Wednesday, December 13, 2006

jack's gift

Santa, robots and the frightening year there was a Dark Christmas - what's not to like in a short story?

Monday, December 04, 2006

law of accelerating returns

Some of the most mind-blowing stuff I've read in a while: click on Ray Kurzweil's The Law of Accelerating Returns and just read it.

After reading this essay, I don't doubt Kurweil's assertion that we will likely be able to probe every nook and cranny of a human brain and model it in software within my lifetime. But would such a reconstituted brain be a person? I guess it comes down to this: is there a ghost in the machine?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

constituo, ergo sum

Whilst reading this Wired article discussing why Google may have been willing to pay $1.65 smackeroos for YouTube, I came across what will definitely be the most high-brow groaner I'll see today:

"If you aren't posting, you don't exist," says Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, a new media consultancy. "People say, 'I post, therefore I am.'" Constituo, ergo sum. An interesting formulation that may well represent a new rationalism for the digital age. But for the moment, let's not put Descartes before the horse.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006

wireless power

An MIT professor presented an interesting paper at an American Institute of Physics forum this week: a description of a method to wirelessly transmit power to mobile devices. Unlike existing approaches that use inductive coupling (and normally require devices to be quite close together), this approach makes use of resonance and devices can be several metres apart.

More details are available in this MIT news release, and the paper describing the theory involved is available here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

round 'em up

I just gotta get me one of the EFF's "Fair Use Has A Posse" stickers! Equally as tempting would be the unusual "Andre the Giant Has A Posse" stickers... who thinks this stuff up?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

bittorrent guide

Still faithful to your classic P2P software, but feelin' the urge to experiment with the hot new P2P application everyone is talking about? Check out Brian's BitTorrent FAQ and Guide and go get yerself some torrent goodness...

Friday, November 03, 2006

veggie cannon

I was intrigued by the concept of Make magazine the first time I heard about it. Come on: shop projects for geeks? What was there not to like?

Ditto one of the first podcasts I've seen from Make: a weekend project to build a veggie cannon . Powered by hairspray (I kid you not - could I make this stuff up?). Any description of this mighty veggie cannon that I might provide would pale in comparison to the real thing - go visit this link watch the video to see for yourself.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

posting from google docs

When Google Docs and Spreadsheets was announced, I couldn't resist giving it a try. The mini-tour claimed documents could be posted to your blog and carry over tags you assigned in Docs & Spreadsheets, so I thought I'd give it a go (with this posting).

speed your surfing

After reading this post by NYT columnist David Pogue, I couldn't resist trying out this free web service that claims to speed up surfing by caching DNS requests. It could be just me, but web pages do seem to load more quickly now. The OpenDNS approach itself is also interesting: you tweak the settings on your home router to point to the OpenDNS service, and that's it! No software required on your computer.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

pumpkin pie is pretty

Today's john report posting is by my daughter, Katelyn (who is all of 9 years old). Take it away, Kate!

Pumpkin pie
I think pumkin pie taste good because it is vearry yummy.It is also good because pumkin pie comes from a pumkin and pumpkins are orange (and orange is a pretty colour). And that is all I have to say.
Thanks, Kate!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

copyright siege engine

Gizmodo has a posting that details the capabilities of the new ASUStek WL-700gE wireless router, which I can only describe as a copyright-kickin' siege engine.

Features include:
  • built-in 160GB hard drive
  • USB ports that support a number of devices (including external drives)
  • built-in BitTorrent client that supports up to 7 simultaneous streams
  • UPnP/DLNA support for sharing media content with compatible devices and software (like iTunes).
Not to put a fine point on this: you connect this puppy up to the Internet, spark up your web browser, point this router at torrents and off it goes! If it had the ability to support other software like tvRSS then you could truly use the Internet as your VCR...

Monday, September 25, 2006

top torrent sites

It's been a while since my last posting (geez, this is starting off like a confessional)...

