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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Well after more than a year without posting – here goes!  As per my habit, this post is in reference to an article I just read.  And equally as usual it is from the Wall Street Journal – it is from the WSJ’s “random” section on the bottom of the front page.

The article is called, “A Youngster’s Bright Idea Is Something New Under the Sun”, and is about a 13-year old boy named Aidan Dwyer who won a science competition this past summer based on an idea he had about placing solar panels in the same array as leaves on a tree – hypothesizing that maybe there is a benefit to following nature’s design.

Aidan was a winner in the competition, showing that a leaf array of solar panels produced more energy… but what is interesting has been what happened afterward.  A minor uproar came up when it was discovered that Aidan had measured the wrong electrical output from the panels (voltage alone, rather than power which is combo of voltage and current) thus leading to suspicion of his results and the idea in general.

Two things stood out to me in this article.  First, the Journal talks about the response from the internet – “bad science” and “impossible nonsense” were some of the choice quotes the article pointed to.  Scientists – both amateur and professional seem to have a nasty streak .  He is a thirteen after all and just had an idea he was encouraged to explore, but I guess that doesn’t matter to many people.  Get something wrong and you are toast on the interweb.  But Aidan has also been praised for his thinking, and has been invited to speak at numerous conferences, so it hasn’t been all bad.

But the second, and most interesting, thing that piqued me was this quote from assistant professor Jan Kleissl from UCSD about Aidan’s plan for a revised experiment:

I’m certain that he will not find that his arrangement is better.  I think it’s a romantic ideal that nature has many lessons for us, and there are a few cases where this is true, but in the majority of cases we could teach nature, in a way, how to be better, faster.

Wow – how nice of Dr. Kleissl to offer nature the benefit of a “few cases” where it is better than our scientists.  I’d be very curious to hear Kleissl discuss these areas.  Have we improved upon the speed and power of lightning?  Have we developed a self-contained ecosystem on the scale of say… the ocean?   Have we developed a robot with five senses as acute as a human?  Holy shite balls this seems ludicrous.

Is it just me?

P.S.  Feels good to be back.  Sorry for the layoff, and hope I can continue to post from time to time.

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Just wanted to point your attention to an interesting article I read last month in The Wall Street Journal, titled Not Really ‘Made in China’.  It takes a look at just what goes into the trade deficit amount that is listed for products shipped from China.  Basically, if China is the country of origin then they get the “credit” for the import of the product…and as we all know we are all in a huff about how much our trade imbalance is with China.  But what is revealing about this story is how China is often the assembler of parts made in other countries and so actually isn’t the beneficiary of that whole dollar amount credited to the trade.

The article uses Apple’s iPhone 3G as an example.  The parts/labor value for the $178.96 phone come from Japan (34%), Germany (17%), South Korea (13%), U.S. (6%), and Other Countries (27%).  China only represents 3.6% of that value.  But because they are the final assembler they have the trade statistic.  Very interesting.  I encourage you to read and see what you think… may influence our thoughts a bit about how we view trade numbers.

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The revolution began in the late 1970’s but the first shot was fired in 1992 when a group of civil libertarian cryptologists, known as the Cypherpunks, started a mailing list. By 1997, there were thousands of subscribers who discussed politics, privacy, cryptography, philosophy, and wrote code. While the net was still in its infancy, these were the men and women who foresaw what was to come. They understood the battle about to be waged between privacy and secrecy. A manifesto was written in which the opening line reads:

Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy… An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.

What the Cypherpunks saw was a world in which the technology would soon exist where every transaction, every email, every purchase could, and therefore would, be tracked by governments and corporations against the public’s will. What made the Cypherpunks so unique is that rather than resist and rebel against this technology, they openly embraced it and transformed it in a way that protected privacy and attacked government secrecy.

We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do. We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.

Up until the 1970’s, cryptology had been something only governments were involved with. But in 1975, a computer hacker named Whitfield Diffie [pictured left] came up with a new system called “public-key” cryptography. What was so revolutionary about this was that it used an asymmetric key algorithm so that the key used to encrypt a file was not the same used to decrypt it. Traditionally, if you wanted to send an encrypted text, known as “cyphertext”, you also had to send the recipient the key to decrypt it into “plaintext”. The problem was that the information would need to be sent over insecure channels and was, therefore, susceptible to interception. But public-key cryptology changed that by using two separate keys, one for encrypting and one for decrypting, one public and one private. The publicly available encrypting key is widely distributed, while the private decrypting key is known only to the recipient. Messages can be encrypted with the recipient’s public key but can only be decrypted with the corresponding private key. To put it in laymen’s terms, the strength of the key is determined by its size. The bigger the key, the harder it is to hack. While the government’s data encryption standard (DES) at the time used a symmetrical key, it was limited to only 56-bits. But Diffie’s public-key allowed for a key to be used with an unlimited size which made it nearly impossible to crack.

