Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 2008

The Telegraph: 101 most useful Web sites

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Take a look at their list. No. 1 is Google.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Technology

Very cool house

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Take a look at the full site (more photos, plans, etc.).

Front

Our family home in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).

The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature. Being your own (have a go) architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass produced box designed for maximum profit and convenience of the construction industry. Building from natural materials does away with producers profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.

Some key points of the design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.

Main tools used: chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. Oh and by the way I am not a builder or carpenter, my experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around inbetween. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.

Would you like to learn more about this sort of building and gain practical experience? Why not join us on another exciting building project. There will be opportunities for everyone of all abilities and areas of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

Back from walk

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Decided to do an errand, so walked to the Pacific Grove Library to return a book. Total time walking: exactly one hour. Not only was library closed (César Chávez Day), but they had also locked the drop-in box. So I carried the book back home. Not a bad walk, though: sunny, slightly cool, light breeze. I listened to Hank Jones.

Here he plays “Willow Weep for Me,” Carnegie Hall, 6 April 1994:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Jazz, Music, Video

Females in the military and sexual assault.

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It could be titled “Crime and No Punishment“:

In today’s LA Times, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) sheds light on the staggering number of sexual assaults within the military, stating, “Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq,” and calls on Congress and the military to do more to protect servicewomen:

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through “nonjudicial punishment,” which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of “insufficient evidence.” […]

The absence of rigorous prosecution perpetuates a culture tolerant of sexual assault — an attitude that says “boys will be boys.

A Department of Defense report released this month found 2,688 reports of sexual assault in the military in FY2007. According to Harman, the number of reported military rapes jumped 73 percent from 2004 to 2006.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 1:43 pm

Tilted playing field: financial games

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By James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:

In recent months, a lot of people have been handed financial get-out-of-jail-free cards. C.E.O.s who presided over billions in losses have walked away with tens of millions in compensation. The Federal Reserve has showered cheap money on banks and brokerages. Even Bear Stearns caught a break when, last week, J. P. Morgan agreed to quintuple the price it will pay to take over the firm. But there’s one group for whom forgiveness has not been forthcoming: ordinary consumers struggling with piles of credit-card debt. For them, escaping the burden of their bad decisions and their bad luck has become much harder.

That’s because of a law that Congress passed in 2005 which has made it more difficult for people to write off their debts. Filing for bankruptcy has become much more expensive. More important, while lower-income people can still declare Chapter 7, which takes away your assets but then discharges your debts, most middle- and higher-income people now have to declare Chapter 13. That means they have to pay their creditors monthly for five years before they’re free.

Historically, the U.S. has treated debtors leniently. But the credit-card industry, which was the driving force behind the new law, insisted that tolerance had caused a bankruptcy “crisis”: the number of bankruptcies in the U.S. quintupled between 1980 and 2003. Irresponsible debtors, the argument went, were buying plasma TVs and fancy vacations and then declaring bankruptcy to escape their debts. And they were being supported by the rest of us, who had to pay higher interest rates and fees on our credit cards to cover credit-card companies’ billions in annual write-offs. Cracking down on those who “abused the bankruptcy laws,” President Bush said, would therefore “make credit more affordable.” And we’d all be better off.

So are we?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 1:17 pm

Actual Microsoft interview questions

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Be prepared.

Riddles

  • Why is a manhole cover round?
  • How many cars are there in the USA? (A popular variant is “How many gas stations are there in the USA?”)
  • How many manhole covers are there in the USA?
  • You’ve got someone working for you for seven days and a gold bar to pay them. The gold bar is segmented into seven connected pieces. You must give them a piece of gold at the end of every day. If you are only allowed to make two breaks in the gold bar, how do you pay your worker?
  • One train leaves Los Angeles at 15mph heading for New York. Another train leaves from New York at 20mph heading for Los Angeles on the same track. If a bird, flying at 25mph, leaves from Los Angeles at the same time as the train and flies back and forth between the two trains until they collide, how far will the bird have traveled?
  • Imagine a disk spinning like a record player turn table. Half of the disk is black and the other is white. Assume you have an unlimited number of color sensors. How many sensors would you have to place around the disk to determine the direction the disk is spinning? Where would they be placed?

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Three-hour mini-series: The Elegant Universe

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You can watch chapter by chapter.

To view any part of this three-hour miniseries, choose an episode from one of the three columns below and select either QuickTime (full-screen option available) or RealVideo to begin. If you experience difficulty viewing, it may be due to high demand. We regret this, and suggest you try back at another time. Note that NOVA programs are not available for downloading due to rights restrictions.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Shoe found on other foot at Sony

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Embarrassing:

Sony BMG is no stranger to piracy. As one of the most vocal supporters of the RIAA and IFPI antipiracy efforts, the company has some experience hunting down and punishing consumers who don’t pay for its products. The company is getting some experience on the other side of the table, however, now that it’s being sued for software piracy.

