Thursday, December 10, 2009

Comments of Windows 7

Read for yourself the following instant message conversation that I had with Shannon...

Shannon:
i'm not that impressed with windows 7
it's just vista
me:
me neither
lol
Shannon:
or what vista would have been if they had another 2 weeks to work on it
me:
lol
Shannon:
instead they took another 3 years to give me this?
whatevs
me:
lol
Shannon:
i can't believe i wasted a day getting it installed
so lame
there aren't even any new features
they made up a bunch of new backgrounds
by giving their artist some crack and then telling him to draw things
and the bottom toolbar thing is different
and that is it
and they amped up the sidebar thing on the desktop
the end.

Later, when talking to her on the phone, she had this to add:
I am pissed that I got Windows 7. I thought that it was supposed to be better.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Adventures

I don't have to tell anyone that the weather is bad right now...so I will just show you:

Here is my car on the first day it showed about a week ago...


And this is my car right now!


It is this bad for two reasons. First, the snow plow pushed some snow towards my car. Second, this street is right next to Lake Mendota, so the drifts are crazy bad.



Can you believe that the city of Madison wants me to move my car just to the other side of the street?? If I don't, I could get a $60 ticket! This morning, the city did not send the parking enforcement out because of "unsafe conditions". As of now, my plan to risk it and hope that there will be "unsafe conditions" tomorrow morning as well :(

UPDATE:
The city sent a reminder email to everyone saying that they would be giving tickets and towing tomorrow morning, so Tycho and I went and moved our cars.


School at UW-Madison was cancelled today. The following is an excerpt from an email that I received:
University spokesman John Lucas said that this is the first wide-scale class cancellation due to snow since Dec. 3, 1990. He added that this is the first time that non-essential staff have been asked to stay home in addition to the cancellations since Jan. 26, 1978.

Tycho and I walked around for a while and took some pictures. We helped one person get unstuck and offered help to a couple others. In preparation for having to move my car, I bought an avalanche shovel. I think it is a good investment because I will just leave it in my car in case of an emergency.

I took one last picture.

Tycho took the rest of the pictures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wizard of Oz FAIL

(Why do all my recent posts involve YouTube videos??)

You remember in the Wizard of Oz when the Scarecrow receives his brain...

He is just as stupid has when they started this their trip. After receiving his brain, the Scarecrow says
"The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side."
This is a misquote of the Pythagorean theorem. The Scarecrow is wrong in three ways:
  1. It should be a right triangle, not an isosceles triangle.
  2. It should be "the squares" of the sides, not "the square roots" of the sides.
  3. Order matters. Only the sum of the squares of the smaller two sides add together to be the square of the longest side.
The line to correctly state the Pythagorean theorem would be
"The sum of the squares of the short sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the longest side."


(Source: Wikipeida Article on Pythagorean theorem)

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Defense of Basketball

My favorite sport is definitely basketball. So when someone tries to tell me that "even basketball players think basketball is lame", I have to respond.

Along with the previous quote, the same person gave me a link to the following embedded video:


In basketball (as well as some other similar sports like football and hockey), the offense tends to stall at the end of quarter (or period in the case of hockey) in order to prevent the other team from having a chance to score. In this game (that was played on Dec. 5th, 2009), Jarrett Jack of the Toronto Raptors is doing just that - stalling at the end of the quarter so that the Chicago Bulls will not have a chance to score. I will admit though that it is unusual to tie one's shoe while stalling. I could argue that it was actually a good use of stall-time.

Now you might wonder why Jack's defender, Luol Deng, did not try to steal the ball. The astute observer will realize that this is not an option. When the video begins, we have already missed a crucial event that would have helped to explain what was going on here. The Rapstors have the Bulls in a mismatch. Deng is not the proper defender for Jack; Deng is a 6' 9'', 220 lb forward while Jack is a 6' 3'', 197 lb guard.

At the 4 second mark of the video, Jannero Pargo of the Chicago Bulls motions to Deng that they should switch who they are guarding. Pargo is a 6' 1'', 185 lb guard but is guarding Marco Belinelli of the Raptors who is a 6' 5'', 200 lb guard. Althogh Benlinelli is a guard, the best defending situation is if Deng were guarding Benlinelli and Pargo were guarding Jack. However, in the next second of the video, Pargo changes his mind and motions to Deng to continue guarding Jack.

If Deng tried to approach Jack in an attempt to steal the ball, Jack would be able to make a move and get past him. At this point, the the Raptors would have a 5-4 situation and probably be able to hit a wide open three-point shot.

In conclusion, the events that transpired at the end of the third quarter of this game may have been unusual, but they were also the optimal strategy.

P.S.
While not directly related to this situation (as I laid out above), Derek Gatheright presented an argument (in the fourth comment) as to when other situations like this could happen:
"That’s just good sportsmanship. It’s like in soccer when a player is injured and the other team has the ball, it is usually kicked out of bounds. It’s bad sportsmanship to take advantage of a situation like that."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Competition Equals Lower Prices

Let me repeat my title: competition equals lower prices.

The music industry was making bank by forcing customers to pay for entire $12+ album even though they only wanted to own the one popular song. The internet has created an alternative distribution method in which it is equally efficient to sell one popular single or all the songs from "an album." Big content was abusing the album model, but now that their ability to abuse it is falling fast, they should accept the reality that their distribution monopoly is fading and innovate, but instead they are trying to sue everyone and their dog.

Now the movie industry to is beginning to follow the same path. Services like Netflix and Redbox are providing cheaper alternatives to the buying or (traditional) renting of DVDs. The theory says that the prices of DVDs should decrease due to this increased competition. Just like the music industry however, the movie industry is refusing to accept the reality that their distribution monopoly is fading. Instead of innovating, they are "playing hardball" with Netflix and Redbox.

Will they ever learn?
(I knew about most of this information, but much of the content cam from this ars technica article.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

About an Unusual Theorem

Yesterday, I saw a professor write the following on the board:
Theorem:
To prove a theorem, [one] need[s] to show it's true in all circumstances.
To prove a [theorem] is false, [one] need[s] to show it's fase for just one case.

How would you go about proving such a theorem? This looks like a nasty case of infinite recursion to me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

UPS or FedEx?

Normally, people ship items to me using UPS. If I am not at home during the attempted delivery, I can call UPS and instruct them that I will stop by their distribution center that night and pick up my package.

Today, FedEx tried to deliver a package to me and I was not home. I called FexEx and asked them to have the package ready at their distribution center tonight for me to pick up. However, they do not have such a speedy service because they said it would be a day OR TWO after today before I could come and pick up my package in person.

In conclusion, UPS > FedEx.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Almost an "I Told You So"

ars technia just released an article that says that the big LCD manufactures were engaged in price fixing.

Now, I never said "Hey, I think that the LCD manufactures are engaged in price fixing," but I did say "Why have all the prices for electronic dropped at a steady rate except for LCDs?". I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I never considered that there was price fixing involved.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slap Chop Remix

Usually I refrain from blogging about Internet videos (basically because I could probably find a new recommendable video for every day). However, I want to lift up this particular video for several reasons, including:
  1. it is enjoyable to watch,
  2. it is enjoyable to listen to,
  3. it has a high replay value,
  4. the talent of its creator is phenomenal, and
  5. (most importantly) it is a great example of the remix culture that exists on the Internet.
You may have seen the infomercial for the Slap Chop. Well, embeded below is an amazing remixed version:




P.S.
My previous post is also an example of the Internet remix culture.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Revelation Song

Yesterday in church, the featured song was Revelation Song, which I have heard before and really like. I just went to my last.fm account to add this song to my library. While there, I decided to watch someone's YouTube video (embedded below) that they made based on this song.

