Kadin2048's Weblog
JulAug Sep
Oct Nov Dec


Wed, 30 Jan 2008

I spent a while explaining Spamgourmet to some coworkers today. It amazes me a little that more people aren’t aware of it, and that it gets mentioned so seldom in the popular and trade press.

Lots of people understand the benefits of having multiple email addresses; one that you keep to yourself and give only to trusted friends, and another that you use more widely (for site signups and for doing business with companies that you know are likely to spam you). Spamgourmet takes this concept further and allows you to create a basically-infinite number of disposable addresses. Instead of just having one ‘untrusted’ address, you can have one for each skeezy company you have to give a working address to.

This is pretty cool, because it allows you to turn addresses on and off at will. You can have an address that only allows emails in from one domain or address, or only works for a specified number of messages, silently ‘eating’ everything else.

The best part is that Spamgourmet lets you look at your list of addresses and see which ones have recieved the most spam. If you give out unique addresses to each company, it’s trivial to see exactly who sold you out. (Worst offenders: sketchy PayPal clone “ChronoPay,” followed by a litany of UBB-based forums. A plague on both your houses.) It’s pretty awesome to look in and see that you’ve been spared 50,000 spam messages over the course of 4 years, thanks to the service.

Did I mention that it’s free? (Really, no-strings-attached, no advertising, we-don’t-want-your-money kind of free.)

It’s one of the few things that I flat-out recommend to everyone. It really has no downside. It takes a few seconds to set up, and can keep your inbox from being overrun for years to come.

2 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/technology/web] permalink

Bruce Schneier has an excellent short essay on the latest fallacy being parroted by the ‘homeland security’ apparatchiks: ‘security versus privacy.’

Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. … The debate isn’t security versus privacy. It’s liberty versus control.

The idea that security and privacy are at either ends of a spectrum, that some tradeoff is always required or a ‘balance’ always struck, is, he argues quite convincingly, completely false. Most good security actually increases privacy, rather than diminishes it.

The problem is conflating ‘security’ with ‘control.’ People who have spent too long in government, or other organizations with strict top-down management styles, apparently think that the only path to security involves giving them control of everything. It’s the worst kind of paranoid micro-management, and it’s directly at odds with democracy, which is not a top-down organization — quite the opposite.

It’s the mindset that imagines that the easiest way to prevent aircraft hijackings is to compile dossiers on every passenger aboard, rather than working to make the planes harder to hijack. It’s the mindset that wants to check for IDs and confiscate shampoo rather than screen for threatening behaviors that match actual terrorist profiles.

The worst part, the biggest irony of it all, is that this ‘security’ doesn’t even work very well. It creates inflexible chains of command, concentrates vulnerable points of failure, and tends to be reactive rather than proactive. It wastes resources and distracts from the real issues. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

However, most people have heard the security/privacy dichotomy so many times that they’ve come to accept it as truth, even if there’s not really anything behind it. It has the ring of truthiness to it. That’s why it’s so dangerous.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/politics] permalink

Sat, 26 Jan 2008

If you needed any more evidence that we are doomed as a civilization, this ought to do it.

Yes, that’s right: for just eighty-two dollars and ninety-nine cents (plus $2.95 shipping!), the “iPod Stereo Dock Speaker and Bath Tissue Holder” can be yours.

And just in case the idea of a toilet-paper holder with an iPod dock isn’t good enough for you, it gets better. It’s portable. Yes, you can remove it from the wall mount, fold away the toilet-paper mounting ears, and use it as a portable speaker system. Because really, who wouldn’t want to carry around a toilet-paper holder?

From the list of features:

  • Perfect way to enjoy your favorite music in ‘any room’
  • iPod dock features four integrated high performance moisture-free speakers for fine clarity and sound
  • Dock charges your iPod while playing music
  • Compatible with iPod shuffle and other audio devices with audio selector
  • Integrated bath tissue holder can be folded as stereo dock
  • Requires AC power (AC adapter included)
  • Easy to remove from wall mount
  • Two tweeters for highs
  • Two woofers for lows

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/technology] permalink

Fri, 25 Jan 2008

Although I’m obviously several days too late to participate in the whole “Blog for Choice” party — not really due to lack of interest but more because I really felt like I had nothing to add — I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pass along one link, compliments of baby_balrog on MetaFilter:

Is Abortion Murder” by Graham Spurgeon.

