Saturday, March 31, 2007

Software That Fights Plane Hijackers

Yahoo!News has a very curious story today about software fights plane hijackers. Essentially, some 30 European businesses and research institutes are working to create software that would make it possible from a distance to regain control of an aircraft from hijackers.

The system "which could only be controlled from the ground would conduct the aircraft posing a problem to the nearest airport whether it liked it or not," according to extracts from next Monday's Der Spiegel released Saturday.

"A hijacker would have no chance of reaching his goal," it said.

The project costs 36 million euros (45 million dollars), of which the

European Commission is contributing 19.5 million euros, and involves aircraft maker Airbus, electronics giant Siemens and the Technical University of Munich.

The first results should be presented in Britain in October, the magazine said.

The system would be designed in such a way that even a computer hacker on board could not get round it.

If the software should see the light of day it would put an end to a debate in Germany over whether the air force should shoot down a hijacked commercial airliner if the hijackers threatened to use it as a weapon, as in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Apple Releases

Here is the news from Macworld that might be of interest to the few Macheads who read this blog.

Apple on Tuesday took the wires off its multi-button scroll-wheel Mighty Mouse. According to Apple, the new mouse features a new laser tracking engine that is 20 times more sensitive than standard optical mice for better tracking on even more surfaces.

The Mighty Mouse is Bluetooth 2.0-based, keeping the same design elements of the original mouse. Apple said the mouse also includes an advanced power management system that automatically switches to low power modes during inactivity, and an off switch to maintain battery life while not in use. Apple said the wireless Mighty Mouse works with either one or two AA batteries.

The wireless Mighty Mouse is available immediately for $69.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

MySpace With Obituaries And Do-It-Yourself Funeral Service

A social networking Web site for Americans aged 50-plus went live on Monday -- complete with an online obituary database that sends out alerts when someone you may know dies and that plans to set up a do-it-yourself funeral service.

The founder of Internet job site, Jeff Taylor, launched, a similar site to the popular online teen hang-outs MySpace or Facebook for the 50-plus crowd.

Instead of career and school sections, has interactive games to build brain strength, news on entertainment and hobbies for older people, a personalized longevity calculator and tips to live longer.

It also has a nationwide database of obituaries dating back to the 1930s to which people can add photos and comments.

"The death business is growing," Taylor told Reuters, offering figures showing the number of deaths in the United States rose to 2.4 million in 2005 from 2.2 million in 2000, and was projected to rise to 4.1 million by 2040.

In addition to adding photos and videos to obituaries, members of can sign up to receive an alert when someone from a particular area dies or in response to pre-defined keywords such as a company or school name.

This is similar to e-mail services offered by various other Web sites that alert people when a friend or colleague signs onto a certain site.

"Many people no longer live where they grew up so the idea of a rich story about someone's life in a local newspaper is often lost," said Taylor, who sees online obituaries replacing the traditional death announcements in newspapers.

He said baby boomers, the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, also wanted to have a greater input into their own funerals. This prompted to look into a service where people could plan for their favorite songs to be played at their funeral and where friends and family can go afterward for food and drink.

But Taylor, who quit last year, said's main focus was not death but celebrating turning the Big 5-0 and living the grandest life possible.

Taylor, who is only 45, said he saw the need for, for about 44 million of the 86 million Americans aged over 50 are online, but only a few use social networking sites.

This is also a wealthy group, controlling about 67 percent of the nation's wealth -- and with plenty of time ahead.

"We now live about 20 years longer than our grandparents," said Taylor. "These are people who want to spend money to save time rather then spend their time trying to save money."


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How Stone Age Diet Made One Berkely Professor Skinny

In case you don't know there is an awesome book called Freakanomics, written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They also publish a column in The New York Times Magazine. This happens to be my favorite one.

Does the Truth Lie Within?


Seth Roberts is a 52-year-old psychology professor at the University of California at Berkeley. If you knew Roberts 25 years ago, you might remember him as a man with problems. He had acne, and most days he woke up too early, which left him exhausted. He wasn't depressed, but he wasn't always in the best of moods. Most troubling to Roberts, he was overweight: at 5-foot-11, he weighed 200 pounds.

