Friday, April 28, 2006
My new SciTech Watch column is up over at Blogcritics. Its a look at what kind of content you can find in the world of Podcasting.
They're called "pearls of wisdom" because where most people are concerned, they're so rare.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Jim Kunstler has been warning about the effects of this Oil foolishness for quite a while now. He warns about the effect high gasoline and crude oil prices on America's drive-everywhere lifestyle
Check out his post today....
Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories. - Arthur C Clarke
Technorati Tags: Kunstler, oil prices, gasoline prices, economy, clusterfuck
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Chinese $150 Linux mini-PC races OLPC to market
Apr. 21, 2006
Chinese company is touting an inexpensive Linux-based computer as a way
to close the "digital divide." YellowSheepRiver's $150 "Municator"
appears to be available now, with a three-month leadtime, suggesting it
could reach market well ahead of MIT's $100 "One Laptop Per Child"
(Click for larger view of the Municator)
The OLPC project was announced last fall, with laptop manufacturer Quanta Computer of Taiwan stepping forward to offer its manufacturing services shortly afterward. However, no specific delivery commitments appear to have been reached.
Additionally, the performance potential of the OLPC's $100 laptop design has drawn taunts from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, as well as Intel Chairman Craig Barret, who called the design a "$100 gadget."
If the Municator lives up to YellowSheepRiver's promise of Pentium
III-like performance, the Chinese device could enjoy a performance
edge, in addition to its apparent time-to-market lead.
Chinese chips inside
says it saved cost in its Municator YSR-639 design by sourcing the CPU,
RAM, and other key chips from Chinese companies. China is now the
world's third-largest producer of new semiconductor designs, according to research firm iSuppli.
According to YellowSheepRiver, the Municator is based on a 64-bit Godson-2 CPU from BLX Semiconductor. The Godson-2 chip, codenamed "Dragon," uses an instruction set based on the MIPS architecture; however, BLX is not a MIPS licensee. The Microprocessor Report suggested last summer that BLX could face legal challenges from MIPS if its chips reach the U.S., although some other sources
suggest that the Godson chips do not include patented portions of the
MIPS ISA (instruction set architecture), such as unaligned 32-bit
(Click to enlarge)
Municator's Godson-2 processor offers performance similar to a Pentium
III, YellowRiver claims; however, a more useful comparison might be to
MIPS's four-way superscalar R10000 processor, which shipped in 1995,
and powered Silicon Graphics Unix workstations such as the O2, pictured
at right. The Godson-2 also has a four-way superscalar design.
Godson-2 chips in YellowSheepRiver's YSR-639 are clocked at 400MHz or
600MHz. They connect to a Marvel MV64420-BDM1C133 northbridge via a
133MHz FSB (front-side bus). The Marvel northbridge supports DDR RAM at
166MHz, via an SODIMM slot, and offers a 32-bit, 33MHz PCI bus. A VIA
VT82C686B southbridge with 133/100/66MHz ATA bus completes the chipset.
YellowSheepRiver says it hopes one day to use an "SoC"
(system-on-chip) version of the Godson-2 chipset that will integrate
the processor and northbridge into a single chip, and save additional
cost and power.
The OLPC design
eschews a hard drive, to keep cost down, but has an LCD display. The
Municator, in contrast, offers an S-video port, in order to support
television displays, and comes with a 40GB external USB drive. The
Municator also has rear-mounted IDE and power connectors that support
the attachment of optional optical drives.
according to YellowSheepRiver, include four front-mounted USB 2.0
ports, IrDA, and audio I/O. Additional rear-mounted interfaces include
S-video, VGA, 10/100 Ethernet, serial, PS/2 keyboard/mouse, and IDE.
Municator measures 7 x 5.7 x 1.5 inches (180 x 145 x 37mm), and weighs
one pound, six ounces (0.65kg). It requires five amps of 12-volt power,
and comes with a 45-watt auto-sensing 110/220 adapter. A lithium-ion
battery pack is optionally available. Other options include WiFi and a
The Municator runs "Thinix 3.0," a Linux variant that
features support for user interfaces based on a keyboard, mouse, or
both, according to YellowSheepRiver. Thinix is based on RPLinux, a distribution created by the China Software and Integrated Circuit Promotion (CSIP).
says orders for its "Fitness Computer," possibly a codename for the
YSR-639, can begin production within three months of order confirmation.
