A Monday Night Gallimaufry

Let’s see if we can close some of the myriad tabs I’ve opened in the process of trying to catch up with everything that happened in the non-work world while I was off spending time at the Melbourne office:

  • I’m quite impressed at the 16-year old (from the city where I did my university days) who managed to isolate plastic eating bacteria that can decompose plastic bags in a few months for a science fair project. The projection to a possible industrial solution is very interesting, although I’m not as blasé about the waste products as he is–even if it really is just water and CO21, there’s still some work to be done to sell that at an industrial scale without adding yet more to our industrial carbon dioxide problems. Still, pretty damn impressive for a teen science fair, that’s for sure.
  • I do wonder if all the people colouring things green to show support for Iranian democracy realize that they are symbolically aligning themselves with Moussavi–I suspect a large number never stopped to ask “why green?” Even of those who do know it, I wonder what percentage have any idea about Moussavi’s history. See previous Shirky comment on technology speed. Supporting democracy and the protestors seems like a good idea to me, but that doesn’t mean shutting down the critical faculties on the question of how to support them. (Oh, and if you want a cold-water-in-the-face antidote to the “Twitter is changing the world” meme, try this.)
  • Generally speaking, I love when reviews of non-fiction books take on the entire sweeping area that the book being reviewed attacks, and attempt to place the book in a larger context as part of the review. Of those reviews I particularly love the ones that you can learn a lot from without ever actually reading the book in question. For instance, Laura Miller’s review of Richard Bernstein’s book The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters. The book sounds like something that would be interesting to read, with occasional bouts of being frustrating, and I’ll probably get around to it at some point–if for no other reason than to use it as part of a program of mockery of one of my friends who has a definite pro-Asian bias in his female aesthetics. That’s not really relevant to the fact that I quite enjoyed reading the review.
  • In Alaska, you make your own fun on the long, cold winter nights, apparently. For some reason the pictures in that gallery make me think of Wondermark.
  • I wonder how many people know even the basics of US-Cuba relations that are laid out in the recent Nation article. There were a few things in there that I hadn’t been aware of on the history side. I wonder about the progression of US-Cuban relations over the near term future. I’m inclined to be cautiously optimistic, but serious experts in Cuba (whom I’m related to by marriage) indicate that they don’t see much potential for any change in the near term.
  • There’s certainly a portion of the population2 for whom the received wisdom about the NSA is that they’re a scary-competent organization, who’ve recruited the best minds for a couple of generations, and who are probably a decade ahead of what’s public knowledge about cryptography and related fields of research. Certainly if you read something like Bamford’s Puzzle Palace, you’re left with the impression of a very competent organization that was very good at its brief… at least up to the end of the time period the book covers. Given that, it’s very interesting to read an article by a former CIA analyst who challenges that with an utterly different message: that the agency is “a secretive, hidebound culture incapable of keeping up with innovation, or even working with industry”. That fits in with another set of my prejudices–about large organizations, agility, and competence–and thus pleases me. Especially the bits about the “spectacular failures” of the projects with the MBAesque codenames.
  • You know how passive RFID tags work, right? You send a radio signal at them, and the signal powers up the chip, which can use that power to send a response. Pretty simple. Well, now we’ve got some people saying “hey, there’s a lot of radio waves around all the time in the air–why not design some tools to essentially do that same turn-it-to-energy trick and then use that continual harvesting of tiny bits of energy to charge a battery?” Or, in simpler terms: can we make cell phones that charge themselves out of thin air?
  • I am vaguely interested in the Longbox project. I mean I hate DRM as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is like Cory Doctorow or something), so I’m not particularly interested in trading my first-sale-doctrine-enabled, reusable, loanable, transportable, obsolescence-proof physical comics for a locked up digital file, but that might not matter. And it might not because the Longbox guys made the very smart decision to support existing non-DRM files, even though they will mostly represent pirate content. I would write at length about why this was a very smart idea if this weren’t a linkpost, but for the short version let me ask this: would anyone have become interested in iPods if they couldn’t play your existing MP3s? And how many of those were legitimate content? Q.E.D. Additionally, were the price correct, I could easily see myself doing more “taste testing” in the digital space for things I would eventually buy in a print collection–although I suspect my retailer might not be happy to hear me say so.
  • I am already mildly disturbed at having had two non-trivial ant incursions into the house already this year. I don’t need to be worried about migrating fire ants invading my territory, than you very much.
  • Here’s a pretty reliable test for whether or not you’re a Canadian computer geek: read this. Now, while you were reading that, did your pulse pick up? Face flush? Feel little thrill of adrenaline? You’re a big old computer geek3.
  • It’s funny because it’s true.
  • You know what might work even better than Buddy Christ marketing to get people to go to church? Free beer!

And, since you can’t really top religion making itself into an SNL commercial parody, that should probably do it for tonight.

  1. What about heat? Required? Released?(back)
  2. The “tinfoil hat” cypherpunk types. You know who you are.(back)
  3. If any of those reactions occurred primarily in response to the machine working on the LHC calculations, then you might actually be a big old physics geek. Further testing would be required.(back)

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.