March 23, 2002

Nixon inserts foot into mouth from the grave

Doug McVay, Editor of the Common Sense for Drug Policy's Drug War Facts Book, handed over some goodies to Gene Weingarten at the Washington Post:
Just What Was He Smoking?.

But an even more interesting story (as McVay explained it to me -- wealth of knowledge that guy!) -- isn't merely the plethora of amusing quotes (and there's more where that came from!), but rather that Nixon comissioned the Shafer report to give drugs a bad name. Then, much to Nixon's dismay, the Commission actually did right by the American people and provided the objective analysis it was supposed to provide: and recommended decriminalization :-)

More on the details of the report and its significance in the days to come.

For now, let the dog and pony show begin:

In an excruciating sequence from Sept. 9, 1971, Nixon is meeting with former Pennsylvania governor Raymond P. Shafer. Shafer heads a presidential commission on drug policy that Nixon has heard might be flirting with the notion of recommending the decriminalization of marijuana...

...Nixon is on a roll, lecturing like a history professor:

"Do you know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. . . . You know what happened to the popes? It's all right that popes were laying the nuns."

Someone laughs nervously. Nixon bulls on, not a hint of humor in his voice.

"That's been going on for years, centuries, but when the popes, when the Catholic Church went to hell in, I don't know, three or four centuries ago, it was homosexual. . . . Now, that's what happened to Britain, it happened earlier to France. And let's look at the strong societies. The Russians. Goddamn it, they root them out, they don't let 'em hang around at all. You know what I mean? I don't know what they do with them."

"Dope? Do you think the Russians allow dope? Hell no. Not if they can catch it, they send them up. You see, homosexuality, dope, uh, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That's why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing it. They're trying to destroy us."

Well, that was 31 years ago, and I am happy to report that the Jew-homo-doper-Commie-shrink-lefty-pope cabal has not, to date, destroyed us. Nixon seems to have been wrong on this one.

Of course, it's not the first time he was wrong. Yes, he was a crook. No, it wasn't a third-rate burglary. And yes -- we do still have Dick Nixon to kick around. Apparently, thanks to his tapes, forever and ever and ever.

Walter Hewlett Pleads To Preserve A Quality Product and Customer Service

I probably recommend an HP printer to about 3-4 people a month.

I'm not sure if I'll be able to do that after this merger.

This is a sad day in HP history indeed. It also says a lot about the state of the economy when Walter Hewlett loses control of Hewlett-Packard. (Has the whole world gone mad? :-)

Here's a CNN article by Richard Richtmyer that doesn't even try to get Walter Hewlett's point across:
It's all over but the counting:
With the bitter proxy fight over HP-Compaq nearing a close, focus shifts to vote tally
.

With that in mind, here's an L.A. Times article by Joseph Menn that gives a better explanation of Hewlett's argument:
Walter Hewlett Explains Stance .

March 20, 2002

MBAs Learning the Wrong Lessons

Here's a pretty depressing article about a trend in the attitudes of MBA students:
Learning to Put Ethics Last: During their spell in B-school, MBA students become more focused on company profitability and less on things like customer service,
by Mica Schneider for Businessweek Online.

Plucky Rocks

Carbon Microtubules for everyone (This round's on me!)

Molecular-transistors are here. (Hee-haw!)

Now just what the heck does that mean? :-)

Well, it's kind of a long story, but the synopsis below does a pretty good job of summing it up.

Here's this nice explanation (thanks ACM News service) along with a link to its longer version:
The Nanotube Computer,
by David Rotman at the MIT Enterprise Technology Review
(Technology Review (03/02) Vol. 105, No. 2, P. 36; Rotman, David)

Carbon nanotubes have the potential to significantly change the world of electronics over the next decade. Phaedon Avouris of IBM Research says that nanotubes can be fashioned into transistors that are superior in performance to silicon-based transistors. Molecular transistors based on nanotubes or nanowires could increase the number of devices that can be installed on a chip, boosting computer memory and logic circuits. Nanotubes are very compatible with existing semiconducting materials, and the possibility exists that they can be combined with silicon technology, although the dual metallic/semiconducting nature of nanotubes can complicate the fabrication of logic devices. They are also seen as an eventual replacement for silicon once it reaches the threshold of Moore's Law. Meanwhile, companies such as Nantero are pursuing nanotube-based nonvolatile memory, which could eliminate the need for people to repeatedly boot up their computers and supplant dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Nanotubes can also emit electrons at low voltages, and this property forms the basis of thin but cheap flat-panel displays that project a high-quality image; Motorola and other electronics firms are competing to build a working nanotube display. Nanotube research has helped raise the profile of nanoscale materials and their commercial applications, which could include minuscule biological sensors and light-emitting diodes, fuel cell electrodes, and many others.

March 19, 2002

Here's another article about the DNA computer in today's New York Times:
In Classic Math Riddle, DNA Gives a Satisfying Answer.