A video demonstrating the Municator is available here.
My new SciTech Watch column is up over at Blogcritics. Its a review of new research on the role of Lactic acid in exercising muscles.
Reality is for people who can't handle drugs.
Friday, April 21, 2006
We Need a National Infrastructure Initiative
Although we still have the largest number of users connected to the Internet -- some 49 million according to the report -- we are 12th in terms of broadband penetration. While "broadband" itself is a term not well defined, it is several times faster in most countries like South Korea and Japan than in the US. South Korea, which has been the leader for many years, was topped this year by Iceland. With only 78,000 subscribers, they are number one because of their per capita penetration of broadband which is 26.7 percent versus Korea's 25.4 percent. The U.S. is 16.8 percent.
Quite understandably there is concern across America about the U.S.'s low ranking by the OECD and as a result of similar studies by the United Nations' International Telecommunications Union, where the U.S. is ranked even lower on the totem pole. Having the 21st century infrastructure -- broadband and wireless communications links connected to every home, office and school and through the Web to billions of others -- is considered to be vital to the success of every region's, every nation's, every community's vibrancy in the new economy.
Currently in the U.S., there is perceived to be a nationwide struggle for dominance between the traditional telephone carriers providing both DSL, and in some cases fiber communications to the pedestals -- rarely to the home -- versus cable modems provided by the cable television industry. The electric utilities have been experimenting with broadband over power lines, but other than a handful of experiments across the country, nothing akin to a real alternative additional market competitor is in sight.
Satellite companies are offering an Internet alternative at varying speeds, and pose a possible challenge to the existing cable and Telco monopolies. But this competitive arrangement is not getting us as a nation where we ought to be going.
There is a strong and growing desire on the part of cities and communities across America to help shape their own basic communications infrastructure for the 21st century. Many believe that like waterways, railroads and highways of the past, robust information highways are essential to keep cities from becoming the ghost towns of the 21st century.
While the cable and Telco monopolies in many states have blocked municipal authorities from providing fiber as an alternative, half of the cities -- according to a recent report -- are exploring wireless alternatives. This appears to be a loophole in the fight for broadband, and many cities are taking so-called Wi-Fi technology and deploying it in "hot spots" particularly downtowns, in order to get some advantage.
Companies like Intel, Cisco and even Google have recently expressed strong interest in helping to provide broadband wireless infrastructure directly to the cities and are looking for partnerships at the municipal level. Municipalities meanwhile, representing the largest users in most communities, having no real expertise in these areas, are anxious to have partners who can show them the way.
There is a great deal of doubt about the right technology for such broadband infrastructures be they wired or wireless. How much broadband is enough broadband? And is that upstream or downstream? More importantly, perhaps, what makes economic sense? How best to roll out such a system in a community?
Equally important, should a community pursue a wireless alternative when most of us believe both wired and wireless will be necessary? If we need to use technology as a transforming tool for e-commerce, e-government, e-health -- e-everything as we move along the pathway to becoming a 21st century smart community -- don't we need both and maybe more to create a robust community-wide information infrastructure?
While the U.S. continues its downward slide one must ask, what is it about South Korea and Finland? What do they see that we don't? Why have they been able to move so quickly and provide broadband in such quantity?
FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin told the Wall Street Journal recently that the low population density of Korea made it highly unfair to compare it to the U.S. It is true that the capital city of Seoul -- which itself accounts for a quarter of the approximately 50 million population of Korea -- is chock-a-block with high rises, making broadband communications much easier than in a country as dispersed as the U.S. But this experience is dissimilar to that of Iceland, Norway or Sweden, which have even lower population densities than the U.S. So density itself may not be the advantage that South Korea has. South Korea and Iceland, moreover, provide broadband in some cases eight times faster than the U.S.
