brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell

30Jan/03Off

Ouch!

You think your day is bad, be glad that you aren't a crab. Don't watch this if you are squeamish or feel particularly kindly towards crabs.

29Jan/03Off

Noah’s Ark Found!

I am fascinated by pseudoscience, creationism and all sorts of other leger de brain that people engage in. Occasionally I end run accross websites that don't really deserve Quote of the Day status, so I've created a new Quack of the Day to take its place.

I was inspired today by Anchor Stone International. There are lots of sites which claim to have evidence that Noah's Ark has been found, but few with as many mind boggling claims as this one.

From their own Ark of the Covenant FAQ, we find such gems as:


Now that the Ark has been found, how is it being protected? Is there any danger of it falling into the wrong hands?

The Ark has been in its present location for about 2600 years and has been perfectly safe for that time. There is no reason to believe that it is in any danger now.

From time to time we get reports such as the following: ?the area (where the ark is located) is surrounded by a high fence and is being guarded by military troops.? This is absolutely not true. The Ark is located in a cave just outside the north wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is protected in the same way God has always protected it ............. by His angels. There is no need for anything beyond this.

Yeah. Right. They go on to say that the Ark will be revealed to the world (like putting up a website saying it has been found isn't revealing it to the world?) when Ron Wyatt, the head of this endeavor sees the right signs.

Unfortunately, Ron joined the choir invisible in 1999, so I guess we are stuck.

It's quite a piece of work. But they do run tour groups!

29Jan/03Off

Ark of the Covenent Found!

I am fascinated by pseudoscience, creationism and all sorts of other leger de brain that people engage in. Occasionally I end run accross websites that don't really deserve Quote of the Day status, so I've created a new Quack of the Day to take its place.

I was inspired today by Anchor Stone International. There are lots of sites which claim to have evidence that Noah's Ark has been found, but few with as many mind boggling claims as this one.

From their own Ark of the Covenant FAQ, we find such gems as:


Now that the Ark has been found, how is it being protected? Is there any danger of it falling into the wrong hands?

The Ark has been in its present location for about 2600 years and has been perfectly safe for that time. There is no reason to believe that it is in any danger now.

From time to time we get reports such as the following: ?the area (where the ark is located) is surrounded by a high fence and is being guarded by military troops.? This is absolutely not true. The Ark is located in a cave just outside the north wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is protected in the same way God has always protected it ............. by His angels. There is no need for anything beyond this.

Yeah. Right. They go on to say that the Ark will be revealed to the world (like putting up a website saying it has been found isn't revealing it to the world?) when Ron Wyatt, the head of this endeavor sees the right signs.

Unfortunately, Ron joined the choir invisible in 1999, so I guess we are stuck.

It's quite a piece of work. But they do run tour groups!

29Jan/03Off

Motherboard Monitoring

Modern motherboards kick ass. They have all sorts of temperature sensors that can tell you what the current temperatures, fans and voltages are. I've had a simple monitoring gadget in the FreeBSD ports collection called healthd installed for a while, and finally got down to making
a tiny PHP program that inserted the relevant info into this hope page. Check out
Server Info on the right.

Eventually I'll have to get it to keep track of the temps via graphs.

Filed under: My Projects 1 Comment
25Jan/03Off

Robot Sumo

sumo.jpg
I stopped by Barnes & Noble on the way home the other day, and was bemused by a couple of books, including this one on the construction of robots to play sumo. Since I am considering a small robotics project, I thought this book might be good, and after a brief reading, it appears to be better than most, striking a nice chord between entirely theoretical and entirely practical. It has a
good section on the use of remote control gear to control robots, something which several other robotics books that I have sort of ignore, and as I am not
an RC enthusiast, something which I need to learn a bit more about. Included are some nice projects using the Basic Stamp, good coverage on IR and ultrasonic proximity sensors, and plans for a mini-Sumo robot. It also has nice pictures and a darn cute cover. I'm sure if you are a genius robot engineer,
you'll learn nothing, but as I haven't built one myself, I give it two thumbs up.

Filed under: Books I Read Comments Off
23Jan/03Off

Cryptography Potpourri

I've also maintained a bit of an amateur interest in cryptography. While I understand a bit about modern ciphers such as DES, IDEAL and RC4, I find it more fun to play with older cryptosystems. When Simon Singh published his book The Code Book, I decided to work through the Cipher Challenge at the back. While I didn't win the $10,000 prize, I did manage to crack 7 out of 10 ciphers, including the Playfair, ADGVX cipher and the German Enigma machine (which took the most work and was the most fun). I still am fascinated by old crypto machines. My friend Jeff actually owns an M209 field cipher machine, which I dug up a simulator for out of the old Version 6 Unix distribution.

Anyway, while scanning sci.crypt, I ran accross this interesting link to a paper simulation of the 3 rotor German Enigma machine. If
I had this while I was debugging my simulator, it probably would have shaved several weeks off my efforts. Much thanks to Michael Koss, who is a collector
of crypto machines, and to John Malley for putting some of the photos of his collection up on the net. I'm completely jealous.