When you encounter Seth Roberts today, he is a clear-skinned, well-rested, entirely affable man who weighs about 160 pounds and looks 10 years younger than his age. How did this happen?

It began when Roberts was a graduate student. First he had the clever idea of turning his personal problems into research subjects. Then he decided that he would use his own body as a laboratory. Thus did Roberts embark on one of the longest bouts of scientific self-experimentation known to man -- not only poking, prodding and measuring himself more than might be wise but also rigorously recording every data point along the way.

Self-experimentation, though hardly a new idea in the sciences, remains rare. Many modern scientists dismiss it as being not nearly scientific enough: there is no obvious control group, and you can hardly run a double-blind experiment when the researcher and subject are the same person. But might the not-quite-scientific nature of self-experimentation also be a good thing? A great many laboratory-based scientific experiments, especially those in the medical field, are later revealed to have been marred by poor methodology or blatant self-interest. In the case of Roberts, his self-interest is extreme, but at least it is obvious. His methodology is so simple -- trying a million solutions until he finds one that works -- that it creates the utmost transparency.

In some ways, self-experimentation has more in common with economics than with the hard sciences. Without the ability to run randomized experiments, economists are often left to exploit whatever data they can get hold of. Let's say you're an economist trying to measure the effect of imprisonment on crime rates. What you would ideally like to do is have a few randomly chosen states suddenly release 10,000 prisoners, while another few random states lock up an extra 10,000 people. In the absence of such a perfect experiment, you are forced to rely on creative proxies -- like lawsuits that charge various states with prison overcrowding, which down the road lead to essentially random releases of large numbers of prisoners. (And yes, crime in those states does rise sharply after the prisoners are released.)

What could be a more opportunistic means of generating data than exploiting your own body? Roberts started small, with his acne, then moved on to his early waking. It took him more than 10 years of experimenting, but he found that his morning insomnia could be cured if, on the previous day, he got lots of morning light, skipped breakfast and spent at least eight hours standing.

Stranger yet was the fix he discovered for lifting his mood: at least one hour each morning of TV viewing, specifically life-size talking heads -- but never such TV at night. Once he stumbled upon this solution, Roberts, like many scientists, looked back to the Stone Age for explication. Anthropological research suggests that early humans had lots of face-to-face contact every morning but precious little after dark, a pattern that Roberts's TV viewing now mimicked.

It was also the Stone Age that informed his system of weight control. Over the years, he had tried a sushi diet, a tubular-pasta diet, a five-liters-of-water-a-day diet and various others. They all proved ineffective or too hard or too boring to sustain. He had by now come to embrace the theory that our bodies are regulated by a "set point," a sort of Stone Age thermostat that sets an optimal weight for each person. This thermostat, however, works the opposite of the one in your home. When your home gets cold, the thermostat turns on the furnace. But according to Roberts's interpretation of the set-point theory, when food is scarcer, you become less hungry; and you get hungrier when there's a lot of food around.

This may sound backward, like telling your home's furnace to run only in the summer. But there is a key difference between home heat and calories: while there is no good way to store the warm air in your home for the next winter, there is a way to store today's calories for future use. It's called fat. In this regard, fat is like money: you can earn it today, put it in the bank and withdraw it later when needed.

During an era of scarcity -- an era when the next meal depended on a successful hunt, not a successful phone call to Hunan Garden -- this set-point system was vital. It allowed you to spend down your fat savings when food was scarce and make deposits when food was plentiful. Roberts was convinced that this system was accompanied by a powerful signaling mechanism: whenever you ate a food that was flavorful (which correlated with a time of abundance) and familiar (which indicated that you had eaten this food before and benefited from it), your body demanded that you bank as many of those calories as possible.

Roberts understood that these signals were learned associations -- as dependable as Pavlov's bell -- that once upon a time served humankind well. Today, however, at least in places with constant opportunities to eat, these signals can lead to a big, fat problem: rampant overeating.

