Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Perceptive analysis of the Silicon Valley mindset re: Politics

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Good article.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2014 at 1:20 pm

Intercept Reporter Shot With Beanbags and Arrested While Covering Ferguson Protests

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The Ferguson police obviously do not like reporters for the same reason wrong-doers generally don’t like reporters: because reporters tell the public what the police in Ferguson are doing, and the police don’t want people to know.

Here’s a report at The Intercept of two reporters arrested and mailed overnight for the crime of reporting.

Let’s face the fact that police in America will now go to great lengths to keep the public from finding out what they do. Body cameras can be helpful (in the article, it mentions that complaints of brutality dropped 88% after body cameras went into use in Rialto CA), but in San Diego what the body cameras record is kept secret—the press and public are not allowed to view what the police are doing. Note: police are paid by taxpayers, their equipment (including body cameras) is purchased by taxpayers, and their activities are (presumably) to help the public. Why the secrecy? Because the police know what they are doing is wrong—not just morally or ethically wrong, but actually against the law. Fortunately for them, they are the ones who decide on a daily basis which laws to enforce. And they are keeping secret what those body cameras record.

Conor Friedersdorf has a good article on how videos that show what police seem to do almost routinely—beat and abuse the powerless—has led increasingly to their feeling of being “misunderstood” by the public, which actually is starting to understand them well. I do grasp that only a small minority of police officers are brutal thugs, but the other police officers cover for and support the activities of the thugs.

As to the militarization of police forces: Congress loves it:

“House lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in June to block legislation by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that would have stopped…the so-called ‘1033 program,’ launched in 1997….The effects of the program have been on full display in Ferguson….While lawmakers have decried the excessive police response in Ferguson, a number of members told The Huffington Post they don’t expect Congress to do much to rein in the Pentagon program. That’s not so much because of intense lobbying from the defense industry, they said, but more because local police forces say they benefit from the free gear.” Jennifer Bendery, Ryan Grim and Zach Carter in The Huffington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2014 at 9:16 am

Programmable self-assembly in a thousand-robot swarm

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Jef Akst writes in The Scientist:

A simple set of rules, basic infrared communication, and four “seed robots” that coordinate the group’s behavior is all that’s needed for a flock of 1,024 man-made machines to self-assemble into preprogrammed shapes, such as a star or the letter K. The so-called Kilobots—each roughly the size of a stack of five quarters, propped up on three thin legs—detect the presence of other bots within 10 centimeters of themselves by measuring the strength of their neighbors’ infrared signal. Within 12 hours of introducing the four seed robots to the swarm, the Kilobots have taken on the programmed configuration. The work was published last week (August 14) in Science.

“That is a beautiful accomplishment,” Hod Lipson, a roboticist at Cornell University who was not involved with the work, told Science. “Really getting a thousand robots to perform in sort of perfect synchrony.”

In addition to leading to insights in collective animal behavior, the study’s authors, including Harvard computer scientist Michael Rubenstein, hope that such programmable devices could lead to shape-shifting materials that can take the form of different tools, for example. These future robots would act “like a three-dimensional printer, but instead of printing with plastic filament, you’d be printing with robots that can move themselves,” Rubenstein told Nature.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 10:19 am

Posted in Science, Technology

U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas

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A weapon that will make it much easier for malefactors to break into your own computer. Barton Gellman reports for the Washington Post:

CloudShield Technologies, a California defense contractor, dispatched a senior engineer to Munich in the early fall of 2009. His instructions were unusually opaque.

As he boarded the flight, the engineer told confidants later, he knew only that he should visit a German national who awaited him with an off-the-books assignment. There would be no written contract, and on no account was the engineer to send reports back to CloudShield headquarters.

His contact, Martin J. Muench, turned out to be a former developer of computer security tools who had long since turned to the darkest side of their profession. Gamma Group, the British conglomerate for which Muench was a managing director, built and sold systems to break into computers, seize control clandestinely, and then copy files, listen to Skype calls, record every keystroke and switch on Web cameras and microphones at will.

[Read: How to implant a Trojan Horse: a user manual]

According to accounts the engineer gave later and contemporary records obtained by The Washington Post, he soon fell into a shadowy world of lucrative spyware tools for sale to foreign security services, some of them with records of human rights abuse.

Over several months, the engineer adapted Gamma’s digital weapons to run on his company’s specialized, high-speed network hardware. Until then CloudShield had sold its CS-2000 device, a multipurpose network and content processing product, primarily to the Air Force and other Pentagon customers, who used it to manage and defend their networks, not to attack others.