The combination of this song and this video brought me to tears. Praise be to God!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are you Intelligent or Patient?

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes.

B) No.

C) Cannot be determined.

See this original source for the answer and explanation about how intelligent or patient you are. I will post in a comment what I answered.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Birthday Post: My New Computer

Seeing as how it is my birthday today, I thought it would be fitting to talk about one of the birthday presents that I got (a little early).

I bought the parts for and built my own desktop computer the summer before my freshman year. My main components were:
When I bought these parts, I knew that HT meant hyper-threading, but I did not understand how it worked. It sounded great because it was supposed to give you two "virtual" cores even though this processor was only a single core. When I began to play World of Warcraft (WoW) during fall of my sophomore year, my graphics were very glitchy. I assumed it was because of my graphics card since I had not bought it with gaming in mind. Eventually I noticed that while playing WoW, my processor was using exactly 50% the whole time. That does not mean that WoW only needs 50%, that means WoW wants more than 50%. I went into the BIOS and turned off hyper-threading (now that I realized that another name for hyper-threading was limit-every-process-to-half-the-CPU). After that, WoW used around 80% of my CPU and my graphics were no longer glitchy.

One reason that I bought that xBlade case was because it was advertised as a screwless case (i.e. I would not need a screw driver to add or remove a hard drive or CD drive). While this this advertisement was correct (because it did not require a screw driver), its design was much worse than one requiring a screw driver. To add or remove a CD drive, you had to remove the entire front panel. To remove the front panel, you had to push really hard on six inserts that were located in the corners and middle of the panel. Ideally you could release all six inserts at the same time, but that would require at least six hands. Instead, the idea was to try and push them half out in an alternating pattern. Eventually I broke one of the insert because I pushed the other inserts out too far. I hated that screwless design.

Also about that xBlade case, it came with a front LCD screen for monitoring the CPU, video card, and case temperature, but it did not last very long for me. The summer after my freshman year, I was inside the case doing something (probably installing the extra 80mm fan or two that I bought that summer to help keep the case cooler). Somehow, I plugged in the power to my LCD screen incorrectly because as soon as it made contact, there was a loud pop. I looked at the components on the back of the LCD screen (I thought that a capacitor had blown), but everything looked fine. I do not know what happened, but my LCD screen never worked again.

My motherboard supported overclocking my CPU. Everyone online had nothing but good things to say about it, so I overclocked my 3.0 Ghz CPU to 3.6 Ghz (which is a 20% increase). In addition to this, I was ruing GIPMS at the time, so my CPU was always running at 100% utilization. I do not think I continued to run GIMPS after my sophomore year, but either my CPU or motherboard started to show some problems (although it was probably my CPU since I had previous been hard on it by overclocking it and running at 100%). Sometimes my computer, on a cold boot, would say that my CPU had failed. If I restarted the computer enough times, it would eventually start correctly, but I was always very concerned when this would happen.

During my senior year, a friend of mine started having computer problems. He had taken his computer to a local computer repair shop and they told him that his hard drive and motherboard where bad and needed to be replaced. That seemed unlikely to me since motherboards rarely fail. At that time, I did not have time to inspect his hardware for him, so I recommend that he buy a new computer and I would just take his old one. In my spare time, I would check his computer for problems. It was clear right away that the hard drive was a goner, but I never found any indication that the motherboard was bad. So, I bought a new hard drive for it and put it my video card and RAM. (By this time, I had replaced my AIT All-in-Wonder with an EVGA Nvidia 6800 GTS because I had switched from Windows to Linux and Nvidia had better support for Linux.)

When I moved into my new apartment in Madison to start graduate school, my desktop was not working correctly. The screen would have artifacts all over it, then after a few more seconds, the computer would freeze. I tried several troubleshooting steps related to the video card but did not try a different video card because I did not have one and did not know where I could get one. At this point, I was confident that it must be my motherboard then since that computer shop said they had found a problem with it (even though I originally thought that they were just trying to take advantage of my friend since he had knew nothing about computer hardware).

To replace my motherboard, I decided to also replace the CPU and case (since the case I was given by my friend was a BTX case and not the common ATX). The parts that I bought were
I would have bought another Asus mother board, but every motherboard they had contained too many features for too high of a price. Also, I have been looking at the Antec case for a long time and dreaming about how much better it is than my old xBlade case with its terrible screwless design.

I got all of these parts, put them all together with my EVGA Nvidia 6800 GTS video card and....I had the same problem! Since I replased every part but my video card, ...it had to be my video card. First I checked to see if it was under warrenty. I was happy to see that this video card could have a lifetime warrenty but saddened to learn that it only had this lifetime warrenty if I had registered it with EVGA within 30 days of purchase. Without the registration, it only had one year, which had already passed.

I decided to buy another EVGA card, this time I bought an Nvidia 9500 GT. After registering this product with EVGA, it now has a two year warrenty.

When my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I asked if they would pay for the new computer parts that I had just bought. They agreed. Thanks mom and dad for the new computer!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tostitos: Hint of Lime

Every Friday, the graduate students have a small TGIF social party in the building. This week, someone brought "Tostitos Restaurant Style with a Hint of Lime Tortilla Chips". They are by far the best tortilla chips ever. Today I went to the grocery store and bought two bags as well as Tostitos hot salsa. I ate them for lunch, dinner, and an after dinner snack. They are extremely tasty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Satellites in the Night Sky

This summer I went with the Shannon's family on their annual summer vacation to Chippewa Lake near Brandon, MN, which is about two hours northwest of the Twin Cities.

Because there is almost no light pollution in this area, we decided to look for shooting stars. I only saw three in the span of half an hour. I thought that I would see more, like one every three to five minutes. However, we did see something else every three to five minutes...satellites! I was not aware that you could see them with your naked eye.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Minimum Number of Comparisons to Find the Median

Last week in my Advanced Algorithms class, we discussed how to create a deterministic algorithm to find the kth smallest element in a list of size n. An algorithm that solves this problem is called a Selection algorithm.

The first step in the deterministic algorithm is to divide the original list into ceil(n/5) lists (each of size 5). The next step is to find the median of each 5 element list. Because 5 is a constant (with respect to n), it is acceptable to first sort each 5 element list and then extract the media (without adversely effecting the runtime).

Now, the Art of Computer Programming, Volume 3: Sorting and Searching (2nd Edition) by Kunth says that sorting 5 elements can be done in 7 comparisons. That is great, but we actually do not need to sort these 5 elements. We only need to find the median. Our class found some lecture notes from another class where the professor mentioned in passing that the median of 5 elements can be found with only 6 comparisons, but he never expained how to do this.

I was not aware of nor have I found any results of the form: Finding the median of n elements requires c comparisons. However, I was able to discover how to find the median of 5 elements by using only 6 comparisons. It was not in a paper or even some professional-looking site. It was in a forum which I am only able to view using Google's cached copy. About halfway down the page is the following figure:

This is a remarkably thorough answer. Other than two meaningless typos at the bottom (where he should have said "(C>D gives full ordering)" on the left side and should have said "(C>E gives a full ordering)" on the right side), this solution clearly shows that 6 comparisons is sufficient.

It seems unlikely that there could be a way to find the median of 5 elements with only 5 comparisons, but I have not seen any proof of such a fact. If you know a proof that 6 is indeed the minimum number of comparisons necessary to find the median of 5 elements or if you know any results for lists of larger sizes, please leave a comment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pandora Now Limits to 40 Hours

For the last two years, For Pandora has been on the bubble of legality. In their defense, they were and still are doing their best to be legal by signing contracts with big music. While they were able to exit this state of limbo and once again be officially legal, their recent renegotiation has a significantly bad clause.

