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Links February 2010

Popular Mechanics has a good article about 911 [1]. Experts in all the relevant fields were consulted to debunk popular myths. It’s an old article but I hadn’t read it before and learned a lot.

Former CIA analyst Raw McGovern and former FBI attorney/special agent Coleen Rowley, a colleague in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity wrote an interesting article titled “Why Counter-Terrorism Is in Shambles” [2]. Such sanity from people who are associated with the intelligence industry is unusual.

Gizmodo has an amusing and informative poster about the true risks of airline travel post 911 [3].

Reuters has an interesting article about drug smugglers using Gulfstream and 727 aircraft to smuggle cocaine from South America to Africa [4]. They claim a link to al Quaeda, but such a link seems tenuous from the evidence provided, it does seem reasonable to claim that groups who claim affiliation to al Quaeda are involved in smuggling – anyone can claim anything really.

An 8yo boy is on the TSA terrorism “watch list”, he regularly gets frisked when traveling by air [5]. His mother had a security clearance to fly on Air Force 2 when Al Gore was the Vice President, any sane security system would look at the parents rather than an 8yo child – children of that age aren’t going to independently become terrorists.

The Dallas Observer has an interesting article by Kimberly Thorpe about how to beat debt collectors [6]. Apparently most debt collectors break the law in some way and can be sued for damages – with a typical settlement of $3,500. Some debtors are suing multiple debt collectors, after one debt collector is successfully sued the debt is passed to another collector who also breaks the law. What I really like about this is that the community of people who sue debt collectors keep the industry honest and protect the majority of the population who don’t have the time or interest for engaging in law suits.

Read Write Web has an informative article about SourceForge being forced to deny access to people in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria [7]. A problem for free software developers is that we often don’t know the location of the people we collaborate with so it’s best to be as open as possible. This means that the US is not a good place to host servers, probably some part of the EU would be better. Also this sort of thing makes the field of free software development less welcoming to US citizens. Did the congress people learn nothing in high-school? They should know that someone who starts a campaign of ostracism may end up being in the small group.

Google is developing a new Native Client (NaCl) system that seems to be like Microsoft ActiveX [8]. I can’t imagine this doing anything that couldn’t be done with Java, it seems most likely to just marginalise the less popular platforms which isn’t in the best interests of Google.

Kevin Kelly of the Technium wrote an interesting post about 1000 true fans [9]. The concept is that if you are doing creative work you only need 1000 dedicated fans who buy everything you sell to make a living. If you make $20 per year from each of the 1000 fans and you will earn enough to live. Make $100 per year from each of the 1000 fans and you will be earning more money than most people. The updates show that artists who try this aren’t having much success yet, but the Internet population is still increasing dramatically…

PaxStreamline offers an innovation in commercial air-conditioning, apparently a significant amount of electricity is wasted on heating the air after chilling it excessively to remove moisture [10]. So instead of cooling it they use a liquid dessicant to extract the moisture.

Ben Schwartz explains why you should never create files in H.264 or MPEG formats, unless you have a special commercial license then you (and your viewers) will all be liable for patent infringement for any type of commercial use [11]. Note that storing the data on a web site with Google adverts counts as commercial use. I wonder if all those digital cameras and mobile phones that create MPEG videos have appropriate licenses, maybe uploading a file created on your phone breaches the patent.

J. K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter) gave an inspiring speech for Harvard graduates [12]. I particularly liked the following reference to her work for Amnesty International “Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid“.

Peter Eigen gave an interesting TED talk about the formation of Transparency International and the economic problems that are caused by corruption [13].

The Monthly Review has an interesting article about the failure of the US justice system [14]. The prison industrial complex has captured part of the US government, neo-liberalism is to blame.

59% of Americans agree that “homosexuals” ought to be able to serve in the U.S. military. But 70 percent believe that “gays and lesbians” ought to be able to serve in the military [15]. Apparently 11% of Americans think that gays and lesbians are better than “homosexuals”.

1 comment to Links February 2010

  • The good thing about suing debt collectors who target individuals and households is that it pushes up the cost (to both sides) of so-called “consumer credit.” If you really think about it, offering people credit in order to “consume” is a waste of capital that might otherwise be used in productive projects. Households should be using their savings to _form_ capital, not drain it.