The War Tapes

Got to preview a powerful and interesting movie last night, The War Tapes. The producers, one of whom I met, gave quality video cameras to various members of a National Guard company doing a tour of duty in Iraq. The goal was to show the war from the soldier's POV. It's graphic at times, and puts forward a variety of views (though I doubt it will make many people decide to favour the war more) and well worth a watch. It opens in San Francisco and Oakland this weekend, later in other places.

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Versed for couple's counselling

I've been away because I had to have my gall bladder removed, thanks to a gallstone the size of a small moon. Unfortunately they had to do it "old school" rather than laproscopically, which means the recovery is so much more fun.

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The history of privacy

In recent times, we've seen a lot of debate about eroding the 4th amendment protections against surveillance in the interests of stopping terrorists and other criminals.

It's gotten so prevalent that it seems the debate has become only about how much to weaken the 4th. Nobody ever suggests the other direction, strengthening it.

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High-speed cooling for the kitchen with flexible brine packs

Everybody who has used a microwave oven has wished at times for a "microwave fridge" that could cool things quickly. Of course the process is very different.

The fastest way to cool things, however, is to get lots of surface contact with a very cold fluid that will absorb and coduct lots of heat. And indeed, drop a drink can into ice-water, which is of course at 0 degrees centigrade (32F) and it will cool reasonably quickly.

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Rental no-talking lasers at events

Ok, this isn't entirely serious but...

Just got back from a concert by Andrea Bocelli, which was 75% italian opera and then the last 25% his pop stuff. Curiously the conductor told the audience when they switched about how he was getting to the pop stuff we had been patiently waiting for and the audience applauds and laughs. If it's really that way, it's interesting to wonder if they still make more money doing mostly opera because opera commands more money because of implied lesser demand. (Expensive seats ran to $275 and that was a fair bit of the floor.)

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EBay: Sniping good or bad or just a change of balance?

Ebayers are familiar with what is called bid "sniping." That's placing your one, real bid, just a few seconds before auction close. People sometimes do it manually, more often they use auto-bidding software which performs the function. If you know your true max value, it makes sense.

However, it generates a lot of controversy and anger. This is for two reasons. First, there are many people on eBay who like to play the auction as a game over time, bidding, being out bid and rebidding. They either don't want to enter a true-max bid, or can't figure out what that value really is. They are often outbid by a sniper, and feel very frustrated, because given the time they feel they would have bid higher and taken the auction.

This feeling is vastly strengthened by the way eBay treats bids. The actual buyer pays not the price they entered, but the price entered by the 2nd place bidder, plus an increment. This makes the 2nd place buyer think she lost the auction by just the increment, but in fact that's rarely likely to be true. But it still generates great frustration.

The only important question about bid sniping is, does it benefit the buyers who use it? If it lets them take an auction at a lower price, because a non-sniper doesn't get in the high bid they were actually willing to make, then indeed it benefits the buyer, and makes the seller (and interestingly, eBay, slightly less.)

There are many ways to write the rules of an auction. They all tend to benefit either the buyer or the seller by some factor. A few have benefits for both, and a few benefit only the auction house. Most are a mix. In most auction houses, like eBay, the auction house takes a cut of the sale, and so anything that makes sellers get higher prices makes more money on such auctions for the auction house.

Read on...

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The 17 Ontario terrorists, are they terrorists?

Of course I am disturbed to see that some of these apparently twisted men come from my home town of Mississauga, but I'm also bothered by the continuing expansion of the term terrorism.

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Travel laptop for couples

We often travel as a couple, and of course both have the same e-mail and web addictions that all of you probably have. Indeed, these days if you don't get to your e-mail and other stuff for a long period, it becomes unmanageable when you return. For this reason, we bring at least one, and often two laptops on trips.

Sorry, SETI, ET not phoning

Yesterday I attended Seth Shostak's standard talk about the work at the SETI institute. I know others from the institute such as Frank Drake and Jill Tarter who inspired the Jodi Foster character in the movie Contact. I wanted to see what was new. (Once, by the way, I went on an eclipse cruise where Drake and Tarter were passengers. On a dive boat, somebody talked about the movie Contact, so I told them that Tarter was on the ship, and she had inspired the character. The woman was amazed and asked, "You mean she met an extraterrestrial?")