I saw this interesting post this morning reviewing the top BitTorrent aggregation and search sites on the web. Nice breakdown by total torrents indexed, average number of new torrents each day, etc - as seen by the tracking site Alexa. I've been a fan of isoHunt for about a year now - it nearly always manages to have what I'm looking for. The top rated site in the review I read, however, points to an unknown rookie - BTJunkie - as having the most torrents (and most average daily new torrents) of all the torrent sites reviewed. BTJunkie also allows you to register searches and get updates via email when there are new hits (though who knows how much spam this may generate).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

compile the prime, do the time

The illegal prime posting on reddit was guaranteed to capture my attention - it combines elements of both intellectual property and mathematics.

As a mind game, this one looks fun. Since it is illegal in the US of A to possess code that defeats encryption schemes that protect digital media (a la the lovely DMCA) some hackers tried thinking of some interesting loopholes. The one they have come up with takes advantage of the behaviour of at least one version of gzip - to ignore bytes after the end of a null terminated compressed file. They generated two large prime numbers that represents the DeCSS algorithm that can unlock the encryption used to protect DVD media. Unzip one number and voila! - you get DeCSS C code. Unzip another and you get directly executable code.

Now, surely knowledge of a prime number is not considered a crime? Certainly intellectual property law sees numbers (and mathematics in general) as "elements of nature", beyond copyright or patent protection, and belonging to everyone. So far, it doesn't look like this has been tested in court. Best guess is that possession of the number would not be considered illegal, but some interpretations (like the DeCSS source code) would be.

I wonder if anyone has patented this idea yet [evil grin]...

Illegal Prime [Wikipedia]

Saturday, March 25, 2006

gmail switcharoo redux

Here is an update on my last post with a few notes regarding the switch:
  1. If you want to become a Gmail Masta, my young padawan, then you must become one with tools like Gmail Macros. Check out this article at Lifehacker to learn how to label and archive emails with mere keystrokes!
  2. Once you decide to take the plunge and start working with all personal email in Gmail, you'll want access to your archived mail as well as new messages. Happily, a lot of clever people wanted exactly the same thing, and created a solution that everyone can use. Mark Lyon's Gmail Loader will intelligently import your old email into Gmail, taking care to preserve the "From:" field and submitting email in a way that allows Gmail to group it into its funky conversations goodness. Available as a Windows program and Python scripts.
  3. The first time you want to send a message to someone, you'll want your address book of contacts from your last email client. Check out this Gmail article to learn how to import contacts into Gmail.
I sucked in several hundred archived emails into Gmail and I've been using Gmail Macro keyboard shortcuts to label and archive 'em like mad. I'm still amazed just how right Google got this email interface.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

the gmail switcharoo

I've enjoyed using Gmail from the first day I started, but tonight I hit a turning point: I've decided to switch to Gmail for all of my personal email.

Up to this point I've lead a dual-email-system life: Thunderbird and fetchmail on my home server for Shaw email, and Gmail for a newsletters, Google Alerts, etc. News from family, kids soccer and hockey email, etc. would hit my Shaw account, and stuff like the Gentoo Weekly News would hit my Gmail account.

No longer. I've increasingly found working in Gmail to be a breeze (especially with tools like the Gmail Macros greasmonkey script for Firefox) and working with email in Thunderbird to be a pain. Don't get me wrong - Thunderbird is a great client. There are two things, though, that it can't help me with:

  1. Threaded conversations: related emails are shown in a timeline in Thunderbird in default. Using the topic view would only group them; nothing beats the integrated roll-up conversation view in Gmail.
  2. Labels for email management: the family Shaw email account contains email for Kim and I (and once in a while, the kids). Guess who usually wades through it all? Since I don't want to file a message into a folder that Kim or the kids should read, I end up leaving it in the inbox. There are hundreds there right now, just waiting (in vain). The Gmail Macros let me label and archive messages with just a few keystrokes.
So how will I shift messages from the family Shaw account to my Gmail account? Easy - just flip on auto-forward for all messages. The "send from" feature in Gmail is also smart enough to send replys to messages using the "From:" address they were addressed to, so this switch will be invisible to folks sending email to our Shaw account.

