Later On

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

Archive for December 9th, 2006

Extremely cool idea: the invisible unmanned airplane

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From the NY Times:

When the Phantom Sentinel takes flight, it looks like an awkward boomerang — a set of three small blades. It spins in a circle, faster and faster as it ascends into the sky. Then, when it reaches about 50 feet, it whirls so fast that something remarkable happens: it vanishes right before your very eyes.

The Sentinel is still there, but you can’t see it. It is the world’s first “invisible spy drone,” a new class of remote-controlled stealth aircraft. Driven by electric-engine propellers on two of its blades, the Sentinel also moves in virtual silence. “You could fly it 75 feet above the Macy’s parade, and nobody would know it was there at all,” says Dean Tangren, president of VeraTech Aero Corporation, which received a patent for the invention this summer.

The Phantom Sentinel works by putting the difficulty we have in perceiving rapidly spinning objects to use. Think of a helicopter: the body is immobile and thus visible, but the blades are moving so fast that the eye sees them as only a vague blur. Tangren’s device works like a helicopter, except that the whole craft is nothing but the blades. Meanwhile, cameras mounted near the center of the Sentinel whirl in circular patterns, capturing a 360-degree panorama and broadcasting live video to the operators. A Sentinel can be folded up into a backpack and can fly for up to 40 minutes before its batteries need refueling.

Military agencies have already contacted Tangren about using the Sentinel for spy surveillance. So have private-sector firms, including an oil company that envisioned using Phantom Sentinels to patrol its 5,000 miles of oil pipelines. If Osama bin Laden is ever caught by one of these drones, it would be a scene straight out of science fiction: the world’s most reclusive terrorist, nabbed by a pair of invisible eyes.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that flying the plane must present a challenge: since you can’t see it, accidentally flying it into a tree or a building or the like would be a real possibility. Wonder how they handle that?

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Military, Technology

Recovering a stolen Mac

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Interesting story. Justice is swift.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 6:07 pm

Expanding table

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This table expands very nicely. (Quicktime video available at the link.) But I imagine that it is very dear indeed. Via Boing Boing.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

A problem with many charities

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They become fundraising (and spending) machines, with very little of the money going to the purpose of the charity. (Another reason I like Kiva: all the money you give goes directly to microloans.) Here’s the story on MADD:

People who donate to Mothers Against Drunk Driving are told by the charity that most of the $12 million it raises annually is spent on good works — stopping drunk driving and helping families traumatized by fatal crashes.

But a Star investigation reveals most of the high-profile charity’s money is spent on fundraising and administration, leaving only about 19 cents of each donor dollar for charitable works.

MADD chief executive officer Andrew Murie defends the expenses, saying the paid telemarketers and door-knockers are actually performing good works because they educate the public as they ask for cash. That’s a defence Canada’s top charity regulator rejects.

The controversy over squandered millions has many MADD Canada volunteers — typically people whose relative or friend was killed or injured by a drunk driver — calling for the charity to clean up its act.

“These are exorbitant costs,” said Sue Storey, whose mother was killed and father injured when their car was hit by a drunk driver in 1999. Storey is the co-founder of MADD’s Dufferin chapter. “I feel like I have been let down.”

Judy Gerrard Simmons, a former MADD board member and local chapter president, said the claims from MADD’s head office are misleading. “This is the public’s money. They have a right to know where it really goes,” said Gerrard Simmons, whose 15-year-old daughter and first husband were killed by a drunk driver in 1986.

“All of these millions of dollars roll in to MADD because the public has such a heart. The money comes in because of the deaths of our daughters, sons, husbands and wives,” said Gerrard Simmons.

She and Storey are two of thousands of volunteers who counsel families victimized by drunk driving. They find it offensive that MADD raises so much money, only to have most of it stay with three paid fundraising companies. Storey said the charity’s backbone is its counselling and advocacy work, which is done by unpaid volunteers with personal knowledge of the tragedies too many drinks and a car can cause.

For years MADD has been claiming it spends donor money well — fundraising pitches say “83.6 per cent of your donation is spent directly on MADD Canada programs.” When the Star obtained MADD’s financial statements, it was clear that millions of dollars in payments to the fundraising firms made up a big chunk of its charitable programs.

Veteran volunteers who built the charity from its grassroots days are locked in a struggle with CEO Murie over what they consider deceitful fundraising practices. They are also concerned that Murie won’t reveal MADD finances — salaries and administrative expenses — to the volunteers. But they say their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Homemade ginger ale

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This really should be a summertime post, shouldn’t it? But here’s how.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Kitties doing what kitties do

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Cats, Video

There never was a “Twinkie defense”

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Things I never knew: the “Twinkie defense” is an urban legend.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 11:09 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Glenn Greenwald continues to be compelling

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Read him today—and every day.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 11:06 am

Do you have fear of flying?