PointDev, a French software company that makes Windows administration tools, received a call from a Sony BMG IT employee for support. After Sony BMG supplied a pirated license code for Ideal Migration, one of PointDev’s products, the software maker was able to mandate a seizure of Sony BMG’s assets. The subsequent raid revealed that software was illegally installed on four of Sony BMG’s servers. The Business Software Alliance, however, believes that up to 47 percent of the software installed on Sony BMG’s computers could be pirated.

These are some pretty serious—not to mention ironic—allegations against a company that’s gone so far as to install malware on consumers’ computers in the name of preventing piracy.

While PointDev is claiming €300,000 (over $475,000) in damages in its suit against Sony BMG, Agustoni Paul-Henry, PointDev’s CEO, says (from a Google translation of a French report) that this is more about principle than money: “We are forced to watch every week if key software pirates are not [sic] on the Internet. We are a small company of six employees. Instead of trying to protect us, we could spend this time to develop ourselves.”

Paul-Henry thinks Sony BMG’s piracy of PointDev’s products is the fault of more than just a single employee (again, translated): “I think piracy is linked to the policy of a company. If the employee has the necessary funding to buy the software he needs, he will. If this is not the case, he will find alternative ways, as the work must be done in one way or another.”

Certainly, one wonders what led to Sony BMG to steal PointDev’s product in the first place. It’s a safe bet that the company can afford to pay for the necessary licenses, which leaves sheer laziness as the most likely culprit. In any event, it’s absolutely inexcusable for a company that has been at the forefront of the antipiracy fight, going so far as to surreptitiously install rootkits on its customers’ PCs.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Business

Was George Washington a terrorist?

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Answer, using today’s law and definitions, is “yes” (and textbooks should reflect that, right?). Here’s the story:

“Was George Washington a terrorist?” asked Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch’s refugee policy director, only semi-facetiously.

What sparked his question was the exceedingly broad definition of terrorist activity employed in U.S. immigration law. That definition, as expanded in the USA PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act, applies to “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed,” when that activity involves the use of a weapon or “dangerous device” with the intent “to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals or to cause substantial damage to property.” The actions of a present-day George Washington would most certainly be covered.

A concrete reason why this broad definition is worrying is that under current U.S. law, people who have engaged in terrorist activities, or who have provided support for terrorist activities—in many cases, even involuntary support—are presumptively barred from resettlement in the United States as refugees. Among the thousands of people negatively affected by this rule in recent years have been Colombians who paid small bribes under duress to paramilitary groups, Burmese who were forcibly conscripted into rebel armies, and Cubans who supported “counter-revolutionary” groups funded by the US government.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 11:27 am

The Roberts Court and the right to vote

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Interesting:

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court press focused on oral arguments over the constitutionality of the DC gun ban. But the same day the Court also issued a barely-noticed, but quite significant election law opinion. The opinion, unfortunately, could lay the groundwork for upholding a host of draconian laws making it harder for some people to vote.

Granted, the result in Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party is a good one: Voters will have more choice over the kinds of primaries they want in their states. However, the reasoning by which the Court got to that result is very troubling. Indeed, it suggests that Chief Justice Roberts may be following a long-term strategy that could have terrible implications for voting rights, especially for poor and minority voters.

How the Court Has Traditionally Put A Thumb on the Scale in Favor of the States in Voting Rights Controversies

Historically, the most important challenges to voting laws have been “facial” ones. That is, these challenges contend that an election law is unconstitutional “on its face,” over the broad range of its many applications, and thus can’t be applied against anyone.

For example, in 1966, the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s poll tax, which required individuals to pay $1.50 in order to vote. The Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections said that paying a fee had no rational relation to a voter’s qualifications to vote, and it struck the law down, on its face, for everyone, not just as applied to very poor voters. Importantly, the Court did not say the law was okay to apply to most voters—who could afford the $1.50—leaving only those voters who were too poor to pay the poll tax to bring a follow-on suit claiming the law was unconstitutional as applied to them.