I have a lot of sympathy for this cause, for the search is important and the payoff extremely so. But I must report a serious lack of optimism. Read on to find out why...

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Immigration Rant

As I watch the immigration debate, I remain astounded at the views expressed by various sides. I am an immigrant to the USA, of course (of the legal type) so naturally I have some sympathies with immigrants, but the inconsistency of some viewpoints bothers me.

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1999 2.0

So over the last 2 weeks I attended 4 nicely catered parties, starting with a dinner for O'Reilly's Web 2.0 conference and ending with one for the SuperNova conference.

By the last party I made up a badge that said "1999 2.0" -- that was after the shrimp came out. Though to be fair, it was still cash bar, so we aren't quite there yet. Though they also gave everybody a $50 gift card at an online content store (where I couldn't find anything I wanted to spend the $50 on...)

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No more monitor out of scan range

It can be very frustrating when a PC decides to send a signal to a monitor that is outside its scan range. Yes, the systems try hard to avoid it, via things like plug and play EDID information on monitor specs, and reverting changes to monitor settings if you don't confirm them after a few seconds, but sometimes it still happens. It happens after monitor swap, it happens if you don't have a monitor turned on when you boot or if you have KVM switch that doesn't talk about the monitor.

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Self driving cars, and sooner than we think, but what about in Boston?

If you've been following things, you know that after the great success of the first Darpa Grand Challenge, a new Grand Challenge has been proposed, this time for urban driving. The cars will have to navigate a city with other cars on the road. (I'm going to presume demolition derby style vehicles and speeds.) This time DARPA is providing some funding, though it was impressive how last time the modest (by military standards) $2M prize attained what would have been science fiction just years ago.

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More conference notes -- Just-in-time event registration

Last weekend, I attended a conference (Singularity Summit) at Stanford which was free. They had a large hall ready to hold 1800, but they got enough registrations to put around 700 on the wait list. However, at the actual event there were a few hundred empty seats in the balcony.

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IMAP server should tell you your SMTP parameters

When you set up a mail client, you have to configure mail reading servers (either IMAP or POP) and also a mail sending server (SMTP). In the old days you could just configure one SMTP server, with no userid or password. Due to spam-blocking, roaming computers have it hard, and either must change SMTP servers as they roam, or use one that has some sort of authentication scheme that opens it up to you and not everybody.

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Conference panelist MP3s, egg-timers and other conference enhancements

From now on, whenever I moderate a conference panel or otherwise organize a conference, I will make a rule that all speakers must make an MP3 of their talk before the conference and E-mail it. While it woudl be a good idea to then listen and see how good a speaker they are, the primary purpose is to get an idea of the length. The speaker, recording their talk at home, will notice that their 20 minute talk takes 35 minutes, and cut down the number of slides until it fits a little better. If not, and they mail in an 35 minute MP3, you can tell them what will happen at 20 minutes.

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Web sites -- stop being clever about some structured data

A lot of the time, on web forms, you will see some sort of structured field, like an IP address, or credit card number, or account number, broken up into a series of field boxes. You see this is in program GUIs as well.

On the surface it makes sense. Never throw away structure information. If you're parsing a human name, it may be impossible to parse it as well from a plain string compared to a set of boxes for first, last and middle names.

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Lobby art: a giant real-time globe

Some years ago, Al Gore wanted to spend a lot of money to put up a satellite which would transmit a live view of the whole Earth (well the half it could see) to make people more eco-conscious.

I figured it should be possible to generate the same view with some careful combination of weather satellite images and other satellite images. Yes, sometimes the view in one place might be an hour old while it's near live in another, but with clever blending you would never know.

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Airline loading followup

I've written several times before about airplane loading so it's worth pointing to the article from Wired News on the subject today. Academics have been running a lot of simulations, and favour the reverse pyramid, which is a system that boards the rear-windows first, then the rear-middle and wing-windows, then rear-window, wing-middle and front-window and so on.

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Review: Trafficguage live traffic map

Through the SV100 I was given an interesting product called the [Trafficgauge](http://www.trafficgauge.com/" rel="nofollow) to review. It's a small thick-PDA sized live map of the highways of your area, with indicators as to where there are traffic slowdowns. They cover about a half dozen cities.

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