Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Catchup Misc Items (non-political!)

Thanks, those of you who have helped with computer-related problems. Interesting discussions... and the worst dilemmas were wonderfully solved.

Now for a data dump of wonderful miscellaneous stuff:

Under the category of “I predicted this!” ...A trend toward increased Citizen Journalism.

Eleven new essays about the implications of molecular manufacturing — an advanced form of nanotechnology — were released today. Written by members of a that we have organized at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, the articles offer promising opportunities and raise troubling concerns. Covering topics from commerce to criminology, from ethics to economics, and from humanity's remote past to the distant future, these essays illustrate the profound transformation that nanotechnology will have on all aspects of society. (See my essay in the previous batch.)

Under the category of WOW!

DARK energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin. A new and as yet undiscovered kind of star could explain both phenomena and, in turn, remove black holes from the lexicon of cosmology.

World's Largest Rivers Drying Up -- (RHC -- March 14, 2006)
United Nations investigation has revealed that half of the planet's 500 biggest rivers are seriously depleted or polluted. The world's great rivers are drying up at an alarming rate, according to the report, with devastating consequences for humanity, animals and the future of the planet.

CHECK IT OUT: ”Dance, Monkeys, Dance!” a fun, though predictable bit of hypercynicism ranting. Reminds me a lot of the fun sci fi bit called “They’re Made Out of Meat.)

The Terasem Movement, Inc. has posted online streaming videos of a Moot Court Hearing on the Petition of a "conscious computer" to be treated as a legal person. A Moot Court Hearing is a legal role-playing exercise conducted by real lawyers and judges in preparation for anticipated actual adjudicatory proceedings.

NASA and Google Bring Mars to PCs Everywhere -- (New Scientist -- March 13, 2006)
With Google's help, web surfers can now navigate from the plains of Meridiani to the Proctor Crater Dunes on Mars as though they were two local destinations. Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility and Google teamed up to produce Google Mars, a mapping tool, which allows users to view and scroll across the surface of the Red Planet, visiting its many landmarks.

Suit Raises Copyright Questions -- (Yahoo -- April 12, 2006)
An ongoing lawsuit between a company and a popular archive of Web pages raises questions about whether the archive unavoidably violates copyright laws while providing a valuable service, experts say. The nonprofit Internet Archive was created in 1996 to preserve Web pages that will eventually be deleted or changed. More than 55 billion pages are stored there.

“Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post recently reported on South Koreans paying for U.S. couples to adopt their children so that they can gain access to Western education.” This illustrates a trend that I have spoken of for years. Unmentioned in the US press is the fact that - while we wring our hands and institute testing, in order to make American schools more like those in the Orient (e.g. No Child Left Behind) - similar handwringing takes place over there, yearning for education to be “more American.”


I sometimes receive word from musicians that my books have inspired their work. You can find examples - like Siderius - at davidbrin.com. The latest of these is Gravity +: The Eric Thompson Project. Cool, experimental, good guitar work. And free.

Some fans have set up a site to roleplay in a version of the Uplift Universe (albeit a heavily modified one). See: http://s3.invisionfree.com/Uplift_RPG/ And report back if it’s either great or awful!


Anonymous said...

As a long-time gamer (hands up anybody else who blundered around the Starship Warden or gets nervous at the smell of cinnamon), I gotta admit a proclivity towards home-brew settings. This is where many of us cut our world-designing teeth... which is, IMO, a very under-appreciated skill.

The fact that the world's great rivers are a mess is something that I've been trying to get people talking about (largely without success, because I am a poor orator). This is due to a confluence of factors: population boom, transportation technologies, personal economics, consumption of fresh water... like most interesting problems, not easily solved. Conservation measures would be a good first step, but few people have ever conserved themselves out of having a shortage of anything.

Anonymous said...

Everytime I read about a big new theory in physics that seems to be radically different from the current best theories, I immediately get very skeptical. This is not because of the researchers claims, but mostly due to the popular media's tendency to either exaggerate or misreport science stories. My own physics background is insufficient to determine whether what I'm reading is plausible, essentially impossible, old news being reported as new, or genuine new science with less far-reaching implications than implied.