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LinkedIn?

Can anyone explain to me what this website is supposed to accomplish?  About three years ago someone sent me an email asking me to connect to them on LinkedIn.  I emailed back, asking him why he wanted me to do this.  His response was that he wanted me to be added to his network, or something like that.  Well, I didn’t get it- was this a more professional version of Facebook?  I’ve resisted Facebook, Myspace, and every other social networking site.  But the guy asking me to join his network is a very serious man (to borrow from the Coen Brothers), so I figured that I might as well sign up and, in time, I’m probably figure out what this was all about.  Maybe it would lead to some work opportunity or something.

Then, I got more requests, and I indulged them, still completely unclear as to the objective of all of this linking.  Most of the requests came from likewise serious people, such as pastors at my church.  OK, so there must be some clear benefit to all of this right?  But after linking with at least 10 or 15 people, I still couldn’t figure out one single positive upside to the time it took me to log in to my account and click some box accepting invitations to “link.”  So finally, I stopped responding to all requests.  Occasionally I read the LinkedIn updates that are sent to me, and they are always filled with pressing information such as “So and so is now connected with some other person.”  Why would that information be useful to me?

So someone please answer some questions for me: When I ignore a request to “link” am I actually being rude?  If I do link with all of these people making the request, can someone please tell me what positive benefits I might expect from this?  Can anyone share a story of how LinkedIn created some kind of actual, tangible benefit in their life?  And if there is no benefit, can we all agree to stop sending these requests to each other?

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Just read this report about a town in New York using Google Earth to locate homes with pools that may not be licensed:

A town on New York’s Long Island is using Google Earth to find backyard pools that don’t have the proper permits.  The town of Riverhead has used the satellite image service to find about 250 pools whose owners never filled out the required paperwork.  Violators were told to get the permits or face hefty fines. So far about $75,000 in fees has been collected.

This also reminds me of how agencies are using GPS software to track their vehicle fleet, and are finding either gross misuse that is a firing offense, or are seeing dramatic reductions in waste:

Islip saved nearly 14,000 gallons of gas over a three-month period from the previous year after GPS devices were installed. Nolan said that shows that employees know they are being watched and are no longer using Islip’s 614 official vehicles for personal business.

I find this very funny, partly because of the “privacy concerns” that immediately get brought up.  But the fact is, that the behavior is wrong and people are being caught doing something illegal, or against regulation, and yet they will sue and complain about privacy concerns.  I definitely am not in favor of my life being tracked and detailed… but I also tend to think that if I am doing something wrong that is my fault, not the person who found me out.  So while I would like to have small and limited government, I’ve also never had a problem with wire-tapping or vehicle searches and such – because, if you’ve got nothing to hide then what’s the problem?  The CIA or whoever can listen to as many of my cellphone conversations as they like… they just might be bored is all.

I’m not trying to come across as perfect here by any means.  If my work computer were monitored, or my daily schedule recorded there would certainly be mismanagement or misuse revealed… or lots and lots of fantasy football at least.  But that again is my issue I would have to worry about.  I certainly don’t wish to create laws where a private company or government agency isn’t able to keep their employees or citizens accountable.

That said… I would much rather that the pool regulations didn’t exist in the first place.

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Because everyone and their mother seems to be writing about the President Obama-Nobel Peace Prize “scandal,” I thought I’d post something more creative today.  Of course, this isn’t my creativity, but the creativity of a Swedish initiative funded by Volkswagon called “Rolig Hets Teorin,” or “The Fun Theory.”  Their main goal is to demonstrate that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better.”

This sense of simplicity + creativity = “Piano Stairs”

There is another video with a creative project (“The World’s Deepest Bin”) on the website and a third (“Bottle Bank Arcade Machine”) is currently listed as “coming soon,” so make sure you take a look.

Thanks to Geekologie for pointing this out.

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Techno Beat

3609TQ11The Technology Quarterly issue of The Economist came out last week, and as usual it amazes and dazzles.  I encourage you to check it out as usual.  A favorite of mine from this issue has to do with 3-D printing.  As the name implies it is possible to “print” out 3-D objects now, such as the one shown here.

Pretty amazing.  I also like the article on turning softwoods into hardwoods with recycled alcohol and the environmental benefits of that.  Check it out if you have a chance.

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