Look before you hack

28 02 2008

NewsA new and horrible past time known as SWATting has recently increased in popularity. A step above normal prank calls, SWATting involves informing the police of a volatile hostage situation at random residences. As a result, hundreds of people have been confronted by SWAT teams charging into houses yelling and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

However, a recently arrested gang of SWATters has labeled a mastermind 17-year-old hacker as one of the co-conspirators. The catch: he’s blind. Often in the cases of people born without the ability to see, other senses become much more acute, and memory becomes much more important. As a result, Li’l Hacker, as he is popularly called, can identify types of computer modems on the phone by ear as well as dial-tones and other sounds, and has had a great interest in telecommunications for years. He also owns a screen reader, a newer technology spreading in popularity that can convert text into either braille or speech.

Reader

He also asserts that he was not involved with the calls. Li’l Hacker claims that he helped turn the men responsible in to the authorities and would never help them due to personal conflicts in the past. Friends of his family are worried, because he turns eighteen soon and could potentially be tried as an adult for the crimes. Personally I hope he gets off the hook. I do not see how a blind teenager still in school would ever make such a ridiculous choice unless he was somehow blackmailed, which is not yet out of the question.

I also fail to see how a blind teenager could be so adept at hacking, so there is plenty of potential for this case to only get weirder and more convoluted.





Sue the sun for global warming

27 02 2008

NewsThe native Alaskan village of Kivalina has slowly been eroding into the Chukchi Sea is recent decades. Formerly, the village was protected from storms by sea ice, but global warming and the melting of Arctic Ice has threatened their village’s existence. Though it could be considered a questionable choice to have located their village in between a lagoon, the Kivalina River, and the Chukchi Sea, they have have thrived mostly due to the hunting of salmon and other sea animals.

Kivalina
A retaining wall under construction can be seen clearly. Credit: Jim Kulas

The Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee (KRPC) was formed to address the problem and find solutions. However, estimates say that relocation could cost as much as $400,000,000. As a result, with the help of two non-profit legal firms and six law firms, they decided to sue just about as many power and oil companies as possible. The grounds on which they are basing the lawsuit, of course, is that the contribution to global warming by those companies are the greatest, and they, therefore, are most responsible for the demise of the village.

While it is fairly certain that they won’t win the lawsuit – unfortunately, there is still not enough evidence to suggest power and oil companies have directly caused arctic ice to melt – the plight of the Alaskans is sure to bring a considerable amount of attention to the future effects rising ocean waters could have. It’s extremely expensive for everyone involved.

I don’t want to suggest that the KRPC doesn’t deserve to get aid – on the contrary, I think they should receive a lot of help – but I daresay the success of this lawsuit in any way would spell disaster for the economy as we know it. Suing has already gotten out of control in this country, and the last thing we need is the ability to sue for climate change. If Florida loses a hundred yards off its beaches, the government should be the one obligated to help, not businesses that disputably have nothing to do with their plight.

People need to realize that they can’t sue the world for their every misfortune. When everyone’s just trying to survive, sometimes people get stepped on unintentionally. That’s no reason to make others’ lives more difficult just for the sake of your own.





Danny Noriega the real dark horse?

26 02 2008

NewsMany people have labeled the smiling and embarassingly humble David Archuleta as American Idol 7’s dark horse to win. What these people don’t seem to realize is that he is the front runner. Front runners can’t be dark horses. Furthermore, David Archuleta and the word “dark” can hardly be used in the same sentence without a negation somewhere.

DavidDanny

Danny Noriega, on the other hand, plays perfectly as a dark horse, perhaps not to go all the way to the end, but to last much longer than people expect him to. VoteForTheWorst.com has already started encouraging votes for Danny, labeling him as this season’s Sanjaya Malakar. We all know how well Sanjaya did after bombing performances week after week.

However, I think that Danny has the upper hand against Sanjaya. Though “Jailhouse Rock” didn’t show off his vocal skills, his previous auditions proved he has a voice with way more potential than Sanjaya ever had. He also has the bonus of being memorable for reasons other than just his hair. His remarks to the judges felt much more like amused banter than the result of spitfire attitude that some have labeled to him. In that way he’s oddly likable, albeit in a completely different way than David.

Personalities aside, David and Danny are alarmingly similar. Their names have similar rings to them and the same distributions of syllables: David Archuleta, Danny Noriega. They both auditioned in San Diego. They both have green eyes, dark brown hair, thin body frames, and somewhat childish faces. They are only a year apart in age.

It should be fairly obvious by now what I’m driving at. They are clearly the same person, separated into two halves: the light and the dark. David Archuleta has the smooth voice, the ever-smiling face, the innocent reactions to praise, and the vote of probably every pre-teen girl across the country. Danny, the “evil” twin, has the solid voice, the witty remarks, the audacity to retort to Simon, and probably the most femininity of the ten guys left.

