Later On

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

Archive for December 12th, 2006

Dell is not doing well these days

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I don’t mean financially, I means in terms of customer service. Check out this depressing story and this story of a guy who fought back successfully.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 8:05 pm

NSFS finesses public participation

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From No Se Nada:

Something caught my eye out of the press officer of the Democrat side of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. I post this having told you its origins, so you know off the bat that it is partisan (and if you’re a close reader you know that I am very political and yet [feel] very non-partisan), but it’s worth reading:

Apparently eager to avoid Congressional and public scrutiny, the U.S. Forest Service has continued its holiday tradition of trying to bury bad news. Yesterday, just hours after Congress adjourned, the USFS issued a final rule that will eliminate environmental analyses and the public’s right to participate in forest management planning under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Under NEPA, public involvement and environmental analyses are required whenever the Forest Service wants to change the way it manages a forest – a process that occurs for each U.S. Forest every 15 years. However, under the rule announced yesterday, any update (or significant change) to those individual forest plans would be exempt from NEPA review.

Public participation is an absolute must for the health of a functioning democracy. For obvious reasons, many politicians and other non-elected policy makers would like to be able to avoid any and all public scrutiny because actually having to answer to the public decreases their power. We see this see-saw battle between openness and obfuscation constantly, and it represents one of the most important dynamics in our democracy. This issue is every much as important as the voting access issues we have been discussing for the past six years. Democracy does not start and end with the major every-two-year voting days, it starts and ends with the everyday interactions between we the citizens and our government. We forget that, or let ourselves overlook that, at our peril.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 8:01 pm

The Bush EPA gets worse and worse

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This Administration is setting new and terrible records:

Environmental groups are upset over a new federal effort to cut mercury emissions at dozens of cement plants around the country, saying it defies a court order to toughen controls on the highly toxic air pollutant.

The Environmental Protection Agency defended the standard as an important step in its battle to curb the flow of noxious fumes from industrial smokestacks.

The 200-plus cement kilns in the United States are the nation’s second-largest mercury emitters after coal-fired power plants, which are installing pollution-control equipment under state programs required by the EPA.

James Pew, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Washington, said the mercury standard that the EPA announced on Monday applies only to new or modernized cement plants. He said the regulation doesn’t require the owners of existing kilns to retrofit them with scrubbers or other equipment to reduce mercury emissions.

“The EPA decided to allow every cement kiln to continue to emit as much mercury as it likes,” Pew said. “This is part of a long string of agency refusals to obey the law.”

About 80 percent of the cement used in the United States, Pew said, is produced at plants owned by foreign companies, among them giant firms in France, Switzerland and Mexico.

Keith Barnett, an EPA environmental engineer who helped craft the mercury rule, said it satisfies the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, in which Congress listed 189 of the most toxic pollutants and directed the EPA to set limits on them.

“We determined that what cement kilns are currently doing meets the minimum requirements under law,” Barnett said. “This is a judgment call that we have to make when we evaluate each (pollutant) source category.”

The new EPA standard also targets cement kiln emissions of hydrocarbons, a class of pollutants that’s less toxic than mercury.

Mercury, a heavy metal whose consumption has been linked to memory loss, birth defects and other neurological disorders, enters waterways from rain. Its toxicity is then concentrated by a type of water bacteria. Fish transmit mercury to people, with tuna and other species higher in the food chain carrying higher levels.

At least 40 states have warned residents about eating mercury-laden fish from their lakes, rivers and creeks.

The owners of cement kilns say they release 12,000 pounds of mercury a year into the air. Environmentalists say the total is likely much higher because most mercury emissions reported to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory are estimates, not measurements.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 7:42 pm

Mac: snap photo of invalid log-in attempt

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I blogged earlier about how a stolen Mac was recovered. On a less drastic note, here’s how to get your MacBook Pro with iSight to take a snapshot of anyone making an invalid log-in attempt. Might be useful. Probably a lot of photos of kid brothers and sisters could be taken this way. 🙂 Via Lifehacker.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Technology

Incompetents love each other

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When an incompetent is in power, s/he will do everything possible to destroy barriers to incompetence. Rather than have in place mechanisms that work to ensure that highly competent and knowledgeable staff are hired, the incompetent in charge will try to destroy those mechanisms. Why? Probably because an incompetent is uncomfortable around competent people and feels isolated.

