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Old Blog Posts January 8, 2007

Subject Who’s Killing MP3 and ITunes?
Posted Date: January 8, 2007 – Monday – 10:09 AM
A great article on Wired regarding the future of the highly successful mp3 format, and why the labels may have to accept it.

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Subject UK: Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes
Posted Date: January 8, 2007 – Monday – 9:48 AM
Think this poster is from “The V for Vendetta” or “Children of Men”?. Think again, this is an actual British Government poster in a London Metro Station.

This poster could be straight out of a distopian sci-fi movie, or from a Communist Bloc country at the height of the Cold War. Even the style is reminiscent of Communist propoganda posters (oddly enough, a style that is becoming rather popular).

It seems to represent the State as the “all seeing eye”, like the one on the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill. Traditionally, this all seeing eye is supposed to refer to a higher power (or Masons, if you believe the conspiracy theorists).

Apparently, the pseudo-fascist government of the UK believes ITSELT to be the highest power of the land. Think again! In any democratic society the highest power is supposed to be the people. If anybody should be watching it should be the PEOPLE watching their government! Open government, Transparent Society, and all that.

It would awesome to see subversive posters in response to this. Or maybe this actually is a subversive poster. I’ll keep you posted.

PS: I saw “Children of Men” with Nick last night, and it was AWESOME. A must see for anyone who enjoys intelligent movies. The hand-held camera work and first person perspective were handled masterfully, dropping you into the middle of the action. Nick made the insightful comment that the camera felt like another character in the film. A very touching and provocative movie.

cl

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Subject On this Qur’an I Solemnly Swear
Posted Date: January 4, 2007 – Thursday – 3:25 PM
A Moslem Congressman? Surely you must be joking! I looked up some stats on the religion affiliation of the outgoing Congressman. According to Fox News, 405 of our 435 House Members of 2006 were Christians (of one sect or another), 26 are Jewish, and 4 were “unspecified”. For some reason it appears to be impossible to non-religious and get elected to Congress.

But we now have a representative of the other group of monotheists who worship Abraham’s God, Keith Ellison (D), from Minnesotta. Congratulations to Keith, and praise be to Allah.

All indications are that Keith is going to have a controversial term. He started it out with a bang by declaring that he would be taking his ceremonial oath of office on the Qur’an instead of the Bible. Being the masterful politician that he is (how else could a Moslem get elected?), he chose the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson to use during the swearing in ceremony. I can see right wing pundits everywhere rolling over in their graves; “Who cares, Jefferson was a liberal commie freek anyway, heretic!”

Being from back when Presidents where highly educated and actually READ, Jefferson’s book actually has hand-written notes from the Pres. himself. I shudder to compare this great man to the current buffoon in office, but I’m betting Bush has not read any of the Qur’an. In fact, I’m betting Bush hasn’t read much of the Bible!

This controversy is relatively stupid, and I wonder how much of it has been made up. For one thing, Congressmen swear their official oath en-mass, with not a book in site. Only in the personal ceremonies afterward is scripture used at all. Ellison is simply exercising his right of religious freedom, choosing his holy scripture for this completely un-official ceremony.

And yet, some of us seem to think that freedom of religion only applies if you are a Christian, and that’s simply ignorant. I for one welcome Ellison and the fresh perspective he could bring.

I am also eagerly awaiting the day we have an openly agnostic Congressman. Of course, Satan will be coming to earth to rule soon after that, but it will be nice until then.
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Subject Richard Dawkins: BBC UK Person of the Year
Posted Date: January 2, 2007 – Tuesday – 10:10 AM
“We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins, one of the leaders of the “New Atheist” movement, has been chosen as the BBC Person of the Year in the UK. Go, Dawkins!

He has certainly got a lot of press this year, both positive and negative. His new book, “The God Delusion”, is responsible for most of this. Before this year, Dawkin’s was mostly known for his his groundbreaking book on genetic evolution, called “The Selfish Gene”. This book became very popular among laypersons interested in science, mainly because of its simple style and provocative content.