CloudShield’s central role in Gamma’s controversial work — fraught with legal risk under U.S. export restrictions — was first uncovered by Morgan Marquis-Boire, author of a new report released Friday by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He shared advance drafts with The Post, which conducted its own month-long investigation.

The prototype that CloudShield built was never brought to market, and the company parted ways with Gamma in 2010. But Marquis-Boire said CloudShield’s work helped pioneer a new generation of “network injection appliances” sold by Gamma and its Italian rival, Hacking Team. Those devices harness malicious software to specialized equipment attached directly to the central switching points of a foreign government’s national Internet grid.

The result: Merely by playing a YouTube video or visiting a Microsoft Live service page, for instance, an unknown number of computers around the world have been implanted with Trojan horses by government security services that siphon their communications and files. Google, which owns YouTube, and Microsoft are racing to close the vulnerability.

Citizen Lab’s report, based on leaked technical documents, is the first to document that commercial spyware companies are making active use of this technology. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2014 at 12:35 pm

3 Teenagers Created An App To Hold Police Accountable

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This seems like an excellent idea—Yelp for police departments, as it were. Carimah Townes reports at ThinkProgress:

Three high school students have developed a mobile app to hold police accountable in communities nationwide. The app, Five-O, is a timely development, since the shooting of Michael Brown last weekend sparked a national conversation about police brutality andlaw enforcement in the U.S.

Caleb, Ima, and Asha Christian, three siblings from Decatur, Georgia, created Five-O for individuals to document and rate their encounters with police officers. With the app, citizens can discuss the reason behind their police encounters, and what occurred during their interactions. Moreover, individuals can transfer the recorded information to law enforcement, which can be used in cases where legal action is necessary. Five-O allows citizens to input relevant demographic information, including age and race, and rank officers’ level of professionalism.

“We’d like to know which regions in the US provide horrible law enforcement services as well as highlight the agencies that are highly rated by their citizens. In addition to putting more power into the hands of citizens when interacting with law enforcement, we believe that highly rated police departments should be used as models for those that fail at providing quality law enforcement services,” explained Ima, the eldest of the three siblings.

The mobile app will be available for download on August 18. The Georgia trio hopes that citizens will find its way to communities across the U.S.

Police accountability is a grave concern for criminal justice advocates, particularly in regards to seeking justice for victims of police violence. On one hand, there is a lack of national data on police shootings, as individual police departments tend to be protectiveof complaints against officers. On the other hand, quantifying excessive force is difficult, and there are varying standards of what constitutes “reasonable” force.

Apps and social media are promising tools to help fix the lack of data out there, enabling witnesses and victims of police violence to share their accounts when they cannot find justice through official channels. The NYCLU developed another mobile app, Stop-and-Frisk Watch, in 2012. Created in response to the New York Police Department’s contentious stop-and-frisk policy, known for disproportionately targeting African American men, the app lets onlookers to record video of police misconduct and send them to NYCLU servers.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2014 at 11:35 am

The future of the liberal arts college?

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A very interesting article for anyone who’s been to a liberal arts college, and particularly anyone who’s worked at one.

I remain, however, VERY skeptical of profit-oriented companies operating certain services (schools, colleges, hospitals, libraries, and others). The impulse to cut costs tends to lead to bad outcomes.

UPDATE: One doesn’t want to make too much of a single sentence, but I found this sobering: “In a humanities class, they need to learn the classical techniques of rhetoric and develop basic persuasive skills.” Notice that learning analytic skills that help in understanding—and explaining—difficult ideas is not even mentioned. The goal seems to be to train good salesmen.

I am unimpressed.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 12:01 pm

Industrial hemp has promise in supercapacitors (to replace batteries)

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Very interesting report by April Short at Alternet. There are some plots of industrial hemp being grown in the US this summer—over the DEA’s strong objections. Industrial hemp is no more intoxicating if smoked than, say, cotton, but no one has ever claimed that US drug laws or rational or that the DEA is reasonable: quite the contrary, in fact, if you look at the science.

But the DEA believes that their remit covers not only marijuana but also plain old hemp used for making rope, paper, cloth, and now (perhaps) supercapacitors. And since the only action of which the DEA is capable is to forbid things, they took it upon themselves to forbid industrial hemp. But Congress put enough pressure so that the DEA did allow some experimental industrial hemp crops, though even then they tried at the last minute to seize the hemp seeds being imported for the test crops—much to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s anger, one of the tests being in Kentucky.

