out of the garage now. But how did the door get closed in the first place?'

Operator: 'I think someone must have closed it after you drove into the garage last night.'

Customer: 'That's just not possible, we never do that.'

Operator: (Wearily) 'Well, garage doors can sometimes close all by themselves.'

Customer: 'How does that happen?'

Operator: 'Gravity.'"

Tuesday, June 07, 2005
 
Principal decides she doesn't like zero tolerance after all
Zero Intelligence: "Cecilia Beaman, principal at Pacific Middle School in the Highline Public School District, found out just what zero tolerance is like when her bread knife was found by Transportation Security Agents during a pre-flight security screening."

Sunday, June 05, 2005
 
A Modest Proposal for Saving Our Schools
Senator Tom McClintock
Date: May 15, 2005
Publication Type: Column

The multi-million dollar campaign paid by starving teachers’ unions has finally placed our sadly neglected schools at the center of the budget debate.

Across California, children are bringing home notes warning of dire consequences if Gov. Schwarzenegger’s scorched earth budget is approved – a budget that slashes Proposition 98 public school spending from $42.2 billion this year all the way down to $44.7 billion next year. That should be proof enough that our math programs are suffering.

As a public school parent, I have given this crisis a great deal of thought and have a modest suggestion to help weather these dark days.

Maybe – as a temporary measure only – we should spend our school dollars on our schools. I realize that this is a radical departure from current practice, but desperate times require desperate measures.

The Governor proposed spending $10,084 per student from all sources. Devoting all of this money to the classroom would require turning tens of thousands of school bureaucrats, consultants, advisors and specialists onto the streets with no means of support or marketable job skills, something that no enlightened social democracy should allow.

So I will begin by excluding from this discussion the entire budget of the State Department of Education, as well as the pension system, debt service, special education, child care, nutrition programs and adult education. I also propose setting aside $3 billion to pay an additional 30,000 school bureaucrats $100,000-per-year (roughly the population of Monterey) with the proviso that they stay away from the classroom and pay their own hotel bills at conferences.

This leaves a mere $6,937 per student, which, for the duration of the funding crisis, I propose devoting to the classroom.

To illustrate how we might scrape by at this subsistence level, let’s use a hypothetical school of 180 students with only $1.2 million to get through the year.

We have all seen the pictures of filthy bathrooms, leaky roofs, peeling paint and crumbling plaster to which our children have been condemned. I propose that we rescue them from this squalor by leasing out luxury commercial office space. Our school will need 4,800 square feet for five classrooms (the sixth class is gym). At $33 per foot, an annual lease will cost $158,400.

This will provide executive washrooms, around-the-clock janitorial service, wall-to-wall carpeting, utilities and music in the elevators. We’ll also need new desks to preserve the professional ambiance.

Next, we’ll need to hire five teachers – but not just any teachers. I propose hiring only associate professors from the California State University at their level of pay. Since university professors generally assign more reading, we’ll need 12 of the latest edition, hardcover books for each student at an average $75 per book, plus an extra $5 to have the student’s name engraved in gold leaf on the cover.

Since our conventional gym classes haven’t stemmed the childhood obesity epidemic, I propose replacing them with an annual membership at a private health club for $39.95 per month. This would provide our children with a trained and courteous staff of nutrition and fitness counselors, aerobics classes and the latest in cardiovascular training technology.

Finally, we’ll hire an $80,000 administrator with a $40,000 secretary because – well, I don’t know exactly why, but we always have.

Our bare-bones budget comes to this:

5 classrooms
$158,400

150 Desks @ $130
$19,500

180 annual health club memberships @ $480
$86,400

2,160 textbooks @ $80
$172,800

5 C.S.U. Associate Professors @ $67,093
$335,465

1 Administrator
$80,000

1 Secretary
$40,000

24% faculty and staff benefits
$109,312

Offices, expenses and insurance
$30,000

TOTAL

$1,031,877

This budget leaves a razor-thin reserve of just $216,703 or $1,204 per pupil, which can pay for necessities like paper, pencils, personal computers and extra-curricular travel. After all, what’s the point of taking four years of French if you can’t see Paris in the spring?

The school I have just described is the school we’re paying for. Maybe it’s time to ask why it’s not the school we’re getting.

Other, wiser, governors have made the prudent decision not to ask such embarrassing questions of the education-industrial complex because it makes them very angry. Apparently the unions believe that with enough of a beating, Gov. Schwarzenegger will see things the same way.

Perhaps. But there’s an old saying that you can’t fill a broken bucket by pouring more water into it. Maybe it’s time to fix the bucket.

Senator McClintock represents the 19 th district in the California Legislature. His website address is www.sen.ca.gov/mcclintock.

Friday, June 03, 2005
 
American Airlines contest fiasco
jackmccall: "I was shocked, to say the least. I did the math, and determined that my tax liability on this prize, between federal, state, and local taxes, would be somewhere between $15,000 and $23,000, depending on my other income for the coming year. I know it’s the law that taxes must be paid on winnings, and this certainly makes sense where winnings are in cash, or are items that can be sold if necessary to cover the taxes. However, in this case, I would not be able to sell the flight vouchers, and even if I was, I can’t imagine anyone who would be willing to pay $2200 for a restricted economy ticket. Yet this is what American Airlines has valued each flight voucher at.
"

 
Hoax movie that horrified a nation
Telegraph: "Two Czechs conned thousands with an anti-consumerist prank. Chris Sullivan met them

It's unusual for a small document ary to stir up national outrage, but that's just what happened with Czech Dream, released in the UK later this month. The film provoked more than 195 articles in the Czech press, spawned intense governmental debate and made stars of its creators.