In the years since Harper, the Court has continued to entertain a variety of facial challenges to election laws. In such case, it has often applied a “sliding scale” balancing test. (That test is now known as the Burdick test from a case where a voter—I kid you not—claimed a constitutional right to cast a write-in vote for Donald Duck in a Hawaii election). Under the Burdick test, the Court balanced voters’ rights against state interests with respect to a particular election law. The more severe the burden on voters’ rights, the greater the state’s interests had to be.”Reasonable non-discriminatory” election laws, the Court said, are to be upheld; however, those imposing severe burdens are to be struck down unless the state had a compelling interest in the law.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 11:22 am

Posted in Election, Government

Maryland doctors want special protections

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Sigh:

Once again Maryland doctors are raising the specter that patients will be denied access to medical care because doctors will be leaving Maryland as the cost of medical liability insurance increases. The last time they used this scare tactic they convinced the Assembly to subsidize their premiums. Now as those subsidies are set to expire they’re back with the same tired threats. Citing an emerging doctor shortage, doctors are urging Assembly members to enact “tort reforms” designed to slam the court house door on injured patients.

First, claims of an emerging doctor shortage are not borne out by the facts. A recent report to The Governor’s Task Force on Health Care Access and Reimbursement indicated that data collected from the American Medical Association and the American Osteopathic Association and adjusted on a consistent basis shows that Maryland has the 4th highest patient care physician to population ratio in the U.S.

Second, recent empirical evidence published by leading academic authors from Harvard’s School of Public Health and George Mason University debunks the conventional wisdom long promoted by the medical community that increases in liability insurance premiums cause physicians to relocate or discontinue their practices in high-cost states.Investigating the effects of insurance premiums and various tort reforms on the number of obstetrician-gynecologists from all fifty states and the District of Columbia between 1992 and 2002 they found that the supply of OB/GYNs had no significant association with premiums or tort reforms. Their results indicated that most OB/GYNs do not respond to liability risk by relocating out of state or discontinuing their practice, and that tort reforms such as caps on non-economic damages do not help states attract and retain high-risk specialists.Unfortunately for the doctors this kind of fear mongering should no longer be effective with the Maryland Assembly.

Numerous Public Citizen Reports have shown that the real medical malpractice problem is medical malpractice. Little progress has been made since the IOM reported in 1999 that nearly 100,000 deaths occur annually as a result of medical error. It is not pretty to say, but doctors and nurses make preventable mistakes that kill more people in the U. S. every year than workplace and automobile accidents combined. Medical errors cause needless pain and suffering for thousands of innocent patients and their families. Much of this harm is caused by a small handful doctors. This means that a directed effort in policing negligence would go a long way toward both saving lives and reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 11:01 am

Much better site for Firefox add-ons

I love my Firefox add-ons, which have made the program so much more efficient. And now Mozilla has improved the Firefox add-on site to make it easy for you to find add-ons that are useful to you.

Add-ons are easy to install and, if they turn out not to work for you, easy to uninstall. And they’re free.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 10:53 am

Posted in Firefox, Software

More free books

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Click this link, and also read the comments at the link, which contain additional information and more sites.

UPDATE: Also, free audio books here.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 10:51 am

Posted in Books

The innocent German we tortured and imprisoned

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Full transcript of CBS program here. It begins:

At the age of 19, Murat Kurnaz vanished into America’s shadow prison system in the war on terror. He was from Germany, traveling in Pakistan, and was picked up three months after 9/11. But there seemed to be ample evidence that Kurnaz was an innocent man with no connection to terrorism. The FBI thought so, U.S. intelligence thought so, and German intelligence agreed. But once he was picked up, Kurnaz found himself in a prison system that required no evidence and answered to no one.

The story Kurnaz told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is a rare look inside that clandestine system of justice, where the government’s own secret files reveal that an innocent man lost his liberty, his dignity, his identity, and ultimately five years of his life.

60 Minutes found Murat Kurnaz in Bremen, Germany, where he was born and raised. His parents emigrated there from Turkey. His father works in the Mercedes factory. Kurnaz wasn’t particularly religious growing up, but in 2001 he was marrying a Turkish girl who was. And he decided to learn more about Islam.”I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t know anything,” Kurnaz says. “So I had to study more about Islam so I could go to the mosque and pray.”

In Bremen, he met Islamic missionaries who urged him to go to Pakistan for study. As he was planning the trip, 9/11 happened. He told 60 Minutes he was horrified by the attacks, and had never heard of al Qaeda. He decided to go ahead with his trip anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 10:21 am

Pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s disease

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Interesting:

A new study in the journal BMC Neurology shows the connection between long-term exposure to pesticides and Parkinson’s disease. The study, which looked at more than 300 Parkinson’s patients, found that people with Parkinson’s were more than twice as likely to report long-term exposure to pesticides than other family members. This isn’t the first study finding a link between environmental factors and the disease.

Many doctors, reports the Daily Green, have said that Parkinson’s is likely a result of interactions between genes and environmental triggers. The Post also has a story today that talks about genes and environmental factors working together in cases of schizophrenia.