Short’s report begins:

On top of its vast medicinal benefits and a “high” that’s safer and mellower than alcohol, what if cannabis could also power a cheap, sustainable super battery and forever change the energy game? It sounds like a far-fetched dream cooked up by Cheech and Chong after a bong rip or three, but it’s possible, according to a team of researchers at the University of Alberta.

During the American Chemical Society’ [3]s national meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, engineering professor David Mitlin (who now works at Clarkson University in New York) presented the findings. The study he led investigates the potential for industrial hemp (the non-psychoactive cannabis plant closely related to marijuana) to aid in the creation of extremely efficient batteries called supercapacitors, or “supercaps.” By heating hemp fibers, the researchers were able to rearrange the plant’s carbon atoms to create thin, two-dimensional sheets, or nanosheets. Those nanosheets are then used as electrodes (electrical conductors) in the supercaps.

Prior research into supercaps broke ground using graphene [4], rather than hemp, to create the nanosheets with unmatched results for energy storage. Since then, scientists have been looking for ways to use “graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive,” ACS reported in a press release [3].

The recent hemp study shows hemp to be more efficient than graphene, and 1,000 times cheaper, since hemp is fast-growing and relatively easy to process.

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin said in the ACS press release. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.” . . .

Continue reading.

It’s amazing what can be discovered once research is allowed—but the DEA stands firm against any research involving marijuana. You’ll note that this result came from Canada, which grows industrial hemp and is the source of much of the US supply. (It’s perfectly legal to import it, just illegal to grow it. —  I know, I know. Ask the DEA.)

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 12:52 pm

Why car thieves overwhelmingly prefer pre-1997 Hondas

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Because those Hondas are still worth something and later cars are too hard to steal. Kevin Drum points out the virtuous circle that results.

OTOH, I have frequently seen in movies how you can just reach under the dash, pull some wires loose, touch two of them, and the car starts with no problem. Hmmm. I wonder: can it possibly be that movies are not a reliable guide to daily life?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 11:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Technology

Looking on the bright side

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A reader has observed that this blog has become a downer—and I recognize that. I find myself aghast at what is happening in this country and the world, and feel powerless to do much beyond bear witness and contribute as I can.

But it occurs to me that my readers are probably well aware of what’s happening, and may well be even more aware than I, and so my efforts to catalogue  the failings of the world are redundant—plus somewhat of a bummer to me.

I have always prided myself on being able to respond positively to criticism—see: already a positive note—and so for at least a week I am going to blog predominantly positive stories and look for a positive slant on any negative reports. We’ll see how it goes.

For example, yesterday I was able to solve two problems that were driving me to distraction.

First, my Chrome browser could not connect to the Washington Post. (I had been blogging in Chrome, browsing in Firefox, but when I discovered that in Firefox copy-and-paste preserved basic formatting (bold, italics, blockquote, lists, and—most important–links) in the WordPress visual editor while Chrome did not, I switched: I now blog in Firefox, browse in Chrome—browse, that is, except for the Washington Post, where attempts to connect inevitably produced an SSL connection error.

I went to Google’s help forums, got various suggestions (weirdest: make sure my system date and time are correct), none of which worked. But then I happened to look at my “HTTPS Everywhere” extension that automatically connects using HTTPS rather than HTTP. I excepted the Post, so that I would connect to it with HTTP, and all is well. The Post apparently has some problem in their SSL protocol implementation. So that problem was resolved.

Second, I was frustrated in working with my Kindle Paperwhite: some collections that I could see when I assigned books to collections did not show up in the collections view. After talking with a patient man in India, whose best guess was to reboot the Kindle, I talked to a guy who really knew what was happening.

At the top, to the right of “Cloud | On device”, there are two dropdown lists. Generally I have “All items” checked in the first (which shows up after you check it as “My Items”—weird inconsistency) and to the right of that dropdown list I either check “Recent” or “Collections”—usually “Recent.”

If you set the first dropdown list to “Collections” instead of “All Items” and do a slow-touch of the name of a collection, you will be presented with some choices. The third one is to toggle between showing the collection name in all views, or only in the collections view. (Why one would want to hide a collection name from other views is not clear, but I imagine for some that solves a problem.)

Once I set the option to “Show in all views”, a star appears to the right of the collection name and the collection name appears in all lists. I was thus finally able to get to the “Mysteries/Thrillers” collection (which had only 4 items) and assign the members to either “Mysteries” or “Thrillers” (two other collections I had, with many more members), and delete the “Mysteries/Thrillers.”