On July, 7th, 2009, Pandora contract renegotiation includes a clause that free accounts can only listen to music for 40 hours per month. After you have listened to 40 hours of music in a month, you can pay $1 for unlimited music for the remainder of the month. While this is not that much money (it is at most $12 a year), I will be taking the path of least resistance.

I have heard great things about Last.fm and their free accounts get to listen to an unlimited amount of music. I just created my account and started listening as I started this blog post.

I heard about Pandora's new limitation last night. I did not listen to music that much this summer, but I must be listening to lots of music at school because I only have 10 hours left for this month. Sorry Pandora, I have enjoyed the last two years of music, but you are no longer the number one, personalized, online radio station.

UPDATE:
It has not even been a whole day since I switched from Pandora to Last.fm and I can already tell the Last.fm is way better. The best feature of Last.fm is the ability to play whatever song you want (there my be some kind of limits to this, but I have not found any yet).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Car Accidents

I am 22 (almost 23) years old. I lived in Sioux City, IA (population ~80K) for 17 years, I lived in Ames, IA (population ~50K) for 4 years, and I lived in Cedar Rapids, IA (population ~125K), Rochester, MN (population ~95K), and White Bear Lake, MN (population ~25K) for a summer each. Never, in all these cities in all those years, do I ever remember even hearing a car accident happen.

I am now living in Madison, WI (population ~225K) since August 17th (that is less than four weeks) and I have already heard three car accidents happen...and all of them have happened within 100 feet of my apartment building.

What gives? Is it because Madison has such a larger population (i.e. more drivers = more opportunities for accidents)? Is it because I live on a bottle neck in downtown Madison (Gorham is the best way to get from NE Madison to SW Madison)? Is it because Wisconsinites are such bad drivers (which indirectly implies that Iowans are good drivers)?

I do not know, but I will be SO pissed if some Wisconsinite hits my Prius!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Acer is Back

This happened a long time ago...as in about three weeks ago, but I got my Acer Aspire One back.

Acer replaced the motherboard. They did not say what was wrong with the motherboard or why it happened. However, on the positive side, Acer did not restore the hard drive to the OEM state...which means that I did not have to reinstall Ubuntu.

I hope that I do not have any more serious problems (ones that I cannot fix myself). My warranty expires at the end of this year. I really do not want to buy an extended warranty.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Netbook Stopped Working

In a recent post, I mentioned that my netbook stopped working.

I have an Acer Aspire One with 8 GB solid state drive (really, it is compact flash) and an 8 GB SDHC card using Ubuntu. On July 31st, while waiting for our flight to Washington DC, I tried to use my netbook, but it did not work. When I pushed the power button, the power light would come on, one of the two WiFi buttons would flash, and then the power light would go off. Everything I tried (including batter, no batters, wall power, no wall power) had any effect. My netbook is still under a year long warranty until Christmas time, so I sent it to Acer to get fixed. I will post again about this when I get my netbook back and know what was wrong with it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Best Movie Line I have Ever Written

When going out to eat Shannon says that she does not like when the waiter/waitress says "Hello, my name is John/Jane and I will be taking care of you today." She does not like the "taking care" part because its too broad. As if your response should be, "Awesome, because I have this knot in my back. Would you take care of that for me?" Instead, she prefers it if they should say "I will be serving you today" or "I will be your server today".

Well, inspired by the original line that annoys Shannon, I came up with a great movie line - the best movie line that I have ever written. It would be in a movie about the mob and it goes like this:
[A man with the appearance of a waiter walks up to the table of a notorious mobster.]

Hello, my name is Big Fat Paulie and I will be taking care of you today......*pop*..*pop*

[Big Fat Paulie successfully executes the hit by shooting through the menu he was holding with his silenced pistol.]

Now all I need is a movie to go with my line :/

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This Should be an Unecessary Service

My Acer Aspire One stopped working recently, so I began the process to send it to Acer for fixing. It is strictly a hardware problem, so everything on my hard drive should be fine. However, Acer's documentation says that they will clear the hard drive and return it to its factory state. I do not have any important data on there that is not already backed upped by Dropbox, so that is not my concern. I just do not want to have to reconfigure my system if I do not have to.

I wanted to call Acer and tell them that if the hardware problem was not with the hard drive (which it is not), then I would appreciate it if they would not mess with my hard drive. Well, to do this, I first need a phone number, something that has alluded me to this point of the troubleshooting process. I decided to Google "Acer tech support phone number"....and I was extremely supprised by the first hit.

The first hit is a website called Contact Help. The service provided by this site is "fact access to customer service numbers". Now, I know that every company tries to suggest alternative ways to solve your problem other than calling them. However, when companies make it so difficult find their phone number that a service like Contact Help is required, they have gone too far.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

US Go Congress (3 of 3)

The congress finished yesterday. I lost on Thursday (by only about 10 points). I did my best but still lost. Later on Thursday, Ramon and I got our books signed by Takemiya. On Friday, I won my game, partly because of Maeda's sabaki lessions. Going into Saturday, I was 4-1. My game was against another 9k that was also 4-1. I did not do so well in the opening, but took the lead near the end of the middle game. Then, on the very next move, I did not notice that my opponent's move thretened to undo what I had just done. My next move (and one later move) caused me to lose by over 80 points. My opponent in this game placed second in our band (11k - 9k) and I did not place.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

US Go Congress (2 of 3)

I was expecting to blog more about my trip, but we do not have much free time.

Today is Wednesday, the day off. There have been three days of events so far. I won my first two games and lost my last one. I won my first two games by a comfortable margin because I killed a big group in each game. I lost my last game but only by about 13 points. I am playing as a 9K and all of these games have been against 8Ks, although every game has used 7.5 komi.

We have been going to Ryo Maeda's lectures. He is a Japeneese 6P. Ramon got a game reviewed by Yilun Yang (a 7P) and we also went to part of one of his lectures. Ramon showed me some books by Yang and I really like them. Yesterday, Masaki Takemiya (a 9P) arrived and we saw him twice. Ramon and I both plan to get his autograph in a book by him.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

US Go Congress (1 of 3)

I was going to blog about everything that is happening with me here in DC, but that would take me more than an hour every day, and I don't have that much time. Since I am here for the US Go Congress, I will mostly blog about go related activities.

Shannon and I flew here on Friday. We had to get up at 4 AM for our 7:10 AM departure. We are staying with my friend Ramon's (and is finance's) place. Before going to bed. Ramon and I played a game. He won 73-43. I played poorly. I was playing unconventional moves when I knew the conventional move. Also, I need to remember that I cannot have it all. I need to either give my opponent the worse half or give up something in return for something better.

On Saturday, we spent most of the day in Baltimore. At the end of the day, we went back to George Mason (where the congress is held this year) to register for the congress. Ramon and I would have probably stayed and watched some people that were playing go, but the our ladies did not want to stay and the buildings on campus were closing in the next 10-15 minutes anyway.

It is now Sunday morning and we are about to leave. Each day we will play one game in the US Open tournament. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Embarrassing Moments: Contacts

Sometimes when I am putting my contacts in or out, I am on autopilot and make some stupid mistakes. I think it is because my bathroom routine is boring and I do it so often.