Dawkin’s theory, revolutionary at the time, was that evolution occured on the genetic level, not on the level of species or individuals. He claimed that evolution could not operate at that level, but could only operate through specific genes being inherited by descendents. Thirty years later this is not a revolutionary theory, it is the mainstream theory and has been very successful, supported by an immense amount of evidence, particulary in genetics and evolutionary development (evo devo).

This man definitely knows his science, but one could question his knowledge of religion. Here is an excellent example of someone doing just that, in a book review on “The God Delusion”. I have not read this book, but I watched the documentaries (part 1, part 2)on google video, and found them compelling, albeit not that scientific.

I would recommend this documentary to anybody, regardless of religious affilation or lack thereof. Of particular interest is his interview of a Muslim fundamentalist, and how creepily similar this dialogue was to some of my own dialogue with Christian fundamentalists. Almost word for word in places, just replace “Allah” with “Jesus”. There is also a very interesting (in hindsight) interview with Ted Haggard, disgraced ex-leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. At the end of the interview (which seems very civil), Ted threatens to have Dawkins arrested if he does not leave church property, apparently under the impression that Dawkin’s called his children monkeys (a favorite straw-man quote from the RR).

Dawkins is on the offensive (speaking of tilting at straw-men), but he has his reasons. He has been attacked by fundamentalist religious organizations and individuals for the past 30 years, and he’s now fighting back. This is certainly understandable. He has been personally attacked as a tool of Satan, due to his SCIENTIFIC studies. Dawkin’s is most definitely anti-religion now, but he was not the first one to throw stones.

While I question his expertise in theological matters, I do welcome him into the fray as someone with a unique perspective. If I had any advice for him, and would suggest he take a much closer at fundamentalist religion, in an objective way. This is the same reason I am currently reading Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”, a popular Christian apologetics book. As a scientist Dawkins should want to gather as much information as possible before making a judgment call.

As I see it, there are two possibilities. One, science and religion make peace with each other. Science does not speak about things it cannot speak of, and neither does religion. The age of the earth, for example, should be a clearly scientific question, not one found in religious scripture. This is a fuzzy line, but one that most of us can agree on, at least in basic principles.

The second option is that science and religion do NOT make peace. Attacks will continue on both sides, and be detrimental to all. Currently there are many people who have left religious groups because those groups demanded faith in areas where evidence clearly contradicted that faith. And conversely, there are many people that ignore all science because it contradicts their faith. Both sides become more insular and weaker due to this battle.

I for one, am hoping for peace, but I have my doubts.

cl
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Subject Unsafe Sex Toys and Google Ranking
Posted Date: December 28, 2006 – Thursday – 2:38 PM
Interesting conversation going on over at boingboing. It seems google recently changed its page ranking algorithm, much to the detriment of certain bloggers and sex sites. I’m not sure how the ranking changes affected your average porn site (and I don’t really care), but it affected sex education, awareness, and advocacy web sites quite negatively. They complained about this, causing quite an outcry in the blogosphere.

Google quickly responded, and most of the old rankings are back, although some sites are still demoted. One wonders if this is a patch (rank tinynibbles.com higher, for example) or an algorithm change that affects the entire ranking process. The original change that brought this thing around was certainly algorithmic in nature; hence the unexpected side affects.

This brings up an intersting point. Really, how can you know if your google query on, say, “unsafe sex toys” is going to bring you the most helpful results? Are you going to get sites trying to sell you unsafe lubrication and vibrators, or are you going to get information on safe sex toys vs. unsafe sex toys, with links to respected vendors?

That’s the problem as described from the consumer’s end. On the information provider’s side it’s just as murky. Violet Blue has this to say about google:

“Practically speaking, there *is no other search engine*. and when someone (or something) has so much power over individuals and no transparency about their process… you live in constant fear that you’re going to do something (you have no idea what) or that something will change (you never know when, or what), to make you disappear.”

that’s a very good point. Nobody wants to live in a Kafka universe (although some of us suspect we do). For google and the other search providers, it’s a problem as well;.how to rank pages for the maximum customer satisfaction? I’m don’t doubt their desire to do this, although I’m certain they are not willing to go to certain lengths in order to get it done. For example, completely opening up their ranking algorithms is highly unlikely.