I find it interesting because it’s exactly the sort of argument I’d never really try, or be able to, make. Social-utility arguments? Sure. Legal arguments? Sure. Rights-based arguments? Definitely. But religion-based arguments? I wouldn’t know where to start.

And that, I think, is part of the problem. While listening to a recent debate between the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and some Washington flack for NRLC, it became apparent to me that each group was speaking its own language. There wasn’t even the semblance of discussion, and certainly no possibility of winning anyone over who wasn’t already convinced, because each was speaking in the language that their supporters know and understand.

When someone from Planned Parenthood, NOW, or NARAL speaks, it’s generally a pretty safe bet that they’re going to emphasize the right of an individual to control their own body, and perhaps the personal and social cost of unwanted pregnancies and children. When a pro-life advocate speaks, it’s almost always about “babies.” Occasionally there’ll be hints made at promiscuous sex and slut-punishing, but usually the emphasis is on those “unborn children” and the inherent value of potential human life.

Spurgeon’s essay bridges this gap a little. It’s a pro-choice argument, but written entirely in Biblical terms. While I can’t comment or critique his scriptural references, it’s at least a different approach.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/politics] permalink

PollingReport.com has a nice selection of national opinion polls on the Democratic race for the Presidential nomination. Most of them show Clinton over Obama, about 40% to 30%, with Edwards a distant third with ~10% and then minor candidates and ‘unsure’ making up the remainder.

Obama does seem to be closing the gap, though I’m not sure it’ll be enough to actually bring in a win. The AP shows him increasing his lead almost 10 points (from 23% on 12/5/07 to 33% on 1/17/08) over the holidays, within reach of the front-runner.

The really odd poll in the bunch is one conducted by “Financial Dynamics” on Jan 10-12, which showed Clinton at 38% and Obama at 35%; essentially equal when uncertainty is taken into account. While it’s hard to be sure, the difference between these results and the AP / USA Today polls seems to be that it didn’t allow ‘Unsure’ as a choice; it forced respondents to pick one or the other. I think Clinton benefits from name-recognition here, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes, since many ‘unsure’ voters may not bother to vote in the primary anyway.

If slick Flash applets are more your cup of tea, USA Today has a neat Presidential nomination poll tracker (requires JavaScript and Flash). Its ‘poll of polls’ puts Obama strongly in the lead in South Carolina, still behind in Florida, approaching parity in California, and still significantly behind in New Jersey and New York (but with an upwards trend).

There seems to be a lot of speculation going around that the current focus on the economy will hurt Obama and help Clinton, but so far the polls don’t seem to be reflecting that. If he wins in South Carolina, as seems likely, Clinton may find it very difficult to maintain her national lead going into the remaining primaries and Super Tuesday.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/politics] permalink

Mon, 21 Jan 2008

In the wake of McCain’s victory over rivals Romney and Huckabee in South Carolina, there’s been no shortage of analysis. Some of the best, in my opinion, has come from the Washington Post’s “The Trail” campaign blog. Although nothing is certain, it’s looking more and more like he’s the only viable Republican candidate, and the general election will be either Clinton or Obama vs McCain.

Although South Carolina contains just as many evangelical Christians as Iowa (about 60% according to WiPo), far fewer of them were interested in drinking the Huckabee Kool-Aid this time around. Whether this is because of differences in campaign strategy — Huckabee had far longer to spend in Iowa, for starters — or in changing perceptions of his viability isn’t certain. But it can’t be good for him, and it can’t be anything but good for McCain.