Sometimes in the morning, I will open my contact case and proceed to dump out my contacts and contact solution into the sink. Oops, forgot to put my contacts in first. Sometimes at night, I will fill my contact case with solution, somehow get distracted, then proceed to dump the new contact solution into the sink...as though it is morning and I just finished putting in my contacts. However, both of these are peanuts compared to what I did yesterday.

I had put my contacts in earlier in the day to do some yard work and put off doing my other bathroom tasks until after I showered. After shaving and brushing my teeth, my habit is to do my contacts next. I open up my contact case, which was empty (of course). Now I must have filled it up with contact solution without thinking about (since it was empty...that is what I do when it is empty...because that means that I am taking my contacts out). Now I began looking for my contacts in the case, but (of course) they were not there. I concluded that I must have thrown them in the sink like I have done before. I had become distracted by something and had been using the water, so I would have washed them away. So, I went and got two new contacts and put them in. Immediately I complained that things were blurry, especially close up. I did not realize what I had done about four hours later when I took my contacts out in preparation for bed.

My prescription level is only -1.00 for both eyes, so my vision is not that bad. I think that most people would not have made this mistake because it is much more obvious when they do and do not have their contacts in since their vision is much worse.

I tried to salvage the new contacts, but the inside that is supposed to touching my eyeball was probably damaged by being in contact with the outside of the other contact...because I put one of the new contacts in and it did not feel good. In the end, I threw both away and will have to break out another new pair today :(

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Funniest Video on the Internet

Here is my vote for the funniest video on the Internet:

I have known about this video for years, but was reminded of it today. I think that this video is so funny because the more you watch it, the funnier it becomes!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Right Idea, Wrong Delivery

I just went to Applebee's with Shannon for some half price appetizers after 9 where they were also playing some Applebee's Bingo. Instead of the regular bingo letters of B-I-N-G-O, Applebee's Bingo uses A-P-L-B-E.

Now, A and L do not rhyme with any of the other letters, but P, B, and E all rhyme with each other. To avoid confusion, it is common for a person to say, "B, B as in boy"...or some other word that starts with that letter. However, it does not make sense to use just any word that begins one of these letters.

During Applebee's Bingo, the person reading off the letter-number combinations said, "P, P as in Paul." So, what is wrong with this?? The speaker knows that she needs to distinguish between the letters P, B, and E...but I don't think she knows why. The "why" is because P, B, and E (pronounced Pee, Bee, and Eee) are all words that rhyme in each syllable. To distinguish P, she used the word "Paul", which rhymes with "Ball" (in all...one...syllables), which starts with B!! She ruled out E, but she still has the same problem she started with...two words that only differ when pronounced by a single consonant!

Minutes later, the speaker topped herself. To distinguish B, she used the word "Butter", which rhymes with "Putter" (in all two syllables), which starts with P! Again, she ruled out E, but we still can't be sure if she said P or B. I thought that this one was pretty amazing because she was able to do this even though she used a two syllable word.

As a final word, I actually thought of that fact that "Putter" rhymes with "Butter" just after the speaker gave her "Paul" example. I thought, "Wow, I hope she doesn't say that one too." Well, I spoke (in my head) too soon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A "Good Exploit"

Today I was reading this article about how Microsoft changed its Internet Explorer 8 installation wizard to not change the default browser without explicit consent from the user. The article muses about why Microsoft might have done this given the fact that Microsoft is in legal trouble in the EU for related issues and that many organizations disagreed with this tactic.

I was wondering how Microsoft would feel if the other browsers pulled stunts like this against them. Well, this got me thinking. I have always thought that it would be cool to improve people's computers without their consent. That is, write an exploit that benefits the user being "exploited".

I have heard of someone trying to do this before, although I cannot find any link about it now. From what I can remember, someone tried to write an exploit that gained control of a system through a vulnerability, but then tried to fix that vulnerability so that no one else could gain access in the same way. Unfortunately, ...and as usual..., this exploit was not perfect and made some computers worse off instead of better.

Now I know that this is not within the spirit of free and open source software (FOSS), but I think it would be really funny if Microsoft got a taste of their own medicine using the above idea. Someone should write an exploit that (1) takes control of a user's system, (2) downloads and installs Firefox if it is not already installed, and (3) changes the default browser to Firefox.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Copyright Education: A KODAK Case Study

Today I went to Target with my fiance Shannon to print a picture that she needed. While clicking through the various prompts at the KODAK Picture Kiosk, she did not hesitate to fly by the following screen. I however could not help but go through the prompts on another kiosk and take this picture with my cell phone:

"It is illegal to reproduce photographs taken by a professional photographer or other copyrighted pictures without permission of the copyright owner.

By reproducing this photograph, I acknowledge that the picture I am reproducing is not copyrighted, or I have obtained permission from the copyright holder."
Now, pretend that we are back in elementary school. Instead of a DOL (daily oral language) problem (in which you try to find various grammar mistakes in an example sentence), try to find the mistakes in the above paragraphs on the issue of copyright.

Are you done yet?...Ok. Here is what I found.
  1. The first paragraph seems to group all pictures which are illegal to reproduce into two categories. If a picture was taken by a professional photographer, it belongs in group A. Then, any remaining pictures that are copyrighted belong in group B. Why is it that it is illegal for me to reproduce any picture from group A? What if a professional photographer took a picture (which is then automatically copyrighted) and then gave me permission to reproduce it? That should be legal, but the wording at this kiosk suggests otherwise.
  2. Now, suppose that a picture X was taken by a professional photographer, was copyrighted, and I do not have permission from the copyright owner to reproduce it. Does that mean it is always illegal for me to reproduce X...as alluded to by this kiosk? Absolutely not! I can legally use or reproduce (or several other verbs) any copyrighted work as long as my actions are covered by fair use.
  3. Ok, so now suppose that...a picture X was taken by a professional photographer, was copyrighted, I do not have permission from the copyright owner to reproduce it, and my reproduction of X is not covered by fair use. Surely now it is always illegal for me to reproduce X, right? However, the answer is still no because not all copyrights forbid me from reproducing the copyrighted work. If the photograph that I wanted to reproduce was copyrighted under a Creative Commons License, then anyone can (among other things) "copy, distribute and transmit the work."
It is interesting to note that there is no mention of professional photographers in the second paragraph, which would agree with my first argument above.

The statement that you have to accept in order to use the kiosk suggests that its list of conditions is exhaustive. However, it is also legal to reproduce photographs when the reproduction is covered by fair use or when allowed by copyright. People are being misinformed everyday with benign messages like this that leave out such crucial features of our copyright law.

In conclusion, I think it should be illegal to lie about what is illegal!

3-4-10 UPDATE:
ars technica just wrote an article about this same issue in relation to the Super Bowl.

Monday, June 29, 2009

(Another) Windows Security Problem

I found a security problem with Windows Vista last week that I have never heard of before.

Microsoft claims that Windows Vista is "Capable" with 512 MB of RAM and "Premium Ready" with only 1 GB. However, when using a computer with only 1 GB, I was able to gain access to someone's account without entering their password.

The root cause (I believe) was that the system had run out of memory, both physical and virtual. The screen saver had started on this person's account and normally requires a password to continue using the account. But in this case, I was given an error message instead of a password prompt. The error message said that the system was too low on memory to start any more processes (apparently, even for the process that prompts for the password when returning from the screen saver). At this point, I had full access to this person's account.

In this specific situation, another user was also logged into the system (and therefore taking up RAM). So if I was going to try and reproduce this, I would log into all user accounts to which I had access, open programs that require large amounts of RAM (like Firefox...sadly), and then leave the system on the log on screen for the target user to login. When they step away from the computer and the screen saver begins (which in my case, was set to the lowest value of one minute), I would try and bring it back from screen saver and pray that there is not enough RAM to prompt for a password.