This might be the solution, though, plus web 2.0. Jimmy Wales, founder of the amazing wikipedia, believes we can set up a community for searching. He has this to say about the current search engiines:

“It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability (and) lack of transparency. Here, we will change all that,”

Wales envisions “a new kind of search engine, which relies on human intelligence to do what algorithms cannot.”

Now there’s a man who really gets it.

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Subject Secrets of the Bush Administration
Posted Date: December 21, 2006 – Thursday – 11:27 AM
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a former employee of the State Department, leaked a top secret report to the New York Times. This report became infamously known as “The Pentagon Papers”. The papers revealed that a secret war in Vietnam had been going on well before the official war even started. This war was conducted by President Lyndon Johnson, who did not even bother to tell Congress about it, much less the American people.

An interesting aside…Ellsberg’s offices and home were broken into by “Nixon’s plumbers” in an attempt to intimidate and discredit him. These are the same “plumbers” that raided the offices of the Democratic National Convention, starting the scandal famously known as Watergate.

The main point here is that, if it weren’t for the leaked papers, we would have most likely never known the truth about Vietnam. The war might have continued, with even worse consequences than what actually occurred. Watergate and the Pentagon Papers brought on a newfound distrust of the American government and the military industrial complex it supports.

Today we find ourselves in a very similar situation. The war in Iraq is going badly, and the Administration is hiding this behind a veil of “state-secrets privilege”. The contents of the Pentagon Papers were kept secret because they were politically damaging to those involved in the war. Does anybody think that our current day politicians are any better?

From all available evidence, the answer seems to be “No”. Here is a short list of information that we used to have access to, but now do not:

* In March, the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies which programs best assist low-income families, while also tracking health insurance coverage and child support.

* In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.

* After the Bureau of Labor Statistics uncovered discouraging data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

* When an annual report called “Budget Information for States” showed the federal government shortchanging states in the midst of fiscal crises, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget announced it was discontinuing the report, which some said was the only source for comprehensive data on state funding from the federal government.

* When Bush’s Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

* The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has to date failed to produce a congressionally-mandated report on climate change that was due in 2004. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has called the failure an “obfuscation.”

* The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced plans to close several libraries which were used by researchers and scientists. The agency called its decision a cost-cutting measure, but a 2004 report showed that the facilities actually brought the EPA a $7.5 million surplus annually.

* On November 1st, 2001, President Bush issued an executive order limiting the public’s access to presidential records. The order undermined the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which required the release of those records after 12 years. Bush’s order prevented the release of “68,000 pages of confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers,” some of whom had positions in the Bush Administration. More here. Bush did the same thing with his papers from the Texas governorship.

* A rule change at the U.S. Geological Survey restricts agency scientists from publishing or discussing research without that information first being screened by higher-ups at the agency. Special screening will be given to “findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.” The scientists at the USGS cover such controversial topics as global warming. Before, studies were released after an anonymous peer review of the research. (Thanks to Alison below.)

* A new policy at the The U.S. Forest Service means the agency no longer will generate environmental impact statements for “its long-term plans for America’s national forests and grasslands.” It also “no longer will allow the public to appeal on long-term plans for those forests, but instead will invite participation in planning from the outset.” (Thanks to libra below.)

* In March 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services took down a six-year-old Web site devoted to substance abuse and treatment information for gays and lesbians, after members of the conservative Family Research Council complained.

* In 2002, HHS removed information from its Web site pertaining to risky sexual behavior among adolescents, condom use and HIV.

* Also in 2002, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission removed from its Web site a document showing that officials found large gaps in a portion of an aging Montana dam. A FERC official said the deletion was for “national security.”

* In 2004, the FBI attempted to retroactively classify public information regarding the case of bureau whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, including a series of letters between the Justice Department and several senators.

* In October 2003, the Bush administration banned photographs depicting servicemembers’ coffins returning from overseas.

