Later On

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

Archive for February 8th, 2008

Engineers vulnerable to radical Islam

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From The Atlantic Monthly:

Now that the stereotype of the poverty-stricken terrorist has been dispelled by studies showing that militancy and high levels of education go hand in hand, a new Oxford study tries to explain why so many violent Islamic radicals are … engineers. The authors gathered data on 404 militants from 31 countries, and among the 178 whose principal academic focus could be determined, engineering was by far the most popular subject. Seventy-eight had pursued an engineering degree, compared with 34 in Islamic studies, 14 in medicine, and 12 in economics or business studies. The authors couldn’t find evidence to support the idea that radical groups seek out engineers for their skills. Instead, they speculate that something in the engineer’s mind-set—the emphasis on structure and rules, and on finding singular solutions to complicated problems—may fit neatly with Islamist notions of the ideal society. (In support of this hypothesis, the authors cite surveys from America, the Middle East, and Canada indicating that engineers are more likely than other professionals to be religious and right-wing.) They also note that engineers tend to be high-achievers who rise by merit, which may make them more likely to be frustrated by their interactions with corrupt bureaucracies in the Middle East and North Africa and thus receptive to radical messages.

—“Engineers of Jihad,” Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, Oxford University Department of Sociology Working Papers

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 7:34 pm

Vertical-axis wind turbine ready to go

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This looks excellent. Note that it will meet residential zoning requirements:

Windspire

The Windspire Vertical-Axis turbine is set to become one of the first low-cost, fully-integrated wind systems available to the public. Thanks to a recently passed ETL (safety) certification for the U.S. and Canada, the company is now on the fast-track to releasing the product in early 2008 at a price of $3,995.

Not only will this turbine work in wind conditions that are prevalent through almost 60% of the United States, but it will also be much easier to install than previous wind systems. Windspire features a fully integrated, plug ‘n produce design, including a high efficiency generator, integrated inverter, and wireless performance monitor. It incorporates a slow speed giromill rotor for virtually silent operation and improved safety and durability. From the article,

Windspire features a new design that incorporates a tall, slender vertical style rotor that maximizes efficiency to produce strong, reliable performance. It is expected to produce about 1800 kilowatt hours per year in 11 mile per hour average wind speed conditions.It is 30 feet tall with a two foot radius, sized below typical residential zoning restrictions. Guidelines for installation sites are generally half an acre of land and relatively windy locations. It is priced at half to a third the cost of comparable renewable power options, and can be quickly and easily installed by authorized dealers.

Sounds like a great system to me. Savings for the average American home are expected to be about 25% per year. Throw in the quiet operation, limited height requirements, and current tax breaks — and wind is looking like a much more agreeable option for those without consistent access to solar.

Check out the official website here.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 3:26 pm

FBI starts deputizing businesses

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Not a good sign. It seems like a domestic version of a Blackwater organization, complete with immunity.

Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.

InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm.

InfraGard started in Cleveland back in 1996, when the private sector there cooperated with the FBI to investigate cyber threats.

“Then the FBI cloned it,” says Phyllis Schneck, chairman of the board of directors of the InfraGard National Members Alliance, and the prime mover behind the growth of InfraGard over the last several years.

InfraGard itself is still an FBI operation, with FBI agents in each state overseeing the local InfraGard chapters. (There are now eighty-six of them.) The alliance is a nonprofit organization of private sector InfraGard members.

“We are the owners, operators, and experts of our critical infrastructure, from the CEO of a large company in agriculture or high finance to the guy who turns the valve at the water utility,” says Schneck, who by day is the vice president of research integration at Secure Computing.

“At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector,” the InfraGard website states. “InfraGard chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.”

In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website, www.infragard.net, which adds that “350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard.”

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Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 2:10 pm

Inkblot: a favorite

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Kevin Drum’s Inkblot is one of our favorite cats, and now we have Inkblot in a video!

More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Cats

Making one computer do the work of 30

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Good idea—I especially like how libraries can benefit:

I wonder if anyone actually remembers the days when computers were so expensive that there used to be several people using every computer at the same time. Well, apparently that’s not just the past, it may be the future as well.

NComputing, a new start-up which is being run by the founder of EMachines has just closed its second round of financing on technology that allows for up to 30 people to use the same computer all at once. Of course, this likely sounds extremely unappealing to you. I’m guessing you have about 30 tabs open in Firefox right now, along with Photoshop, at least one instant messaging client and maybe a document or two.

But for some purposes, this couldn’t make more sense. First, in areas where computers are used for one simple purpose. Why have 30 low-power Dells running 30 card catalog look-ups in a library when you can have one computer doing all that work? And in “underserved” markets, like schools in developing countries, where having one computer per student is completely impossible.

