Topic

Temporary split brain

This is a science-fictional idea, but strikingly probable. You are probably aware the brain is split into two halves, joined by a nerve bundle called the corpus callosum. People with severe epilepsy have had the callosum severed, and ended up having two brains in one body. A left brain controlling the right half, and a right brain controlling the left half. The left brain can speak and can lie, the right brain can write with the left hand to communicate. Until experimenters tried to communicate with each half, the people were unaware they were sharing their body with another half-brain. You can read more details if you were unaware.

Anyway, on to the idea. It seems plausible one could apply a temporary anesthetic to the corpus callosum, and temporarily split a person into two brains. Today that might require drastic steps like brain surgery. In the future it's not hard to imagine a specialized drug or highly targetted drug delivery or nanobots to temporarily numb and disable the zone, without too much shutdown of adjacent tissue.

One could even imagine recreational use if it were safe and simple. It would be quite something to learn just what happens when you are split into two and then re-integrated, and how the reformed whole you would remember the two split experiences. Would your left and right half have a conversation? What would they talk about? How long could you persist in this state before it became difficult to reintegrate? How long after the cutoff would you be cogent enough to do all this (one presumes the cutoff might be a bit of a shock.)

Imagine an SF story where one half of the protagonist's brain decides it doesn't want to re-integrate with the other half, and takes steps to assure this...

Linux live CD with network state, use of windows disk

There are a number of Linix "Live CD" distributions out there. These allow you to boot Linux from a CD and run it (somewhat slowly) without ever touching the hard disk in the machine. (They can access the disk however, which makes them good for system repair, both for Linux and Windows.) One popular one is Knoppix, and Mandrake makes one called MandrakeMove, which takes the important next step of letting you store your personal config choices on a USB thumbdrive or floppy. There are distributions that can fit on a thumbrive (after all, those drives are getting quite large for little money, but this is recent enough there hasn't been as much focus on this.)

Let me suggest where I would like this trend to continue. It's great to be able to take any machine and quickly convert it to your style and environment with a CD, or even better a business-card CD or thumbdrive. (Most systems can boot from a CD, fewer from a thumb-drive, most from a floppy leading to another device.) Storing some state on a floppy, thumbdrive, CD-R session -- preferences, home directory files and scripts, browswer config and bookmarks -- is a must. Indeed, if the tools let you build a custom CD just for you with your choice of packages you can bring in much of your whole working environment.

I haven't seen anybody provide automatic storage on the net, based on the assumption the machine you take over probably has an ethernet card. If it does, it would be great to go out and suck down your latest personal changes and files, starting with the most important to get you going, and bringing the rest in the background. This doesn't need a special server, though the group making this distribution might well offer to do so. You could keep and update much of this data in a special mailbox message or mailbox folder, especially with IMAP. Anybody can get access to that. (Or a web mail tool like GMAIL.) Of course if you have actual hosting this can also be used. The data would be encrypted, you would need a password -- not just your mail password -- to use it.

As you changed the data it would be updated to the net storage. Now you could go to any machine with a non-customized CD. Indeed, you could even, on a common fast machine, download a minimal environment (perhaps 60 megabytes which is just a few minutes on a fast broadband link) and after it boots, get the custom information including which other packages are important.

The key is to do things in the Windows filesystem, most likely to be what you find on the machine where you are the guest.  read more »

Henchman law for vote fraud?

David Brin, whom I debated on the topic of Transparency yesterday, has been putting forward for some time the general idea of a henchman's amnesty law. Namely that, in the event of a criminal conspiracy, the first underling who whistle-blows can get some level of amnesty, witness protection and/or cash reward. A serious reward, in the millions. Such a rule would make it harder to pick henchmen, since in effect you're making them a millionaire if they turn on you.
Indeed, you have to worry that the very reason they might be joining you so easily is they plan to rat you out for the millions.

We have had a program for whistleblowers on companies that try to cheat the government, with some success, but I might suggest a good place to try a henchman law would be vote fraud. Combined with very stiff penalties (including life in prison for major vote fraud, which is effectively a coup d'etat) this should keep the conspiracies small, and less powerful.