* In December 2002, the administration curtailed funding to the Mass-Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. His father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.

* In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service stopped providing data demonstrating the level of its job performance. In 2006, a judge forced the IRS to provide the information.

* Also in 2004, the Federal Communications Commission blocked access to a once-public database of network outages affecting telecommunications service providers. The FCC removed public copies and exempted the information from Freedom of Information Act requests, saying it would “jeopardize national security efforts.” Experts ridiculed that notion.

* In 2002, Bush officials intervened to derail the publication of an EPA report on mercury and children’s health, which contradicted the administration’s position on lowering regulations on certain power plants. The report was eventually leaked by a “frustrated EPA official.”

* In 2003, the EPA bowed to White House pressure and deleted the global warming section in its annual “Report on the Environment.” The move drew condemnations from Democrats and Republicans alike.

* Also in 2003, the EPA withheld for months key findings from an air pollution report that undercut the White House’s “Clear Skies” initiative. Leaked copies were reported in the Washington Post.

Source.

This information shouild be very disturbing to all readers, conservative and liberal alike. Despite their differences, both sides proport to speak for the people, and they do to a limited degree. But none can argue that any of the information listed above should be classified or withheld. It is obvious that this secrecy is occuring for personal political reasons, and NOT reasons of national security.

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Subject The Almighty Euro an other News
Posted Date: December 19, 2006 – Tuesday – 10:56 AM
Lots of stuff going on in the news today. The top story is definitely the fall of the dollar and the rise of the Euro This is very bad news for us, folks!

The skinny is, the Euro is doing spectacularly well, while the dollar is doing the opposite of well. When the Euro was first created, it was close to matching the dollar…you could exchange one euro for about a dollar. Today a dollar will get you 3/4 of a Euro. Not good.

Many countries are realizing that they are better off using the Euro for their reserves, instead of the dollar. Iran is doing it, Russia is doing it, and more to follow soon, I’m sure.

And how can you blame them? The US deficit is mounting, government spending is only increasing, the housing bubble is about to burst, baby boomers are retiring, and inflation continues onward and upward with no end in sight.

The US Treasury just put out their annual report, (thanks, Tucker!) with little to no media fanfair. Nevertheless, it was big news in the financial sector, of course. Here are some choice comments from the Secretary of the Treasury:

“Without fundamental reform to ensure the sustainability of these programs, by the year 2080 the cost to the federal government of Social Security and Medicair together will nearly triple as a percentage of the US economy, growing to 17 percent.

“Treasury is commited to resolving the financial management challenges that have led to the Comptroller General of the United States being unable to express an opinion on the financial statements.”

How money works is becoming a new fascination with me. Did you know that your money is NOT issued by the US Government? OK, you probably knew that, but do you know how the Federal Reserve actually works? Neither do I, but I plan to find out.

“Banking was conceived in iniquity and was born in sin. The bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money, and with the flick of the pen they will create enough deposits to buy it back again. However, take it away from them, and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for this would be a happier and better world to live in. But, if you wish to remain the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, let them continue to create money .”
– Sir Josiah Stamp, Director of the Bank of England (in the 1920s); reputed to be the 2nd wealthiest man in England at that time

WikiLink:

How to create money.

Other News:

Top 10 Stories you missed in 2006.
If you don’t think mainstream media is lying to you, then I’ve got some property in Florida to sell you.

Teens don’t think the 1st Amendment is that important..

This one got to me:

• 30% (down from 32%) say the press has too much freedom.

America is Insolvent.
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Subject Amazon might sell mp3s without DRM
Posted Date: December 19, 2006 – Tuesday – 10:37 AM
This is great news to music fans and hardware manufacturers everywhere…Amazon is interested in getting into online music sales, but only if the music can be sold in the unprotected mp3 format. This is an important decision to make, selling music with protection locks you into a relationship with the manufacturer of that DRM…you are at their mercy. IE: if you buy iTunes music you must use it on an iPod. If you buy Microsoft music you must play it on the Zune.