March 18, 2002

Orlando International: mammograms included in Business Class

My mother's wondering if she can get a free mammogram while she's getting her full-body security X-Ray the at Orlando International Airport.

"That's a nasty tumor on your left side ma'am, would you like us to remove that for you during your flight?" (And, yes, the pain killers would be better in business class :-)

B of A Says "Oops!" -- Deposits From Last Friday Didn't Make It In

ATTENTION: B of A customers: if you made a deposit in the bank last Friday, you'd better check that it made it and that you weren't charged for any checks that may have bounced over the weekend as a result.

See the L.A. Times article by Kathy Kristof:
Bank of America Says Glitch Is Fixed.

 Here's the whole little article:

Bank of America Corp. officials said Sunday that they were able to correct a computer glitch that had deprived about 1.1 million customers of deposits that were supposed to be electronically credited to their accounts Friday.

The bank could not explain what had gone wrong with its computer system but said the backup system had been implemented and all its customers now have access to their funds.

Bank of America said Saturday that 1.1 million direct deposit customers in California, Arizona and Nevada were affected by the glitch. The bank, based in Charlotte, N.C., with about 25% of the retail banking market in California, said it would take care of any fees and charges if customers' checks bounced as a result of the computer error.

Brown University Boasts Monkey Cursor

Brown researchers have enabled a monkey to move a computer cursor just by thinking about it using a computer implant.

See the article:
The power of a thought,
by Felice J. Freyer for Projo.com.

The researchers implanted a tiny silicone chip, containing 100 hair-thin electrodes, in the brains of three rhesus monkeys that had learned to play a simple video game with a specially designed joystick.

They connected one monkey's implant via 100 wires to a computer system, and then disconnected the joystick. Manipulating the now-useless joystick, the monkey was instantly able to move the cursor toward a target simply by thinking. Sometimes it let go of the joystick while continuing to play. The cursor responded just as quickly, but not quite as smoothly, as when the animals had used their hands to control it.

"We substituted thought control for hand control," said John Donoghue, chairman of Brown's department of neuroscience and the project's senior researcher.

Although other researchers have used brain implants to produce motion, the Brown work is remarkable for the speed and accuracy of the monkey's cursor control, said Dr. William Heetderks, director of the neuroprosthesis program at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "The quality of the movement is in a sense competitive with using your hand to produce a movement," he said.

If such a system is eventually found to be safe and reliable in people, it could unlock a vast potential for paralyzed people, who would be able to do anything that can be accomplished by moving a computer cursor.

Andersen's in deep doo doo

Andersen's not getting away with a fine and a slap on the wrist this time.

See:
Andersen Misread Depths of the Government's Anger,
by Kurt Eichenwald for the New York Times.

Last week, Andersen became the first major accounting firm ever charged with a felony. The firm, and its lawyers, misread the depths of the government's anger with Andersen in the wake of its flawed audits of other major clients. Earnings restatements by those clients have caused their stock prices to tumble, costing investors tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

In such cases, Andersen paid a fine and moved on. This time, law enforcement officials wanted to crack down hard.

The prosecutors' zeal for going after Enron appears to be almost matched by their fury at Andersen. In their view, Andersen has minimized the significance of its transgressions — including one from another case that left the firm under an injunction against future misdeeds at the very time the Enron documents were destroyed.

"Obviously," said one person involved in the case, "the question finally came down to, `How many times do investors have to lose millions of dollars because they relied on Andersen before somebody finally charges them with a crime?'... "

...Andersen saw the case as limited to the Enron document destruction, with its past conduct not at issue. It considered the evidence weak and the prosecutors' interpretation of the law wrong. Faced with the prospect that a guilty plea would put it out of business, the firm chose a criminal trial, the first major corporation to do so in recent years.

Andersen has seen the case transformed from a business problem to a crisis of historic proportions. The government now faces an angry corporate adversary rumbling with demands for a rapid trial, which could hinder the prosecutors' ability to develop essential evidence.

The standoff with Andersen followed months of behind-the-scenes battles and decisions that inexorably set both sides on the path toward an all-out legal war.

Local Austin Rag Rakes SXSW

Here's a rather critical view of the music side of SXSW, courtesy of the Austin American Statesman:
Sure, music bizzers talk (Just not to each other),
by Joe Gross.

BloggerPro or Bust?

I just got BloggerPro going. I'll let you know how it goes...

NYT on SXSW

The New York Times did a piece on SXSW:
Festival Is Upbeat Despite Music-Business Doldrums,
by Jon Pareles.

March 17, 2002

This could be you at the Orlando International Airport.

Remember those full body X-Ray scanning machines in the movie Total Recall?

Well, they're not just science fiction any more.

Let's set aside the questionable constitutionality of a virtual strip search without probable cause for a moment...which is a tough order, I know, but I have another concern.