What does seem to be common in South Korea and Iceland however is that both countries recognize that such infrastructure means the difference between success and mere survival in the new economy. Both countries therefore have adopted "goals", and benchmarks to reach those goals. Both have adopted long-range plans to transform their countries using technology.
There is a strong desire on the part of national governments to achieve penetration rates and service levels in a matter of months and years. These metrics and longer-range goals and are well understood by all the providers and consumer community. Government meets regularly with the private sector to help set those goals and importantly, works with communities and providers to meet them. It has laid out billions of dollars to provide a high-speed backbone to link government and public institutions and additional billions and incentives to provide similar service to so-called rural areas. It is true that the U.S., after all, created the Internet, and has made an attempt to provide some incentives to our rural areas, but nothing of the order or magnitude of South Korea, Iceland or other leading broadband countries.
All this calls for unique federal, state and local action. Perhaps something akin to the 1987 Advanced Television Advisory Committee (ATC) should be established. The ATC was created by the FCC to help develop high-definition television standards for use by broadcast, cable, satellite and importantly, computer and software industries, and to create some guidelines for advanced television usage for entertainment, health care, education or government. It was clear that there were standards to be set and goals to be established. America was behind Japan, which had already spent several billion dollars establishing its standard -- albeit, an analog one.
Within a few years this committee -- well represented by all the players and consumers alike -- produced meaningful guidelines for the FCC. We are today in a similar position. We are behind the rest of the world in a field in which we must lead. Our nation depends heavily upon the production use and transfer of knowledge-based products and services. We have pretty much lost our manufacturing capacity.
Now that the world is flat, as author Thomas Friedman says, we are seeing more and more of our high tech and biotech goods and services being outsourced. This however is only a symptom of the larger global economy. Increasingly other countries will be developing their own high tech goods and services.
For us to compete, for us to survive, we must develop the infrastructure of the 21st century much faster than we have been, and incentivize whole communities to begin using these new infrastructures to begin transforming their communities to compete in this new global economy. We must assure our cities that they can and should plan on building their information highways, in partnership with existing providers, and help them by clearing away the regulatory hurdles and logistical doubts. We need to set the standards for interconnection, and encourage alliances and partnerships as needed. We must develop a new deregulatory framework to promote broadband deployment and continued innovation. We must in short, establish and sustain a National Infrastructure Initiative to get our country back on track.
John M. Eger, a telecommunications lawyer, and Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University, was also director the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy.
Technorati Tags: National Infrastructure, Broadband, Telecommunication
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Saturday, April 15, 2006
My new SciTech Watch column is up over at Blogcritics. Its a short piece introducing Nanotechnology.
Youth and skill are no match for experience and treachery.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Updated document from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the unintended consequences of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated. - Poul Anderson
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Here's Jeff Prewitt's review of the formal debate between Dr. William Dembski of the Discovery Institute and Dr. Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society as published in the Skeptics Newsletter.
Dembski v. Shermer
by Jeff Prewitt
On Thursday, March 23, I had the pleasure of attending a formal debate between Dr. Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society and Dr. William Dembski of the Discovery Institute on the campus of the University of Kentucky. It’s been two days, but the events are still quite vivid.
I traveled with my brother and a good friend, and, as expected, we had excellent, thought-provoking conversations on several topics spiritual and temporal. It was almost as though we were warming up our brains (so to speak) for the night’s event. We arrived an hour and a half early and, to my surprise, were the first ones there apart from the diligent sound crew. We took seats about five rows back in the center, and watched as people trickled in. I must note for those who haven’t seen it that Memorial Hall looks very much like a church. I felt the strangest urge to genuflect when I entered. It seemed altogether fitting and quite odd at the same time.
After several minutes, seats began filling. Though the hall wasn’t packed until a few minutes before the debate began, it was noticeably more populated at 30 minutes till. It was very interesting just listening to the conversations of the people around me while we waited for the night’s action. I’m sure there were many firm creationists that came to pull for Dembski, but everyone within earshot seemed to be of a more skeptical bend. Despite never having been in a congregation (!) of skeptics before, I quickly felt that these were my kind of people. I listened to men my father’s and grandfather’s age discussing the South Park episode of the night before (Chef’s Farewell — a hot topic!), a man presented another with a Flying Spaghetti Monster emblem, and there was talk of the JREF and the health of Mr. James Randi. Eventually, Dr. Shermer entered the room. He had come from a dinner with KASES members that I was unable to attend. A combination of backwardness and not wanting to disturb the man right before his debate kept me from approaching him, but just being in the same room was enough for me.
