Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants

Eavesdropping with a camera and potted plants
http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/06/tech/innovation/visual-microphone-research/index.html?hpt=hp_t4

A really interesting idea that seems related to my earlier post on clear air turbulence. I like the idea that it is totally passive, nothing to give away that it is happening.

Guard your bag of chips!

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An aspirin a day keeps the oncologist away

Aspirin should be taken by all over 50s to cut thousands of cancer deaths: study
Every middle aged person should take aspirin daily for ten years, experts have said, as a comprehensive study has found it could save 6,000 lives a year by preventing cancer and heart disease
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11013004/Aspirin-should-be-taken-by-all-over-50s-to-cut-thousands-of-cancer-deaths-study.html

This is interesting; up until this study what I had heard was the risks outweighed the benefits unless you were at high risk of stroke or had had a heart attack. At least based on this article (I’m too lazy to look up the actual study), it seems the benefits clearly outweigh the risks (increased bleeding, primarily), so it might be something I should add into my daily activities.

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Organic: better, the same or worse?

Is organic food better for you?
http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/05/opinion/carroll-organic-food-nutrition/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

While things _may_ have progressed to the point where we are getting negative returns on our investment, for the most part the last several centuries of steadily increasing technological application toward food has resulted in dramatically reduced deaths, dramatically increased yields and as a consequence, a whole lot more humans to deal with. The majority of organic products come with increased incidence of illness and reduced yields and as a consequence, can only support a smaller population. There have been reproducible differences detected between organic and conventional foods, but those differences are generally (scientifically) not considered significant. Much like the folderol regarding the supposed dangers of microwaving foods (interestingly there are fewer reports on the massively greater scientific documentation on the health hazards of charring food), there is no real evidence that organic foods are in any way healthier than their non-organic counterparts. As a consequence, it boils down pure and simple to an emotional decision, there is no science to support the decision to go organic but there is clear science that overall organic has increased incidence of illnesses (due to the general lack of oversight, e.g., unpasteurized milk).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t viable methods to produce the same food with a vastly lower impact on our environment, just that ‘organic’ food isn’t worth the price unless you like overpaying for the same benefit.

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Peak Everything

This is probably going to be a long and rambling post, but heck, I haven’t done one in a while (though I am sure some readers will object since I often run off at the keyboard). Over the last couple of days I have been reading a book that contains several sections regarding global warming, peak oil, etc. (I won’t name it, it is generally poorly written and is at least half the author making Tea Party rants against Obama). Then last night I watched part of a program about peak oil. I have also been a regular reader of the blog Do The Math where the author talks extensively (and with numbers, hence the title) about how alternatives have no prayer of replacing our dependence on crude oil. Anyway, I haven’t babble about the looming apocalypse for a while so felt now was a good time. With that as unnecessary introduction, let the rant begin…

While I have significant doubts about the concept of ‘global warming‘ being the result of human’s use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe (quite strongly!) that humans are destroying the value in our globe’s ecosystem at an accelerating, unsustainable rate. For the most part humans have almost completely decimated the land surface (where that surface has any value, of course; trackless deserts are pretty much left to themselves), though there has been a small trend in the opposite direction lately. We have been so steadily raping the ocean that we have almost removed all the apex predators completely and have been steadily working our way down the food chain (though we already harvest tons of krill, pretty close to the bottom of the food chain). We pump massive amounts of antibiotics and other assorted pharmaceuticals into our waterways on a daily basis that lead to dramatic impacts on sensitive life (some leading to ‘feminization‘ of fish and amphibians) not to mention flooding the oceans with nutrient runoff leading to algae blooms and thence to ‘dead zones‘. And, as is fairly well known already, our steady destruction of old growth forest (tropical and temperate) have been resulting in the lost of species at the rate that many ecologists are talking about a new extinction event (the time of the ‘Anthropocene‘). Here in the US we have created additional problems entirely fabricated by humans: the ability of nation/states or even random hackers to plunge our infrastructure into the stone age at the press of a button. We have put so much junk in Earth orbit that it is becoming problematic to launch new satellites, so we are even trashing parts of our solar system!