A little more work of the same sort and I was able to consolidate two collections (“SciFi & Fantasy” and “SciFi/Fantasy”) into one. (I had realized I had two, because one of those happened to be set to “Show in all views” and the other to “Show only in Collections View”.)

What a relief to have that fixed. It somehow had become a burr under my saddle.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 10:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

A neutral guide to network neutrality

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A clear and comprehensive overview of net neutrality and the issues surrounding it. Stephanie Crets writes at SingleHop.com:

Net Neutrality has been the topic of intense conversation recently, as the FCC solicits and considers public comments about how to regulate Internet traffic. We’ve put together the overview below to help you understand the issues and players that influence the way we use the Internet daily for business, research, entertainment, and social activities.

Net Neutrality Overview

Net Neutrality refers to the idea that all data on the Internet should be treated equally by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). For most of the Internet’s history, ISPs generally did not distinguish between the various types of content that flow through their networks, whether web pages, email, or other forms of information. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the few ISPs that tried to block certain types of data faced strong opposition from consumers, tech companies, and regulators.

With the rise of bandwidth-heavy services such as Netflix, ISPs have increasingly sought to sell more bandwidth, or “fast lanes,” to companies willing to pay for it. Other traffic would move through their networks at a slower pace.

An FCC History of Net Neutrality

The term “Network Neutrality” (later shortened to Net Neutrality) was coined by legal scholar Tim Wu in a 2003 study of potential ways to regulate the Internet. Over the last decade, the FCC has tried multiple times to enforce “guiding principles” in support of Net Neutrality.

In 2007, the FCC ruled that Comcast had illegally throttled its users’ service, but the ruling was struck down by the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.[1] In 2010, the FCC passed a regulatory order intended “to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation, investment, job creation, economic growth, competition, and free expression.”[2] Verizon Communications challenged the new rules in court, and in January 2014, the D.C. Circuit again struck down the FCC’s ruling.[3]

In response to the most recent ruling, the FCC proposed another rulemaking and solicited public comments through July 15, 2014, with a reply comment period through September 10, 2014. During that period, members of the public can comment by visiting http://www.fcc.gov/comment or emailing openinternet@fcc.gov.[4]

Arguments for Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality proponents argue that the Internet should provide a “level playing field” by codifying an open-access model of the Internet in which all data is treated equally. In support of Net Neutrality, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has stated, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 9:20 am

Very cool bike—still a prototype

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2014 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Anki, a great tool for learning a language (and much else besides)

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Anki (free) is a terrific tool for learning anything that requires some level of memorization—which almost everything does, but particularly language: vocabulary must be learned, and though the affix system of Esperanto helps a lot, the roots must still be learned.

Take a look a these excellent comments on Anki and its power.

And note this partial list of decks available:

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 11.53.51 AM

 

It should be noted, however, that it’s a very good idea to build your own deck from the book you are working from: it helps you learn the material just from building the deck, and it’s also convenient that the deck matches the book.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2014 at 11:33 am

If it looks like stalking and people do it anyway, it’s stalking.

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And apparently stalkers are a big demographic, so worth providing with products.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2014 at 11:45 am

Posted in Technology

Video of NASA experiment

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2014 at 11:22 am

Posted in Technology, Video

Turns out, one laptop per child is not an educational panacea

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Details here.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2014 at 12:13 pm

Absolutely and totally fascinating: SoulPulse

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And just in time, I’d say. As the US becomes increasingly inequitable and increasingly polarized culturally, having some overall measures that can show trends—that might well be useful. Casey Cep writes in the New Yorker:

On April 10, 1901, Duncan Macdougall, a physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts, completed an experiment designed to measure the human soul, the first of six he would complete in his lifetime. Using an industrial scale designed for weighing silk, accurate to one-fifth of an ounce, Macdougall weighed a male tuberculosis patient before and immediately after he died. It took three hours and forty minutes for the man to expire, and at the moment of his death he lost three-fourths of an ounce. This, by Macdougall’s calculations, was the weight of the human soul.

According to Mary Roach’s book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Macdougall didn’t publish his findings until 1907, when his research appeared in both the Journal of the American Society for Physical Research and American Medicine. In March of that year, the Times ran a story called “Soul Has Weight, Physician Thinks.” Perhaps because he wasn’t able to find additional human subjects, Macdougall performed the rest of his research on dogs, which he determined had no souls because their weights did not change after death.