So when I read that dark energy and dark matter are being explained at the expense of the traditional model of black holes, I of course immediately begin to wonder. I'm a little less suspicious because I read the link here, and I consider you to be a generally reliable source, and definitely more knowledgeable on the subject than I.

But I still have questions that I don't really know how to get answers from. Has anyone here (including you, David) read more than the New Scientist article? Can anyone tell me if these models that predict the behavior we're currently observing are true, complete models, and not just outlines of possible models that have yet to be developed(like most string theory models seem to be). In other words, have the researchers said what we would need to see in order to verify the models?

On an only slightly related note, I wonder if such claims as these would get more or less attention or respect if they had been rephrased to say that the models predicted that black holes were different than what we thought they were, as opposed to saying that black holes don't exist and that dark energy stars are what we were mistaking for black holes. How different does an explanation of an observed phenomenon have to be before we change the name of the phenomenon as opposed to just changing our model for how it works?


Anonymous said...

The current political climate seems tailored made to make bad environmental news sink out of sight with a sad little "blup!"

Fear of terrorism can be used to dismiss long-term worries as frivolous luxuries.

Tight economic times and high fuel costs can be used to justify loosening environmental regulations.

The right-wing spin machine can be used to sic a legion of resentment addicts against any issue that threatens someone's interests.


* Unless you're, you know, already rich.

Tony Fisk said...

Rivers drying up is no news in Australia.

The Murray Darling basin is on the critical list, the Snowy river has about 1% of its original flow, and the Gippsland lakes are becoming increasingly saline due to the Thompson river being dammed for Melbourne's water supply.

The good news is that the need to allow a certain percentage of flow to maintain the health of water systems has been recognised and the Snowy, at least, has been permitted a few extra drops. It doesn't help that Melbourne's catchments are still recovering after several years of drought, though (see here)


Anyway, more cool stuff to ponder...

Dolphins 'have their own names'
(no news on whether any respond to 'Creideiki' yet!)

Jamais Cascio has resurfaced with his own blog here. He has been attending the 'Metaverse Roadmap Project' on the future of the internet. One *really* cool sounding item on show was a thing called Open Croquet which is "an open source, peer-to-peer 3D environment system that everyone who got a chance to see it declared to be shockingly cool". It's available for download for Windows, Linux, and Mac and sounds like something that would appeal to you, David (even if only to list what they could do better!;-)

Kevin said...

How could these dark energy stars both produce the anti-gravity effects of dark energy and pull in objects around them just as black holes would?
This sounds contradictory to me.

reason said...

Tony Fisk,
that story about dolphins is just great. Another unique human trait hits the dust. Won't be long and we will find out that lots of animals do it.
Its not clear to what extent they have proved the concept though. Or how the dolphins use it. It didn't say they told the dolphins "go tag (whistle grunt whistle)" did it?

Anonymous said...

Conscious computers with the same full legal rights as humans will be half of the partnership of the Joint Stewardship of Earth between robots and humans.

Rob Perkins said...

We're entering a global warming period, accelerated by human activity (and not for the first time, I might add). Of course the rivers are drier; warmer air means a higher saturation point in the air for water.

And it would be untrue to say that people aren't trying to do something about it (which is the tone of many of these sorts of screeds, IMO), with regard to how we live along those waterways. One is in my neighborhood: the Klamath River Basin. One faction wants the irrigating farmers to lay down and die, the other the fish. And compromise is difficult, but they're getting closer to it. One wonders if they'll get there before either actually does lay down and die for all time.

Anonymous said...

Re: Dolphin names

A linguist's guesses

Talking animals push my buttons.

Anonymous said...

Interesting paper on why space travel / asteroid mining / etc. has failed to attract investors:

The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects

* * *

Fah! I want my self-conscious computers to be willing and enthusiastic vassals. I'll tie a rope around their power cords that will let me power them down if they get pushy, and I'll store their neural-network back-up disks in an old microwave that I can fire up at a moment's notice.

David Brin said...

Um, Stefan, what if the AIs become added layers to the human brain? I portray this in STONES OF SIGNIFICANCE. In that story, the old organic human "cortex" is indeed humbled and lowered in status, as only one of several intelligent organs of each human entity (the others being cybernetic. Still, I think you'll agree this does not turn out to seem so awful, after all.

what follows is a bit of good news from PPI. Your reaction to it will show a lot about whether you are a liberal (or even qusi conservative) reformist-pragmatic-modernist or a grouchy lefty indignation junky...