Howoever, hacking of voting machines at the factory is a special type of vote fraud which could be done by a very few conspirators for a big result, so we still need voter verified ballots.

Of late, I've become curious about how readily we could, using certain encryption techniques, design a ballot system which would let you change or repudiate an already cast ballot, but still preserves the important principles of secret ballot. As you might guess, that's a challenge, since it seems inherent that if you can reverse a ballot you can know what it is. But it's possible some blinding algorithms might allow this.

Another option for mail-in ballots would be to provide each mail-in voter with two or more mail-in ballots. The ballots would be marked with a code, such as a red or green sticker. The voter would be told, through a secure and in-person channel, that one of the ballots is real and the others false. They must remember the colour of the true ballot. If they send in the ballot of the wrong colour, it also contains an encoded number that only the counting office is able to tell tags it as a bad ballot (and a sign of attempted voter coercion.)

The vote-coercer might have you send in all your ballots. One defence would be to have this void your vote. This allows vote coercers to use force or money to stop people from voting (which they already can do) but not to vote a particular way. Combined with my plan for secure internet voting it could allow one half of the secret ballot equation with votes cast over the internet.

Should we be able to perfect this, by finding a means for an audit trail on internet voting, this would, aside from saving much money, eliminate the problems of lines at the polls.

YA Call for preferential ballot

We see the talk of an America divided in 2, but in fact it's not. There are more viewpoints than that. Normally a 2 party system tends towards the middle, this election was unusual in having a larger than normal difference among the candidates.

But perhaps now is the time to take the Democratic energy and try to push it into a movement for real reform. Not ballot recounts, not crazy dreams that can never happen.

By that, I mean getting at least one state to move to a preferential ballot system, such as Australian "Instant Runoff," Approval or Cordorcet, with an unfortuantely complex additional rule for how to cast in the electoral college when done.

Reforming the electoral college is unlikely (though an interesting hack is discussed elsewhere in this blog). 3/4ths of states must ratify any change to the college, and the small states would need a big constitutional price in exchange for stripping themselves of the extra power they have in the college.

However, individual states can change how they select their electors through ballot resolution or legislative action. Entirely on the local level. Ballot resolution seems the simplest approach. The only thing standing in the way is that many voters get confused by instant runoff systems. Basic Condorcet is easy to understand, but the tiebreaker modifications are often hard to understand. Still, the Australians manage it.

The first effort will probably fail and only educate the public. Eventually, some state, probably a small one, will go over and have such a ballot. This in turn will start to educate the rest of the nation. The ideas, once understood, are good ideas, and will appeal to the populace. It's hard to argue against them.

However, the 2 major parties will _want_ to argue against them because they are bad for those parties. In many elections, there is somebody who won because there wasn't a preferential ballot. In particular, Bush in 2000 and (arguably) Clinton in 1992. (On the other hand, Bush the Elder arguably _lost_ because there was such a system, and thus might support it.)

That's why a ballot proposition is the right way to do this.  read more »

Tradesports and exit polls give early sign of Kerry victory

Idea futures are interesting, so I went to tradesports.com to buy Kerry Futures contracts, since I believe pre-election polling is notoriously poor in quality. They were trading at 43 for a contract that pays 100 if he wins, and that seemed a good buy. By the time I could buy them (slow site, overloaded) they were 50 but now they are at 71. The bidders clearly have developed a strong reversal of feeling.

One source is the exit polls. While U.S. media are not publishing them, the CBC in Canada has few viewers in the USA and has no reason not to, and the news is good for the Senator, particularly in Pennsylvania.

Many have argued that idea futures with real money on the line are very good predictors. However people also clearly follow the polls, which is why Bush led in those futures for most of the election race, and even up to just a few hours ago. Still, Bush went south in these long before other sources so they're a good source as far as that is concerned. And perhaps I made a few bucks. (Not a lot, they limit you to $250 credit card if you do instant signup.)

How about a P2P web-hosting spike handler

Today the word went around about mypollingplace.com, a site that helps people find their local polling station, running out of bandwidth from their provider and needing somebody to help it.