With Microsofts decision to not even support it’s own “PlaysForSure”* DRM with the new Zune player, it’s making it more clear to people that using DRM locks you into a specific vendor, and then allows that vendor to do whatever it wishes. If you bought digital music that is encoded in Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” format, you cannot play this legally purchased music on the Microsoft’s Zune.

Think about this for a moment…Microsoft created a DRM format, music was sold in that format, and then Microsoft doesn’t support that music in their newest player! Does this make any sort of sense? Anyone gullible and honest enough to have bought “PlaysForSure” music is up poop-creek without a paddle!

Say No to DRM and Yes to mp3s! DRM does not decrease piracy; if anything it increases it, as people turn to illegal sources to get the functionality they are used to.

cl

* The choice of the name “PlaysForSure” for a DRM format is the ultimate irony. The very name implies that music bought in this format will “certainly play” in the device of your choice. Nothing can be farther from the truth….currently the only format that plays on all music players is the mp3.

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Subject Time’s Person of Year: Congratulations, it’s you!
Posted Date: December 18, 2006 – Monday – 6:31 AM
You, fellow bloggers and Web 2.0 afficionados, have been elected “Time’s Person of the Year” for 2006. Congratulations, you must be proud! I know I am.

The corresponding Times article if very inspiring:

“…It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.”

This is so true…a paradigm shift, like the printing press. Everything is affected. I remember, in the mid-nineties, trying to explain to people what the Internet was all about, and what it was going to do. I would say, “It’s goign to change EVERYTHING!”. I’d get blank or bemused looks. I sounded silly even to my own ears, like some Socialistic idealist or something.

But these days, I feel vindicated. It really is changing everything. And we’re all part of it.

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Subject Democrats: Expect data privacy and patent law rewrite
Posted Date: December 14, 2006 – Thursday – 5:46 AM
Patrick Leahy, as the new head of the Senate Judicial Commitee, has promised changes to both privacy and patent laws. Laws in these areas are currently quite out of date, and need to be revised for the internet and software.

This is certainly promising. Leahy does have a decent track record, although he was a supporter of the INDUCE Act, which was very unpopular with Internet companies everywhere. We’ll see what happens, but nice to see that we’re not “staying the course” in the face of obvious problems.
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Subject Henry Rollins: “America is under attack”
Posted Date: December 12, 2006 – Tuesday – 11:16 AM
Henry Rollins is awesome. He rips on those who would like to take our freedom away in the name of safety, and he even explains the dangers of “net neutrality”. It’s great to see this in a mainstream media show.

“To question authority is somehow unpatriotic, unamerican, and in league with terrorists worldwide…&^(% you!”

“…they want to Internet regulated, contained, and thrown into a cell at Guatanamo Bay.”

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Subject Water on Mars
Posted Date: December 12, 2006 – Tuesday – 10:22 AM
There might be water on Mars! I’ve been hearing about this all week, but this is the first time I’ve seen these pictures, and they are compelling. Here’s an article on the phenomenon. Still to early to tell for sure, but results look promising!
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Subject Home Grown Christmas Video
Posted Date: December 11, 2006 – Monday – 5:03 AM
Hilarious…Feliz Navidad, everyone. I really want a pair of those christmas shorts. These guys must have had a blast making this…

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Subject Gnostics in the News
Posted Date: December 10, 2006 – Sunday – 1:06 PM
Wow, an article in US News and World Report about Gnosticism. I never thought I’d see the day when a mainstream article mentioned Athanasius!

This all must have something to do with Ron Howard’s latest opus, “The Davinci Code”. A second rate movie based on a third rate book, somehow both versions have managed to find large audiences. But hey, if it’s got people talking about alternative Christian history, I’m all for it. The more you dig the wierder the story becomes.

“And the companion of [the savior was] Mary Magdalene. [Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples, [and used to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth? face? cheek?]. The rest of [the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.””

Gospel of Philip
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Subject The Athiest Delusion
Posted Date: December 6, 2006 – Wednesday – 6:48 AM
Hilarious. Checkmate!
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