Friday, April 30, 2004

Something else to worry about...

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If you haven't been keeping up with advances in nanotechnology, then this article is eye-opening:

An Overview of CRN's Current Findings

From the article:What are the risks? The article states:It is very interesting reading, and also very interesting to ponder the social/economic ramifications. As mentioned in Robotic Nation, the effects of technologies that will fall into our hands over the next 20 to 30 years will be unbelievable from a social and economic standpoint. These technologies have the power to create "heaven on earth", or "hell on earth", depending on how we manage their arrival and dispersion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Interesting password techniques

The previous post prompted a lot of email, with friends sending in a number of different techniques. The one that seems the most logical for authenticating someone both in person and over the phone is a voice print, probably combined with one or more random questions to avoid the use of recordings. There were even reports last week of a Credit card that uses voice authentication.

One of the more interesting new techniques for authentication uses pictures, and the human ability to remember pictures:The idea is that you click on different areas of a picture to authenticate yourself. To set your password, you choose a picture and several different spots on the picture that you will click. People are much better at remembering spots on a picture than they are with remembering strings of random letters.

Neither of these techniques are in widespread use right now. It will be interesting to see how long it takes.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Identity Theft

I think we can all agree that passwords are a painfully awkward technology. And today the whole password process is getting worse and worse because so many services and sites are requiring passwords. Personally I have over 100 accounts that I manage, and chances are that you have just as many yourself. We have passwords for bank accounts and ATM cards. We have passwords for ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Paypal. We have accounts to read content on places like the NY Times, LA Times and Chicago Tribune. And so on. All these accounts and passwords add up quickly.

Given the importance of passwords to financial and national security, this article is humorous:

Passwords revealed by sweet deal

The subtitle is: "More than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate, a survey has found." 70% is a lot of people.

The poor security of passwords helps to explain why identity theft is becoming so prevalent. Most banks (where the serious financial identity theft occurs) rely on pseudo-passwords. A bank will authenticate you with publicly available information like your mother's maiden name, the last four digits of your SSN or even your birthdate.

Because of the use of pseudo-passwords, identity theft has become a gigantic problem. If you type the term "identity theft" into Google you get 1.3 million hits. The FTC notes that 27 million people have been hit by identity theft in the last five years, and "People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and their hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities, be refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit." All because of poor security.

The easiest way to eliminate the problem with pseudo-passwords is to eliminate pseudo-passwords themselves. We should simply publish a list on the Internet that contains everyone's name, birthday, SSN and mother's maiden name. This would force companies to authenticate people over the phone with a real password, and that would solve part of the current identity theft problem.

Ultimately, however, we need to have a universal, fool-proof way to authenticate identity that is easier and more secure than passwords. Is it fingerprints or iris scans? Is it DNA from a blood sample? These techniques could be implemented fairly easily in a physical location like an airport, but they don't work very well over the phone right now. What is the ultimate solution?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

'To be fat is to look slightly stupid'

This article really changes the way you look at over-eating and obesity: The basis of the article is this simple fact: people who live in Manhattan are much thinner than the norm. The article puts it this way:Why is this? It turns out that no one knows for sure. One reason, to be certain, has to do with wealth. The NYTimes reported last week that the average sales price of an apartment in Manhattan hit a million dollars this year. It would appear, based on this article, that every Manhattanite can afford a personal trainer.

But there also seems to be a great deal of social pressure driving the trend. It is quotes like these that get your attention:What do you think? Does this Manhattan trend now trickle down to the rest of America, or not? One thing is certain -- it sure would be a lot easier with Vertebrane.

Monday, April 19, 2004

New cars are getting too expensive to fix

This article is absolutely fascinating because of all of the facts it contains:For example, the article says that xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights cost $3,000 each, just for the part. If that is true, and if you've recently purchased a higher-end car, it means that $6,000 of a new car's cost is just in the two headlights. That's a bunch of money.

Another interesting fact: It costs $1,000 in labor to install a new airbag. So if you are in a minor accident in a new car and six or eight air bags deploy, it is going to easily cost more than $10,000 in parts and labor to replace the airbags. It is also necessary to replace all of the seat belts because of the pre-tensioners (which can only be used once). If the headlights are damaged, add another $10,000 for parts and labor.

As a result: "Before the advent of air bags, only 8 percent of damaged cars were totaled. Today, the figure is nearly 20 percent and rising."

One solution to this problem is standardization -- the same thing that has made PCs so inexpensive. Simply walk into an Advance Auto Parts store and look at how many oil filters there are. Literally hundreds of them, each a slightly different shape or size. How many do we really need? Two? Three at the most? Small, medium and large could probably cover it. The price of an oil filter would fall to 25 cents.