A few minutes after 8 local time, the debate began. Dr. Dembski showed examples of very complex systems found in nature (his favorite seemed to be bacterial flagella), and presented the case that evolution through natural selection could not account for the complexity of such systems. He also presented his belief that the statistical improbability of life as we know it happening by chance was so high that it seems unreasonable to believe that such life began by natural processes. Dembski was quite civil during his opening remarks. He even had a funny clip from Dumb and Dumber which related to his probability theme. His delivery was somewhat dry and he rarely cracked a smile (though he seemed a little under the weather — I can’t really judge since I’ve never watched him before), but on the whole he was worth listening to (much more so than, say, Kent Hovind).
Dr. Shermer was given 25 minutes to speak next, and I feel he made the very most of it. Shermer rebutted that complexity can come through natural selection, and presented examples of earlier forms of flagella that were steps up the evolutionary staircase to those mentioned by Dembski. He argued that we simply don’t know what the probabilities are in the formation of life, so any attempts to quantify the improbability of our being here are only guesswork. Shermer noted that many systems in the body show more evidence of a bottom-up tinkerer than a top-down designer. In other words, we seem like we came to our present form more from trial-and-error than from the necessarily perfect design of a perfect creator. Why do I have an appendix and nipples, when I don’t need either to function?
Shermer went on to say that being pro-evolution does not require you to be anti-religious. There are many scientists, Christian and otherwise, who see the overwhelming evidence for evolution and are honest enough to realize that it must take place. He said that science is not about miracles. We (science) don’t know yet how we got here on the cosmological scale, but as we learn how it could happen, we can test things in a lab. Saying “God did it,” though it may come from a strong belief, is not science. It can’t be tested unless He decides to show himself and submit to tests (sound of crickets chirping).
The homerun of the night, in my opinion, came when Dr. Shermer put up a quote by Isaac Newton. In that quote, Newton pointed out that the planets in our solar system lie roughly in a nice, level plane. This, he argued, was proof positive of design by a benevolent (and somewhat artistic) creator. Why don’t Intelligent Design proponents use this argument now? In the centuries since Newton said this, science has shown that this is completely a natural phenomenon. No one, not even IDers will argue that point. Because we didn’t know how it was done, we attributed it to God. The more we learn happens naturally, the less there is for God to do. Our species has gone from our cave-dwelling ancestors attributing everything to a Deity to now, only putting Him in charge of a few, ever-decreasing number of things. What do we think of now as so impossible it must have been done by God? By Dembski’s own words, he feels that evolution is one such thing.
In the question and answer session that followed, I was surprised by the fact that every question asked seemed to come from the skeptic side. I had fully expected the churches to mobilize against the “Darwinists” and to quote scripture to Shermer. This was absolutely not the case. Dembski was called upon to defend his work. Was it peer-reviewed? What theories have Intelligent Design contributed to science? Did he support the “Wedge Document” that the Discovery Institute formulated as their plan to bring religion back to education?
Finally, it was time for closing remarks. Here, Dembski took a cheap shot that seemed somewhat unbecoming of him. He took issue with Shermer’s remarks that a Christian can believe in evolution, and that it doesn’t require losing your faith to accept the theory. He said that Shermer did not, in fact, remain an evangelical Christian — seeming to suggest that evolution was the sole cause of this. Unfortunately, that remark was probably enough to stop some honest, open-minded religious type from searching out the truth for him/herself. There’s nothing like the fear of eternal damnation to stop someone from thinking for themselves and resume following the clergy blindly.
The point of it all for me, is that science takes what we see and makes conclusions and finds answers (more like tentative solutions) based on the evidence. ID starts with the answer that they want, and tries to make the evidence fit that answer. That is simply not science.
Your good nature will bring unbounded happiness.