At the same time I did an interview for opinions about bitTorrent, and the idea came to me that a really useful application would be a P2P generalized web hosting tool aimed at spikes.

Volunteers who have a reachable IP address (including people who can open holes in NATs) would install software to volunteer to help host sites in need during a spike. This could be client software in a browser or permanent server software.

Then a few different things could happen. Ideally a site would install a tool which activated the sharing network when their load got high (but well before their provider cut them off.) People fetching static pages that weren’t sharing bandwidth would be redirected to a port willing to share. The page would also be modified to encourage folks to join the process. Folks who were willing to share might get access or be redirected, and they would cache the page, declare where it resides and serve it there for some period of time or number of hits.

If a site didn’t install the fancy redirector, they could redirect all web hits to a volunteer tracker that would do a further redirect to a real location willing to host the item.

Finally, for sites totally unaware of this, a browser plug-in could notice when access to a page is very slow or gets a “bandwidth limit exceeded” message. It could then query to see if any of the P2P folks have cached the page, and fetch from there, or offer the user a button to check or fetch from that network.

This latter mode is good because it strongly encourages having the magic plug-in with your browser. If you don’t have it, you can’t get at the P2P cache.

I’ve been informed that Coral from NYU does some of this, though it doesn’t do the “on demand” aspect that leaves the web in normal state when not overloaded, and switches to cacheing only when needed. With Coral and other redirects, your Google adsense doesn’t show up either!  read more »

On the merits of the Electoral College

There has been much writing (including here) about problems with the Electoral College in the USA, and I've even proposed solutions such as a tiebreaking system for close votes. I also noted the amazing coincidence that in the 4 times the winner of the college lost the popular vote, 3 were the 3 times we had a son or granson of a President elected.

But I thought it might be worth exploring the merits of the college, even though most individuals want it abolished. (Though no smaller states want it abolished since it gives them disproportionate power.)

First of all, there is the "official" goal of using the college system. It requires the President, who must win a true majority of the college, to be popular in at least half, and probably more, of the country. The framers didn't want it to be possible for a candidate with extremely strong support in one particular region to win the Presidency.

Example: Say a candidate, coming from a particular region, had immense support in that region, getting 90% of the popular vote, and much lower support (10-25%) outside that region. Such a candidate could win the popular vote since all those votes in their own region would count, even though they are not a national candidate. To win the college, their "region" would have to contain half
the population of the USA.

(This is based on the traditional, but not required all-or-nothing allocation method, which states do because it makes candidates want very much to please them.)

I'm not a fan of some regions having more power than others because of the political legacy of how big states were. 2 senators for Wyoming and 2 for California is grossly unfair. However, the concept of federalism does require some protection for regions, so you don't get one region ruling the land at the expense of another, which can lead to seperatism.

Another benefit is election cost. Due to the college, candidates know to spend their election money only in undecided, "swing" states. As such, they can campaign with much less money. With a popular vote, or even a proportional electoral college, they would have to campaign everywhere. This of course has downsides in terms of fairness, but if they had to campaign everywhere they would have to raise even more money, and be more beholden to the special interests that gave it.

Drive-by trick-or-treating

Tonight, I saw for the first time (for me) a drive-by trick-or-treating. I'm not talking about the growing phenomenon where parents drive their kids to wealthier neighbourhoods for a better class of candy. We had put out a ghost made from gauzy material with a very bright cold-cathode light inside, and hung it over the street. As I stood on the street a minivan pulled up and quickly stopped. Two children went to our front door and Kathryn gave them candy. Then we watch them get back into the van and it continued down the street, out of sight. The appeared to be cruising and stopping at houses with decorations they noticed, which can be found in many neighbourhoods.  read more »

One reason votepair.org hasn't paired many voters

You may have heard of the vote-trading concept, where a voter in a "decided" state (whose vote will make no difference) who wishes to vote for a major candidate pairs up with a voter in a swing state who wants to vote for a minor candidate. The idea is they swap choices. The swing state minor party supporter votes for the major party candidate (typically Kerry this time) and has a chance at making a difference in the swing state. The decided state voter, facing a large likely margin in their own state, votes for the minor candidate, boosting the national popular vote total for that candidate, which is all minor party voters care about since they don't plan to win.