Child Labor Rates Are Falling
( PPI "Trade Fact of the Week" from Progressive Policy Institute.)

The Numbers:
Children in hazardous work, 2000: 111 million
Children in hazardous work, 2004: 74 million

What They Mean: Last week's report from the International Labor Organization is startlingly optimistic: If the trends of the early 21st century continue for 10 years, "the elimination of the worst forms of child labor by 2016 would be a feasible proposition."

Four years ago, the ILO's first child labor survey found the world had 1.2 billion children between the ages of five and 14 in the year 2000, of whom 211 million were "economically active," 191 million were child laborers, and 111 million worked in hazardous jobs.

(The ILO defines these as occupations which "by nature or type, have or lead to adverse effects on the child's safety, physical or mental health, and moral development.") Its new report finds all these numbers down, concluding that "child work is declining, and the more harmful the work and the more vulnerable the children involved, the faster the decline."

By 2004, the total number of economically active children had fallen to 191 million, which includes 166 million child laborers, and 74 million in hazardous jobs. These totals break down in two ways:

• By industry: Most child workers -- 132 million of the 191 million economically active children -- are in agriculture, which the ILO defines as including fishing and forestry as well as farm work. Another 48 million children work in services, while the remaining 20 million are in mining, construction, and manufacturing.

• By region: The ILO finds 122 million of Asia's 650 million children economically active, along with 49 million of Africa's 187 million children and 5.7 million of Latin America's 111 million.

Between the two surveys, child labor rates fell everywhere in the world. Economic development, urbanization, and falling birth rates all seem to reduce child labor over time, and international campaigns against child labor dating to the mid-1990s appear effective. But Latin America and the Caribbean stand out.

Child labor rates have declined comparatively slowly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. By contrast, they have plummeted in Latin America and the Caribbean; the ILO found 17.4 million economically active children in 2000, and only 5.7 million in 2004. Assuming there is no flaw in the statistics, a four-year drop of 67 percent implies that within this decade, child labor could essentially vanish from the western hemisphere.

What explains Latin America's record? Latin governments seem especially active in encouraging school for low-income and rural children. Brazil gets special praise for the bolsa escola program set up during the presidency of Fernando Cardoso, and extended as bolsa familia under current President Ignacio Lula da Silva. The ILO credits the program, which pays low-income rural families small stipends to keep children in school; with helping raise Brazilian primary school attendance from 86 percent to 97 percent since the mid-1990s, and increasing high school enrollment by 10 percent annually in this decade. Mexico also earns praise for its Oportunidades program; Chile's Solidario Chile is a similar case.

Tony Fisk said...

Stefan: read Fred Brown's 'The Answer'

David: astonishingly good news, on the face of it.
Of course, I'd like to know whether the definition of 'hazardous work' changed between 2000 and 2004...

Plus, these trends tend to asymptote rather than go straight.

(Does my cautionary note make me a grouchy leftist on thursdays?)

Sidereus said...


Thanks for the musical plug. I really enjoyed Brightness Reef/Infinity's Shore/Heavan's Reach.

As a new OS X user, you may want to introduce your children (and yourself!) to Apple's Garage Band 3: http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/. A great way to instantly arrange and record music – even for novice musicians.

I believe that music creation is currntly undergoing a similar revolution as desktop publishing of the 1980's . . .



Anonymous said...

My attempt at humor was obviously too subtle.

* * *

Was "The Answer" the one that ends "There is now!"?

* * *

I don't think it's free-on-the-web any more, but around '91 I wrote up a civilization description (We Who Harvest Souls) for role playing games in which biological sapients -- and animals, even -- were essentially the experiential larval stage for AI intelligences.

Oh, it IS still free-on-the-web:


Mark Brown said...

Hi David, & everyone else
David quoted: about the Moot court proceedings on non-biological intelligence. --->
The Terasem Movement, Inc. has posted online streaming videos of a Moot Court Hearing on the Petition of a "conscious computer" to be treated as a legal person.

Very interesting, and it seems vaguely familiar subject to me. As a matter of fact, I seem to recall Isaac Asimov wrote a short story that was turned into the novel bicentenial man...

