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Links November 2008

Netatia has an interesting series of articles about running a computer for two people [1]. It is a bit of a kludge, they have a single X server that covers both displays and then use Xephyr to divide it into two virtual screens. The positive aspecct of this is that it shuld allow a single wide monitor to be used by two sessions as displays are getting wider regardless of the wishes of manufacturers and consumers [2] this should be useful. It’s a pity that no-one has solved the problem of having multiple video cards, sound cards, and input devices to allow a single desktop system to be used for 6 or more people. It seems that the problems that need to be solved are only the support for multiple video cards, mouse-wheel support, and sound support.

Paul Ewald gave an interesting TED talk about changing the conditions for diseases so that they evolve to be benign [3]. The first example is Cholera which if spread by water will benefit from being as toxic as possible (to cause the greatest amount of diorrhea – killing the host not being a problem), but if spread by human contact benefits from leaving it’s host well enough to walk around and meet people. This and the other examples he cites seem like strong reasons for universal health-care provided by the government. If clean water is provided to all the poor people then cholera will evolve to be less harmful, and if a rich person (such as myself) is unlucky enough to catch it then the results won’t be so bad. He also notes that less harmful bacteria will often result in the victim not seeking anti-biotics and therefore less pressure for the disease to evolve resistance to anti-biotics. Therefore the people who really need them (the elderly, the very young, and people who are already sick) will find them to be more effective.

Paul Stamets gave a great TED talk about fungus [4]. One of his discoveries was that fungi can be used for breaking down petro-chemicals (they can eat oil). It would be interesting to see this tested on a large scale with one of the oil spils or with the polluted land around an ooil refinery. Also he has patented a method for using fungus to kill wood-eating ants (such as the ones that briefly infested his home).

Robert Full gave an interesting TED talk on robot feet [5]. I found the bit about leg spikes particularly interesting (I had always wondered why insects have spikey legs).

Alan Kay gave a very interesting presentation on using computers to teach young children about science [6]. An OLPC is referenced. It makes me want to buy an OLPC for everyone I know who has young children. The start of the talk is a little slow.

Dan Barber gave a very interesting TED talk about organic and humane production of foie gras in Extramuda [7]. Apparently it tastes a lot better too.

Incidentally I don’t list all the TED talks I watch, only the better ones. Less than half the TED talks that I see announced seem interesting enough to download, and of those less than half are good enough that I will recommend them. The ones that I don’t recommend don’t suck in any way, it’s just that I can’t write a paragraph about every talk. Of recent times my video watching has been divided about equally between “The Bill” and TED talks.

Here’s an interesting article about Sarah Palin and “anti-elitism”: The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask yourself: how has “elitism” become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn’t seem too intelligent or well educated.[8]

Sarah will be representing the Republican party in 2012, the desire for leaders of average intelligence (or less) will still be around then. It will be interesting to see how many votes she gets and amusing to see her interviewed.

The proceedings of the “Old Bailey” – London’s Central Criminal Court have been published [9]. It’s interesting to read some of the historical information about the legal system at the time. It made me appreciate how civilised the UK (and other countries that I have visited) are now.

Bruce Schneier writes about the feture of ephemeral communication [10]. He concludes with the point “until we have a Presidential election where both candidates have a complete history on social networking sites from before they were teenagers we aren’t fully an information age society“. Of course as he notes the rules are written by the older people, currently I don’t think that any candidate for high office (cabinet minister or above) anywhere in the world can have a good history on the Internet. During the course of a decade or more on the net it’s impossible not to write something that can be used against you and no reasonable person could avoid changing their views on some issues in such a time period. That’s enough to lose an election with the way things currently work.

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