Does that sound too outrageous to actually occur when desired? Probably...but Windows should never get so low on RAM that it is incapable of displaying a password prompt.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Verizon (Potential) Customer Service

Today, I used Verizon's Live Chat feature to speak with someone about Verizon's service plans. I have always had Verizon service and was trying to determine how much it would cost at Verizon for a single person to get the same deal as Boost Mobile's Unlimited plan. This plan comes with unlimited domestic calling, text messaging (including text, picture, and video), data, and Walkie-Talkie and also includes callwaiting and voicemail.

I started a chat session with someone from Verizon because I could not find a plan that had the same options as the Boost Mobile plan. I was honest with the sales representative that I wanted to compare their plan with Boost Mobile's, however, they did not seem very willing to help me. Especially frustrating is at the end when they asked me if they could be of further assistance, I said "yea...", and they ended the conversation anyway. What kind of sales department is that??

You can read the conversation for yourself below.

Please wait for a Verizon Wireless sales representative to assist you with your order. Thank you for your patience!
Chat InformationA Verizon Wireless online pre-sales specialist has joined the chat. You are now chatting with Deshondra
Deshondra: Hello. Thank you for visiting our chat service. May I help you with your order today?
You: Hello
Deshondra: Hi. How are you?
You: Good
Deshondra: Good. How can I assist you?
You: I was just trying to compare prepaid plans between service providers
Deshondra: I will be more than happy to provide you with information on our pre pay plans. Do you know what plan you are interessted in?
Deshondra: *interested
You: Yesterday, my friends mentioned Boost Moblie's Unlimited plan...
You: yea...
You: basically, unlimited everything
You: just like boost mobile's plan
You: I dont see a comparable prepaid plan on your website
You: http://plans.boostmobile.com/monthlyunlimited.aspx
Deshondra: Prepaid Unlimited Talk Daily Access (only on days used) $3.99, Mobile to Mobile Calling is Unlimited, Night & Weekend Minutes are Unlimited, Each Additional Minute (for all other calls) is Unlimited and Text Messaging Rate (per address, per message sent and received) is $0.01.
Deshondra: I would not be able to view Boost Mobile information, only provide you with our site information.
You: yea, I saw that one, but it is not unlimited texting
You: you don't have general internet access
You: ?
Deshondra: You will be able to add the text messaging for $20.00 once you have the phone.
You: unlimited text messaging?
Deshondra: Correct.
You: ok, what about data?
Deshondra: Viewing the web will come from your daily access fee.
You: what does that mean?...charging by the MB?
Deshondra: Yes.
You: What does it cost for unlimited data?
Deshondra: There is no unlimited data plan for the pre pay services.
You: ok...what kind of plans have unlimited data?
Deshondra: I will be more than happy to provide you with the number to our customer care department to better assist you. Will that be alright?
You: no, i am find using this chat feature
Deshondra: CLick here and click on a plan. Scroll down to view addtional information,.
You: yea, i was already there...did you want to show me something on that page?
Deshondra: Did you view the additional information page?
You: you mean the "Additional Calling Plan Information" section?
Deshondra: Yes.
You: yea, that is not unlimited text messaging...is that what you were talking about earlier when you said i could get it for $20?...
You: its says "For Additional Messages, overage Messaging rates default to those of your Calling Plan."
You: that means "not unlimited"
Deshondra: $20/month for Unlimited Messaging to anyone on any network in the U.S.*
You: yea, with that star (*)
You: which is where i just copy-pasted that quote from
Deshondra: Is there anything else that I can assist you with?
You: yea...
Deshondra: You can contact our customer care department at 1-800-922-0204 , option 0 or *611 from your mobile phone.
Deshondra: Thank you for visiting Verizon Wireless, I look forward to speaking with you again. Have a great day!
Chat InformationYour chat session has been ended by your Verizon Wireless online agent.

Monday, June 22, 2009

$1.92 Million...Really?

Last week, the (second) file sharing case of Thomas-Rasset v. RIAA finished and made national headlines when Thomas-Rasset was found guilty and sentenced to pay $1.92 million for illegally downloading 24 songs. I have been wondering all weekend if I should create a post on this, because I don't want to just say what everyone else is saying. However, I thought of something novel.

Well, I think the Ars articles about the trial were great. That is how I stayed informed of the trial's progression. The latest article from Ars on the issue is about Thomas-Rasset's options. My favorite section was about "Changing the Law". Nearly everyone thinks she is guilty, but almost no one thinks that she should have to pay $1.92 million for stealing $30 worth of music. I think that Thomas-Rasset will be a catalysis for change in copyright law, especially the allowed damages.

Currently, the Title 17 (section c) of the U.S. Copyright Act allows for damages between $750-$30,000 for "unwilful" infringements and $750-$150,000 for wilful infringements. I think that absolute dollar amounts are poor choices for several reasons.

In this specific case, nearly everyone believes that $1.92 million is too large for stealing $30 of music. It might even be in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits "excessive fines". So, if the intellectual property (IP) is too cheap (i.e. $1 for 1 song), absolute dollar amounts seem too large.

What if the exact opposite were true? Can you image a situation where some piece of IP costs $200,000 (to legally purchase)? In that case, it would be would be cheaper to "wilfully infringe" and only be liable to pay $150,000. So, if the intellectual property is too expensive, absolute dollar amounts seem too small.

I can think of one other, albeit, minor case. The Copyright Act became law in 1976 and went into effect in 1978. So, when our congressmen created this act and decided on the absolute dollar amounts mentioned above, did they mean the value of the dollar in 1976, 1978, the year of the infringement, or the year of the verdict? This question is non-trivial. I personally think that they meant the value of the dollar in 1976, but then (assuming we always have positive inflation), future Americans will be able to pay the maximum allowable fine with money they find in their couch.

My novel idea is to replace the absolute dollar amounts with amounts relative to the value of the IP that was infringed upon. This would certainly solve my first two examples with IP of both extremely high and low values. One additional clause should be that these relative amounts should be for the dollar value of the IP in question at the time of the infringement since that was the legal alternative to the copyright infringement. The only remaining critique is to claim that the various inflation indices (such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI)) used to calculate the damages are not actuate.

If fallout from the Thomas-Rasset case instigates copyright reform, I hope the absolute dollar amounts in the Copyright Act are replaced with amounts relative to the IP in question.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Distributed Computing: More than CPU Cycles

I wrote a previous post about wanting a system to automatically seed Ubuntu disk images, but I have been thinking about this concept at a more general level.

Distributed computing involves people from across the Internet donating their CPU time to a common cause. Why does it have to just be the use of your CPU? In my previous post, I began to introduce this concept involving bandwidth. The other resource that I thought about sharing is disk space.

As an algorithmist, I love the idea of having a constant time algorithm, sometimes called an oracle. One why to simulate an oracle is to cache every possible answer. Well, most algorithms, including my favorite numerical algorithms, have infinitely many answers, so we should just try to cache everything we know.

This is not a foreign concept. GIMPS is a distributed computing project which searches for prime numbers even though we know that that there are infinitely many primes. (As a side note, GIMPS found another prime in 2009.) Similarly, there are infinitely many positive integers and each of them have a unique prime factorization. I think that it would be interesting to create an online service that would return the prime factorization of a positive integer.

This factorization oracle could greatly benefit from a distributed computing project in which people donated their disk space, because this project would require a very large amount of disk space. When a user would query the service for the prime factorization of a number, they would be redirected to the distributed "disk space" user's computer containing their answer.