Having (literally, since I owned/ran a word processing service years ago)
typed and read HUNDREDS of moot court briefs, that sounds like so much of the stuff the master wrote would have come into play here

Sigh. I guess I'm not the only one around here who misses him either...

Anonymous said...

One of the things about the health of rivers is the health of the streams that feed them. And lots of streams are pretty messed up. Not so much by people dumping crap in them, though that happens, but by paving.

Paving screws with the way water enters the stream, since the pavement doesn't absorb water like dirt. It just all gets flushed into storm drains, carrying all the happy oil and stuff from the roads, and dumped at full speed into the streams, which flow faster and higher and not the same way they used to. Which wipes out some of the animals and plants, plus all the toxins from the roads and lawns and things. And with the constant spread of developments with names like "Brookside" or "Cedar Creek" or whatever, it just gets worse. Especially since most of those developments end up channeling the stream they're named after into underground pipes to have more room for gigantic ugly houses.

Man, I wish some of these big problems had nice simple big answers, instead of requiring a zillion tiny changes.

Anonymous said...

Stefan posted:
"Interesting paper on why space travel / asteroid mining / etc. has failed to attract investors:"

"The Political Economy of Very Large Space Projects"

It's an interesting paper, but, as it's seven years old, it's a little behind the times. The "very large projects" method, in its failure, seems to be giving way to the "incrementalist" approach, such as Scaled Composite's Tier 1/Tier 2/Tier 3 approach.

The Scaled Composites approach basically works like this:

Tier 1
-Develop a suborbital experimental spaceplane, win the X-Prize. So far, this phase has been completed.

Tier 2
-Develop a larger suborbital commercial spaceplane for tourist use. SS2 is currently under development; Virgin Galactic has ordered five of them, with the first flights planned for 2008.

Tier 3
-Develop an orbital spaceplane utilizing money and knowhow generated by the first two phases. While this is a quantum leap up from a suborbital design, such a spaceplane is no longer technologically unfeasible.

At the moment, tickets for these suborbital jaunts are $200,000 a piece. Ridiculous? Not as much as it may seem- it's basically space philanthropy with a joyride attached. And Virgin Galactic has already collected a large number of $20,000 deposits on tickets, and enough interest to show that such a venture will likely be commercially viable. Most importantly, almost all the money is simply being plowed back into R&D- for orbital craft, for a space hotel, etc. While it won't be wildly profitable, the goal is to make the system self-sustaining.

Even if Scaled Composites plane doesn't work out, there are at least four other companies (that I know of) in the U.S. and U.K. working on spaceplane development, and this is a better time than ever for rapidly dropping the price of access to orbit. Crucial technologies now exist- ultra-light, strong, heat-resistant nanocomposites... Hybrid-LOX drives, like the British SABRE... scramjets, like the X-43 recently tested by the Air Force... technologies that didn't exist when planes like the X-30 were proposed back in the 80's. In addition, there are government programs (like India's Avatar) that are working on similiar launch technologies. Additionally, there's more private capital available for such projects, due to the tech revolution; nerds like Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos, who grew up on science and science fiction, now have command of billions of dollars which they seem happy to throw at their childhood dreams.

And, to be frank, some of the old colonization visions were a bit ridiculous. What is the point of an L-5 Colony, really? I can see justification for a space hotel or a large research and construction base; I might see justification for mining on the moon; I sincerely hope that we colonize and terraform Mars someday, as it would be the greatest project and triumph in human history. But orbital colonies? Why not build huge cities on the Antarctican ice, or under water, or 10 miles under the Earth's crust? Any of the three would be more practical if simply establishing a colony independent of Earth's polities is your goal.

But in general, I have a lot more hope for the future of manned space flight now than I did ten years ago- and living in Albuquerque, with a $200 million spaceport under construction a hundred miles south of here, it's hard not to be excited. If launch costs can be dropped to a fraction of what they are now- nothing out of the range of current technological and commercial feasibility- then the rest will likely follow.

Anonymous said...

I like the way my nieghborhood handles creeks and streams: It leaves them be, with a healthy buffer of wetland around them.

There are plenty of houses and apartment complexes; they run right up to the borders of the wetlands. But the encroachment is kept in check.

