Links October 2010

Bruce Schneier wrote an insightful post about why designing products for wiretapping is a bad idea [1]. It seems that large parts of the Internet will be easy to tap (for both governments and criminals) in the near future unless something is done. The bad results of criminal use will outweigh any benefits of government use.

Sam Watkins wrote an informative post about Android security [2]. Among other things any application can read all stored data including all photos, that’s got to be a problem for anyone who photographs themself naked…

Rebecca Saxe gave an interesting TED talk about how brains make moral judgements [3]. Somehow she managed to speak about the Theory of Mind without mentioning Autism once.

The Guardian has an amusing article by Cory Doctorow about security policies in banks [4]. He advocates promoting statistical literacy (or at least not promoting a lack of it) as a sound government policy. He also suggests allowing regulators to fine banks that get it wrong.

Steven Johnson gave an interesting TED talk about Where Good Ideas Come From [5]. It’s a bit slow at the start but gets good at the end.

Adam Grosser gave an interesting TED talk about a fridge that was designed for use in Africa [6]. The core of the Absorption Refrigerator is designed to be heated in a pot of water in a cooking fire and it can then keep food cool for 12 hours. It’s a pity that they couldn’t design it to work on solar power to avoid the fuel use for the cooking fire.

Josh Silver gave an interesting TED talk about liquid filled spectacles [7]. The glasses are shipped with a syringe filled with liquid at each side that is used to inflate the lenses to the desired refractive index. The wearer can just adjust the syringes until they get to the right magnification, as there are separate syringes the glasses work well with people who’s eyes aren’t identical (which is most people). Once the syringes are at the right spots the user can tighten some screws to prevent further transfer of liquid and cut the syringes off – to give glasses that aren’t overly heavy but which can’t be adjusted any more, I guess that a natural extension to this would be to allow the syringes to be re-attached so that the user could adjust them every year to match declining vision. One thing that this wouldn’t do is counter for Astigmatism (where the lens of the eye doesn’t focus light to a point), but I guess they could make lenses to deal with a few common varieties of Astigmatism so that most people who have that problem can get a reasonable approximation. The current best effort is to make the glasses cost $19, which is 19 days salary for some of the poorest people in the world. Glasses in Australia cost up to $650 for a pair (or a more common cost of $200 or about $100 after Medicare) which would be about one day’s salary.

Eben Bayer gave an inspiring TED talk about one of the ways that mushrooms can save the planet [8]. He has designed molds that can be filled with Pasteurised organic waste (seed husks etc) and then seeded with fungal spores. The fungus then grows mycelium (thin fungal root fibers) through the organic waste making it into a solid structure which fits the shape of the mold. This is currently being used to replace poly-styrene foam for packaging and can apparently be used for making tiles that are fire retardant and sound proof for constructing buildings. The main benefits of the material are that it can be cheaply made without petrochemicals and that it is bio-degradable, I’m not sure how the bio-degradable part would work with constructing buildings – maybe they would just replace the panels every few years.

Annie Lennox gave a TED talk about her Sing foundation to care for women and children who are affected by AIDS [9]. She describes the effect of AIDS in Africa as Genocide.

Robert Ballard gave a very informative TED talk about exploring the oceans [10]. This was one of the most informative TED talks I’ve seen and Robert is also one of the most enthusiastic speakers I’ve seen, it’s really worth watching! We really need more money spent on exploring the oceans.

Jessa Gamble gave an interesting TED talk which suggests that the best thing to do is to go to bed at about sunset and then have a couple of hours of relaxing time during the middle of the night [11]. Apparently the subjects of body-block experiments who live for a month in a bunker without natural light or access to a clock get better sleep in this manner than they ever had in their life and feel fully awake for the first time.

World Changing is a blog that has a lot of interesting articles about climate change and related issues [12]. It’s worth a read.

Cynthia Schneider gave an interesting TED talk about how reality competition TV is affecting reality [13]. Shows that are derived from the American Idol concept are driving a resurgence in some traditional forms of performance art while also promoting equality – among other things it’s apparent that winning is more important than misogyny.

The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is an interesting concept [14]. I think it would be good to have something similar for Computer Science.

Benjamin Mako Hill wrote an interesting and insightful essay about Piracy and Free Software [15].

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