Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

The Great Firewall of… Australia?

Yep, following in the footsteps of that beacon of worldwide freedom, China. And no opt-out procedure.

I had not realized that the entire population of Australia was actually composed of delicate elementary-school kids who depend on the government to “protect” them from offensive web sites. But I guess it must be true. Can we send them lollipops? Kids love lollipops.

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The moron who hacked into Governor Palin’s personal email account (discovering such horrible abuses of office as photos of her children) has apparently been identified and, not surprisingly, there’s a tie to the Democratic Party.

All no thanks to the Associated Press, who notoriously refused to cooperate with the Secret Service in this investigation. The AP also chose to frame the whole story as, essentially, “the stupid chick was asking for it”. When pressed on the issue by Michelle Malkin the reporter helpfully clarified his completely objective and nonpartisian views: Yeah, it’s all Palin’s fault.

Fascinating. I suspect this brave stance against the victims of serious crimes signals an exciting new trend in AP’s reporting style. Look for these AP wires stories to appear soon in a paper near you:

“Burglary Victim Faces Serious Questions Over Unbarred Windows”

“Local Teen Incited Attackers With Swimwear, Uncovered Head”

“Shooting Death Reveals Grandmother Never Purchased Bulletproof Vest”

“Family Killed By Drunk Driver Should Have Been Home In Bed On School Night”

“Fatal Kindergarten Bombing Reduces Surplus Of Whining, Dirty Children”

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Ever wonder what the interior of a camera lens looks like? Here you go.

Gallery of Sawn-In-Half Cameras | Gadget Lab from Wired.com

Kids! Don’t try this at home! Especially not at my home.

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Firefox 3 is out today

So go get it!

I’ve been running the final release candidates on my machine at work for a couple weeks.

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“When we got it, it was two hunks of metal stuck together. We couldn’t even tell it was a hard drive. It was burned and the edges were melted,” said Edwards, an engineer at Kroll Ontrack Inc., outside Minneapolis. “It looked pretty bad at first glance, but we always give it a shot.”

Data from Columbia disk drives survived the shuttle accident – Yahoo! News

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Another cool project from master modder Ben Heckdorn

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Park like Spock

Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information is wondering who’s in the market for that new self-parking Lexus. The market? Probably upscale professionals who (1) like gadgets, (2) don’t live in cities, (3) somewhat reluctantly work in cities, but regard parallel parking as that stupid part of the test they almost failed when they got their license 25 years ago and haven’t bothered with since.

The Lexus is kind of a gimmick, and it really doesn’t seem to work that well in the real world. Many cars have anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic suspension control and other things to help the driver. The parallel parking feature is an important milestone, however, in that it’s the first time a production car actually performs a basic driving task without the driver in control.

My prediction is that within 10 years, new cars will routinely go park themselves in a standard lot or multilevel garage, and then come pick you up when called. Parking your own car will be regarded by most drivers like changing the oil is today.

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There’s an interesting discussion going on at Dean’s World and ghost blog about what’s become known as the AI Friendliness problem. SF is overflowing with stories of hostile and indifferent aritficial intelligences menacing their human creators. Given that real AIs will probably be coming online within my lifetime, I’d prefer that didn’t happen. But what can we do about it? How do we ensure we build a Data, and not a Lore?

Those of you who have read much classic science fiction probably recognize this as being the same moral dilemma that motivated the creation of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In Asimov’s robot stories (well, most of them) the Three Laws are the most basic programming given any intelligent machine. In most cases, if the robot violates one of those rules it’s brain immediately burns out, and it "dies". This is obviously a very proactive approach, and I think it’s the best way to proceed. Any complex system, natural or manmade, requires failsafes to avoid disaster. Artificial intelligences are no different.

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A couple of popular conservative blogs have concluded that Google is systematically and purposefully excluding sites from their general search results based on the poilitical decisions. The Google News aggregator has always been biased and capricious, but unfiltered search results
have to be fair or they’re useless. So if it’s true then Google’s really, really stupid.

But I’m not convinced just yet. Google’s gotten some unfair political criticism lately and I suspect this may be more of the same. Sites have mysteriously vanished from Google before without any politics being involved. Check out any of the SEO forums out there for examples. I really doubt Google’s management would sanction a political purge of right-wing blogs. They may be lefties but they’re also businessmen, and well aware of how the search engine business works.

However, I wouldn’t put a stunt like this past some of their employees. Sadly, many of my fellow geeks suffer from Slashdot Socialism, which makes them notoriously soft-skulled when it comes to politics. Take a look at the popular links of the day pulled together on popurls or Technorati. Under the cool new Ajax techniques, pr0n, and gadget announcements the daily list of hot topics is practially a Daily Kos recommended reading list. A misguided and not-very-bright programmer or two could quietly do a lot of damage.

Anyway, if this turns out to be true, will it sink Google? Probably not anytime soon. Yahoo is, well, boring. Gigablast is Dean’s current favorite, and it does seem pretty nice. Windows Live is promising, and they’ve gotten Amazon’s A9 to switch. But they’re still a sucker for spam sites. They’re those stupid autogenerated pages that all have the same description "Learn more about [query]! Everything to know about [query] is here!" You’d think that removing obvious junk like that would be the first job of any search engine, but somehow only Google seems to manage it.

And the reason why (as pointed out to me by my lovely and intelligent wife) may be the same reason that Google’s getting these new blog-related complaints. They’re very aggressive at detecting and delinking many types of suspected junk sites. People make a living reverse-engineering and defeating Google’s anti-spam techniques. Without warning. Google makes a change to their algorithms, re-indexes, and the results suddenly change without any explanation. No system is perfect, though, and sometimes good, honest sites get caught up in the crossfile. And after that happens it takes forever to reach a real person and convince them to fix it. Bad customer service, yes. Conspiracy, no. I think that’s probably what’s happening here.

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Network Neutrality

The WSJ has brief debate on the topic of net neutrality. I think Craig Newmark comes out on top, but that may be because I already lean toward the Save the Internet view on this subject.

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