As a result the local Intel plant has a large population of beaver, nutria, ospreys, coyotes, and other critters.

* * *

In the "L-5" era, space colonies were justified by acting as construction sites for solar power stations.

There was a creepy-in-hindsight messianic quality to the quality of L-5 boosterism. Lots of SF writers, from lefty Mack Reynolds to righty Jerry Pournelle, jumped on the Space Colony Novel bandwagon. Terms like "off the shelf hardware" were tossed around with abandon and we all had Three Minute Hates shaking our fist at pictures of Senator Proxmire.

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...

Well, I don't know about you all, but my neighborhood (and every new one built in the county) has a bioswale, in our case the size of a couple football fields, fenced off and cultivated in wild grasses, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. All the drainwater goes through it, and thus garbage doesn't enter the creek in the neighboring wetland.

I actually wish we did it a little differently, so the land for the swale was open to a couple of uses, such as maybe a baseball diamond or two, but I'm willing to let it be what it is.

Anonymous said...

This illustrates a trend that I have spoken of for years. Unmentioned in the US press is the fact that - while we wring our hands and institute testing, in order to make American schools more like those in the Orient (e.g. No Child Left Behind) - similar handwringing takes place over there, yearning for education to be “more American.”

Interesting article, thanks. I would, however, raise two issues. The first is that the highlights of the American system in most things are probably the best in the world - but where it is bad it is dreadful. This applies very seriously to education, and people want to swap an average urban Chinese education (with the implication that there is no other kind) for an expensive (and therefore probably very good) American one.

I'd be interested to see reports of Europeans (particularly Scandinavians) wanting American education... And no, Brits don't count - we always sit as an unhappy medium between Europe and America and therefore look in both directions rather than realise that overall we can compete (although will probably lose) in both directions with the best and leave the other group in the dust.

(Now, if only we could fix that damn Capital-Labour ratio issue and hence deal with our productivity problems).

Anonymous said...

"I'd be interested to see reports of Europeans (particularly Scandinavians) wanting American education"
Hmm, I'm a university student in Scandinavia, and it's my experience that we don't particular "want American education".
In fact, it's occasionally used as some kind of worst-case scenario. "We need to do something to avoid American conditions"

There are still quite a few students studying in the US for a year or so, but I don't think I've ever met anyone who wanted to actually move to the US to study.
We're generally envious of the kind of money the really big US universities can lay their hands on, but that's about the extent of it. You can keep the rest of your education system... ;)

Mark said...


Based on your description, it sounds like we are neighbors. Following your link... sure enough.

Isn't the modern age wonderful. My ten year old has friends she thinks live in the same time zone, but isn't really sure.

Glad to hear about child labor. I'm a bit surprised, I would have expected the number to go up if just because people are getting better and finding it. Hopefully it isn't the reverse, where practitioners are getting better and hiding it.

Mark said...

Ok, that's strange. Stefan, unless you've moved recently maps.google claims the drive from my house to yours is exactly one mile.

Which leads to an interesting question about privacy, doesn't it? It's amazing how quickly I was able to come up with that information.

Andrew Smith said...

(This thread isn't political enough.)

"The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter."


Anonymous said...

"exactly one mile"

If ever you see a dork in a blue sweat suit walking a large shaggy black shepherd, that's me. My three - four mile daily walks take through most of the local neighborhoods.

(I used to walk AROUND the Intel plant every morning, but the dog stopped cooperating.)

Rob Perkins said...


While alarming as writting, I think the NSA story from today is overblown.

I draw this conclusion after hearing the USA Today reporter being interviewed today on NPR, where she was willing to say that *all* American phone records were in the NSA's hands (they are not; Qwest refused to cooperate), as well as making a few other far reaching and alarming statements which went beyond the (very fair) questions the NPR interviewer was asking.

Further, if (IF!) all that was handed over were the records of which phone numbers originated calls to which answering lines, without names, then a patina of privacy still exists, since the names of phone customers would not be first-order queryable data in that database.

The possible uses of such a database, then, would be to identify all the phone numbers contacted by some *known* and hopefully *probable cause established* suspect, in order to aid an investigation. One would first have to identify someone to watch, and only then would we get a phone number from which to begin investigating other parties.