Sounds good, but as you will see at votepair.org, they have 19,700 waiting and only 2300 pairs matched up, so the vast bulk of eager Kerry supporters won't get to swap.

There are many reasons to explain this. Some are simple. There are many more Kerry supporters than minor party voters. There are many more people in decided states than in swing states. And of course some people may wonder how much to trust the honour system used in vote swapping. You are supposed to meet your counterpart, and judge that they aren't a republican trying to play tricks, though in theory there is not much for them to gain by doing so.

One problem is the trade offers a lot to the Kerry supporter -- trading away a meaningless vote that can't change the results for a precious vote in a swing state -- but offers effectively nothing to the minority voter, since it doesn't affect the vote total for the minority party. (Indeed, it may hurt the minority party's prospects in that state.) As such, you are only going to get people who were more than happy to vote Kerry anyway, as they now will feel they gained from the trade.

Of course, a real market in votes is illegal, as these orgs know, but you can't ignore the realities of what makes a market work.

As such, the sites should consider offering a larger trade. They should let minority voters set a price for their switch, which could be 1.5, 2 or even 3 minority votes in the decided states. Then both sides would gain and it could up the count. (Libertarians, who value deeply the concept of win-win contracts as a basis of society, would be particularly swayed by this, and they are one of the largest minority parties.)

The existing 2300 might still be willing to do it for just one vote (remember, they probably were considering doing it for nothing.) Others could ask higher and higher "prices." Of course ask too high and you won't get anything, the voters will be allocated first to those asking less.

Yes, you can do a 1 for 1.5 swap, and I think that's the easiest and fairest. In this case each minority supporter is given two people to arrange swap with, one fully, and the other 50%, in that this other is expected to have an identical 50% deal with another supporter of the same minority candidate.

(Ethically, after you arrange things with the first voter in a 50% partnership, you would need to tell them if the 2nd voter fell through, and get it resassigned. Ditto for a 2 for 1 exchange.)

NA Wireless providers -- allow incoming VoIP for free!

We've seen the explosion in Voice over IP phone companies, using lower IP costs (and regulatory bypass) to offer very cheap long distance. Today, in the wholesale market, you can place VoIP calls to regular phone numbers in the major cities of the world for between 0.5 cents and 1 cent per minute. So cheap that companies are routinely offering people "unlimited" long distance plans for a flat monthly fee.

The rates are cheap, but they aren't yet free, so calls don't happen without contracts and plans and arrangements.

Here's something begging to be done: The cellular carriers in the USA and Canada should allow people calling in from the internet to call any cell phone for free.

This would cost them the tiny amount they get for terminating long distance calls to cell phones, but the end result would be their own customers billing more minutes. That's what they want (sort of.) They could release a free program for use on common PCs to call any cell phone. They could have a java applet or ActiveX control to make a web page to let you call any cell phone for free, just as they let you send an SMS from a web page for free. (If you have a headset with a mic, at least.)

But allowing free and open calling would encourage lots of innovating applications from the marketplaces. Smart PBXs would coordinate and connect with company cell phones over the internet. More advanced apps would link cell phones closer to PBX functions. People who use their cell as their home phone would have another reason to do it -- now all their friends can call free from VoIP phones or any PC. Companies like Vonage would offer free calls to cell phones even for people not on the unlimited plan.  read more »

Notes on the Canon EOS D20 DSLR

Soon as it was out, I bought the EOS D20. I sold my D60, which I had replaced my D30 with, so I am obviously generally pleased with Canon's line. The new camera has a lot over the D60 -- 2 more megapixels (or 3500 high for panoramas), much better low-light shooting ability with low-noise high-ISO, and fast shooting (5 frames/second for 25 frames.) It also has better focus, better controls, and an orientation sensor, something I've been wanting for a long time.