Of course, this makes sense for a lot of reasons. NComputing’s splitting hardware will never be obsolete, as long as protocols remain the same. So the only hardware that needs to be replaced every 3-5 years is the single central computer. The system uses up to 90% less power than having a room full of individual computers. Costs are an order of magnitude lower, wiring is much simpler, as is monitoring use (for schools and libraries).

NComputing just closed on a $28 million round of funding and they have partners in over 70 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia. And yes, there are partners in the developed world as well, if you’re interested in outfitting your own office, library, or school.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 12:28 pm

Skincare

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Some thoughts:

Is aging skin preventable? Sure, if you believe the ads for products that claim to slow the aging process. But how much is your aging skin really under your control?

With age, the skin suffers natural wear-and-tear, just like the rest of our bodies. But much of what we think of as natural aging is in fact due to sun exposure and other factors. That means it can be avoided — and it’s never too late to start.

Normal Aging of Skin: Collagen, Elastin, and Sagging Skin
Underlying our skin is a fiber meshwork of collagen and elastin — proteins that keep skin firm. When skin is stretched, this protein matrix snaps it back into place.

As we age, the fiber network weakens, and skin sags as it loses its support structure. Other unavoidable forces contribute to aging skin, as well:

  • Skin becomes thinner with age, and loses fat. The plump smoothness of our skin as children is replaced by a rougher texture.
  • Gravity relentlessly tugs on weakened skin, creating the droop of jowls or “chicken fat” under the arms.
  • Our genetic code contributes invisibly to the process — leading to skin that looks 50 at 80 in some people, the unfortunate reverse in others.

None of this so-called “intrinsic aging” of skin can be avoided. But did you notice we haven’t said anything yet about wrinkles?

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Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

More on the highly efficient antennae

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Blogged earlier, but with new ideas and developments:

The original article discussed how nantennas [nano-antennae – LG] could be used as a solar panel that could beat all current efficiencies at a much lower cost. But it turns out that nanetennas have dozens of other uses, many fascinating for EcoGeeks. These include:

  • Passive, energy-neutral cooling by converting infrared radiation into radiation that we don’t feel as heat (like radio waves)
  • Passive heating by turning radiation we don’t feel as heat into infrared radiation
  • Extremely efficient lighting by basically broadcasting photons from the nantennas. As it’s basically the solar process in reverse (photons from electrons, instead of electrons from photons), this is just as feasible as the solar applications
  • Passive heating or cooling within clothing
  • Electricitiy production in clothing by harnessing our bodies’ radiation.

Dr. Novack was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Keep on reading if you want to hear more about this fascinating technology, and where it’s headed five, ten, and twenty years down the road.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 12:20 pm

Protecting the crooks

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From Mark Kleiman:

While I wasn’t paying much attention, the Supreme Court issued a ruling (in an otherwise unrelated case) that has the following consequence: under existing securities laws all the banks and investment banks and accounting firms that helped Enron fleece investors are immune from civil liability under the securities laws. Only Enron is liable, which is to say the victims won’t be able to recoup more than pennies on the dollar.

Technically, the court rejected the notion of “scheme liability” or the application of the common-law notion of “aiding and abetting” to securities fraud.

The Bush Administration filed an amicus supporting the position of the con artists; the SEC came in on the other side. Of course, the court rules on the law, not on the politics, so it was a complete coincidence that Kennedy, Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia sided with the crooks and Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens supported the victims. (Well, I suppose a view of the law that supported the theft of the Presidency ought not, just for consistency’s sake, be too censorious about the theft of mere money, as long as the thieves are wearing business suits.)

Note that this was not a Constitutional decision. It was simply a problem of interpreting a statute, and previous cases decided under that statute. So Congress could decide tomorrow that, from now on, when financial institutions collude with crooked corporate managers defraud investors the investors can sue them for it.

Let’s.

The whole point of controlling the Congress is that you can get your bills to the floor, and make your opponents vote on them. Filibuster? Be my guest. I’d love to go to the country in November over the question whether the big businesses who swindled thousands of people out of their retirement, and made a ton of money doing so, should have to make the losses good. The Speaker and the Majority Leader should tell the two Commerce Committees that they want a bill on this topic ready to move to the floor by the end of May.

That gives plenty of time for hearings, and for a nice, leisurely debate after which Sen. McCain can decide whether to enrage the money-cons or the voters. This won’t be entirely easy on the Democratic side; the financial services industry sends a lot of money our way. B I can’t think of any better use for the Democrats’ new-found fund-raising prowess than to start paying more attention to what the voters want than what the donors want.

The “scheme liability” issue puts in a nutshell the idea that the Washington game is rigged in favor of rich crooks. Sometimes the populists are right. It’s about time for the Democrats to start doing the right thing.