Still and all, two things come to mind: it still freaks me out, unless something like David's contrarian idea of making all the records completely public were to take hold, and even then it still changes the landscape of privacy quite a lot.

Second, it's not as if these alleged/suspected/spectre terrorists won't immediately switch to encrypted Skype calls anyway, now that it's known that such a database exists, meaning that the data is meaningless for that purpose now.

Andrew Smith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Smith said...


The story I posed was not regarding the one that broke today.

It was an investigation of the no-warrant WIRETAPS which we found out about last December.


I don't know how I feel about the one that broke today, i.e. if I want my government establishing the telephone-call graph. The potential for use / abuse is certainly there:

A) "Mr. President, here's a list of the central hubs in the 'al-Qaeda America' phone network."

B) "Mr. President, Here's a list of the people that called the editors of major US newspapers last December and had their calls returned."

The government tracking a leak could ostensibly be called "national security."

[Yes, the name-number mapping is not in that particular database, but come on! It's phone books!]

Anonymous said...

More political fuel. There is an excellent post over on Professor Balkin's blog about the risk profile of the Bush presidency going forward. The conclusion is that Bush has every incentive to make bigger gambles irregardless of who controls Congress after this coming election. I hold out hope, though, that the average person is smart enough for such a policy to backfire.


Anonymous said...

What is dreadfully wrong with the recent NSA moves:

* It is an illegal over-reaching of their mandate. Period.

* They're refusing to be held accountable to investigators.

* By not requiring permission from a court for a particular operation, they're setting things up for misuse in the future. Do you REALLY think this TIA deal or the wiretap facilities installed in phone company equipment rooms will only be used to fight terrorism? The "PATRIOT" act, sold as a tool to fight terror, is instead being used for ordinary law enforcement.

What we're looking at is a system best suited for use by an oligarchic police state.

And now Bush wants to put the guy who oversaw this program in charge of the CIA?

Screw that.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, David; what sort of reactions to the child-labor news story would indicate to you which sort of political bias?

In the interest of quasiscientific investigation, I'm writing my own thoughts down in a separate file to see whether your predictions match my response. ("Quasi-" because of the tiny sample size and the fact that I may have given away some part of my opinion by asking the question in the first place.)

Anonymous said...

Child labor is actually a very complex issue. Some people might say, "That's terrible! I'll never buy a product made with child labor!" Others might say, "It doesn't directly mean anything to me. I'll buy it." Others might not want to know about it.

If you study the issue from an ethical viewpoint, it has many more layers. In most situations, the child doing the labor is the primary wage-earner. Sure they get extremely low wages, but often it is much higher than anyone else in the family. Sure child labor means they will not be educated to do be able to do something else, but it is their income that is keeping the family alive. There might even be a case to be made that child labor is a necessary step along the road to making it to the First World. Certainly the US did it, and now has the luxury of banning it. But do we have the right to export our privileged morality? If your family was starving and having your kid go to work would save them, would it be a moral choice to send them to work? Do you work to ban child labor and doom these families to slow starvation? Do you buy it and support a system of near-slavery?

In my humble opinion, there is no right answer on this and many other issues. You are frequently stuck making an immoral ethical choice or an ethical immoral choice.

A second issue is the low utility of single measures like this. Do the lower numbers really mean a decrease in child labor, or is it that countries are more clever at how they define child labor? If there is less child labor, is that due to internal displacement? Does it mean more starving families? Does it reflect a higher rate of micro-loans to women?

I tell my clients that any single measure of the health of their business is insufficient. I can draw no conclusions from the decline of one metric in the absence of looking at many others. And the complexity of the issue of child labor means I don't even know if a real decline is a good thing in the first place.

Hank Roberts said...

Aside -- for anyone with aging eyes like mine who is having trouble reading the gray-on-blue or blue-on-blue -- you can put the "zap colors" booklet on your toolbar and just click it each time a page reloads to make it black type on white.

No offense to our host who I'm sure finds the page quite readable. I'm from the first half of the last century of the previous millenium, a cohort that's old enough to experience smaller maximum pupil diameter, cloudier lenses and lower visual contrast at the best of times. This is one way to cope, without asking the universe to change globally:

Here: http://www.squarefree.com/bookmarklets/zap.html

Anonymous said...

More on the NSA snooping:


Anonymous said...