Monday, April 10, 2006
* Public Knowledge Opposes Government Technology Mandates, Not All DRM: Public Knowledge is not against content protection — but we are against government mandated content protection that puts the FCC in the role of gatekeeper for new technologies. There are other options for protecting content, and the marketplace should sort them out.
* The Broadcast Flag is not Narrow: There is no “narrow” way to implement the broadcast flag scheme because it necessarily puts the FCC in the role of gatekeeper, having to approve and certify every technology that might carry DTV — computers, cellphones, gameboys, etc. As proof of the broad scope of the flag, when petitioned to exempt lawful uses of digital television, the FCC declined saying “practical and legal difficulties of determining which types of broadcast content merit protection from indiscriminate redistribution and which do not.”
* The Broadcast Flag will Cause Consumer Confusion and Slow the DTV Transition: At a time when Congress is concerned about making television sets obsolete at the end of the DTV transition, the flag would similarly render obsolete much consumer equipment because commonly used devices will not work together unless all use the same copy protection technology. The flag will not help the transition to DTV, and indeed might harm it because it makes consumers’ TVs less functional than before.
* The Broadcast Flag Limits Fair Use: As the May 11, 2005 Congressional Research Service report noted, the flag will prevent important fair uses, like the ability of teachers to engage in distance learning and the ability of individuals to email fair use portions of works to themselves and others.
* The Broadcast Flag is Not about P2P: The infringement associated with Revenge of the Sith and other movies that have appeared online has absolutely nothing to do with the flag. Rather, the flag is about protecting supposedly “free” over the air digital television. MPAA has provided no evidence that this content was being pirated nor would it be anytime in the near future.
* Digital Broadcast Content is Already Being Shown in HD with No Protection: In contrast to the argument that broadcasters won’t put on “high value” content, we note that most prime time television is already broadcast in HDTV, without protection. Viacom threatened in 2002 to withhold programming, but did not do so and is now one of the leading producers of HDTV.
* The Court Spoke to the Merits of the Broadcast Flag: The D.C. Circuit’s broadcast flag decision was not merely “procedural.” In ruling that the FCC did not have the authority to impose a broadcast flag scheme, the Court was ruling on the scheme’s merits — namely, that it is so far reaching in its scope that it would permit the FCC, in the words of one judge at oral argument, to regulate “washing machines.”
* To view a formatted version of these points in PDF, click here.
Here’s the Table of Contents of What Every Citizen Should Know About DRM, written by Public Knowledge Legal Director Mike Godwin.
I. A Brief Introduction To DRM and its Relationship to Copyright Law
What is “DRM,” and How Did It Get Here?
How Copyright Is Different From Other Rights
Why Copying Used To Matter, and Why It Still Does
When Printing Presses Became Commonplace
The Growth and Expansion of Copyright Law
Technological Changes Challenge Copyright Law
The Ways of Adapting to Cheap Copying
How Copying Enriches Our Culture
II. What Does DRM Look Like?
A. Encrypting or Scrambling Content
C. Other Approaches
III. Should DRM Be Imposed By the Government?
A Brief History of Software Copy Protection
The Advantages of Selling Software Rather Than Content
How The Content Producers Have Responded
IV. The “Threat Model” of Universal Infringement,and the Potential Threats Posed By DRM
A. Can “Peer to Peer” Be Stopped On the Internet Itself?
B. Who’s a Host On Today’s Internet?
V. Conclusion: Can There Be a “Humane” DRM?
Dear President and Mrs. Bush:
I hope this letter finds you well. I note that you are both busy doing things to keep yourselves active in your "empty nest" years. But, while it is touching to see former President Bush travel the globe, raising money and awareness for disaster relief, and Mrs. Bush making sure the victims of Katrina are happy and resettled in Houston, I write about a matter which may, alas, have a somewhat negative impact on those admirable pursuits.