The orientation sensor is botched though. The menu offers the ability to rotate pictures in the display based on the orientation. Not what I want, so I turned it off. Sadly, this ended up turning off even the recording of the orientation sensor, which is stupid. You want this screen rotate off because it makes the picture half the size to do it, and it's wrong if the camera is being held in portrait mode, as it may be on a tripod. The right thing to do would be to rotate based on the camera's orientation -- if I shot in portrait and I show in portrait it should fill the screen. However, generally I don't want the display rotate on the small screen, I can just turn the camera in my hands.

Turning off the sensor recording without this mode is incredibly stupid, I hope they fix that in future firmware. Frankly, I would have them rotate the actual picture as they store it with a lossless rotate. It's a pain to have to run special software (theirs sucks) to convert all the pictures after you shoot them. Part of why I wanted the software was to get away from this annoying task.

For a decade or more, video cameras have come with a small pinhole next to the screw tripod mount. Mounting plates have a pin that goes in there to mount the camera securely. Why do still cameras never come with this hole? It would make the mounting much more secure.

The camera has a full zoom in, something the Canon DSLRs were very slow to adopt. But nobody yet has a "smart" zoom-in, which zooms directly to a 1:1 view of the highest contrast element in the scene, or alternately to one of the focus points that it did the autofocus on (though that can move.) This would let me quickly see if shots were blurry or not. If the highest contrast portion of the scene is not in focus, the whole thing is blurry. If it's in focus but was not at the distance of my subject, I know I shot the wrong thing, and can correct it now. You don't see that on the small screen.

Can't say I'm thrilled with combining the on/off for the back-wheel with the on-off for the camera. I always want that wheel on.

And yes, it's time for DSLRs to get live preview. They can do it, they already split the beam a couple of ways -- most of the light to the eyepiece, but part of it to the autofocus/light meter instruments. Low-res sensors are now cheap enough that you could put one in to perform all those roles and also allow live preview. Live preview isn't just for cheap point and shoot cameras. Yes, through-the-lens is better for composing most shots, but I love how on my G5 I can shoot in places I can't get my eye to the viewfinder, like when the camera is held above my head, at my waist, on the ground, on my knee for stability etc.

And nobody has yet imported features like Nikon's Best-Shot-Selector, a bracketing mode which picks the least blurry of a series of shots in low light. Of course you can do this by just keeping all the shots.

But as I said, I am generally satisfied, but it doesn't mean they can't keep improving.

Home soda fountain with 2-liter bottles?

Many people like the idea of soda fountains, but the official fountains that mix soda and pre-mix concentrate are quite expensive and work to maintain.

To gain some of the convenience and efficiency, how about a quasi-real fountain using existing 2-liter pop bottles? Such a fountain would be designed to look like a regular one. Inside, ordinary 2-liter bottles would be attached. In a "party" model, they would just be in an icebox, in a full-time model it would have refrigeration.

To attach the bottles, their caps would be removed and a special cap screwed on that would have two hoses -- one for pop to come out, and the other for gas (CO2 or air) to come in to push out the drink. A CO2 cylinder could power this, or an air pump if you want battery power. Gravity might be able to do it but pressure certainly could.

The special caps would have another quick connect interface that lets them be turned upside down and snapped into place. Alternately, the bottles could be in another orientation as long as the feed tube can reach their bottom.

You might want to be able to have two bottles of the same drink feed the same fountain to give more capacity and the ability to drain one and then the other so that they can be "hot swapped" (really cold but you know what I mean.) Or people might prefer to be able to offer lots of different drinks, but just 2L of each.

The goal of this design is to be very cheap. The one based on ice and CO2 cartridges would be very cheap and need no power -- more of a party amusement, but also an efficient way to give people only what they need.

Of course you could just empty the bottles into reservoirs, but then you need a way to clean them. Cleaning the tubes could be done with an attachment for a garden hose to flush them, and the caps could go in a dishwasher.

This is my lowest tech idea yet...

