Later On

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

Archive for April 6th, 2008

The true face of Leonardo Da Vinci?

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Fascinating.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 7:59 pm

Posted in Art, Technology

Protect businesses, screw consumers

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The Bush judges are putting final touches on a business protection deal. It’s pretty neat, in a way: defund and destroy the FDA so that it can’t do its job, then make the FDA the court of last resort, in effect. From the NY Times:

For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.

But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.

This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.

The Bush administration has argued strongly in favor of the doctrine, which holds that the F.D.A. is the only agency with enough expertise to regulate drug makers and that its decisions should not be second-guessed by courts. The Supreme Court is to rule on a case next term that could make pre-emption a legal standard for drug cases. The court already ruled in February that many suits against the makers of medical devices like pacemakers are pre-empted.

More than 3,000 women and their families have sued Johnson & Johnson, asserting that users of the Ortho Evra patch suffered heart attacks, strokes and, in 40 cases, death. From 2002 to 2006, the food and drug agency received reports of at least 50 deaths associated with the drug.

Documents and e-mail messages from Johnson & Johnson, made public as part of the lawsuits against the company, show that even before the drug agency approved the product in 2001, the company’s own researchers found that the patch delivered far more estrogen each day than low-dose pills. When it reported the results publicly, the company reduced the numbers by 40 percent.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 3:50 pm

Programming language inventor? or serial killer?

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You decide.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

John Yoo, torturemeister

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John Yoo specifies in his memo the various sorts of torture that are perfectly okay if the Presidents says they’re okay:

Thirty pages into a memorandum discussing the legal boundaries of military interrogations in 2003, senior Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo tackled a question not often asked by American policymakers: Could the president, if he desired, have a prisoner’s eyes poked out?

Or, for that matter, could he have “scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance” thrown on a prisoner? How about slitting an ear, nose or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb? What about biting?

These assaults are all mentioned in a U.S. law prohibiting maiming, which Yoo parsed as he clarified the legal outer limits of what could be done to terrorism suspects as detained by U.S. authorities. The specific prohibitions, he said, depended on the circumstances or which “body part the statute specifies.”

But none of that matters in a time of war, Yoo also said, because federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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View from the balcony just now

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Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon seems to be sailboat time on the Bay. It’s a particularly nice day today, and I just snapped this photo (click twice for full size):

Sailboats today

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

Nice coin design

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I linked earlier to an article in the New Yorker on US coins, in which the new Jefferson nickel was described as a tour de force for finding a way to present the portrait not in profile, as is done in all other portraits on coins. (The problem is depicting the nose.) And now the new British coins have done a different sort of tour de force. Take a look (and click twice to enlarge to full size):

British coins

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

The Horsehead Nebula

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I now see why it has its name. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 11:23 am

Posted in Science

Disruptive technologies: simple PBX

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This is cool:

In a research park outside the low-key bustle of downtown Huntsville, Ala. Mark Spencer finishes his barbecue and resumes wreaking havoc on the multibillion-dollar phone equipment business.

Spencer is the inventor of Asterisk, a free software program that establishes phone calls over the Internet and handles voicemail, caller ID, teleconferencing and a host of novel features for the phone. With Asterisk loaded onto a computer, a decent-size company can rip out its traditional phone switch, even some of its newfangled Internet telephone gear, and say good-bye to 80% of its telecom equipment costs. Not good news for Cisco, Nortel or Avaya.

“We have to figure out ways to get into everything: Carriers, businesses, equipment companies,” says Spencer. “For better or worse, I don’t tend to think small.”

Spencer, who is all of 29 years old, is poised to disrupt the $7 billion market for office telecom switches (often called PBXs) much the way the Linux open-source computer operating system crushed the price of business computing and brought woe to established leaders such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems .

Since Spencer released Asterisk to the world in 1999 as a phone operating system, it has been downloaded 500,000 times, and it continues to be downloaded 1,000 times per day. Some 350 contributors have taken it from a rocky voice system to one with clear calling and more than 100 features.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 10:46 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Technology

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“I was just following orders”

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A NY Times editorial:

You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President Bush’s decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners.

Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.