Really, though, the McCain/Huckabee race isn’t anything new. It’s essentially the same internecine fight between the old guard and the newer, ‘faith-based’ Right, just as McCain/Bush was in 2000. Except that while Bush was moderate enough (in Republican terms) to capture both Evangelicals and traditional conservatives, Huckabee is proving too frightening, too populist, and overall too nonsecular to do the same. McCain’s decisive win in S.C., the state where his 2000 campaign finally stalled, should be indication enough to the Huckabee camp that they can’t follow the Bush plan to victory.

Although it’s too much to expect the Huckabee camp to just give up and go home quietly, the S.C. primary would seem to move the focus over to McCain vs Romney. Unlike the case with Huckabee, where each represents a distinct faction within the Republican party, the battle lines here are more fluid. Romney purports to be the last of a dying breed: a ‘Yankee Republican,’ fiscally conservative and comparatively socially liberal. McCain, on the other hand, has spent years cultivating his image as a ‘maverick.’ Both are self-described moderates, and both would court the same independent and swing-vote bloc in a general election.

Ultimately I think Romney’s Mormonism and accusations of being a ‘crypto-liberal’ hurt him more than McCain’s ‘professional politician’ background can in reverse (clumsy attempts at swift boating nonwithstanding), and ultimately Romney will be viewed as too controversial to even be left with a VP slot.

But time will tell, and there’s not that long left to wait.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/politics] permalink

Sun, 20 Jan 2008

Tree growing in rotting school books I think this image really speaks for itself; there’s not much that I can say to add to it. The photographer, username “Sweet Juniper” on Flickr, discusses it on their blog. Be sure to view it at a large size in order to appreciate it properly.

Although I’ve done my share of photographs in abandoned buildings, most of the places I’ve been were your pretty standard post-industrial, “the world has moved on” landscape. They really have nothing on these locations, which are positively apocalyptic.

As a quasi-counterpoint — lest you start to draw overbroad conclusions about the city as a whole — the “Detroit is Beautiful” set, by the same photographer, is also worth a look.

(Via Reddit; also spotted on BoingBoing. Image is CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/other] permalink

Until earlier today I’d never heard of 1MDC, but after running across it in a discussion on Liberty Dollars, I got curious. The story of 1MDC is a strange one, shrouded in more than a little mystery. However the more I’ve learned about it, the more interesting it gets.

1MDC is, or rather was, a digital currency, providing a service not dissimilar in general concept to PayPal, but using gold as a medium of exchange rather than traditional national currencies. This in itself isn’t unique — E-Gold Ltd. is perhaps best known for it — but 1MDC approached the problem slightly differently.

While E-Gold Ltd. and its competitor services, including GoldMoney and Pecunix, have actual gold reserves stored in vaults, 1MDC functioned as something of a ‘meta currency.’ Its ‘gold’ reserves were maintained in the form of balances in accounts with other gold-backed digital currencies (principally E-Gold).

This in itself is fairly interesting, because it’s such a departure from the business model shared by the other digital electronic currencies. In a way, 1MDC represented a ‘second generation’ digital currency, relying completely on ‘first generation’ currencies for its solvency.

1MDC offered its depositors several advantages over using E-Gold directly, the principal one being lower fees. While E-Gold charges an account maintenance fee of up to 1% per year with a maximum of 0.05g per account, 1MDC charged nothing. This was possible because 1MDC pooled users’ assets into a handful of E-Gold accounts, paying only one maintenance fee per account. 1MDC covered its extremely low overhead (relative to E-Gold’s) and apparently made a profit by charging its highest-volume customers — those with more than 100 transactions per month — a per-transaction fee, and levying a 5% charge on deposits back out to other digital currencies.

As innovative as 1MDC may have been, its days were numbered. By using other digital currencies as its reserve, it put itself in the precarious position of becoming instantly insolvent if something happened to those accounts. In mid-2005, something did, in the form of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into gold-backed electronic currencies. Although the investigation warrants a discussion in itself — and it has produced two Wired articles (“E-Gold Gets Tough On Crime” and “E-Gold Founder Calls Indictment a Farce”) to date — the death knoll for 1MDC was when its E-Gold reserve accounts were ordered frozen. Overnight, it practically ceased to exist.