One last note: although I expect it unlikely that Google will disappear anytime soon, there is always a chance that my archived email might be lost. I've configured fetchmail on my server to continue downloading email from Shaw on a daily basis as a backup. That way, if for some reason my archived email evaporates at Google, I'll still have a copy (although not as kewl an interface to it).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

dark measure of technology

Whilst flipping through Compusmart, London Drugs and Future Shop flyers this weekend, I was struck by just how commoditized some technology has become. Linksys 802.11b/g routers, for example, can be had for $60 CAD (after rebate) brand-spankin' new - or search eBay and get 'em for even less. The same technology from a company like Cisco, 10 years ago, would have cost thousands of dollars. And 25 or so years ago, during the height of the Cold War, well... having the same technology in your hands might have put you on a CIA or KGB hit list.

Now there's an idea for a darker kind of technology index: the likelihood that intelligence agencies 20-something years ago would have killed you for it. Measures such as processor clock speed, Mbps, etc, all have far less emotional impact. Imagine having your current home or work computer with you in Grade 9; you would have been the ultimate uber-geek, with enough computing power to render the most complex photo-realistic scenes! And enough computing power to crack the most current encryption used by both sides at the time.


Monday, January 23, 2006

a button not pressed

Wow - the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I read this article. In short: on September 26, 1983, the world avoided nuclear devastation because one Soviet officer kept a level head.

When I was younger I used to believe that technology should increasingly replace emotional and irrational human beings in decision chains, especially those as critical as the decision to launch nuclear weapons. Now that I have a much better understanding of how technology comes to be, I believe the exact opposite. The only thing that saved us on September 26, 1983 was the judgement of one human being - an automated system would probably have launched the missiles.

Russian Colonel Who Averted Nuclear War Receives World Citizen Award - NEWS - MOSNEWS.COM

Thursday, January 19, 2006

where no man has gone before

The New Horizons probe lifted off safely today and is speeding towards Pluto - though it won't get there until 2015. Still, this spacecraft is the fastest one yet - it will pass the Moon later today, the orbit of Mars in about 3 months, and reach Jupiter (for a gravity-assisted boost) in February 2007. The spacecraft will eventually reach a speed of 36,000 miles per hour.

It was fun watching the launch live via an Internet video feed from NASA - kinda reminded me of the model rockets I built and launched as a kid. Only the Atlas V launch vehicle is much bigger...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

your wish at our command

Most of us simply fret about laws like the Patriot Act and how it seems governments like to treat 1984 as a self-improvement guidebook instead of a dystopian nightmare. In his latest posting, Tom Owad takes it one step further and scares the bejeezus out of me.

Put simply, Mr. Owad combines an old computer, several basic scripts and Amazon wish lists to build his own list of potential "subversives". After reverse-engineering the URL structure for these wish lists, he chooses a common first name, sucks in all wish lists for people with this name, and scans the lists for his selection of "subversive" texts. You know, books like Brave New World and (naturally) Orwell's 1984. And he does this using resources freely available to him, in about 30 hours total.

As always, here are some of my favourite excerpts from this posting:

Next comes the fun part – what books are most dangerous? So many to choose from. Here's a sample of the list I made. Feel free to make up your own list if you decide to try some data mining. Send it to the FBI. I'm sure they'll appreciate your help in fighting terrorism.
One curiousity revealed by this project is that there are quite a few people who show up for multiple books. Reading On Liberty and Build Your Own Laser, Phaser, Ion Ray Gun and Other Working Space Age Projects? We really should have a special list for you.
Thanks to Google Maps (and many similar services) a street address is all we need to get a satellite image of a person's home. Tempted as I was to provide satellite images of the homes of the search subjects, it just seemed a bit extreme even for this article. Instead, I opted only to pinpoint the centers of the towns in which they live. So at least you'll know that there's somebody in your community reading Critical Thinking or some other dangerous text.

I recently started to track articles I'm reading by posting them to my account and assigning the reading tag to them. I'm not the only reader to do so; a quick scan of shows many other users do so as well. I wonder how long it would take to scan all bookmarks marked reading for subversive texts?