23Jan/03Off

Mantaining a Robotic Sense of Balance…

I've always been interested in robotics (particularly of the amateur variety) and
in the past few days I've discovered some excellent links. Slashdot ran an
article recently that highlighted the Legway, a lego version
of the Segway, built using the RCX controller from a Lego Mindstorms kit. It's an
awesome achievement, and very, very spiffy. David Anderson has an incredible home built robot called nBot, which is a
self balancing two wheeled robot. His page is great, with links to a lot of great pictures, video and details about implementation. He also has a nice machine shot where he manufactures these cool robot parts. Truly inspirational.
Larry Barello has a nice page describing his Gyrobot which has a similar control mechanism. Very nice indeed. This page links to a number of MPEG movies of JOE, a self balancing radio controlled robot. They also have a nice paper describing the
implementation
and I'm told it's a subset of their thesis work, which is unfortunately in Italian.

Cool, cool stuff.

17Jan/03Off

Oops, did the decision of Eldred v. Ashcroft open a new legal challenge to the DMCA?

Jack Balkin, a scholar on First Amendment issues presents some really interesting criticism of the majority opinion in Eldred v. Ashcroft that may frame new challenges to the DMCA. Ginsberg asserted in the majority opinion that as long as the traditional boundaries of copyright (such as fair use) are unchanged, Congress is free to expend the term. I find the reasoning itself rather odd, since it seems to me that extending the term is changing the boundaries, but Balkin points out that the DMCA rather clearly operates to change those boundaries by restricting fair use.

Worth a read.

16Jan/03Off

Thanks Larry!

A great post-mortem of the Eldred vs. Ashcroft decision is going on Lawrence Lessig's weblog. I've decided to add it to my newsfeeds on the right.
Click through and remain active.

I took the time to post a thank you to Larry and his efforts on behalf of the public. I urge all who come to my modest little blog to do the same.

Filed under: Rants and Raves 1 Comment
16Jan/03Off

Cool code…

While searching for some information about
Duff's device, I ran aground on The Apocrypha, a collection of interesting code including Duff's device and emulating a Turing machine with vi. Nifty!

Filed under: General Comments Off
15Jan/03Off

Dark Day for the Public

The story is just now breaking that the Supreme Court has upheld the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act as constitutional in a 7-2 decision. I have only read part of the briefs, but had a couple of quick comments:

I expected this outcome, but I must admit I am still surprised that the Justices abandoned their responsibilty to act in the public interest as directed by the Constitution and hand what amounts to perpetual monopolies for intellectual property to publishers.

My brief skim of the majority opinion shows that the Court chose to focus on two issues, whether the Congress has the authority to extend the term of pre-existing copyrights, and whether such an extension represents a violation of the the First Amendment freedom of speech clause. The majority opinion held that the petitioners would like the "limited time" clause empowering Congress to establish copyrights means "inalterable". I find this remark to be erroneous: the petitioners clearly argued (quite correctly in my opinion) that if Congress is able to continuously extend the term of copyrights, their powers are not limited. I think the SCOTUS has virtually handed infinite term copyrights to publishers by this action by allowing absolutely no end to the legislation that can extend their terms. The majority opinion goes on at great length to justify the retroactive nature of this application by historical precedent, which will require some additional headscratching before I can make sense of it all.

Overall the Court decided that the CTEA was within the power of Congress to enact, that the Justice department is not in the business of second guessing Congress as to policy.

The Court found as unpersuasive the argument that the CTEA represented an attempt to generate perpetual extensions. I find this rather remarkable, given the comments of Sonny Bono's widow upholding the idea first voiced by Jack Valenti that they desired copyrights to be "forever minus one day". They echoed
the earlier court finding that the CTEA was designed merely to bring US copyright law into parity with laws passed in the EU. I guess we will have to wait
another fifteen years or so to see if the Court was correct in their assessment.

The two dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Stevens are excellent in
their clarity and insight. It is a pity that more of the Justices could not see their duty to uphold the principles of the Constitution for the public benefit.

I'll almost certainly rant more when I have more time to think about it.

9Jan/03Off

Hello, my name is Mark

I admit it. I have a hard time with names.

Actually, that isn't true. I actually memorize names fairly well. The only problem is that I can only memorize them well when I see them in print. If you walk up to me and tell me your name, without tons of real effort, I can't keep it in my skull for very long. It helps if I stare at you and write your name a few times. Then it works pretty well.

Of course the world would be a lot simpler if we all took the advice of
Scott. Scott decided
that he'd wear a nametag. All the time. Everywhere. When at the beach he
wrote his name on his chest with a marker.

He's a bit of a nut, but he's got a nice philosophy, that we spend far too much
of our time trying not to make eye contact with others, trying to shun the
interaction with others that we end up craving. Why not make the simplest
gesture possible, and make it easy for everyone to call you by name? What
difference could that make?

Apparently it makes quite a bit of difference. He's got lots of interesting
stories. It is a fairly compelling idea, especially to a borderline recluse
introvert like myself. I might have to give it a shot.