Imagine if there were just two or three different size airbags. Companies all over the world would compete to make these three sizes as inexpensively as possible, and prices would plummet. A new airbag would cost $14.95, and it would snap into a standard receptacle in 10 seconds. Imagine if Xenon headlights were standardized. Prices would plummet again. The same thing goes for engines, transmissions, brakes, radiators, air conditioners, etc. It would lead to a dramatic reduction in the cost of a new automobile, and repairs would be much simpler as well.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Money for your idle CPU time

Lots of organizations are happy to make use of your computer's idle CPU cycles and network bandwidth. SETI@home and Grub are two good examples.

Now there is a company that is willing to pay you for your idle CPU time and network bandwidth, at a rate of $1 per hour. The company is called VirtualMDA. The catch is that this company will use your machine to send spam. I would imagine that ISPs will cut you off if you do this, or that anti-spam groups will blacklist your IP address.

Nonetheless, this seems like a first-of-breed application, and it will be interesting to see if any other company comes up with business models that pay users for their CPU time and bandwidth. At the rate of $1 per hour, you could buy a spare $500 machine and let it grind away 24 hours a day. You would recoup its cost in 21 days, and everything after that 21 day period would be profit. If you bought 10 machines, you would be making $7,200 per month after the first month, or $86,000 per year. Even if you purchased a dedicated DSL account for each one at $50 per month, you'd only be paying $500/month for those accounts and it would still be very lucrative.

First review of Amazon's A9 search engine

A9, Amazon's Search Portal, Goes Live: Reverberations Felt in Valley

From the article:Try it yourself -- it's pretty cool:

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Looking on the bright side...

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Gas hydrates are methane deposits found in extremely cold environments or deep in the ocean. This article offers a quick introduction. Natural gas is almost pure methane, so methane derived from gas hydrates is an easy substitution for natural gas. According to this month's Discover magazine:That sounds pretty good -- even if consumption rises by a factor of 100 to power the hydrogen economy, it would still last 1,700 years.

Cheapest gasoline

If you hunt around, you will probably find that gasoline prices can fluctuate by as much as 25 cents per gallon in your local area (yet another good reason to publish wholesale prices). So how do you quickly find the cheapest gas?

Here are three web sites where people share gas prices with each other to help you find the best bargain in your area:

Something else to worry about...

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This has been predicted for so long that it is hard to take it seriously... but just in case, here is the latest warning on the housing price bubble: If/when this bubble does pop, it would not be pretty. Millions of people would get underwater in their mortgages. Let's hope for a quiet deflation of the bubble rather than a pop.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

A very flexible humanoid robot

This page and its mirror show videos of a highly advanced small humanoid robot:

Watch the videos of it kicking a ball, or getting up from a prone position, or doing a handstand. The flexibility is amazing.

See this page for details.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Hard to believe but true...

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According to The Asteroid Tugboat: Over the course of a billion years, 3 tons of debris a day would add up to a trillion tons. Sand weighs about 100 pounds per cubic foot. A trillion tons of sand would be enough sand to cover an area 3,000 x 3,000 miles with approximately one inch of sand.

Every century, there is a two percent or so chance of a asteroid 100 meters across (or more) hitting earth. So one of these hits earth, with the force of 100 megatons of TNT, approximately once every 40,000 years.

Every century, there is a 0.02 percent or so chance of a asteroid 1,000 meters across (or more) hitting earth. It would hit with the force of 100,000 megatons of TNT, and should happen once every 4,000,000 years or so.

Hard to believe but true...

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In last week's Parade magazine, the cover story was about hunger in America. The article contains a number of remarkable statistics:

Hard to believe but true...

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Woman does own C-section; baby fine:

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Over-stimulated surgeons

The previous post here and this post talk about the over-stimulation of children's brains with TV. Current theory is that it is bad, because it makes these stim-kids crave enriched, stimulating environments all the time (and therefore they can't handle the slow pace of today's schools).

Out of the blue comes an article indicating that over-stimulation can be good: Surgeons Who Play Video Games Err Less. When surgeons play video games at least three times a week, their error rates drop by 37% and they are 27% faster. From the article:Imagine how kids of the future -- hyper-stimulated from birth and all through their educations -- will perform.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Something else to worry about...

[See previous]

Watching TV 'is bad for children'

From the article:Also:The other interpretation, of course, is that school is now becoming so boring by comparison that kids can't stand it any more. IQ scores have been rising for the last century, and increased stimulation may be one of the reasons. See this post for details.

Looking on the bright side...

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The Pill That Will Make You Thin - Pharma companies large and small are in hot pursuit of the blockbuster of all blockbusters -- a drug that lets you lose weight safely and effortlessly.

The article discusses a hormone called PYY3-36. According to the article, "all of those given the PYY injection downed nearly a third fewer calories than they did at another meal without the hormone. And when they went home, they continued to eat less for 12 more hours."

If you decode this paragraph from the journal Nature, you can see that the gastrointestinal tract releases peptide YY(3-36) (PYY) after eating to tell the brain how many calories you ate. By giving people PYY before a meal, it tricks the brain into thinking you have already eaten, so you eat less -- about 33% fewer calories.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

An Explanation of l33t Speak

A very interesting article that really explains it:

An Explanation of l33t Speak

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