Whether or not you like my online oracle idea, I think there is some benefit in expanding the distributed computing concept to resources other than the CPU. The mirroring of file servers and the BitTorrent protocol are both ways to distribute bandwidth. The distribution of bandwidth by either of these methods is still more difficult than the distribution of computation, so there is still room for improvement. Finally, I do not know of any current solution that could be considered a type of distributed disk space.

One reason why things might be the way their are now is because of cost. Computation probably costs more than bandwidth which in turns costs more than disk space.

Are their other services that a computer could donate in a distributed computing-like fashion?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mac vs PC: The Misconception

During the last weeks of school, I was having a conversation with my fiancé's roommate, Crystal, about computer operating systems. Crystal is a graphic design major at ISU and uses a Mac. She started the main part of the conversation when she said that she likes her Mac and will never go back to a PC.

I responded by saying, "You mean that you will never go back to Windows, right?" And she said, "Yea, that's right. I will never go back to a PC." From there I started to get really serious as we kept repeating the same lines to each other..."you mean Windows"..."yea, a PC". I tried to explain to her the real meaning of the terms she was using, but I was not getting through. Finally, the conversation ended...unresolved. As I sat there wondering why I was not able to correct her vocabulary, a Mac commercial (from their popular Get a Mac campaign) started on the TV.

As everyone know, the commercial started with the famous line, "Hi, I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC." At this point, it became painfully obvious why Crystal and I were talking past each other. Apple themselves are using PC incorrectly and Crystal is just following their lead. Now, I also enjoy watching these Mac commercials, but it was not until this point that I even realized that they were using PC incorrectly.

PC stands for personal computer. The main entry on Wikipedia for Personal Computer defines the term as (and I am paraphrasing) "any computer the average person uses." Certainly any computer that you have in your home falls into this category. This is clearly not the meaning intended in the Get a Mac commercials since all Macintosh computers are included in this group. Rather, when Apple uses PC, it is referring to a IBM compatible PC in general and the IBM PC specifically. Now it is time for a history lesson.

In 1981, IBM released the IBM PC (model 5150). This computer was so popular, that it redefined the meaning of the previously existing term Personal Computer. Today, when speaking technically, a PC is any computer compatible with the hardware of this computer. There are two reasons why most of the computers of today are compatible with this IBM computer. As previously mention, the first is because this IBM PC was so popular. The second, and possibly the more important reason, is that this original IBM PC used an open architecture. That is, IBM freely released all of the information necessary to go and build the same system for yourself. And guess what? Many, many companies have...probably hundreds...including every company that you have probably heard of, other than Apple.

Instead of following everyone else or going out of business from vastly superior competition, Apple decided to stick with their proprietary architecture of the time and they are still in business today. However, have you ever wondered why a Macintosh is generally more expensive than an IBM compatible PC running Windows? It is not because the hardware is any better or more powerful. It is because Apple is the only one that knows how to make them which gives them an artificial monopoly. Although, some things have changed recently. In 2005, Apple began switching from PowerPC processors to x86 Intel processors. Since then, it is possible to get the Mac operating system to work on IBM compatible PCs.

Now, I have said everything above in hopes that my remaining sentences are as clear as day. Apple is a company. Microsoft is a company. Apple creates and sells the proprietary Macintosh computer architecture. Microsoft is not in the hardware business. Apple creates and sells the Mac operating system that traditionally only worked on the proprietary Macintosh architecture but now also works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture (as well as two other architectures). Microsoft creates and sells the Windows operating system that works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture.

The Get a Mac commercials are great. But in their attempts to be concise, they are confusing people. Apple does not care that the lines get blurred, but "Macintosh" is hardware, "Mac" is an operating system (software), and "Mac" can be short for "Macintosh". So when the Get a Mac commercials use the term "Mac" are they referring to the hardware or software?....probably both. However, when talking about a "PC", Windows is the most popular operating system, but Linux also works on a "PC", including my favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu.

It would be more correct if the first line were, "Hi, I'm a Mac OS. And I'm a Windows," but it certainly does not sound as good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just What I was Expecting

When 8.10 Intrepid came out, I began the six month wait for 9.04 Jaunty. Of all of the new features, the best...by far...is the new notification system. Sure, it looks cool, but I had an actual use case the it would solve for me. When I download a file in Firefox, I have it automatically saved to the desktop and often switch workspaces (instead of minimizing my current collection of windows) to access the new file. However, when the file finishes downloading, Firefox uses its own notification system to alert me of that fact, and this notification system appears over top of the workspace switcher and is not click-through. One could argue the I should be using some key combination to swtich workspaces. This may be true, but it does not change the fact that the notification system in Firefox is wrong because it is not click-through and Ubuntu's notification system should be used instead anyway. Also, other users less technical than me might face the same use case as me but are not the type to memorize and use key combinations to accomplish their tasks.

Well, since Firefox is so amazing (because of its plugin framework), someone wrote this plugin to trigger the Ubuntu notification system whenever Firefox uses its own notification system. I learned about this plugin about a month ago, but (at the time) the compleation of a download also triggered Firefox's own notification. Then I read this blog post (that I found from Digg) that said that it was possible to turn off Firefox's notification system. I had previous assumed that this was possible, but I also thought that doing this would not allow the plugin to work either. Well, I was wrong, and it makes sense why I was wrong.

So, I was going to share the same informaiton that I read in that blog post about how to turn off Firefox's notification system, but while writting this blog post, I have discovered that the creators of that plugin must have also read it...because the plugin now shuts off Firefox's notifcation for you! So, in conclusion, just install the above plugin and you will have Ubuntu notifications (and only Ubuntu notifications) when Firefox finishes downloading a file.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Money and Open Source Software

There many benefits to open source software (OSS), but for most people, the main benefit is that fact that the software is free.

In this video entitled "Linux Sucks! (And what can be done to fix it)", Bryan Lunduke discusses areas in which OSS fails to deliver and also provides some possible ways to fix these problems. One of the problems identifed by Bryan was the lack of OSS applications of significant complexity. I agree with that assessment, but his soltion was to fund the development of these complicated applications. Initially, I was put off by this idea. I thought that it would be a bad idea to introduce money into the open source process.

However, I later realized that it is not required that OSS be free of cost in every way. In fact, there are existing examples for which the expenditure of money is required. The examples that I thought of are the first class distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu as well as the Linux Kernel itself. These distributions have developers that are fully supported by Red Hat and Canonical respectively and several companies support Linux Kernel developers. Everyone would agree that these example of OSS have positively benefited from the involvement of money.

The reason that OSS is such a good idea is that the marginal cost of giving an OSS program to another user is practically nothing and the benefits of more people using the same program are positive. Goods with these characteris are called anti-rivalrous. However, the development cost of OSS still exists. The vast majority of OSS is developed without finacinal compensation, but it does not have to be that way. The video above caused me to think about the possibility of compensating OSS developers for their work.

I now believe that sufficently complicated OSS applications will not be created without paying the developers for their work. Traditionally, various companies have stepped up to supported the work of these developers, but anyone who will benefit from the work of an OSS developer should support them in their work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Way We use the Internet is Changing: The Internet is Personal

The other day, I stepped back and looked at my Internet activity. As you may have noticed, the Internet is becoming personal.

