Links April 2011

Sebastian Thrun gave an interesting TED talk about the Google driverless car project and explains how his main aim is to avoid all the needless road deaths that are due to human error [1]. Finally a good use for the Google street-view type data!

AnnMarie Thomas gave an interesting short TED talk about using play-dough to make circuits [2]. There are two recipies for play-dough, the one made with salt conducts well and the one made with sugar conducts poorly. That allows making wires with salty dough and insulators with the sugar dough.

John Robb has published an interesting article about a Chinese fake revolutionary group that is triggering a backlash from Chinese security forces [3]. Even if this isn’t accurate it seems like a good way to make people hate their local security forces and thus demand political change.

Chris Rock made an interesting observation, we aren’t making “progress” on racial issues, white people are getting less crazy [4].

Red Hill has an interesting article about 486 motherboards with fake cache chips that were sold in the 90’s [5]. One thing I disagree with is that they blame the customers for seeking low prices. When a white-box PC cost $2000 (which is $3000 in today’s money) it made sense to try and get the cheapest option possible. Now that major department stores sell name-brand laptops for $400 it really makes sense to buy name-brand quality rather than white-box rubbish. is an interesting project to combat street harassment of women [6].

Psychology Today has an interesting article by Joe Navarro (former FBI counter-intelligence agent and author) about the serious implications of attempting to detect lies [7]. His main point is that most people over-estimate their ability to detect lies and because the legal system believes such claims from law enforcement officers many innocent people get found guilty – and criminals get away free!

Cory Doctorow wrote an informative article about the ways of persuading people to pay for content that can be obtained for free [8]. The main message seems to be that the big media companies are doing things the wrong way in everything that they do.

The news satire site CBS Breaking News has an interesting about page explaining their mission [9]. They stopped their automated disaster generator after the Japanese Tsunami, while I can understand them wanting to keep some good taste and be sympathetic to the plight of the Japanese people it seems that they have forgotten that there is always a disaster somewhere. The typical “bus plunge” is just as bad as the Tsunami to the people on the bus and their relatives!

Psychology Today has an interesting blog post by Satoshi Kanazawa explaining how criminals don’t specialise, the psychological factors that make someone likely to commit one crime will make them likely to commit others, this makes it logical to collect DNA samples from all criminals [10]. Update: Satoshi seems to promote bad science and have bad attitudes towards minority groups, so I won’t link to any of his articles. Here is one of the many rebuttals to Satoshi articles [10B]. If Satoshi has a good point to make then I’m sure that someone else will make it and provide good supporting evidence.

Psychology Today has an interesting blog post by Dave Niose about a landmark US legal case in 1948 where Vashti McCollum had to escalate to the Supreme Court to allow her children to receive secular education [11]. We need something like this in Australia now as the religious extremists are going too far in indoctrinating children.

Sam Richards gave a TED talk titled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy” which aims to teach Americans how to understand the way that people in the middle-east feel [12]. The comments suggest that his talk wasn’t successful. Of course the fact that “empathy” doesn’t have a clear definition in the English language doesn’t help, and the fact that most people don’t seem to interpret it in any way that corresponds to any dictionary and that most people seem unable to define what they mean by it makes things worse. At the moment I can’t think of any examples of successfully teaching empathy to unwilling people. The people who want to learn will do so eventually, you can have some good success in helping them to learn faster.

Kathryn Schulz gave an interesting TED talk about Being Wrong [13]. One interesting point that she makes concerns the way that people assume that people who disagree are ignorant, stupid, or evil instead of just having a different set of data or a different understanding of the same data. Of course it is possible for someone to be ignorant/stupid/evil AND have a different understanding.

Marcin Jakubowski gave an inspiring TED talk about his project to develop free blueprints that allow anyone to create all machines needed to sustain civilisation with minimal cost [14]. His Open Source Ecology project has a blog and a wiki with blueprints and files for CAD/CAM [15].

Dave Meslin gave an insightful TED talk about apathy in the political process [16]. Among other things he compares council notices that supposedly request citizen input with adverts for running shoes which encourage people to buy them. One thing he didn’t mention is the difference that technology can make, a short council advert with a QR code is probably a lot more useful than the current dense text-based adverts for today’s audience.

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