The current round of "voluntary testing" described in the article below doesn't mention anything about a proper study of the health risks associated with such a frequent exposure to X-Rays (despite their claims of using "low power X-rays").

Last I checked, any repeated exposure to any kind of X-Rays isn't a good idea. The only reason the X-Rays that our chiropractors and dentists use on us aren't harmful is because we are only exposed to them infrequently; No more than once a year of either kind is a good idea. This is why the person operating the equipment needs to stay behind the protective window when they flick the switch (the dangers of repeated exposure).

I hope our government isn't seriously considering frying all of us under these systems and waiting to find out later what the health risks are.

I hope the people volunteering to be searched by such systems are warned adequately in advance about the possible health risks involved.

If there aren't any risks involved, and I'm worrying for nothing, I'd like to see a report from someone objective and reputable confirming this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

See the AP story by Mike Branom:
New Security Devices at Fla. Airport.

One system, the Rapiscan Secure 1000, uses low-energy X-rays to search a person through clothing. When Rapiscan project manager Bryan Allman scanned himself, detected was a plastic knife hidden in his shirt pocket.

However, the outline of his body — every inch of it — also was clearly visible. Perhaps proving the machine's revealing nature, airport officials refused to put a woman in the scanner.

Security officials said the scanner would only be used when a passenger shows an "anomaly." Also, the security worker examining the scan would be the same sex as the person being searched.

The potential for complaints about the invasiveness of the search didn't seem to bother Allman.

"Everybody has to learn that the world has changed since Sept. 11, and the world needs a much more thorough type of screening," Allman said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) says the scan is too intrusive.

"This, of course, is a virtual strip-search," ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt said. "There's no question this has tremendous potential for embarrassment."

Steinhardt pointed out there have been incidents across the nation where male security workers harassed female passengers during hands-on searches.

"We fear this is going to be indiscriminately used," Steinhardt said. "We know that even less-invasive searches are being abused at airports."

Another system, a little larger than a phone booth, blows quick bursts of air at a person, then "sniffs" the air to detect any traces of explosives. The Barringer Ionscan 400B has a library of 40 types of explosives against which it can judge results.

The Ionscan also can be quickly adjusted to test for 60 types of drug residue, which Hood praised as a bonus stemming from the war on terrorism. "The ability to use technology to be able to stop some of the drug trafficking, we're always looking for the opportunity to deal with that war, as well," Hood said.

But Steinhardt asked: "Do we really want to be turning airport security personnel into the DEA?" He added that searching for drugs would distract checkpoint workers from their true purpose: keeping planes safe.

DNA Computer Cracks 'Traveling Salesman' Problem

A 'DNA computer' has been used for the first time to find the only correct answer from over a million possible solutions to the classic NP-complete computational problem.

Check out the PhysicsWeb article by Katie Pennicott:
‘DNA computer’ cracks code.

Adleman and colleagues chose an 'exponential time' problem, in which each extra variable doubles the amount of computation needed. This is known as an NP-complete problem, and is notoriously difficult to solve for a large number of variables. Other NP-complete problems include the 'travelling salesman' problem - in which a salesman has to find the shortest route between a number of cities - and the calculation of interactions between many atoms or molecules.

Adleman and co-workers expressed their problem as a string of 24 'clauses', each of which specified a certain combination of 'true' and 'false' for three of the 20 variables. The team then assigned two short strands of specially encoded DNA to all 20 variables, representing 'true' and 'false' for each one.

In the experiment, each of the 24 clauses is represented by a gel-filled glass cell. The strands of DNA corresponding to the variables - and their 'true' or 'false' state - in each clause were then placed in the cells...

...According to Adleman and co-workers, their demonstration represents a watershed in DNA computation comparable with the first time that electronic computers solved a complex problem in the 1960s. They are optimistic that such 'molecular computing' could ultimately allow scientists to control biological and chemical systems in the way that electronic computers control mechanical and electrical systems now.

Can A Company Really Own the Trademark to a Name Like 'Windows'?

Does Microsoft own the Trademark to "Windows", or not? One Judge isn't so sure.

See the Seattle Post Intelligencer article by Dan Richman:
Ruling questions protected use of the name 'Windows'.

RIAA's Rosen Backs sssssSSSCA

It's no surprise that RIAA President Hilary Rosen came out in favor of the evil SSSCA last week.

Here's a transcript of her statement, if you're interested.

Thinking Outside the Music Box

Kevin Kelley takes a shot at providing some examples of how music might be sold in the future, now that simple copies of songs are basically "free."

See the NY Times article:
Where Music Will Be Coming From.

Looks like the ugly truth about the Catholic church's pedophile cover-up is only going to get uglier and uglier.

See the New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein and Alessandra Stanley:
As Scandal Keeps Growing, Church and Its Faithful Reel.