So Roberts tried to game this Stone Age system. What if he could keep his thermostat low by sending fewer flavor signals? One obvious solution was a bland diet, but that didn't interest Roberts. (He is, in fact, a serious foodie.) After a great deal of experimenting, he discovered two agents capable of tricking the set-point system. A few tablespoons of unflavored oil (he used canola or extra light olive oil), swallowed a few times a day between mealtimes, gave his body some calories but didn't trip the signal to stock up on more. Several ounces of sugar water (he used granulated fructose, which has a lower glycemic index than table sugar) produced the same effect. (Sweetness does not seem to act as a "flavor" in the body's caloric-signaling system.)

The results were astounding. Roberts lost 40 pounds and never gained it back. He could eat pretty much whenever and whatever he wanted, but he was far less hungry than he had ever been. Friends and colleagues tried his diet, usually with similar results. His regimen seems to satisfy a set of requirements that many commercial diets do not: it was easy, built on a scientific theory and, most important, it did not leave Roberts hungry.

In the academic community, Roberts's self-experimentation has found critics but also serious admirers. Among the latter are the esteemed psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who has praised Roberts for "approaching data in an exploratory spirit more than, or at least in addition to, a confirmatory spirit" and for seeing data analysis "as the opportunity to confront a surprise." Rosenthal went so far as to envision "a time in the future when 'self-experimenter' became a new part-time (or full-time) profession."

But will Seth Roberts's strange weight-control solution -- he calls it the Shangri-La Diet -- really work for the millions of people who need it? We may soon find out. With the Atkins diet company filing for bankruptcy, America is eager for its next diet craze. And a few spoonfuls of sugar may be just the kind of sacrifice that Americans can handle.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

U r sckd: worker fired by text message

A company has defended its decision to sack one of its staff by text message, claiming it was keeping in touch with youth culture.

Katy Tanner, a 21-year-old sales assistant, received the message while she was off work with a migraine, the South Wales Echo newspaper said Friday.

The text message said: "We will not require your services anymore...Thank you for your time with us."

"I don't think it's right to just text someone. At least they should have talked to me face to face," Tanner said.

"You're not allowed to text in sick, you have to phone. The fact that they texted me is a bit of double standards."

Several senior staff members at Blue Banana, a body-piercing and jewellery shop based in Cardiff, defended the decision.

But company director Jon Taylor added that an internal investigation was underway to see if "the ultimate action was ideal".

The retailer claims it tried to reach Tanner directly "five or six times" and passed on a message through her boyfriend before the text was sent.

And store director Ian Besbie added that the dismissal method was fair because texting was a part of "youth culture".

"We are a youth business and our staff are all part of the youth culture that uses SMS (text) messaging as a major means of communication," he said.

The company employs about 120 people in Britain, many of them aged under 21.

Source - Yahoo!News

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Female Chat Names Generate More Threats

BALTIMORE - Next time you chat online, think twice about your screen name. A new study finds that using a female screen name like Cathy, Melissa or Stephanie is more likely to elicit threatening and sexually explicit messages.

In the study, automated chat-bots and human researchers logged on to chat rooms under female, male and ambiguous screen names, such as Nightwolf, Orgoth and Stargazer.

Bots using female names averaged 100 malicious messages a day, compared with about four for those using male names and about 25 for those with ambiguous names. Researchers logging on themselves produced similar results.

Michel Cukier, the study's author and a professor at the University of Maryland's Center for Risk and Reliability, said the findings show the risks of placing personal information on the Internet, "even disclosing just your first name."

Cukier said the difficulty of writing computer programs, or scripts, that can tell the difference between males and females online shows the menacing messages were not generated automatically.

"These are real users who seem to look for female names," Cukier said.

The results are to be published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers' International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks, which will be held in June.

Parry Aftab, an online-safety expert, said she was not surprised.

"It's sad that we have to say to men and women, but especially women, `Don't give away too much information and that includes your gender,'" she said. "There's no reason for people to have to know that you're a woman."

Associated Press

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