I suppose this all makes David the “light horse” to win the competition, and perhaps rightfully so. It’s interesting to wonder what would have happened had someone with the un-separated personalities of Danny and David auditioned for American Idol, some Davy Archiega. It’s possible he would have been rejected for being far too normal. Year after year, we’ve seen the judges go for the polar opposites, the ones who stand out among the rest, not just with their voices, but with their personalities as well. Against all the odds, we managed to get two polar opposites of the same person in the same season, and both of them will go far.





Marketa Irglova: When dreams come true

25 02 2008

NewsAs has been previously stated in this blog, I am a big fan of the “little movie that could,” Once. Accordingly, I was absolutely ecstatic when Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly.” I also sat balking at the TV through the entire commercial break after the microphone was cut off right as Irglova stepped up to make her acceptance speech. Glen Hansard had already made his speech, but the nineteen-year-old Irglova (her birthday is in three days) was immediately interrupted by the orchestra and whisked off-stage.

Irglova

It turns out that, once in a blue moon, Oscar recipients do get a chance to finish their speeches. After the commercial break, she was allowed back on stage to give her speech. Thank goodness she got the chance, because it was easily the most stirring speech of the night:

“I just want to thank you so much.  This is such a big deal not only for us but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of the time struggling.  The fact that we’re standing here tonight, the fact that we’re able to hold this is just to prove that no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible.  And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up.  This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope, at the end of the day, connects us all no matter how different we are.  So thank you so much who helped us along the way.  Thank you.”

She received one of the most resounding applauses of the entire night for her chance to say those words.





The downfall of social networking

24 02 2008

FeaturesWhen I first joined Facebook, it was being hailed as the “anti-MySpace,” a social networking site without all the controversy, gaudiness, and induced obsession. At the time, the site had only just been opened to people other than college students, and the administrators were wary of keeping people in their respective realms. The site was meant to connect people within individual schools and businesses easily and securely. Then something happened.

People migrated en masse to Facebook from other websites. These same people cried that, while Facebook was sleeker and easier to use, it was too simple and boring. They wanted more interaction, more of a reason to spend hours on a site that wasn’t created with the purpose of entertaining. As a result, applications and widgets were added. Voila, Facebook became MySpace 2.0.

facebook

How did Facebook go so quickly from being the greatest new site on the web, the anti-MySpace, to a MySpace equivalent? The greatest irony of all lies in the article itself, which boasts of millions of dollars being invested in the many new features of the site. The features in question, though, are the destroyers of the sleek and secure design Facebook once had. Suddenly hundreds of outside businesses have access to millions of people via Facebook. Every application on the site asks to access your profile information before you can use it. That in itself should be a hint that everything is not quite as it seems. Advertisements now appear literally everywhere.

Even worse, Facebook is now getting the negative vibe previously only associated with MySpace. Millions of users in the U.K. have fled the site after a rash of criminal trials used Facebook profile items as courtroom evidence. People had accepted that MySpace was open to the public, but Facebook was supposed to be the more private of the two, only for the your own eyes and the eyes of those you allowed access to your profile. Instead, it turns out Facebook is just another risky, potentially life-changing network.

Big news right now is the Moroccan Fouad Mourtada facing three years in prison for creating a profile of the younger brother of the Moroccan king. Creating profiles of stars and celebrities is already a common practice around the world. As a result, prominent Moroccan bloggers are showing solidarity by posting the following text on the blogs:

Today, Tuesday, February 19, is the fourteenth day of Fouad Mourtada’s imprisonment. He committed the error, but not the crime, of creating a Facebook account in the name of Prince Moulay Rachid. This account contained no insults against the Prince nor was it the instrument of any swindling attempts. His name was immediately given wide publicity by the authorities, in breach of the presumption of innocence he’s supposed to enjoy, and he alleges having been beaten and mishandled during his arrest. He initially had trouble finding a lawyer willing to defend him. The trial, due to begin on February 15, has been postponed to February 22, while his habeas corpus application has been rejected.

(…)

For this reason, this blog will be on strike on Tuesday, 19 February as a gesture of solidarity with Fouad Mourtada and the other prisoners of opinion currently jailed in Morocco.