Last January, John Ortberg, a senior pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, and Bradley Wright, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, released a simpler way of measuring a soul: SoulPulse, a technology project that captures real-time data on the spirituality of Americans. SoulPulse attempts to quantify the soul, an unbodied version of what FitBit, the exercise-tracking device, has done for the body. After filling in a brief intake survey on your age, race, ethnicity, education, income, and religious affiliation, SoulPulse contacts you twice a day with questions about your physical health, spiritual disciplines, and religious experiences. Each of the surveys takes less than five minutes to complete.

Baptized in the Lutheran Church, and a believer, I enrolled in SoulPulse for two weeks. I told it how I’d slept and what I’d been doing, whether I’d had anything to drink or taken any drugs, who I was with, if I’d been praying or worshiping, how close I felt to God. There were drop-down menus, slider buttons, and actual buttons to click, but no narrative answers were accepted. Day to day, I felt like I was adding up my spiritual position. Just how joyful was I? How peaceful? How grateful? Was I more aware of God when I was commuting or when I was using a computer? I had participated in a few research studies before, but I had never felt the observer effect—in which a subject changes her behavior as a result of feeling watched—so strongly. I didn’t doubt the experiment’s guarantee of anonymity, but being asked about my spiritual disciplines made me more eager to practice them.

One busy afternoon, I wondered how long it had been since I’d prayed, and realized that it had not been since that morning. Being asked so often to look for God’s presence made me want to be more aware of it, an experience not unlike gathering for worship on a Sunday morning, when the liturgy of the church makes me aware of things seen and unseen, attentive to the known and unknown. I asked Ortberg and Wright about the observer effect, and about a deeper skepticism I have about quantifying spirituality. I am a strong believer, but I chafe at any kind of program or book series that promises rewards or guarantees sacred fruits. Spirituality, it seems to me, is a thing that can not be counted.

Ortberg, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, listened to my concerns, and said, “On the one hand, not everything can be put in a test tube or seen with a microscope. The most important dimensions of life have to do with the spirit, and those aren’t always quantifiable. But using the best tools and methods available seems like a worthwhile thing.” He also stressed that, while SoulPulse is using new tools, it is answering old questions. Describing Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God,” a seventeenth-century text that linked God’s presence to daily tasks like doing the dishes and cooking meals, Ortberg said that believers across the centuries have tried to cultivate a mindfulness of the holy. He also pointed to Frank Laubach’s “The Game With Minutes,” a book from 1953 that taught practitioners to turn their minds toward God as often as possible, at least one second of every minute of every day.

“This is trying to use technology to gauge and enhance a tremendously old practice, to be aware of, to look for the divine in everyday experience,” Ortberg said. SoulPulse is simply a technological attempt at creating something like . . .

Continue reading.

List how many ways the sample is biased. Not sure how generalizable it will be, but it will be interesting to see the trends.

But these guys are going about it all wrong. They should do a free app that fires off questions at random times during the day, and user can set number of times a day s/he will tolerate. The various answers update an ever-growing database that is summarized in real time (accessible chart via smartphone) in charts of the overall SoulPlus readings. Real-time viewing of an aspect of the public mind. Intriguing—and fantastic marketing info.

In fact, now that I think about it, isn’t that somewhat like the sort of thing Facebook would do?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2014 at 11:55 am

What is saving the F-35?

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The sunk-cost fallacy is the only thing keeping it afloat. (If only Congress were smarter and had better educations.) Here’s the brief article. The US military’s procurement procedures seem like a bunch of coal miners trying to sail a ship.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2014 at 12:30 pm

Defeating mosquitoes

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The Son lives in the country in Massachusetts and has a mosquito problem—more than a nuisance now that in the US mosquitoes spread the West Nile virus, the St. Louis encephalitis virus, and (only in the South, so far) dengue fever.

My first instinct was to suggest a purple-martin house, but a quick Googling of “purple martin diet” shows that they do not in fact eat mosquitoes.

Then I went to Cool Tools and found a couple of things. The Thermacell Mosquito Repellent Appliance looks good for special applications—a fishing trip, for example, to keep mosquitoes away from the boat—but wouldn’t work for a house and yard very well.

The best bet seems to be the OakStump Farm Mosquito Trap. One commenter at the link strongly recommends using rain water for the trap. The trap offers an ideal situation for mosquito breeding, with one small hitch the mosquitoes do not know: none of their larvae will escape the trap to fly free. So you find all the breeding spots you can (small puddles of standing water) and destroy them, and then put 4 of these around the house, I expect. Mosquitoes (like any animal) has a strong drive to breed, so they will leap on these ideal breeding sites… to their subsequent dismay when the next generation doesn’t appear.