Give us appointments at airport security

I've written about a few plans to get rid of the headache (and travel killer) that airport security has become. One of the great curses is that because you can't predict how long security might take, most people end up arriving way, way ahead of their flight in case the line is long, but often they clear it in just a few minutes. (Ditto the immigration/customs line at Canadian airports going to the USA.)

So here's another idea -- appointments for going through airport security. When you use web check-in (which many airlines now support) or even at the gate, you would be allocated an appointment in the latest available slot some period (say 20 minutes) before boarding ends for your flight. Appointments would be spaced at slightly more than the average time to clear a passenger through security.

This would work because there would be two lines at the security gate. One for people with appointments, one for those without (or who missed their appointment.) You could only enter the appointment waiting zone in the 10 minutes prior to your appointment, and presuming 30 seconds per party, that would mean it would hold about 20 people. An agent would check your bar-coded appointment slot in letting you in.

When your time comes (or at any free time) you would be taken through at the head of the security line. If somebody needs extra security (random search, suspect item) that of course delays the station they are going through, but the other stations are free to take the person with the next appointment. Only if all stations got bogged down with problem cases would people in the appointment line not go through at close to their exact appointment time.  read more »

Senator is a poor stepping stone to President

I have often heard it said that being a Senator is a good stepping stone to President of the USA. Research shows this to be really false, and that's bad news for Kerry. Oh, many sitting senators run for President, but for over 120 years, they have rarely and barely won.

The one exception that proves the rule is John F. Kennedy, the only sitting senator of the modern political era to be elected President. And barely so -- there are many who still say JFK stole the election, and in any event it was one of the closest in history before Bush/Gore. JFK was also a congressman, and he sat out a few years of his Senate career due to back problems.

Before Kennedy we have to go back 84 years, and out of the modern era, to Warren Harding, who won handily from the Senatem then died in office. And before that you go to Benjamin Harrison, who lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote.

The first century of U.S. history has many Senator->President transitions, which may have created this myth.

Some suggest that the reason is that a Senator has a long voting record which can be used against him or her, and that does appear to be the case. But the suggestion it's a good stepping stone is false.

(Also worth noting that Kennedy, Harding and Harrison did not defeat sitting Presidents. Defeating sitting Presidents is of course hard to do, but Carter and Clinton, who did it, were both Governors.) I didn't research enough to find out how far back you have to go to find a Senator unseating the President.  read more »

Burning Man photos: Galleries up, new Decompression gallery added

Well, a couple of weeks ago when I announced the phone project at Burning Man, I implicitly was linking to my new galleries for Burning Man 2004. However, let me officially announce those galleries now, plus the addition of a new gallery today.

Enjoy

Blind sharks with science?

An out of left-field idea. It doesn't happen a lot, but one of the things people fear deeply is being bitten by a shark. Sharks sometimes bite surfers, because, it is suspected that 4 paddling arms lying on a surfboard triggers the "tasty seal" match in the shark's brain.

(Reportedly sharks don't actually like how we taste that much, and have spit out human limbs they bit off. I dunno, but somehow that's adding insult to major injury.)

Anyway, to stop this there are some products on the market. One is a set of decals in the black and white stripe patterns of poisonous fish sharks don't like to eat. Another is a set of electrodes that send out a strong electric field which sharks hate (they have electric sensing organs that most fish don't.)

Here's another idea, for all the surfboard shark repellant readers of my blog out there. Since the shark looks up at the board against the glittering surface, patterns on the bottom may not be enough. But what about new bright but low power LEDs? Possibly an animated pattern moving over the LEDs to say "not food" to the shark. First of all such light is highly non-natural (at least not from prey) and can be made to move in very artificial ways, or natural ways that signal non-prey. And today, the power for it is not very much. Here's where we need the advice of all the trained icthyologists reading the blog.

Boomerangs: Children of the Baby Boom

Ok, it's not like we're crying for a new word, since we already have so many: Generation Y, Generation Next, Boomlets, Echo-boomers, Millenials etc. But still, I like to throw out new words so mine is "Boomerangs" which nicely captures the concept of the rebound of the Baby Boom, and a few other concepts as well.