Consumerism's 'manipulative powers': shoppers race towards an imaginary supermarket in Czech Dream

The reason for the outrage is that it documents what is essentially an anti-capitalist hoax. The two filmmakers, Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak, explore what they call 'the manipulative powers of consumerism' by creating an ad campaign for a hypermarket that doesn't actually exist.

In a climactic scene, we see 4,000 people turn up for the store opening in a meadow on the outskirts of Prague. The crowd run to claim the bargains they have been promised, only to discover that behind the hoarding labelled 'Czech Dream - the Hypermarket for a better life!' there is just an empty field.

The filmmakers claim that what might seem a heartless prank is in fact an exposé of the workings of consumerism.

'Since the fall of communism, hypermarkets have been growing like mushrooms in my country,' says the exasperated Remunda. 'Some 125 have been built in the past five years, and 40 per cent of the Czech population shop exclusively in shopping malls. New terms such as 'hypermarketomania' have been invented. We wanted to take a stab at the consumerist ethic and confront the attitudes of the 'manipulators' who cause this fascination with the opinions of the 'manipulated'.'

The project began with a £22,000 grant from the government and a co-production deal from Czech TV. The resulting documentary tracks Remunda and Klusak as they solicit the help of a renowned advertising agency for free, accept Hugo Boss suits for nothing and enjoy a complimentary photo session.

Remunda makes the point that the firms involved were complicit in the deception. 'Even though we intended to offer a product that did not exist, create a misleading ad campaign, betray thousands of people and produce an almost inhuman scandal, the companies still wanted to be involved - just as long as they were guaranteed media coverage.'

Exposing the inner machinations of an ad campaign, the film takes us through the making of the TV commercial, the design of the fake products and the recording of the theme song, all of which make it to TV, radio, periodicals and billboards. With no budget to pay for any of this, the filmmakers instead offered screen credits to the companies.

After two weeks of an advertising blitzkrieg, the opening day dawns and the directors seem noticeably concerned about the project's potential dangers.

'Army experts on crowd behaviour had warned us that the crowd would go crazy,' admits Remunda. 'But as it turned out, nothing happened. There were even people who came to thank us, saying that for the first time in a long while they spent their Saturday in a field instead of among supermarket shelves.'

Remunda says that he and Klusak are selling the concept of Czech Dream for further adaptation. 'It might be for the American Dream, Russian Dream and maybe in the far away future even the British Dream.' You have been warned.

'Czech Dream' opens on June 24."

Thursday, June 02, 2005
 
John J. Miller on Archeology on National Review Online
John J. Miller on Archeology on National Review Online: If a lucky paleoanthropologist ever unearths hobbit bones on federal land, scientists won’t get to study them — at least not if Sen. John McCain and his allies have their way........When a team of Australian and Indonesian scientists found the first Homo floresiensis, in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, its members started referring to her as a “hobbit.” The nickname stuck.
How did she get to be so short? And why does John McCain care?

The first question is easy to answer. In biology, there’s a form of natural selection known as “island dwarfing.” Take a species, put it on an island, and watch it shrink over time.....
It also has been documented here in the United States — on the Channel Islands, off the coast of southern California. If hobbit bones were to turn up on Santa Rosa, however, we might never have a chance to learn about them.
That’s because McCain has proposed adding two words to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a law Congress passed 15 years ago to defend American Indian burial sites and cultural objects from grave robbers and pot hunters.

..Their boldest attempts to cover up the past have involved Kennewick Man, a set of bones discovered in 1996 near Kennewick, Wash. The remains are more than 9,000 years old, and physical anthropologists find them intriguing because their morphology is said to differ significantly from that of North American Indians. Kennewick Man may be more closely related to the Ainu, an ethnic group indigenous to Japan, than to any modern Indian tribe. If true, it would mean that the story of human migration is much more complicated (and fascinating) than we have realized.

The only way to learn more, of course, is to let scientists take a close look at old bones. Several local tribes, however, invoked NAGPRA and demanded that Kennewick Man be turned over to them on the grounds that they were “affiliated,” as if any living person can claim a genuine “affiliation” with someone who died nine millennia ago. Their stated intention was not to examine Kennewick Man, but to rebury him

.....“If this becomes law, then anything prehistoric that’s found on federal land would have to be given up,” says Alan Schneider, a Portland, Ore., lawyer who has litigated the Kennewick Man case.

By this new NAGPRA definition, even the bones of Adam and Eve would be classified as “Native American.”

 
Boing Boing: May 2005
Michael Hyatt says: "In the Eighties I worked at Polaroid's floppy disk factory in Santa Rosa, where they made 5¼ floppys.  They had a product they called 'Data Rescue.'  The deal was, you paid extra for them, but if they got damaged or screwed up in any way (from spilled sodas to accidental erasure) you could send them in and we'd try to recover the data.  The marketing kit included a disc and some mustard and ketchup packets.  The idea was you put some data on the disk, then covered it in goo, ran over with your desk chair, spilled whatever you wanted on it, and sent it in.  We'd get the data back and you'd be so impressed you'd buy the damn things no matter what they cost.  The secret?  We cut the disk jacket open, slid the 'cookie' out and gently washed it in the sink.  After much expermentation, we determined that Dawn dish detergent was best.  We then hung them up to dry in the lunch room on a piece of twine with wood clothes pins.  When they were dry, we put them in a new jacket and ran the basic data recovery tools of the day, Norton et al. "


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