So, humans are having a huge impact on our planet even before we break out discussions of peak oil and the conflicts thereafter. We have already passed peaks in so many other places (fish harvest have been steadily declining for a century or longer, only by going to ‘lower quality’ fish have we been able to keep our faces stuffed) and are in the down slide that it is almost quaint to talk about something like oil. However, because humans have such a strong, wide aggressive streak, it is quite certain that these various peak-sliding-down-events will eventually (where that is likely measured in years, but could conceivably be decades if we are lucky) there will be even more massive impact on our environment as we start to wholesale slaughter one another in a desperate, but useless (actually counter productive), attempt to stave off the inevitable decline. When I have talked about the apocalypse I have generally focused on it being a US centric event, but over the last couple of days I am now thinking it will be a much more global event and there will be few places to hide. There is almost certainly going to be a sudden, sharp and seemingly instantaneous ‘flip’ from everything seeming to go well one day to the entire globe is in the shit the next day. While it is possible to predict with almost certainty that this event will happen, the timing is the result of countless actions feeding back towards one another in a non-linear fashion. Sort of like the events that unfolded in the Philippines when the typhoon struck a year or so ago, the aftermath is fairly easy to document and the resultant steps taken by various governments and groups easy to outline. Positioning yourself to be on the right side, though, may be very non-trivial. I saw the looming housing crash years in advanced and put together a very pretty plan to take advantage of it, but moved too slow and instead wound up even more screwed.

The ironic thing to me is that none of this needs to happen. Based on my research we can produce such a huge amount of food using a technique called aquaponics that we could easily manage a human population of more than a trillion without _any_ impact on the ecosystem (other than the 10% of land surface we would use)! We could continue our love of liquid fuels by utilizing duckweed and supply our electricity using nuclear energy. We could likely even harvest solar energy (thus doing away with the nuclear ‘bogyman’) using something called ‘osmotic energy‘ (see the lower half of the post) and skip the expense of solar panels (I have read several analyses that suggest the energy it takes to produce the panel is greater than the panel’s lifetime output). However, in order to prepare for the consequences of a major peak (such as oil, food, etc.) one must start long before the peak is realized as the consequences of the downside are abrupt and devastating. Since by many estimates we may have already reached peak oil and food (by conventional means, of course) we are teetering on the cusp of the slide into oblivion already giving us essentially negative time to react.

So is there any way to prepare for such an event (besides keeping cyanide capsules with you at all time so you can simply skip to the end)? The so-called ‘preppers‘ are already attempting to lay the ground work, but I consider most of those efforts doomed (e.g.). It is fairly easy to estimate what the world will look like after (with about one tenth of its population in 3-5 years and a steadily declining population for decades to come, for instance), but the actual crumbling will be much like the events inside a hurricane or tornado. Inches will matter and luck will have a disproportionate impact on who survives what. Disease will become rampant and the inner cores of cities will become wastelands where only a few hardy (or foolhardy) groups will eek out a living on the scraps left over by the riots. The countryside will be dotted with Amish inspired communities where the inhabitants will aggressively defend their territory and way of life and skeletons will litter the highways and byways.

Of course I might be full of crap, it isn’t like anything like this has ever happened before, right? Oh yea, there are a couple of examples in human history, such as the fall of Rome, several revolutions in China, you know, stuff like that. We won’t be like that, you say, things are different now. Well, the long sustained upward trajectory we have been enjoying for well over a century (really going back to the industrial revolution) has pretty much robbed us of the collective knowledge to anticipate such an event, so when the tornado strikes we will be collectively shocked that it could ever happen.

Ok, I believe I got this out of my system, thanks for reading…

Posted in Business, Economics, Environment, OriginalContent, Science, Society | Leave a comment

I am not sure about this: we must end the tyranny of Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota

Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America
Here’s how Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota are exercising tyranny over the rest of us — and how to stop them
http://www.salon.com/2014/07/28/break_up_the_states_the_case_for_the_united_statelets_of_america/

On the one hand this idea sounds quite interesting, but on the other hand I see it as a slippery slope. Once you start breaking up states where does it stop? Smaller states have just as many demographic differences as larger states, so do we wind up with Gerrymandered states? A rural state that completely surrounds a city state? Would you combine regions like the DC Metro that consists of parts of Maryland, Virginia and of course DC? Would the state boundaries shift over time like city boundaries? Where would it all end?