It’s not entirely clear who 1MDC’s primary users were. The DoJ would have us believe that gold-backed digital currencies in general appeal to terrorists, pedophiles, pornographers, and drug smugglers — the “four horsemen of the Infocalypse,” as Cory Doctorow once called them — but the reality is murky. Judging by the places information on 1MDC is found, it’s fairly obvious that pyramid and other ‘make money fast’ schemes may have been involved. But many have been quick to point out that the U.S. Government has a certain amount of self-interest in eliminating any and all competition to the USD, particularly currencies that defy long-established conventions.

Although 1MDC itself is dead, the concept and business model itself is too simple to ever really destroy. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if right now there’s an underground version of 1MDC in existence, perhaps with reserves a little more wisely chosen.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/technology] permalink

Fri, 18 Jan 2008

As has been widely reported and discussed by now, AOL seems poised to switch its IM network from the proprietary OSCAR protocol to the open XMPP. The biggest piece of evidence is that they are running a test server, xmpp.oscar.aol.com, which is accepting XMPP connections and allows users to log in using their AIM ID.

If they move forward with XMPP, it would be a major step forward for both interoperability and open standards. The amount of time and effort which has been wasted as a result of the IM networks’ use of proprietary protocols is simply staggering. Were it not for mutual incompatibility, all the effort directed at making third-party clients like Adium and Pidgin work with various and sundry protocols could have been spent actually making them into better communications tools from the user’s perspective.

There are still a few steps which need to happen before AOL’s XMPP effort can be considered useful. First, they need to connect it to the rest of the AIM servers, so that users connecting through XMPP can connect to users connected using legacy clients via OSCAR. Second, they need to enable XMPP server-to-server connections, so that users can talk with other networks. Once that happens, it’ll be curtains for OSCAR. (Not immediately, of course — there are lots of people out there still using old client programs and presumably happy with them, but when they eventually update it’ll be to XMPP.)

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/technology] permalink

Mon, 07 Jan 2008

Globalsecurity.org has a nice timeline of news coverage related to the Israeli airstrike on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility on September 6, 2007. The strike is interesting because of the ‘deafing silence’ and lack of mainstream news coverage that originally surrounded it, although based on the available evidence it may well be looked back on as a defining moment in Middle East geopolitics.

For those who haven’t been keeping track, it appears as though Israeli F-16s, acting with U.S. approval and flying through Turkish airspace (presumably without approval), bombed a facility in Syria which the U.S. and Israel believed contained nuclear-weapons materials. The bombing itself may have been preceded by a covert ground raid to recover evidence sufficient to convince the U.S. of the threat. The alleged nuclear materials, and potentially some personnel killed on the ground, may have come from North Korea, which was one of the few states (besides Syria itself) to vociferously protest.

News coverage has been spotty at best, and it’s only recently that the pieces have been assembled into something approaching a clear picture of what might have occurred. The Globalsecurity.org timeline is interesting because it is essentially meta-analysis of the news coverage, and provides insight not only into the event itself but into the way the event was covered by the press.

On the whole it seems a bit early to tell whether the Spectator’s coverage—which sparked a number of discussions about the increasing use of the phrase “World War Three”—was overwrought or prescient.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/politics] permalink

Sun, 06 Jan 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, mostly because I’ve been too busy reading. One book that I just finished and I’ve decided is worth special mention is Marc Levinson’s The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. (Also available from Amazon.) The book deftly covers much of the economic, political, social, and technological evolution of the now-ubiquitious 40-foot “box,” and gives some fascinating insights into our modern, globalized society in the process.

If you are in the least bit a transportation geek, or if you have any level of curiosity about how the products you use every day get from the other side of the world to your door (and how the system that accomplishes this came to be), I highly recommend it.

0 Comments, 0 Trackbacks

[/technology/transportation] permalink