So it’s happening throughout the government under this administration, and they’re trying to do it in a way that will prevent it’s being undone should competents later come to power.

For example, from an earlier post:

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to limit Congressional options, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of the several libraries that it has already completely shuttered. In its Chicago office, which formerly hosted one of the largest regional libraries, EPA ordered that all furniture and furnishings (down to the staplers and pencil sharpeners) be sold immediately. Despite an acquisition cost of $40,000 for the furniture and equipment, a woman bought the entire lot for $350. The buyer also estimates that she will re-sell the merchandise for $80,000.

“One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors,” Ruch added, noting EPA refuses to say how much it plans to spend digitizing the mountains of documents that it has removed from library shelves. “While the Pentagon had its $600 toilet seat and $434 hammer, EPA has its 29 cent book case and file cabinets for a nickel.”

And now the Administration is taking steps to dismantle the selection process for the Foreign Service—probably because partisan hacks and party loyalists had trouble passing the exams. From the Washington Post:

For generations, the United States has selected its diplomats through a two-stage test seen as a model of merit-based rigor. Pass hundreds of questions in a dozen subject areas and a day-long oral grilling by Foreign Service officers, and join the ranks. Fail, and find a different line of work.

No more. In a proposed overhaul of its hiring process slated for next year and to be announced to employees in coming days, the State Department would weigh resumes, references and intangibles such as “team-building skills” in choosing who represents the United States abroad, according to three people involved in the process. The written test would survive, but in a shortened form that would not be treated as the key first hurdle it has been for more than 70 years.

State Department Director General George M. Staples said the goal of the new “Total Candidate” approach — which has the support of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — is to “improve our ability to find the best . . . compete more effectively with the private sector to attract the best, and . . . make our process faster in hiring the best,” according to a draft cable to employees.

But some career officers and foreign policy types worry that the new hiring process could dumb down or politicize the Foreign Service, whose reputation for selectivity helps make it one of government’s most desirable career paths.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 1:23 pm

Fustian Blustering Incompetents: the 5-year old anthrax probe

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From CQ:

Lawmakers Protest FBI’s Stonewalling on Anthrax Probe

Lawmakers upset about the FBI’s refusal to brief Congress on the five-year-old probe of anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill today released a letter to the attorney general pressing for information on the investigation.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., said the FBI’s stonewalling was part of a pattern aimed at thwarting congressional oversight. “Unfortunately, the FBI’s refusal to provide briefings to Congress following the 2001 anthrax attacks appears to be the rule rather than the exception,” Grassley said. “In one of the most important terrorism investigations ever undertaken by the FBI, it is unbelievable to me that members of Congress, [including] some who were targets of the anthrax attacks, haven’t been briefed for years.”

The letter, signed by 33 senators and House members from both parties, follows two earlier attempts by Grassley and Holt to get information about the FBI’s probe of the anthrax-laced letters sent to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., in October and November 2001.

“Congress cannot be cut off from detailed information about the conduct of one of the largest investigations in FBI history,” Grassley and Holt protested. “That information is vital in order to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight of the executive branch.”

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 1:14 pm

Injustice in the name of Prohibition

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From an email received from the Marijuana Policy Project:

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the mandatory 55-year prison sentence that a lower court imposed on a man who was convicted of carrying a handgun during three marijuana deals in Utah.

By refusing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court ensured that 27-year-old Weldon Angelos will spend just about the rest of his life behind bars for selling three eight-ounce bags of marijuana to an undercover informant.

As his attorneys noted, the sentence he will serve is harsher than the sentence for raping a child — or the sentence for detonating a bomb aboard an aircraft.

Even the federal judge who was required to issue the mandatory minimum sentence called it “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.” Yet, the U.S. Supreme Court let the sentence stand without comment. You can read more about this abrogation of justice here.

If this outrages you as it does me, do something about it. Please help the Marijuana Policy Project continue lobbying Congress to change these cruel and unjust laws by making a financial contribution to our work. We cannot keep up the fight without funding from people like you.