Google became famous and powerful by indexing the (most of the) Internet so that you and I can effectively search it. However, more and more content is being created behind closed doors that require logins to access. I am not sure if this is good or bad. Of sites that I have bookmarked, the following require me to login (to do what I want):
  1. Gmail
  2. Google Reader
  3. Blogger
  4. Dropbox
  5. Pandora
  6. Launchpad
  7. Ubuntu Forums
  8. Ubuntu Brainstorm
  9. Wellsfargo
  10. Project Euler
  11. KGS Go Server
  12. Facebook
  13. ISU MSDNAA
  14. Several things at ISU
  15. Several things at UWM
...and I only have 27 bookmarks total, so 56% of my bookmarks require a login. Furthermore, some of my bookmarks have, what I would consider, an optional or partial login (I do not have to login to do what I normally want to do or, in the case of Weather, is not specific to just me):
  1. Weather (enter my zip code)
  2. Digg
  3. Newegg
  4. Youtube
  5. Sensei's Library
If you include these five, then 74% of my bookmarks require a login.

Since I have posted almost all of my bookmarks anyway, here are the rest of my bookmarks:
  1. IP2Location
  2. Transmission Web Interface
  3. BibleGateway
  4. EidoGo - Kogo's Joseki
  5. TED
  6. dpaste
  7. TorrentFreak
Searching is far more important that it used to be. I will often give up trying to use a sites navigation or their own search capabilities and instead use Google's "site:" feature to search the site. However, since I frequent so many gated Internet communities, the content is already tailored to my preferences. That makes using the Internet easier for me but harder for the next person that wants to join the community. Why? Because the ability to search that gated community is restricted. It is more difficult for a newcomer to decide if this community is worth joining.

In conclusion, a personalized Internet is more difficult to search.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Large Asteroid May Hit Earth

In December 2004, a large asteroid was discovered that will come dangerously close to Earth. In April 13, 2029 (a Friday), this asteroid will be closer to Earth than our geosynchronous satellites. It will not hit Earth this time around, but there is enough uncertainty in our projections about the asteroid's orbit that there is a 1 in 45,000 chance that it will hit Earth during its next passing six years later on April 13, 2036 (a Sunday). Because of this asteroid's orbit, it was named Apophis, which is the Greek name for the evil Egyption god of darkness. Even if Apophis does not hit Earth in 2036, we still have to worry about it possibly hitting Earth every six or seven years when it again passes close to Earth.

If Apophis hits Earth, millions of people could be injured in its impact size of thousands of square kilometers. However, an impact would be unlikely to have a long-lasting global effect.

As usual, Wikipedia has extensive information about Apophis in general and its chances of hitting Earth.

I learned about this after watching this FORA.tv video with Neil Tyson. You can skip to chapter 3, where he begins talking about Apophis, and he finishes talking about Apophis when he moves onto another subject starting in chapter 8.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Inside the Cash Cab

In the US version of Cash Cab (Wikipedia page), a trivia game show on the Discovery Channel, I was wondering how real it is. I thought that because the host, Ben Bailey, has to read the questions that he was not really driving through New York City. However, when I searched the Internet for more information, I have become convinced that he really is driving through the city, but there are several other things about the show that seem to be fake.

Based on discussion with my cousin Matt and these few pages...
...I believe that they really are driving through the city, especially because there is a gray van that follows them the whole time. Then, when I saw that Ben Bailey has an ear bud in his left ear, I decided that his eyes really are paying close attention to the road and the guys in the trailing gray van are telling him what to say.

Something else that I wondered about was how they "screened contestants" before appearing on the show (as is claimed in the text shown for a brief moment at the end of the show) if they are surprising random taxi-goers. One of the above sites provided an answer. They find people for the show by farming them from local trivia events. They tell them that they are going to be on a reality show about where people want to go in New York. So, no random person that actually has somewhere to go ever has a chance to get on the Cash Cab. This makes sense because it will allow them to have contestants that do fairly well.

Finally, and this was especially saddening to me, the cash is not real. Instead, they mail you a check. This sounds really believable. They would need a paper trail.

Some of you may be saying, "Tyson, why can't you just enjoy the show?" Well...no...I cannot not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

France, the second China (on the Internet)

It is nothing new that people in China are restricted on the Internet by the Great Firewall of China and other forms of Internet censorship, but surely this kind of thing would not happen in a democratic country. Not if some French citizens can have their way.

As I read in this article, France is poised to pass the toughest anti-P2P laws in the free world. Let me summarize them for you:
  1. If you want to use the Internet at home, you have to have state approved security software installed on your computer.
  2. If you want to have a wireless network in your home, it must be secured.
  3. If businesses (like a coffee shop) want to provide wireless Internet access to their customers, then they can only allow the customers to access state approved sites (called a whitelist).
  4. Graduated response/3-strikes program for alleged illegal file sharing:
    1. Accused once: email warning
    2. Accused twice: registered letter
    3. Accused three times: lose Internet access for 3 months to a year and put on a blacklist which prevents you from getting Internet access from any ISP in France
Can you believe what you just read?? I could not...that's why I had to blog about this.

If it is any consolation, there is technically a positive side to this law. As a compromise to the outrageous laws listed above, French DVDs will appear a couple months closer to their theatrical release date and movie and music groups have to drop much of their DRM. Fair trade?...I think not.

Let me comment on each of the listed laws.

1) Requiring state approved software in order to access the Internet is this most unbelievable of these laws. This law indirectly forces a state approved operating system as well. If your operating system does not have compatible, approved state security software, then you cannot go on the Internet. This law will stifle innovation in operating systems by not users of new operating system onto the Internet.

2) Requiring people to secure their wireless networks is like requiring people to buy and use a lock on their front door. Now I would hope that most people lock their doors at night, but beware, if you do not lock your door then...the police will come and arrest you for breaking the law?...

3) This law sounds exactly like the Great Firewall of China, except it is being erected by a democratic government. Let me quote the previous article: "Consumer group UFC Que Choisir compared the entire project to France's ill-fated Maginot Line [in French], [English by Google Translator], examples of World War I thinking that were famously bypassed early in World War II by blitzkrieging German panzer units." The French are repeating their past mistakes by trying to shield themselves from "the evils" on the Internet in a similar way as the communist government of China. France should get a better role model.

4) There are many countries that have considered or are already using a graduated response program. In principle, I do not have a problem with a graduated response program, but it absolutely has to be based on guilty verdicts from a court of law and not on the accusations of...anyone! My American ideals scream at me every time I read about laws like this. In America, we have two sayings: (1) we would rather let 10 guilty men go free then convict 1 innocent man and (2) you are innocent until proven guilty. Apparently in France (and too many other countries) the saying are (1) we do everything we can to punish the few at the expense of the many and (2) you are innocent until accused at which point you cannot ever be innocent again.

...And the previous author says that this law has a fair chance of passing. I used to think that the Internet would eventually be free (as in free culture), but if laws like this get passed, then anything could happen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I want a Firefox Plugin that does...

As one way to protect my privacy, I have Firefox set to delete "everything" automatically when it closes. In Ubuntu (and probably most Linux setups), "Edit->Preferences" and in Windows, "Tools->Options". Then click the "Privacy" tab. Below are some settings under "Private Data". I have Firefox "[a]lways clear my private data when I close Firefox" and not "ask me before clearing private data". Furthermore, within the "Settings..." of what data should be cleared, I have everything checked. In contrast though, I also "[a]ccept cookie from all sites" and from "...third-part[ies]" so that I am never limited in functionality.

This high degree of privacy has a setback. Since I clear my cookies, some website preferences are lost. Specifically, in Google I like to see 100 search results per page and in Newegg, I like to sort by lowest price and also see 100 search results per page, but when cookies are cleared, these preferences are lost. I wish there was a Firefox plugin that would reset a specific state of my cookies each time Firefox starts.