The March 14, 2003, memo was written by John C. Yoo, then a lawyer for the Justice Department. He earlier helped draft a memo that redefined torture to justify repugnant, clearly illegal acts against Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime. The list of laws that Mr. Yoo’s memo sought to circumvent is long: federal laws against assault, maiming, interstate stalking, war crimes and torture; international laws against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and the Geneva Conventions.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 10:40 am

The ZeroHouse

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I thought I had blogged this earlier, but I can’t find it, so here goes again. Inhabitat has the basic story, and you can get the full details at the ZeroHouse web site.

Ever dreamed of owning a completely self-sufficient home that produces its own energy, water, and is completely customizable? New York architect Scott Specht has the answer to all of our zero-energy prefab dreams with the new ZeroHouse™. This completely self-sustaining prefabricated house generates its own power, collects its own water, processes its own waste and is 100% automatic. Versatile, durable and site-sensitive, ZeroHouse can be erected in almost any location in one day with steel frame components and a helical-anchor foundation system that requires no excavation.

High-efficiency solar panels produce power which is then stored by a battery to provide up to a week of power should the sun ever be devoid of enthusiasm. Triple glazing and low-e heat-mirror glass enable the windows to be large without affecting heat levels. Exterior doors are also insulated to further stabilize the house’s temperature.

The robust components enable the building to be used in a variety of remote and hostile locations: places unsuitable for more conventional structures, such as in 10 feet of water of slopes of up to 35 degrees. The house’s tubular steel frame means it can withstand winds of up to 140 mph, despite having foundations that only touch the ground at four points to offer minimum site disturbance.

Such is the nature of future-thinking designs, it’s no surprise to find it comes equipped with sensors that talk to the user’s PC for straightforward(ish) climate control. Programmable, long-life low-energy LED lighting is built into the walls and ceilings to further improve the design’s sustainable aesthetic.

Much more at the link, including photos and links to other articles about the ZeroHouse.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 10:37 am

Terrorist supporters discovered!

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Spencer Ackerman has a good story in The Washington Independent:

Ilan Goldenberg has a great catch over at Democracy Arsenal. Apparently Michael Ware of CNN recently told an audience at the Center for American Progress something rather amazing about the Badr Corps militia belonging to the U.S.-aligned Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq:

The Badr Organization (Originally called the Badr Brigades) was originally formed by Iran.  But according to Ware many of its members were considered to be part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.  And many of them are now considered to be retirees of the IRGC.  Which means…wait for it… wait for it…

They still get pensions from the IRGC!!  But it gets better.  The Bush Administration has classified the IRGC as a terrorist organization!!

So, just so that we’re clear on this.  We are building an army full of people who are still getting pension payments from an organization that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.

Now, let’s go further. Because, as Ilan writes, the Bush administration designates the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, that implicates a lot of people. In July, Bush signed an Executive Order decreeing that the Treasury Department can freeze the assets of U.S. citizens “Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq.” Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise told me that the order was intended to cover U.S.-based supporters of “”Shia militia groups linked with Iran, Sunni insurgent groups with sanctuary in Syria and some of the indigenous Iraqi insurgent groups.”

Well then. Ware’s news, if true, means that supporters of such “Shia milita groups linked with Iran” include… General David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. The Treasury Department must not only freeze their assets but the assets of… the Treasury Department, where U.S. funding for the Badr Organization originates.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 10:19 am

Will the Riemann hypothesis soon be proved?

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Science News has an interesting article on approaches to proving a more general statement of the Riemann Hypothesis. Riemann’s zeta function is one example of a larger class of functions known as Dirichlet L-functions, and there’s an approach to proving the hypothesis for this larger class. More info (including some nifty diagrams) in the article. There’s also a more technical article on the Mathworld site, a fascinating resource. (See, for example, the Mathworld (highly technical) article on the Dirichlet L-functions.)

If you’re interested, here are some books (of various levels) on the Riemann Hypothesis.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 10:15 am

Posted in Books, Science

Tagged with

The social cost of no bankruptcies

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From the New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki (click the link for a list of his brief articles) an article that shows the cost of the bankruptcy bill:

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

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

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

So are we?

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Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 6:40 am

Saturday steps: 10,504

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Now that’s more like it. Today is a day off, but starting tomorrow I’ll see whether I can post a week of trans-10,000-step days.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2008 at 6:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

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