Footnote This issue seems like a natural for Barack Obama.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 11:06 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

The Bush Administration is…

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Think of a word. Now think of a worse word. (There’s a reason they call it “Bush league.”) Check this out:

It was a classic Washington ambush. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming had invited Energy Secretary Sam uel W. Bodman up to chat yesterday.

Seems the Energy Department‘s Web site used to say that the Weatherization Assistance Program — which helps low-income folks reduce their energy costs by weatherproofing their homes — “is this country’s longest running, and perhaps most successful energy efficiency program.”

That’s how things stood on Monday, when President Bush‘s budget was released and the program was eliminated. By Wednesday, an alert Energy Department aide had cut the “most successful” sentence. But committee staffers already had taken a screen grab of the old text and compared the two versions on a large graphic.

Committee Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) held up the graphic at the hearing, telling Bodman it seemed that the department “instead of insulating the poor against high energy costs . . . is more concerned with insulating themselves against embarrassment.”

Bodman said other programs simply “had higher rates of return” than that one.

Maybe if they’d just changed the “is” to “was” no one would have noticed?

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 11:05 am

New US slogan

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A contest:

Freakonomics is having a contest to find a new six-word motto for the U.S.A. They were inspired by a NY Times article about England’s search for a motto, or “statement of value” and will be giving a boatload of Freakonoics swag to the winning motto. E Pluribus Unum is good and all, but doesn’t have much punch to it and I bet 19 out of 20 Americans have no idea what it actually means (Out of Many, One).

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Just like Canada, with Better Bacon

All your oil belong to us.

Some are more equal than others.

That looks nice. It’s mine now”

America: bombing you, suing each other.

war=peace freedom=slavery ignorance=strength

One nation, in spite of itself

Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness, Asterisk.

One Nation to Rule Them All

Happiness is mandatory. Are You Happy?

In gold we trust, a lot.

You Call It Torture, We Don’t.

Liberty for all, when it’s convenient

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Canadian healthcare myths, busted

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Thanks to Ray, for passing this along. And, of course, in building a US national healthcare system we are not restricted to following the model of Canada, or the UK, or France, or Germany, or Iceland, or Norway, or… or any of the other industrialized nations, all of which have national healthcare systems. The US can build a system in the light of their experience and combine the best from all the models.

2008 is shaping up to be the election year that we finally get to have the Great American Healthcare Debate again. Harry and Louise are back with a vengeance. Conservatives are rumbling around the talk show circuit bellowing about the socialist threat to the (literal) American body politic. And, as usual, Canada is once again getting dragged into the fracas, shoved around by both sides as either an exemplar or a warning — and, along the way, getting coated with the obfuscating dust of so many willful misconceptions that the actual facts about How Canada Does It are completely lost in the melee.

I’m both a health-care-card-carrying Canadian resident and an uninsured American citizen who regularly sees doctors on both sides of the border. As such, I’m in a unique position to address the pros and cons of both systems first-hand. If we’re going to have this conversation, it would be great if we could start out (for once) with actual facts, instead of ideological posturing, wishful thinking, hearsay, and random guessing about how things get done up here.

To that end, here’s the first of a two-part series aimed at busting the common myths Americans routinely tell each other about Canadian health care. When the right-wing hysterics drag out these hoary old bogeymen, this time, we need to be armed and ready to blast them into straw. Because, mostly, straw is all they’re made of.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 9:29 am

Posted in Government, Medical

First use of Leisureguy’s Last-Pass Shaving Oil

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I was going to use Olive Oil today for the Oil Pass, but the bottles came yesterday and I couldn’t resist making up a batch of my formula. I used 1 teaspoon for 1 part, so got about a fluid ounce. The essential oils for this first batch were lemon and vanilla—not bad.

But first: the shave, with two disappointments. First I had bought a puck of Herban Cowboy shaving soap at Whole Foods. Not much fragrance and very thin lather. I used the G.B. Kent BK4 brush, which is a lathering God—people say it can raise a great lather from a pot roast—but even the BK4 was helpless. The puck is in the trash.

Second, I used a Tiger blade again, and once more had a nick surprise. For me, the Tiger is acting very much like the Feather: great sharpness, but unpredictable nicks. For me, the Tiger is not the right blade (nor is the Feather) since I have blades that are equally sharp and much smoother and do not nick—the Polsilver Stainless, for example, or the Zorrik. But your experience may be different: different shavers can have very different experiences with the same brand of blade.

At any rate, it was a small nick, and My Nik Is Sealed did its usual good job.

But now: the Oil Pass. The new formulation performed extremely well, and left my skin feeling smooth. Of course, I now must compare it directly against the commercial oils, which I’ll do next week. But I’m happy with the way it turned out.

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2008 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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