Later On

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

Archive for July 20th, 2008

Data safety

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I’ve several times pointed out that USB sticks, though extremely useful for carrying lots of data in your pocket, are subject to loss: they’re small and can slip out of one’s pocket without being noticed. But of course you can relax if you ever do lose yours because yours is well encrypted. Right?

MakeUseOf has an excellent instructional review by Mark O’Neill of TrueCrypt 6.0, which you can install on your USB stick to create an “encrypted area.” Well worth reading. It begins:

Last year I wrote an article on the benefits of encrypting your PC folders with Truecrypt and I also briefly touched on being able to encrypt your USB stick with Truecrypt.   Well, the other day I received a nice new 2GB USB stick as a freebie and so I decided to install John Haller’s Portable Apps on it. But first I headed on over to the Truecrypt website to install the newly updated 6.0 encryption program.

Encryption is absolutely essential, especially if you’re the kind of person that carries their USB stick around as if it’s your car keys or your lipstick. USB sticks are so small that they are easily lost and they are also easily stolen. Just think of all the information that gets stored on one of these things. The British Ministry of Defence has lost 131 of them since 2004! A friend of mine constantly drops his in the street when he walks his dog and his dog keeps walking back to pick it up! So it definitely pays to take the time and have encryption.

Also, look at it this way. If someone found your USB stick and it was unencrypted, they would have access to your Firefox browser (with access to your private bookmarks, including online banking), your private files, your portable FTP program (with the settings to your website), passwords, emails, IM contacts and much more. If the person was honest, it might not be so bad, but if the person wasn’t honest… well, then it could be catastrophic for you. Identity theft would only be the start of your problems.

The only problem with using Truecrypt for your encryption though is that you need to have administrator privileges on the computer in which you’re plugging your encrypted USB stick into.   So this would be no good for internet cafes for example. This would only be good if you were travelling between multiple trusted personal and work computers and you wanted insurance against theft or loss while travelling around.

OK, let’s get insured.

Step One

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Per capita carbon footprint by state

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Best: Vermont. Worst: Wyoming. (Cheney’s from Wyoming, so it’s perhaps natural.) In order of “greenness”, California is #5, not too shabby, but New York is #3, even better. But California beats Oregon (#6) and Washington (#8). Maryland just misses being in the best 10: #11.

I just had a thought: a Federal carbon tax, levied on citizens of states on a sliding scale based on the state’s per capita carbon footprint: dirtiest states taxed at the highest rates. I bet a lot of states would quickly clean up their act if that went into effect. The money collected could be used to support projects and efforts that reduce the carbon footprints.

Full graph and more facts here. Note that the chart is fully interactive: you can change the sort order, sort on different columns, etc. Interesting: in playing around I see that California’s carbon footprint overall (not per capita, but in absolute terms) is second worst, with only Texas being worse.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 4:20 pm

Astounding sand sculptures

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Take a look. On the second page, among other things, you find this:

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

Disappearing public opinion

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Glenn Greenwald has an interesting column on how public opinion, even when represented by substantial majorities, is ignored by the news media when the opinion fails to match the constructed and agreed-upon narrative imposed on the facts. Well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 11:51 am

Krugman on national healthcare

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From his blog:

A thought after reading Tyler Cowen’s latest: the issue of health care economics seems to make libertarians act like robots on bad science-fiction TV shows. You know, the ones that, faced with information that doesn’t fit with the assumptions in their programming, say “Does not compute! Does not compute!” and collapse.

The basic facts on health care are clear: government-run insurance is more efficient than private insurance; more generally, the United States, with the most privatized health care in the advanced world, has a wildly inefficient system that costs far more than anyone else’s, yet delivers no better and arguably worse medical care than European systems.

But all of this runs so counter to libertarian assumptions about the superiority of individual choice and market mechanisms that they just can’t take it on board. So we have bald assertions that Europeans receive much less care than Americans, even though the data clearly show that it just ain’t so. And we have assertions that mean-testing Medicare is the answer to our problems.

I could say a lot more about this, but maybe the key point is this: we don’t have a Medicare crisis, we have a health care crisis. Private insurance is collapsing as we speak. Means-testing Medicare, aside from many other problems, would just push older Americans into a failing private system — a system that, by the way, has never worked for the elderly, for whom adverse selection issues are especially acute.

If we’re serious about controlling Medicare costs, Peter Orszag and his staff at CBO have had a lot to say about this. Means-testing isn’t the answer; setting priorities for care is.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 10:01 am

Insurance-company rules

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Via Americablog:

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Donna Edwards on speaking out

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David Neiwert in Firedoglake quotes from Donna Edwards’s speech at Netroots Nation. Donna Edwards:

I was an early Barack Obama supporter and I’m really proud of that. But it doesn’t mean that the presidential candidate that we have, the nominee that we have to stand behind now, that we have to be silent when that nominee is not saying the things that need to be said to our community, and doing what we need them to do for the country. So that’s an important lesson.

And that’s an important lesson. And it’s a lesson that I learned, actually, when Bill Clinton became president. Because when Bill Clinton became president, many of us on the left, liberals and progressives, became very silent. And that was a mistake, because that mistake brought us some policies that were really not so great. And so we really can’t make that same mistake with President Barack Obama.

But we need to be on the job today to make sure that he, and not John McCain, is elected as president of the United States. And don’t be fooled about that.