From the Defensetech link (thank you):

"Here's what Krebs had to say about the newly-revealed NSA program that aims to track "every call ever made": "If you're looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive. It just doesn't make sense."

Conclusion -- they're not looking for needles.

They're searching the haystack, all of it.

So what are they looking for that requires total search? for weed seeds, moldy hay, left-thinkers, non-Fundamentalists or some other class that requires a complete grip on all communications between everyone all the time.

Rob Perkins said...

I tend to agree with the idea that there's more to it than just terrorist activity profiling. I just don't have any idea whether or not it's illegal.

I heard the USA Today reporter give an interview to NPR. I thought she overstated her case more than four times in the interview. I can't default to trusting her.

And frankly, now that the thing is known, terrorists will simply switch to encrypted Skype calls or some such. Way to go, USA Today. Hope they sold a lot of papers.

Anonymous said...

This blog needs more kitty.

David Brin said...

ankh, I am sorry my format seems blurry. I am glad you found a solution. If enough people vote, I will change. I am just reluctant, after two months of electronic hell, to take on anything that takes TIME...

Rob, anyone who believes the NSA cannot read skype probably believes that the end of the Clipper Chip ensured that PGP is really pretty good privacy.

Hiding from the NSA is a joke. Nor do I want them to be blind. I wish the ACLU would stop worrying about wire taps and start worrying about watching the watchers.

Rob Perkins said...

I tossed Skype out as and example of something which doesn't need the Baby Bells' databases, rendering it useless for fighting terrorists.

One could just as easily set up Jabber peer-to-peer networks and thereby bypass the telco voice services and Skype, altogether. But honestly, people who really want to hide something aren't going to use math crypto; the NSA is actively watching for it!

One wishes the ACLU would watch the watchers (*all* of them) at least as well as the drug dealers in my neighborhood seem to be able to.

Anonymous said...

Why worry about phone privacy? Most of my friends and I just use Hotmail or chat face-to-face. Isn't that easier than phoning someone? (I mean how many times have you phoned someone and gotten their machine? For me its about 9 out of 10 times I get the machine.) And anyway how could they harm you for freedom of speech? (America still believes in free speech right?) And anyway all America has to do to spy on its own people is to get another country to do it for them (like the UK or Canada) and the US can spy on the other country and both can share their intelligence data (only problem with that plan is Canada's spy agency CSIS is internal).

And big rivers drying up, well we are entering an age of global warming. The Earth's climate has its cycles, unfourtunately we are speeding up the cycle a little too much! Also, it seems to be VERY ignored by most people I know mainly because politicians either don't care, or they don't care. Here's an interesting tidbit of information: The Niagara River (the one that feeds the Niagara Falls) only flows at 10(?)% of its original output. This is due to the hydroelectric plant and tapping the river for water.

That dark matter thing sounds kind of interesting. (I haven't read the article yet, mainly due to my extremely slow Internet connection.)

Does anyone here know of a good program that can write musical scores? (And is Freeware.) I'd Google it but my Internet connection sucks.

Google Mars? Holy s***! What is Google going to come up with next! Google Universe? (They have too much time on their hands.)

Well that thing about Asians wanting to get an American education seems contradictory with a Reader's Digest article on the American post-secondary school system. Now, either the Asians are totally ignorant of their school system or Reader's Digest is totally ignorant of the Ameican School system. (Oh thank the Lord I live in Canada. I go to a Catholic school. (Canada has two school board systems: Public and Catholic. (Public school: same as an American public school; Catholic school: Like a public school just with more rules nad mandantory reiligon classes.)))

Nanotech in my humble opinion is quite a promising technology if we use it properly. If used irresponsibly it could be the ultimate weapon. (Nanotech assemblers working in reverse could convert an oil spill into raw materials we could use in an assembler. Or, it could be used by terrorists to "melt" an entire population in to raw materials. (YES, I have a VERY fertile imagination.))

Finally, I'd like to say that the RPG site mentioned in Mr. Brin's post (http://s3.invisionfree.com/Uplift_RPG/) is currently undergoing a massive boom in updates. (YES, I've finally finished my stupid tests and I'm now updating the site with some regularity.) If anyone wants to join, feel free to register, (the really good parts are members only), also if you want you can check out my WIP fanfic.