I wish to patent the patenting process

23 02 2008

NewsApple has filed over 200 patent applications for the iPhone, raising questions about how much control the biggest industries in the U.S. should be given. Most of them involved the touch screen, interface, and many gestures involved with interface manipulation. If these patents were to go through, Apple would be nearly home free in creating a monopoly of the business. The patents would not just affect similar phones, either. Many of them would affect all user interfaces on machines and computers for years to come, forcing other companies to try and work around ridiculous obstacles.

iPhone

For example, they wish to patent the gesture of pinching for zooming in and out. Double tapping causes a “smart zoom” that zooms in to a particular part of the screen. Doesn’t it seem just a little ridiculous that a company would try to patent double-tapping to zoom? Unfortunately, the business of patents is out of public hands and has been for years, causing controversy more often than not. All we can do is pray that the ridiculous patent claims fall through and Apple is left to do business like the rest of world, without a crown and throne.

Bad patents are nothing new as the technology industry continues to grow. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has begun the Patent Busting Project to bring attention to injustices occurring among businesses. Here is a list of what the Electronic Frontier Foundation considers the top ten worst businesses with patents. All have threatened or sued small businesses, individuals, or non-profit organizations.

  • Acacia Technologies – for patents covering a widely used process of streaming audio or video files over the internet, cable and satellite.
  • Clear Channel – for patents covering the recording and burning of after-concert CDs.
  • Acceris Communications – for patents covering telephone calls over the internet.
  • Sheldon F Goldberg – for a patent covering the playing of games, such as card games, upon a network.
  • Ideaflood – over a business method patent for managing sub-domains.
  • NeoMedia Technologies – for a patent covering the “automatic access of a remote computer over a network”.
  • Test.com – for a patent for a method of taking and scoring tests on-line.
  • Nintendo – for a patent covering Gameboy emulation.
  • Firepond – for a patent “covering the use of natural language processing to respond to customers’ on-line inquiries by e-mail”.
  • Seer Systems – for a patent for the creation, storage, distribution and performance of musical work files.

“Patents are meant to protect companies against giant competitors, not to help them prey on folks who can barely afford a lawyer,” said Schultz, who leads the Patent Busting Project. “We hope our project will not only assist the victims of these abusive patents but also help make the case for global reform of the patent system.”

For more information on the Patent Busting Project, visit their website.





In search of lost time

20 02 2008

NewsAs internationally tuned atomic clocks become the universal norm, people are unintentionally losing something: time. Ever since the introduction of atomic clocks in the 1950s, the world has been faced with a problem of synchronicity. As it turns out, atomic clocks cannot accurately predict the length of a day on Earth. This is because the Earth’s rotation and revolution are always going through minute changes.

Clock

Not many people realize that the second is slowly getting longer. As we sit watching clocks during class, it definitely seems like time is slowing down, but we always assume that it will start going normal speed again as soon as we stop watching. The second is getting longer because the old system of time measurement was based on fractions of the Earth’s rate of rotation. As it turns out, the Earth’s rotation is slowing down, so the days are getting longer and our trusty time measurements are constantly changing as well. Even more troubling is the fact that the rate of change is not constant or predictable, so scientists are always kept on their toes to keep the world’s time in sync.

As a result, all units of time were frozen in the 1980s. To make up for the lost time, scientists introduced leap seconds, which can be added whenever it is deemed appropriate. The last leap second was added in 2005 unbeknownst to billions of people. Technically, it is erroneous to suggest the leap second was added in 2005. The leap second occurred between 23:59:60 on December 31st, 2005 and 00:00:00 on January 1st, 2006. For all intents and purposes, it did not exist at all.

I have lost nine seconds of my life so far. They happened when I wasn’t paying attention, and I feel a great loss knowing I can never have them back.





The oft sought after guide to melancholy

19 02 2008

PlugsLast month, Eric G. Wilson released his book, “Against Happiness,” as an alternative to the recent trend in “secrets of finding happiness” books. In the book, Wilson says happy people “are apt to be bland, superficial, static, hollow, one-sided, bovine, acquisitive, deluded and foolish. Sold on the ideal of the happy smile and the cheerful salutation, they patrol the malls in dull uniformity, zombie-like, searching for contentment and pleasure, locked inside their own dreams of a secure and unblemished world, oblivious to objective reality, cocooned in a protective layer of bemused well-being.”

That should about do it for anyone who was feeling happy before reading this. But that’s not all. Wilson further advocates the importance of “dejection, questioning, restlessness, honesty, depth, pessimism, tragedy, complexity, vitality and a grasp of reality.” He argues that instead of constantly trying to find happiness, we should live through and experience both the suffering and the joy to be able to reach our lives’ potentials.

HappinessOf course, the point of “Against Happiness” is not to completely devalue the search for happiness. Instead, it hopes to show that dedicating your life to finding something that can’t simply be grabbed out of the sky won’t lead you to it. You have to take the difficult route through life’s trenches first and discover what happiness means to you. Some of the most productive, profound, and prodigious people to walk this planet used their suffering as a platform to take risks and create change.