… Finally, I want to share with you that not on any day, by any stretch of the imagination, do I believe that the United States Government should be listening to my phone calls. And if they do, and if they decide they want to listen to my phone calls, then they need to go to a real court and get a warrant.

And I want to tell you that just temporarily we lost that fight. But it’s only temporary. Because it’s going to come back. Because there is no way — it’s about the American public being smarter than the politicians in Washington.

She understands what many cannot grasp: that you can want to elect someone and still criticize his (or her) positions on some issues.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 9:50 am

Avocado soup

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I bought a bag of rock-hard avocados—the way to buy them to avoid damage in transport—and they ripening now. I remembered this recipe:

Avocado Soup
Serves 4

Place in the container of an electric blender a large avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed, 1½ cups chicken broth strained to remove fat globules, 1 clove garlic crushed, and a generous dash of Tabasco sauce. Cover and blend on high speed until ingredients are thoroughly pureed. Remove cover and add 1½ cups cream. Cover and blend for a few additional seconds. If mixture is too thick, thin with a little cream or broth. Correct seasonings, adding more Tabasco and a pinch of salt to taste. Serve well chilled. Garnish with chopped chives or parsley.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 9:45 am

Spices & herbs battle disease

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Herbs and spices like oregano, thyme, cinnamon and clove do more than add pleasing flavors and aromas to familiar foods. The oils from these plants, or compounds extracted from those oils, pack a powerful, antimicrobial punch—strong enough to help quell such foodborne pathogens as Escherichia coli O157:H7.

That’s according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Mendel Friedman, who several years ago evaluated the bacteria-bashing power of these and dozens of other plant compounds.

Now, some of the compounds that Friedman and co-investigators determined were the strongest combatants of E. coli, Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter jejuni, or Listeria monocytogenes in the 2002 study are being tapped for new research focused on food safety.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Too big to save?

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They probably should fail—as Bear Sterns should have. Interesting article by Peter Goodman in the NY Times. It begins:

In the narrative that has governed American commercial life for the last quarter-century, saving companies from their own mistakes was not supposed to be part of the government’s job description. Economic policy makers in the United States took swaggering pride in the cutthroat but lucrative form of capitalism that was supposedly indigenous to their frontier nation.

Through this uniquely American lens, saving businesses from collapse was the sort of thing that happened on other shores, where sentimental commitments to social welfare trumped sharp-edged competition. Weak-kneed European and Asian leaders were too frightened to endure the animal instincts of a real market, the story went. So they intervened time and again, using government largess to lift inefficient firms to safety, sparing jobs and limiting pain but keeping their economies from reaching full potential.

There have been recent interventions in America, of course — the taxpayer-backed bailout of Chrysler in 1979, and the savings and loan rescue of 1989. But the first happened under Jimmy Carter, a year before Americans embraced Ronald Reagan and his passion for unfettered markets. And the second was under George H. W. Bush, who did not share that passion.

So it made for a strange spectacle last weekend as the current Bush administration, which does cast itself in the Reagan mold, hastily prepared a bailout package to offer the government-sponsored mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 9:23 am

Fingerprints and DNA

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Fingerprints uniquely identify a person—that is, ten clear and distinct full fingerprints of both hands. Unfortunately, the real world, what the police or FBI often have is just one or two partial prints, perhaps slightly smudged. The result can be misidentification—such as the lawyer in Portland which the FBI confidently said was connected to the Madrid bombing based on fingerprints. Only he wasn’t at all.

The FBI has consistently fought any attempt to test the efficacy of fingerprint identification. See the second quotation in this post, for example. And, of course, fingerprints can be forged.

So when DNA came on the scene, we were delighted. The FBI, just as with fingerprints, said that it is a 100% reliable means of identification. Only…  it’s not.

Jason Feich and Maura Dolan have a long article in the LA Times that explains the fallibility of DNA identification. It begins:

State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona’s DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

Graphics and related articles

What is the chance of finding a match?

From DNA to a DNA profile

DNA matches aren’t always a lock

DNA: A Slam Dunk?

The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches — each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the FBI’s DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation’s genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The FBI laboratory, which administers the national DNA database system, tried to stop distribution of Troyer’s results and began an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to block similar searches elsewhere, even those ordered by courts, a Times investigation found.

At stake is the credibility of the compelling odds often cited in DNA cases, which can suggest an all but certain link between a suspect and a crime scene.

When DNA from such clues as blood or skin cells matches a suspect’s genetic profile, it can seal his fate with a jury, even in the absence of other evidence. As questions arise about the reliability of ballistic, bite-mark and even fingerprint analysis, genetic evidence has emerged as the forensic gold standard, often portrayed in courtrooms as unassailable.

But DNA “matches” are not always what they appear to be. Although a person’s genetic makeup is unique, his genetic profile — just a tiny sliver of the full genome — may not be. Siblings often share genetic markers at several locations, and even unrelated people can share some by coincidence.

No one knows precisely how rare DNA profiles are. The odds presented in court are the FBI’s best estimates.

The Arizona search was, in effect, the first test of those estimates in a large state database, and the results were surprising, even to some experts.

Defense attorneys seized on the Arizona discoveries as evidence that genetic profiles match more often than the official statistics imply — and are far from unique, as the FBI has sometimes suggested.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2008 at 8:27 am

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