I know over the past several years we have spoken, sometimes at length, about your son, George, and the problems he's been facing since his move to Washington. And I know that your avowals and promises that his behavior would improve were every bit as sincere as my own belief in their accuracy. Unfortunately, however, his actions and deportment have, if anything, grown worse over time. The list of his transgressions is extensive and makes for painful reading:
His inability to accept, willingly and sincerely, any responsibility for things he has done remains unchanged; when caught in an egregious bit of recklessness (whether by commission or omission), his response is a token, empty expression of culpability, followed by a complete lack of remediation or, indeed, any change whatsoever in his behavior.
His lying, too, proceeds apace. From his categorical assertions about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction, to his repeated claims that there were Al Qaeda terror cells in pre-invasion Iraq, to his recent proclamations that all is going well in that country, he continues to display a rather dismaying indifference to the distinctions between fact, opinion, and wishful thinking. (I will pass over his oft-repeated claim that he speaks to God -- Who, in turn, he implies, speaks to him; such a matter is best left to you, your son, and your respective clergy.)
I find myself particularly chagrined at several especially juvenile aspects of George's personality, including cheating (e.g., his shameful withholding from Congress the true cost of his Medicare program), bullying (cf. his "gang's" plot to betray the identity of Valerie Plame, his firing of Gen. Shinseki, and his traducing and dismissing of anyone who disagrees with him), his "playing hooky" (must he go on so many, and such extended, vacations?), and his penchant for blaming others, such as the poor, bereft residents of New Orleans -- who, he suggested, were responsible for their own inability to leave that city when cataclysmic danger threatened.
His lack of participation is also of concern: that he could be present at a briefing concerning the impending Gulf Coast hurricane without taking notes, asking a single question, or in any way contributing to the discussion, was as vexing as it was disappointing. He looked like nothing so much as a person who couldn't wait for the session to end and for recess to begin.
As for his habitual inability -- or mere unwillingness -- to do his homework, that, too, has not improved. He had no exit strategy when he "led" our troops into Iraq. Despite ample resources and forewarning, he took no steps to prevent the wholesale looting of that country; and indeed his entire indifference to matters of science, history, geography, meteorology, and diplomacy mark him as one of the least diligent and "prepared" presidents of all time. Of his sympathy, expressed or implied, for creationism and so-called "intelligent design," the less said, the better.
You had both promised me, when I raised these issues during his first term, that this behavior on his part was anomalous, and stemmed from the fact that he "was new at all this" and "had fallen in with the wrong crowd." You insisted that as soon as he escaped their influence, his record would improve. I must tell you, however, that he is still associating with these people, and there is no sign we'll see much of a difference in his performance between now and the end of his second term.
It is, therefore, with heavy heart that I must ask you to come and take your son home.
In addition, as any parent whose child has borrowed the family car for a "joy ride" and gotten into an accident knows, it is the adult caregiver of record who is held financially responsible for any and all damages the child incurs. I think I may state without fear of contradiction that we have bent over backwards and "looked the other way" with regards to the (sometimes shocking) expenses run up by your son. However, our accountants and attorneys have now informed us that we are to insist that you make reparation for all of George's mistakes. (Please see itemized bill, attached. You may, if you wish, round the sum off to the nearest hundred billion. Kindly make the check payable to "U.S. Treasury.")
I hate to see anyone go so far astray, and I'm especially saddened that it's your son. I remember thinking, during his early days among us, that he was a late bloomer, and that he could really turn his life around and make you -- and us -- proud. We are deeply sorry we were not able to help him realize that hope. And we're even sorrier that his record will severely inhibit the chances of his brother who, as you have said, has wanted to follow in his footsteps.
We will, out of respect for you, try to keep these offenses and criticisms off of George's permanent record, but with the speed and ubiquity of today's Internet, that plan seems highly unrealistic.
Please let me know when you will be arriving to pick him up and we'll make the appropriate arrangements. And as soon as you can pay off his debts, the sooner we can put this all behind us.
With sincerest regrets,
John Q. Public
Never wear anything that panics the cat.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Thursday, April 06, 2006
These are my two pet rats. Rattie sisters, Dot and Dash.
They share the same sleeping quarters although Dot is significantly larger than her sister.
The fundamental principle of science, the definition almost, is this:
the sole test of the validity of any idea is experiment. - Richard P. Feynman