I have not tried that hard to see if one already exists, but I have never heard of a plugin that has this functionality either.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Automated Mirroring and the BitTorrent Protocol

As an avid Ubuntu supporter, I do what I can in my limited amount of free time to help. I submit hardware specs with my live USB drive, submit and comment on bug reports in Launchpad, create and vote on ideas in Ubuntu Brainstorm, my girlfriend gifted a shirt to me from the Ubuntu Shop (it was my idea), and tell everyone I know about this amazing operating system that I use.

There is one more big thing that I do to help Ubuntu; I seed its disk images. Currently, I am seeding the following images:
  1. Jaunty Alternate 64 bit
  2. Jaunty Alternate 32 bit
  3. Jaunty Desktop 64 bit
  4. Jaunty Desktop 32 bit
  5. Ubuntu 8.04.1 DVD 64 bit
  6. Ubuntu 8.04.1 DVD 32 bit
  7. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Alternate 64 bit
  8. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Alternate 32 bit
  9. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Desktop 64 bit
  10. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Desktop 32 bit
  11. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Server 64 bit
  12. Ubuntu 8.04.2 Server 32 bit
  13. Ubuntu 8.10 Alternate 64 bit
  14. Ubuntu 8.10 Alternate 32 bit
  15. Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop 64 bit
  16. Ubuntu 8.10 Desktop 32 bit
  17. Ubuntu 8.10 DVD 64 bit
  18. Ubuntu 8.10 DVD 32 bit
  19. Ubuntu 8.10 Server 64 bit
  20. Ubuntu 8.10 Server 32 bit
That is 26.8 GB of data. I have uploaded 638.0 GB since installing Ubuntu 8.10 and uploaded over 1 TB while using Ubuntu 8.04. Furthermore, I expect my average upload rate to increase since I only started seeding the DVD and 8.04 images in the last few days. (UPDATE: Now I average about 500 KB/s upload and have uploaded 910.6 GB since installing Ubuntu 8.10.)

I am able to achieve these numbers because of my superb Internet connection in my dorm room at Iowa State University. I used SpeedTest.net to measure my connection speed today. Using a server in the Twin Cities, Minnesota (44 ms ping at ~150 miles away), I measured 19,987 Kb/s down and 10,436 Kb/s up (or 20.5 MB/s down and 10.2 MB/s up). I have witnessed uploads to individual leechers at 5+ MB/s.

Even though I have helped out so much in the distribution of files, my Internet connection can upload more and my hard drive can store more files, plus I have to manage (or start) the torrents myself. The Ubuntu site makes it easy to find direct HTTP downloads of the newest images, but it is nontrivial to find all 20 of these torrent files. Moreover, when new alphas or maintenance packs are released, I have to manually get the new torrent files. It would be better if my ability to help Canonical upload were automated.

I wish there was a client-server program that would automate this process. Canonical would run the server version and people like me would run the client version. This program would essentially be a type of a distributed computing program. Normally, distributed programs exist in order to access more computational power. This program would be distributed in order to access more upload bandwidth. On the client side, I notify the server of my existence and specify the amount of disk space I will allocate. Then the server decides what files I should be uploading, which would work much like the BitTorrent protocol where rare pieces are shared first.

All the clients could certainly share their files over BitTorrent, but this program could also allow users to directly download from a client, similar to how mirrors work now. Moreover, this program could work with more than just disk images. In Ubuntu Brainstorm Idea 7792, someone requested that apt-get use the BitTorrent protocol. Going further than that, this program could also help distribute all the software updates and repositories: Main, Universe, Restricted, and Multiverse.

In summary, I want to be able to automatically help Canonical upload any and all files either using direct HTTP or BitTorrent.

Friday, January 16, 2009

James McCanney and his book Calculate Primes

While surfing the Internet last week, I found this torrent: 2,650 year-old math problem solved by James McCanney (a.k.a. Jim McCanney). In this two hour audio file, James McCanney is interviewed by Brad Walton (of the WCCO radio station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) about his book Calculate Primes. It was recorded on March 17, 2007 (they wished each other a happy Saint Patrick's Day) and Walton also blogged about the interview on the same day.

Several of the following references that I link to are surely not reliable sources, but there are not too many references to be found, so be sure to make your own conclusion instead of just blindly believing mine.

Before I talk about the Calculate Primes, let me share what I found about McCanney himself. In the interview, Walton continually refers to McCanney as a professor, but this title misleading. McCanney's website provides a long bio highlighting his past. The first part is about his education history, including the fact that he used be a "introductory instructor" at Cornell University (in Ithaca, New York, USA) for the physics department and then the math department. However, he was fired from both positions for his radical theories in physics (at least according to McCanney's own bio, which I believe). In this forum post, McCanney claims that he has also taught at other schools and "earned" the title of professor. My guess is that he is referring to schools in South America that were mentioned in his bio, which does not count in my book. So as far as mainstream academics is concerned, McCanney only reached the level of introductory instructor before being fired, twice.

McCanney has many theories in phyiscs which are not accepted by the rest of the academic community. The website Bad Astronomy has a page dedicated to McCanney and his more "popular" theories.

Most of the hits on Google for "James McCanney" are related to his work in physics. It seems that everyone disagrees with almost all of his work. However, it is possible that his work with prime numbers is valid, so I will give McCanney's results a chance to convince me.

I was very excited to listen to the interview but also wondered why I had not heard about this before. I listened to the whole interview, but McCanney only discussed specific details about his findings a few times. From what I gathered, McCanny created some sort of function that is repeatedly applied to a set of numbers. He said that the initial set is {0, 1}. I think that the numbers in this set are added and subtracted from what McCanney called "magic numbers." Eventually McCanney said that "magic numbers" were his simplified term for sequential prime products, which are also known as primorials. McCanney also said that this process will produce some "false primes" (some composite numbers). However, I thought he said that in the next iteration of this process, they would no longer be in the set.

In this forum post, an owner of the book said:
"McCanney has to be the worst speller I have ever encountered. McCanney apparently does not believe in proofreading. His books have many typos and incomplete or ungrammatical sentences. Publishing material in this state is almost an insult to the reader."

The obvious lack of proofreading led me to find out who published this book. Both McCanney's website and Amazon had this information. Calculate Primes is self-published by "jmccanneyscience.com press."

The three hour DVD that comes with the book appears to be of the same quality. In this forum, the eleventh poster says:
"I've looked at the DVD a bit. It's not exactly Hollywood. It appears to be essentially a home video. ...I would mention that it seems to be a low budget production."

In this forum post, another owner of the book said:
"...Mr. McCanney changes the names of sets during the book, and sometimes uses different names for the same thing even in the same equation."

This same person goes on to say:
"The (infinite) union of repetition groups, each with an infinite number of members is effectively a sieve of Eratosthenes as far as I can see."

In agreement with this last person, the people on this forum provided some math from McCanney's function and concluded that McCanney's work was probably a reinvention of the Sieve of Eratosthenes. I also agree with this conclusion. Look at the numbers on the left hand side when using the "magic number" 2. They are all numbers that are not multiples of 2. When the "magic number" is 6 (= 2 x 3), the numbers on the left hand side are not multiples of 2 or 3. Finally, when the "magic number" is 30 (= 2 x 3 x 5), the numbers on the left hand side are not muliples of 2, 3, or 5.

Given the limited information that I could find on the Internet, I have concluded that McCanney's book Calculate Primes does not contain a new, revoultionary way to calculate prime numbers. In order to learn more, I would have to buy the book, but I believe that this would only cause me to be more convinced that McCanney did indeed reinvent the Sieve of Eratosthenes.