If you haven’t yet decided whether to support MPP financially, here are 10 reasons you should donate $10 or more to MPP by the end of the year.

1. Mitchell Lawrence: This 17-year-old high school student with no prior record received a two-year prison sentence for selling $20 worth of marijuana to a Massachusetts undercover police officer.

2. Unnamed Florida college student: The 19-year-old was raped by his cellmate — a violent sexual offender — as he served the first of four weekend sentences for delivering marijuana, a felony offense.

3. Ryan Wilson: The 22-year-old died after being shot with a Taser stun gun by Colorado police, who were investigating whether Wilson was cultivating marijuana plants.

4. Anthony Diotaiuto: The 23-year-old was shot 10 times in the head, chest, and limbs by a Florida SWAT team that later found a little over an ounce of marijuana in his home.

5. Clayton Helriggle: The 23-year-old died in the arms of his roommate after being shot in a “no knock” raid by Ohio police, who later found a small amount of marijuana in his house.

6. Jonathan Magbie: The 27-year-old quadriplegic died in a Washington, D.C., jail while serving a 10-day sentence for marijuana possession because the facility could not provide the medical care he needed.

7. Tyrone Brown: The 33-year-old received a life sentence from a Texas judge for testing positive for marijuana while on probation for a $2 stickup committed when he was 17.

8. Lester Siler: The 44-year-old was brutalized by five rogue Tennessee police officers who suspected him of selling drugs. Siler was beaten and held at gunpoint, had his head held underwater in a toilet, and was threatened with shooting and electrocution.

9. Accelyne Williams: The 75-year-old retired minister died from a heart attack that was induced by the stress of a Massachusetts SWAT team entering his apartment during a “no knock” raid. No drugs were found.

10. Kathryn Johnston: The 88-year-old was shot and killed in a “no knock” raid by Georgia police, who allegedly later attempted to pay an informant to lie about the circumstances of the drug raid.

And these individuals are not rare examples. Rather, they are simply 11 examples of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are detained, beaten, harassed, tortured, arrested, prosecuted, jailed, imprisoned, and/or killed each year by the government in the name of marijuana prohibition.

Would you please stand with me in MPP’s fight to end the government’s war on (actual and imagined) marijuana users?

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Save 75% on drugs

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It seems too good to be true, but apparently it is true. Read more here.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 11:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Scorsese movie for physicists

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Via Cosmic Variance, this wonderful review of a movie that cries to be made:

The String Kings, Scorsese’s latest, is a highly violent but satisfying gangster movie, certainly on a par with Goodfellas or the Godfather trilogy, and does give the viewer insights into the raw and violent world of fundamental string theory research. The film also boasts a first-rate Hollywood cast: Joe Pesci as Michael “Mo” Green; Burt Young as John Schwarz; Antonio Banderas as the hot-bloodied Juan Maldacena, who is as fast with a flick-knife as he is with an ADS duality; Leonardo deCaprio as Lubos “The Kid” Motl; Robert de Niro as Tom Banks; Harvey Keitel as Joe “the (quantum) Mechanic” Polchinski, Michael Douglas as Michael Douglas; Amanda Peet as Amanda Peet, Terrence Stamp as Lenny Susskind, Jackie Chan as Michio Kaku, Samuel L Jackson as Clifford V. Johnson and Eugene Levy as “Boss of Bosses” Ed Witten. The film is characterised by some extreme and gratuitous violence and is not for the mathematically squeamish, but this is to be expected considering the subject matter.

In the film, Lubos Motl becomes involved with the string mafia at a young age. As he says in the film, “I always wanted to become a string theorist”. As an undergraduate he idolises the string theory gangsters in the US and eagerly studies every page of GSW, Vols. I and II. Upon graduating, the local Syracuse mob captain Tom Banks sees his potential and helps cultivate the boy’s developing criminal string career, offering him a postgraduate position. In graduate school Lubos is arrested by campus police for intimidating researchers in medicine, biology, engineering, arts and humanities into citing string preprints in their work. He admits nothing and is lauded by his superiors as a “stand-up guy”. Upon getting his PhD he moves to Harvard and gets to rub shoulders with some of the “made guys” within the east-coast string underworld. Ruthless and violent and described as “perturbatively unstable” he quickly establishes his reputation. From his Harvard base he helps the mob take over local bars, clubs, businesses, casinos, hotels, libraries, graduate schools and journal editorial boards. They run a sleazy escort agency called “Matrix Models”. The also conspire to channel, siphon and launder millions of dollars worth of grant money from the government. However, at this time the FBI also begin to keep a close watch…