“This book will change your mind, and maybe your life, with its pitiless account of the value of happiness and the price we Americans pay for pursuing it so compulsively. Almost every American claims to be happy, and yet we are a nation increasingly benumbed by drugs, opiated by messianic religion and buffed smooth by surgery, as we chase the illusions of perpetual youth, of life without death and joy without pain. This movingly written book may help us stand up before it’s too late and face our demons, by learning to love the melancholy realism and the creative powers that arise out of the darkness in our hearts.” — Richard Klein

All of these writers, of course, are being a bit over-dramatic, but I guess sometimes that is what it takes to make a point anymore.





Remember when Pluto was… plutoed?

18 02 2008

HolidaysIn celebration of Pluto Day, I will reflect on the sudden ripping of Pluto from all our cherished elementary school memories. Here is an small expanse of silence in memory of the the planets mnemonic we all learned: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine

And now for the new mnemonic devices to mess with the minds of a new age of poor innocent children:

Many Venerated Experts Make Jest, Screwing Up mNemonic

Man Verifies Eight Masses, Just Slightly Under Nine

Or God forbid:

My Very Educated Mother Clearly Just Showed Us New Planets Can X-ist (including Ceres, Pluto, Charon, and Xena)

I say let’s just keep adding new planets. The more letters there are to memorize, the more those children will have to think about what a horrible idea it was to remove a planet. Then, when they grow up and the mnemonic contains forty words, they’ll realize that our childhood memories should have just been left alone.

Pluto




The Race Card

17 02 2008

FeaturesI first saw Richard Thompson on The Colbert Report of all places. He was interviewed recently for his latest book, The Race Card, which deals with accusations of racism where there either is none or is not reasonable amount of evidence to suggest that racism is involved. For more information on the book, visit the New York Times book review.

The ideas offered by Richard Thompson reminded me of an incident several months ago that provoked a similar response from me. At Miami University in Ohio, an art student placed seven nooses in a tree above a tire swing in such a way that the nooses could only be clearly seen from the swing. It was meant to juxtapose life and death. It had been previously accepted by the art department and was to be on display for less than twenty four hours very near the art department’s building. However, by the end of the day, police had turned the area into a crime scene, the officials at the university were considering what penalties should be handed to the students involved, and the news across the U.S. was depicting the completely innocent students as racially insensitive.

noose

Interviews with students yielded commentaries on the events:

“I feel really disappointed because I’m a minority here, also, and this action shouldn’t be on campus,” said Weiying Wang, who is from China.

“Especially on a campus that’s dominated by white people and it’s only a few black people,” said Nick Winbush. “It’s probably only three-percent black people. I don’t think it’s acceptable.”

“Anytime you see something like that, you think of all the lynchings that were done,” said Towns, who saw the display before it was removed. “For anyone who is black, it depicts a time that you don’t want to relive.”

I argue that all these people are being completely unfair, if not absurd. First of all, this was done only days after Halloween; the atmosphere of Halloween should have been enough to take the ropes seriously.

Second, we know that the project was not racially motivated. If it was racially insensitive, and I insist that it wasn’t, it still was not a hate crime. The students should not be punished for society’s faults, for seeing too much good in people. I can’t imagine how I would feel to have to stop and consider the racial consequences of my every action. That isn’t to say I don’t try to act in a most respectful manner toward all people. I just don’t make an extra effort for some people based on the color of their skin or the nation of their heritage.

Third, nooses do not symbolize lynchings of black people. They symbolize death (as was their purpose in the art project). They have been used for thousands of years on people of every race in most every country. They have been used on people of every race and nationality within the U.S. itself. Furthermore, they have not been used in the recent past in the U.S. for much other than suicides. Minorities who suggest that nooses are racially insensitive are being racially insensitive. They are thrusting aside the deaths of millions of people and telling the world to focus solely on their struggles, and if not theirs, then their parents’ or grandparents’ struggles.

Many minorities cry that racism hasn’t gone away. Perhaps at some point they should look at themselves and ask why they aren’t letting it go away.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t many real racism problems in the U.S. On the contrary, there is still a lot of work to be done. I’m simply suggesting that as long as minorities insist on others’ racist motives when there simply is no evidence to suggest them, racism can’t and won’t go away.

If I saw a noose hanging from a tree on campus, I would be probably be a bit concerned. I might wonder what is going on and what its reason for being there could possibly be. However, I would not immediately consider the possibility that it was created as an insult to minorities. There simply isn’t enough evidence to suggest that. If death by the noose is racially insensitive, then why the heck am I just as scared by the thought of be hanged as anyone else? Death is not simply black or white.

For further reading on this issue, please visit the following sites:
Everything isn’t about race
Academics’ artistic freedom only protects left wing provocateurs