The Son has tried the “propane to human breath” traps and said that they’re really not satisfactory in that they require a lot of tinkering to work—and then they don’t, not all that well.

Google “mosquito bag fan” for another sort of trap. Again, this one is for a limited area.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2014 at 11:11 am

Impact of Kindle on reading

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I found myself gradually rereading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series again, this time on my Kindle Paperwhite, and I have gradually become aware that this reading has a very different feeling. In thinking over why, I can see that the differences come from some specific reading benefits of the Kindle offers.

For example, if you hold your fingertip on a word until the word is highlighted, you can then see the dictionary definition and even look at the Wikipedia entry (assuming you have a Wi-Fi connection), right while you’re reading. I discovered, for example, that the word “shay” is an (incorrect) back-formation from chaise, chaise assumed to be plural: two chaise, one shay. Given all the naval and/or antique terminology in the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels, having immediate access to definitions is a godsend.

I do think I’m getting a better picture this time—and that’s in part due to another Kindle feature: the highlighting. I highlight passages that strike my fancy for one reason or another, and I do that without hesitation since the highlight’s easily erased if I want. Now, when I look back through the book, the highlighted passages stand out and can easily be re-enjoyed. Some of those passages are pretty clearly essays by Patrick O’Brian—some of Stephen Maturin’s monologues, for example. And among the various fraught friend/family/romantic relationships some are treated at greater length—for example, more of a character’s thoughts are devoted to some, with greater exploration of the various causes and effects, while others, treated more briefly, do not show up in passages I’ve highlighted.

That, of course, could be purely me: the passages highlighted show more about me than Patrick O’Brian, but perhaps not: O’Brian does indeed seem pre-occupied with some particular aspects of relationships and character, and I suspect these relate to his interesting personal history.

At any rate, I’m greatly enjoying the novels (I’m now in Post Captain), and it’s quite nice to be able to pick up immediately at the point where you last stopped reading without fussing with a bookmark—another Kindle feature. And the highlights give one a different way of viewing the work.

Another great benefit of reading on the Kindle comes from the search feature, which turns out to be enormously handy. For example, when you’re given the name of a ship or a minor character that you’re almost sure has been previously mentioned, a search shows you exactly where the name occurs in the novel, with each mention accompanied by enough context to recall the passage.

I don’t think I would have necessarily noticed the difference this time in the reading experience without having read the book two or three times before. As I write this, I’m thinking how this description of reading a book would have struck me back in the 1960’s. It would be flabbergasting.

UPDATE: If you’d like to get a taste of this series, which begins with Master and Commander, download the free sample at the link. This includes the inauspicious first meeting of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

UPDATE 2: Here’s a product idea for Amazon: take the content of A Sea of Words (already available in Kindle format) and linking to it as a dictionary in the Patrick O’Brian books so that you wouldn’t have to leave your place in the book—having to exit, open a different book, search, exit, return to previous book — that just seems too many steps. I want one-click definitions that match the book I’m reading. If you can deliver, you would have a very nice selling point.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2014 at 8:41 am

Posted in Books, Technology

Countries are starting to adopt more vigorous on-line surveillance

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I assume they’re learning from NSA: Universal surveillance of all your citizens is a meme that appeals to governments of many countries, not just the freedom-loving (ironic) US.

At any rate, as Twitter grows, Twitter requests grow: read this article.

And once those governments start to want data, they are going to get it. Why? Because the US claims it can get data that Microsoft stored overseas—data that is not in the US. But the US thinks it can get it—so when some iffy ally wants down that’s stored in the US, the precedent is there. Of course, we’ll also be demanding that the drone attacks they’re launching toward their citizens who fled their country to live in the US—citizens that the other government views as terrorists.

Take an example: Cuba and Venezuela view Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist—in part because he deliberately blew up a civilian airliner in flight. I think even the US might view that as an act of terrorism—but apparently not, because old Luis was living the life of Riley all during the Bush Administration, and well into the Obama Administration.

Now that the US has established the precedent, what if a drone came over Florida and fired a Hellfire missile, taking out Carriles and everyone else in the apartment building—the “human shields”—who become collateral damage, and perhaps (as the US does when one of its missiles kills civilian bystanders) pay a few thousand dollars a head. And of course both Cuba and Venezuela would deny it (as the US denied its own drone attacks in Yemen for years), so it would be altogether awkward. It looks so different when it goes the other way, doesn’t it?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 4:27 pm

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