In any case, I doubt it would have any appreciable impact on our current political system, it is already beholden to the rich elite and the sheeple have no impact, I don’t see that changing with an extra 50 stars on our flag.

Posted in Government, Politics | Leave a comment

Just get out there…

Even a 5-minute run can help prevent heart disease
http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/07/28/even-a-5-minute-run-can-help-prevent-heart-disease/?hpt=hp_bn13

In my continued effort to motivate any potential readers, the above article talks about some research that says even a tiny amount of jogging can have dramatic effects on your overall health. It takes an amazingly small amount of effort to get a very significant payback, there is increasingly little excuse for avoiding the effort. Even people who are obese, smoking and/or have diabetes saw the same sort of benefit (compared to their peers; this study has 55,000 people in it). They also caveat ‘run’ by saying it can be less than 6 MPH (which is a pretty slow jog already; when I was in boot camp I was ‘slow’ at 10 MPH), in general my reading has lead me to believe if you are moving at a rate that precludes any sort of conversation beyond a few words a minute you are operating at the ideal minimum effort (which naturally will change as you get into shape). A few beads of sweat on your brow and an increase in your heart rate and respiration are the goal, not any particular speed.

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A third of Americans in debt collection!

1 in 3 U.S. adults have ‘debt in collections’
http://money.cnn.com/2014/07/29/pf/debt-collections/index.html?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t2

Pretty scary stat, but that is what happens when our Great Government socializes risk while privatizing reward. The rich keep getting richer and the rest just take it in the ass, ain’t America Great?

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Post-constitutional America

How to survive in post-constitutional America
What happens when the executive branch can play judge, jury and executioner in the war on terror?
http://www.salon.com/2014/07/27/how_to_survive_in_post_constitutional_america_partner/

An interesting, if totally depressing read. It is about the ‘justification’ that our Great President used to kill a US citizen (Anwar al-Awlaki) without charges or trial. Since it is written so broad (though 1/3 evidently was so embarrassing that they redacted it) there is no way it _can’t_ be used against anyone the government chooses to use it against.

The Most Transparent Administration Ever!

Posted in Government, Law, Politics, Society | Leave a comment

Fist bump keeps you healthier!

Fist bumping ‘may help reduce flu’
http://www.independent.ie/world-news/and-finally/fist-bumping-may-help-reduce-flu-30464146.html

Not terribly surprising to me, but it is nice to see it documented. At the bottom here I talk about the ‘dramatic’ benefit of simple hygiene to combat the spread of disease, this is just another log on the fire towards doing away with useless and expensive treatments (though the US being the US, that isn’t likely to ever happen, at least until another patented treatment comes along).

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Where there is money, a will and a way will follow

I found this on Bruce Schneier’s blog:

Fingerprinting Computers By Making Them Draw Images

Here’s a new way to identify individual computers over the Internet. The page instructs the browser to draw an image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, this can be used to uniquely identify each computer. This is a big deal, because there’s no way to block this right now.

I glanced at the paper and it is a bit interesting. By getting your computer’s hardware to produce an image they can identify the machine with a high degree of accuracy. Of course, one would presume that that level of hardware access would be blocked by the browser sandbox, but they found a clever way to step around that limitation. This approach will, of course, be quickly blocked by many of the browser writers (I am sure that the Firefox developers are almost done with a patch), but there is a HUGE amount of money out there for products such as these and I have no doubt that variations on a theme will be blasting out soon. It is interesting to me, though, that the very success with tools such as these puts a hard lifetime on their success. There are quite a few groups out there that are ultra paranoid about every byte that traverses their networks and they work to identify the source for each and every one, so something that becomes successful will rapidly rise into the targeting aperture of these organizations and be stomped on. It is interesting to observe the cat and mouse game (where ‘cat’ and ‘mouse’ switch roles from time to time) from the sidelines, I am quite happy to not put in 36 hour days figuring out some of these things.

Posted in InformationTechnology, Infosec | Leave a comment