Perhaps the most violent scenes in the film follow when “Boss of Bosses” Ed Witten, from a huge luxury mansion in Princeton NJ, calmly gives the order for a long list of people to be “taken out” (spoiler alert). In a chilling sequence, the film repeatedly cuts between the increasingly violent mob hits and Ed giving a seminar on the twistor space structure of 1-loop amplitudes in gauge theory. Lee Smolin is seen shot multiple times in the back as he writes LQG constraint equations on a blackboard. There is a scene showing work on an extension of the New Jersey turnpike, involving string henchmen (disguised with hard hats and overalls) a large cement truck and Peter Woit. Carlo Rovelli is kidnapped and strapped to a chair while the Kid goes through his quantum gravity monologue page by page with seething criticism before finally bashing his head in with the hardback edition. Another LQG theorist gets his dimensions compactified in a car crusher. These violent scenes generally stay with you long after the film is finished and have an unsettling effect.

The film also cuts to the west-coast string operation where Stanford mobsters are experimenting with hard drugs. With on-location filming at the ITP (now the Kavli Institute) we see Polchinski (Keitel) and Johnson (Samuel Jackson) working on a lecture series, unfortunately with awful dumbed-down dialogue from Jackson:”This D-brane primers gonna kick serious ass mutha”. However, back east things go awry and the kid ends up in jail replete with orange jump suit taking the rap for his superiors, following an FBI sting (string?)operation. But he starts to run an operation from his cell smuggling in drugs and arxiv preprints for his fellow inmates.

However, the film badly degenerates into 70s and 80s actioner kitsch near the end when the east-coast string bosses decide to take over Kaku’s NY pop science, popular book, tv and radio operation, thus stopping him making string theory understandable to “the stupid people”. It turns out though that Kaku who has 4 black belts can shatter a stack of D-branes with a single karate blow, and takes on the string mob, joined by fellow populariser Brian Greene played by Steven Seagal. However, some of the mob back west are not happy including boss John Schwarz who says, “Kaku was writing string theory papers when some of you guys were struggling with high-school algebra”. What follows is an all-out turf war in NY’s China Town, with a badly dubbed Kaku (even though being Japanese), a sinewy, oiled lean, mean fighting machine…every muscle tensed ready to explode with lightening reflexes, taking out the string mob one by one in a scene shamelessly ripped off from the end of Enter the Dragon.

Overall, String Kings will appeal to fans of the gangster genre and despite the ending will probably still become a Scorsese classic.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 10:51 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Science

Interesting way to find fraudsters on eBay

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By looking at their social networks. Since this is readily done with computers, it may be that eBay can have greater success in stopping fraud.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 10:44 am

The Washington Post [hearts] Pinochet

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The Washington Post penned an editorial praising the brutal and corrupt former dictator of Chile, Augusto Pinochet. Why? Because he was a Rightist—conservative to the core. And today Glenn Greenwald analyzes that editorial and the mindset that led to it.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 10:38 am

Posted in Government, Media

Exploiting Google’s capabilities

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Google does a lot more than most people realize. Look at this list of useful tips.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 10:09 am

Replace the aglet on frayed shoelaces

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Shoelaces often lose the aglet and then fray like made. Via Lifehacker, this kit (homemade: main component is heat-shrink tubing) allows you to replace the aglet and bring the shoelace back up to spec. Especially useful, I imagine, for families with children who wear shoes.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 10:08 am

Posted in Daily life

A good workout

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Well, at least one that’s adequate for a start. The first day back on the Nordic Track, I had to stop after six minutes but did complete the 12-minute time (the minimum Coopers says is needed for the training effect to occur). The next time I went to seven minutes before the break. This morning I went to eight minutes before taking a break. (I always finish after the break with no further stop.) So: tomorrow’s goal is 9 minutes before breaking.