Speaking at VON, Foresight, Debating Brin, Decompression

I'll be speaking at three conferences in the near future, and can offer discounts to blog readers for two of them.
VoIP
Coming up October 19, I will be speaking on the future of SIP, and whether IAX2 or Skype might kill it, at the Pulver Voice on the Net conference in Boston.
Nanotech and Privacy
Later that week, I will chair day 2 (Sat, Oct 23) of the Foresight Conference on Advanced Molecular Technology in Washington, DC. Friday is about technology, Saturday is about Applications, Sunday is Policy. On Saturday I will deliver a talk on the merits of privacy which will lead into a debate about privacy and surveillance in the nanotech world.

Blog readers who wish to attend this conference can get a 30% discount by using registration code BRAD30-CP.
Debating David Brin on Privacy
Then, on November 6, I will do a similar debate at Accelerating Change 2004, this time with noted Science Fiction author David Brin (who also wrote "The Transparent Society.) Blog readers can get a $50 discount before Oct 20 by using the code AC2004-BRAD.

After that it's off to the Vintage Computer Festival, and Hackers.
Burning Man Decompression
Plus, before all that, this Sunday I will be at the Burning Man Decompression party, a small taste of Burning Man on the city streets. I will display my latest giant photographs, plus my Star Map and with luck we will have the phone booth in operation, though it won't be as out of place on a city street.
EFF Salon on E-Voting
And finally, though I won't be speaking at it, the EFF has restarted our BayFF series of talks and salons on major issues. The next is Tuesday, October 12, 7pm at the 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco on the subject of e-voting and the upcoming election. Free, but how much would it hurt you to donate?

ups with switchable power for monitor

Tested my UPS systems and found them wanting in Friday's 10 hour Cupertino blackout. Last week I wrote about my longtime desire for a PC power supply that let you plug in an external battery for a cheap, long lasting UPS. But here are some other ideas.

Generally you don't want to plug your monitor into your UPS, because it will drain it faster, which is pointless if you are not there. Better energy-conserving monitors with screen-blanking screen savers can do something about this, but why waste any power on a monitor you're not looking at. I've taken to leaving the monitor off of the UPS power, and then when I come to the computer to do something, plugged the monitor into the UPS. Of course that can require a flashlight and wastes precious time.

So let's have a plug on the UPS that is switched. By default it only takes mains power, even during a failure. But during a failure you can push a button and it switches to the backup power. Perhaps have more than one of these, and plug all your optional devices into them. (For workstations, for example, you may want to only power network hubs or DSL modems when you are there, though I usually go the reverse path.)

Of course, since often the computer has a data link to the UPS, you could even have the computer tell the UPS to power on the optional plugs if the person is at the keyboard.

One could also build a fancy switched plug to do this though I don't know if anybody makes such off the shelf. That might be a simpler product.  read more »

Do we need security on small planes?

We've gotten used to a painful, privacy invading security process when we fly. But why should we do this for shot-hop, small aircraft. Those ones on the 20 seat Canadair Business Jets and similar. Secure the cockpit with a sealed door and arm the pilot so that terrorists can't take control of the plane. Put in sealed transponders so ATC knows if the plane goes astray. Give the pilot a "disable" button that limits what can be done with the plane in the event of attempted hijack.

Other than that, give it no more security than a bus or train. Just show your ticket, or pay cash, and walk on, possibly going through no more than the metal detectors used at things like baseball games and museums. Possibly not even that.

Yes, evil people could smuggle a gun, and suicide terrorists could put a bomb in their luggage. And kill 15 people. Which would be horrible, but frankly there are a lot more dangerous targets out there for the terrorist willing to kill himself, where a lot more damage can be done, and a lot more people killed. Hell, there are more tempting targets where you don't have to kill yourself. It makes little sense to waste resources blowing up tiny planes.

Which means we should not go nuts securing them. This already takes place at small airports and on general aviation. I've seen post-911 stories of people just walking onto small corporate jets with no ID or search, as well as other private planes and charters. Combine that with other ideas on efficient plane operation and you might just have a very popular airline for flights under 500 miles.