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Phobias turn out to be relatively easy to cure, for the most part. As more is understood, the process of eliminating the phobia becomes better defined. One important discovery is that the symptom (the phobia) is the disease—there is not some underlying cause that, if you cure one phobia, will erupt somewhere else.

Fear of flying is a fairly common phobia, and Lifehacker provides a link to this free on-line course to eliminate the phobia. I haven’t tried it—I don’t have a phobia re: flying, mine is about heights—but the person at Lifehacker seemed to like it.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 11:02 am

One nice thing Fitday has

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If you eat a standard meal every day—as breakfast is for most people—you can define a “custom food” and enter the ingredients. So my first custom food is “breakfast” and contains the things that constitute my standard breakfast: oats, olive oil, cheese, walnuts, hot sauce, and coffee. It does mean I now measure the amounts (I was measuring the oats anyway) each day to match what I entered, but then I can select the single (custom) food “breakfast” each morning and Bob’s your uncle.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 10:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Bad signs about Rep. Reyes

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The new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes, doesn’t seem to know the first thing about Al Qaeda and the forces we’re fighting—and this is possible only if he’s as absolutely incurious as George Bush. Where do we get these ignorant, placid people?

This interview by Jeff Stein lays it out:

Forty years ago, Sgt. Silvestre Reyes was a helicopter crew chief flying dangerous combat missions in South Vietnam from the top of a soaring rocky outcrop near the sea called Marble Mountain.

After the war, it turned out that the communist Viet Cong had tunneled into the hill and built a combat hospital right beneath the skids of Reyes’ UH-1 Huey gunship.

Now the five-term Texas Democrat, 62, is facing similar unpleasant surprises about the enemy, this time as the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That’s because, like a number of his colleagues and top counterterrorism officials that I’ve interviewed over the past several months, Reyes can’t answer some fundamental questions about the powerful forces arrayed against us in the Middle East.

It begs the question, of course: How can the Intelligence Committee do effective oversight of U.S. spy agencies when its leaders don’t know basics about the battlefield?

To his credit, Reyes, a kindly, thoughtful man who also sits on the Armed Service Committee, does see the undertows drawing the region into chaos.

For example, he knows that the 1,400-year-old split in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites not only fuels the militias and death squads in Iraq, it drives the competition for supremacy across the Middle East between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

That’s more than two key Republicans on the Intelligence Committee knew when I interviewed them last summer. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Terry Everett, R-Ala., both back for another term, were flummoxed by such basic questions, as were several top counterterrorism officials at the FBI.

I thought it only right now to pose the same questions to a Democrat, especially one who will take charge of the Intelligence panel come January. The former border patrol agent also sits on the Armed Services Committee.

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 10:36 am

Uh-oh: new obsession starting

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I can tell now when something is capturing that particular kind of interest that leads to my focusing intensely on something—like (in earlier years) fountain pens, or (as now) shaving. I know the shaving interest has sort of fulfilled itself: I don’t find myself wanting to acquire more equipment or supplies, and my technique is pretty well polished now. I continue to enjoy greatly the morning shave, but as a field, I’m not exploring and learning much in that area—just taking pleasure in what I’m doing.

But the decision to start doing something about my fitness: first I signed on with Traineo, and now I’ve brought up Fitday, which I’ve used in the past and think highly of.

Fitday, like Traineo, is a free on-line fitness monitor (diet, exercise, weight, BMI, etc.), but Traineo adds the idea of a support team, with whom you can communicate and who can provide encouragement—or, I suppose, send messages like, “You’re never going to make it—why not give it up now and enjoy the holidays?” 🙂

Fitday works on-line, but I downloaded the software so I have it on my computer. I did that when they were having server problems, and I admit that I like having my own file locally. So I brought it up this morning, put a shortcut on my desktop, and started a fresh new file (“leisureguy 2006.fdy”) and am setting up the initial info.

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Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 9:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

No longer ignoring fitness

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Yesterday I came across Traineo and decided that I’ve gone long enough ignoring fitness. Diabetics must pay attention not only to diet but to fitness and amount of fat. So this morning I began. I’m hoping that Traineo, with its little circle of personal lookers-on/encouragers, will keep me going.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life

Specialized blogs: Cute Things Falling Asleep

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My blog, as perhaps you’ve noticed, does a certain amount of wandering here and there, whereas some blogs focus on specialized niches—e.g., Cute Things Falling Asleep. I have to admit a certain partiality for the kittens, but the puppies are also awfully good.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 8:35 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Cooliris gets even cooler

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There’s a new version out. Take a look at the tutorial video.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2006 at 8:27 am

Posted in Firefox, Software

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