It takes so much time to work one’s way back…

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 9:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

A bad shave

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So it happened—just what novices shavers fear: Nick City. In fact, a couple would have to be called “cuts”. And it wasn’t my fault. Honest.

I was using for the first time a Gillette Toggle that I had bought on eBay—not the one pictured at the link, but the same model. Basically it’s a Gillette Adjustable Fatboy with a different mechanism for opening the doors.

Since I was using the razor for the first time, it naturally had a new blade in it, and naturally that was a Feather… I noticed a nick, thought that was odd, made another pass, and ouch!

I peered at the razor and saw that at some point it had been badly damaged: the safety bar was bent down at one end, with the blade standing above a large gap. I hadn’t noticed before, but I sure noticed now. Damn that seller, anyway, though I guess some put razors like this in a collection and don’t use them.

I finished the shave with a Gillette Fatboy and did fine. I’m undecided whether to throw this Toggle into the trash, or sell it as “collection only, not for use.” My hesitation is that whoever buys it could later sell it for use. Yeah, the trash is the place for it. :sigh: So it goes. A better shave tomorrow.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 9:38 am

Posted in Shaving

Lemon Risotto

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I’m a big fan of lemon used in cooking, and this recipe from the Amateur Gourmet looks wonderful:

Lemon Risotto (Risotto al Limone)

– About 5 Cups chicken stock, preferably homemade [Note: I used about 6 cups. End note.]
– Sprig of fresh mint
– Sprig of fresh rosemary
– Sprig of fresh sage
– Grated zest (yellow peel) of 1 lemon
– 4 Tbs (2 oz) unsalted butter
– 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
– 2 shallots, minced
– Sea salt to taste
– 1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
– 3 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1/2 cup (2 oz) freshly grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for table

1. In a large saucepan, heat the stock and keep it simmering, at barely a whisper, while you prepare the risotto.

2. Stem the fresh herbs. Combine the leaves with the lemon zest and, with a large chef’s knife, chop finely. Set aside.

3. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 2 Tbs of the butter, the oil, shallots, and salt over moderate heat. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. (Do not let the shallots brown.) Add the rice, and stir until the rice is well coated with the fats, glistening and semi-translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. (This step is important for good risotto: The heat and fat will help separate the grains of rice, ensuring a creamy consistency in the end.)

4. When the rice becomes shiny and partly translucent, add a ladleful of the stock. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, 1 to 2 minutes. Add another ladleful of the simmering stock, and stir regularly until all of the broth is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The rice should cook slowly and should always be covered with a veil of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently and tasting regularly, until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 17 minutes total. The risotto should have a creamy, porridge-like consistency.

5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 Tbs butter, the lemon zest and herbs, lemon juice and the Parmesan. Cover and let stand off the heat for 2 minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to warmed shallow soup bowls, and serve immediately, passing additional cheese. Risotto waits for no one.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 9:01 am

Posted in Recipes & Cooking

Another food comic from the Amateur Gourmet

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Vietnamese take-out. Looks good!

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 8:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

And speaking of cauliflower

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We just mentioned cauliflower with links to this recipe and also to this recipe. Cauliflower soup is a great wintertime meal and here’s a good-looking recipe for that:

Cauliflower soup with turmeric and hazelnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
Good stock
90 grams (3/4 cup) shelled hazelnuts (aka filberts)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
Salt, pepper

Serves 4 to 6.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for two minutes or until fragrant, stirring every once in a while. Add the cauliflower, stir to coat, and cook for five minutes, until the pieces start to sweat and turn golden. Pour in stock to cover by 5 cm (2 inches), and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, grind the hazelnuts into a fine powder in a mixer or blender, working in short pulses. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is soft, add the hazelnuts, curry powder, and turmeric to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir to combine, and cook for 5 more minutes. Let cool slightly, taste, adjust the seasoning, and purée the soup thoroughly using an immersion blender. Serve immediately; it reheats beautifully the next day.

Turmeric, FWIW, is one of the superfoods, with all sorts of health benefits. Strive to eat it with something daily.

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2006 at 8:52 am

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