This research strengthens science linking external factors like toxic substances with neurological disease.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 10:14 am

Mark Kleiman on torture

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Some good points:

When some of the denizens of Wingnuttia, including all of this year’s Presidential candidates including John Mccain, start splitting hairs about torture and talking about “ticking bomb” scenarios, I quickly lose my temper and start speculating about how they would look after having all their fingernails pulled out. That allows them to get all smug and superior and resonable and ask why it is that I’m trying to shut down reasoned debate.*

Here’s why. Torture is never restricted to “worthwhile” targets. It gets applied to random victims turned in for bounty money. And once someone has been tortured, the impulse to keep torturing until he confesses (thus retrospectively justifying what has already been done) is overwhelming. Note that this victim in this case was held for four years after his innocence had been established, and released only because Angela Merkel asked for his release.

Note further that if he were to sue, the Bush Administration would undoubtedly invoke the “state secrets” doctrine, arguing that whatever had been done to him was classified information and therefore couldn’t be brought out in court. And that in other cases the Bush Administration has argued that once someone has been tortured he can’t be allowed to see a lawyer because he might give the lawyer information about the specific torture techniques being used that would be of value to the enemy. (That implies that, once someone has been tortured, he can never be released, because he is in possession of classified information.)

And just remember the next time you hear some wingnut talking about “lawfare,” as if due process was some sort of Islamist plot: they’re talking about people like Behar Azmy of Seton Hall Law School, who have made it possible to remain proud of being an American even as our government has dragged the Stars and Stripes through the mud.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 9:41 am

Free apps to help you write

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These is good to know. And, although not free, Zoot 5.0 (Windows only) is a great resources for collecting notes and information by project. I’m using it now, and James Fallows swears by it.

The post at the link above is by Dustin M. Wax, a contributing editor and project manager at lifehack.org. He is also the creator of The Writer’s Technology Companion, a site devoted to the tools of the writing trade. When he’s not writing, he teaches anthropology and women’s studies in Las Vegas, NV. His personal site can be found at dwax.org.

  1. q10: A cool, minimalist full-screen text editor that includes a spellchecker and a couple other nice features. (Win Only; Alternatives: DarkRoom, also Win-only; DarkRoom, Mac-only but not free; Writer, online app)
  2. Freemind: Java-based mindmapping software. Great for brainstorming and taking notes. (Runs anywhere Java runs)
  3. EverNote: Capture formatted notes from any application to a single place. The new version (in private beta now) offers online access, too. (A paid version offers niceties like handwriting recognition.)
  4. Zotero: Firefox extension that allows you to capture bibliographic information from web pages, organize citiations and documents, and create bibliographies in Word and OpenOffice. Essential for anyone who does research on the web.
  5. yWriter4: Novel-writing software created by a working writer with writers in mind. Keeps character descriptions, notes, and other essential information at your fingertips as you write. (Win and Linux)
  6. Sonar: Submission tracking software from the same guy who wrote yWriter4. Keep track of markets and submissions easily. (Win and Linux)
  7. Foxit Reader: A super-fast PDF reader. Opens almost every document much more quickly than Adobe Reader. (Win only)
  8. PDF Creator: Open source program to create PDF files from any application that can print. Installs a “virtual printer” under your programs “Print” menu; select it to save as PDF. (Win only)
  9. Enso Words: Provides system-wide spellchecking and word count; simply select text and enter a keystroke combination (“Caps Lock” + s for spellcheck, “Caps Lock” + w for word count, etc.). (Win only)

At the first link above, you can also find:

  • 10 Useful On-line Apps and Services for the Writer
  • 10 Sites Every Writer Should Bookmark (Besides Lifehack)
  • 30 Lifehack Posts Every Writer Should Read
  • 5 Online Communities Every Writer Should Join

And also take a look at these related Lifehack posts:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 8:59 am

Sunday steps: ignored

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I don’t shave on Sundays and I decided that I also will not take any special efforts toward steps. Sunday will be a day off. But I will be walking today.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Daily life

Arko in the morning…

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This morning, the two-day stubble called for a shave stick, so I picked the Arko: $1.50 of solid goodness. With the Rooney Heritage Alibaba large, I quickly had a satisfactory lather, and using a Gillette TV Super Speed with a new Treet Blue Special blade, I did three quick passes to almost perfect smoothness. Then Pacific Shaving Co’s All Natural Shaving Oil made the Oil Pass a pleasure—I currently find this oil to be my favorite, but that may change from time to time. The aftershave was TOBS Mr. Taylor’s Aftershave.
At any rate a perfect shave—9.9, I would say—and I am enjoying my coffee.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2008 at 7:59 am

Posted in Shaving

Elephant art

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2008 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Art

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