UK offers apology for treament of Turing

Posted on: Fri, 09/11/2009 - 10:15 By: Tom Swiss

Alan Turing was one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the Twentieth Century -- indeed, one of most brilliant mathematicians ever. During World War II he was instrumental in breaking the Nazi's "Enigma" code. In the process, he developed much of the theoretical framework for the field of computer science. The mathematical model of computers that every comp sci major learns about, the "Turning machine", was his invention. Every time you use a computer -- such as reading this -- you are benefiting from his genius.

But let's get back to the fact that he helped defeat the Nazis and thus helped save the UK, and all of Western civilization.

Usually, people who help save a nation are treated with gratitude. But Turing was gay.

In the homophobic society in which he lived, that was a crime. His security clearance was revoked, he was prosecuted, and sentenced to "chemical castration" via hormone injections. In 1954, he committed suicide.

Over 55 years later, the UK has finally apologized for its wretched treatment of this heroic genius.

yet another crazy conspiracy theory: all your tweats are belong to Obama

Posted on: Wed, 09/09/2009 - 20:04 By: Tom Swiss

So here's another loopy conspiracy theory: the right-wing National Legal and Policy Center found (cleverly hidden right out in plain sight at a Request For Proposal "to conduct a massive, secret effort to harvest personal information on millions of Americans from social networking websites." The blogosphere is abuzz with how this is an attempt by Obama's secret team of socialist fascist secret Muslims to create an "enemies list"

Or, as Hot Air exposes...not.

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) essentially requires each administration to keep every pixel and keystroke ever published for later review by Congress or investigators, in case illegal activity takes place. We have seen this invoked ex post facto to the Clinton and Bush administrations, in the latter over e-mails sent and received outside the White House mail system. At that time, legal experts and investigators insisted that everything produced by an administration for anything remotely concerning official business had to be archived within the EOP. [Executive Office of the President]

A more careful reading of this RFP shows that to be the project. The contract directs the contractor to archive the “information posted on publicly-accessible web sites where the EOP maintains a presence“, including social networking sites like MySpace, Twitter, and so on. It doesn’t call for everything on those networks to be archived, but only “information posted by non-EOP persons on publicly-accessible web sites where the EOP maintains a presence[,] both comments posted on pages created by EOP and messages sent to EOP accounts on those web sites.” In other words, the archiving will include interaction on EOP websites and pages, but not anything else.

In other words, this massive spying effort is nothing more than applying the retention requirements for Presidential e-mail to Facebook and Twitter messages.

Somehow I'm sure that if the Obama administration didn't do this, these same folks would be complaining how he was using social networking sites as an attempt to get around the PRA. (Like, say, how Bush administration crooks used an e-mail server run by the Republican National Committee to circumvent the PRA.)

an emacs package for Twitter

Posted on: Thu, 07/30/2009 - 22:21 By: Tom Swiss


Emacs-users like to stay in their own little world, even when interacting with the Others - and they are right of course. Why leave the comforts of your well-configured emacs for the inconveniences of yet another app? For example, when using twitter, I prefer to do that from within emacs. There are different ways and packages to do so. My favorite so far is twitter.el.

RIP CompuServe

Posted on: Sat, 07/04/2009 - 14:31 By: Tom Swiss

The last remnant of CompuServe, the first major commercial online service, has been shut down by its current owner, AOL.

I was never a user -- I started on BBSes (back in the glory dayes of FidoNet), then became a USENET addict around 1990 when I got access as a student at the U of MD. (And then right around the time I finished grad school there was this new thing called the "World Wide Web" starting up...) But CompuServe had an important place in the history of networking, and technophiles should pause a moment in memorium.

top posting

Posted on: Wed, 06/10/2009 - 01:05 By: Tom Swiss

For many years, I've been railing against "top posting" -- creating e-mail (or similar) messages with quoted material from the previous messages (usually, the entire message, unabridged) in the thread at the bottom, and the added content at the top of the message. I just stumbled across this perfect little illustration of why it's a horrid practice:

A: Yes.
> Q: Are you sure?
>> A: Because it reverses the logical flow of conversation
>>> Q: Why is top posting annoying in email?

Dan's Mail Format Site has more on the evils of top posting -- and, more importantly, how to do it right with interleaving and bottom-posting.

Electronic health records make it better -- until the power goes out

Posted on: Thu, 06/04/2009 - 13:04 By: Tom Swiss

On Tuesday, for about two hours Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital had to send incoming ambulances to other hospitals. Why? A power surge knocked out their computer system (bad design part 1), and patients' records had to be hand entered. They couldn't deal with the backlog (bad design part 2).

It looks more and more like electronic health records are going to work as well as electronic voting.

tales of *good* customer service

Posted on: Mon, 05/04/2009 - 22:06 By: Tom Swiss

It's such a rarity to encounter good customer service. We ought to mention it more often.

I had two good experiences in the past few weeks.

The weekend before last I rented a wood chipper at the Catonsville ABC Rental Center. The delivery charge had gone up a lot since I last did this a few years ago, but the woman behind the counter halved the charge since I live close by. Then, when I had an issue -- couldn't get the motor started after shutting it down for a break -- they gave me the choice of another session with it, or just charging me for a half-day instead of a whole one. I was pleased.

And I recently ordered a fan from Mouser Electronics, to repair my bug zapper. It apparently got broken in transit. No problem at all, they're sending me a replacement, not asking me to return the old one, and not charging shipping on the replacement.

I also want to mention that I've mostly had good luck with Dish Network customer service -- I've been able to speak to knowledgeable people whose native language seems to be English, a combination becoming more and more rare on help lines for tech products and services.

there's a sucker born every minute

Posted on: Wed, 04/29/2009 - 00:40 By: Tom Swiss

A five-foot Ethernet cable might run you about $20 at Best Buy. Less if you shop around on-line or get a bargain-basement cable. A cheapo cable is more likely to fail, but once you get up to a decent quality Category 6 cable, a cable is a cable is a cable.

But the folks at Denon actually have the gall to charge $499 for their AK-DL1 "proprietary ultra premium Denon Link cable". It's got all the bells and whistles: even "signal directional markings are provided for optimum signal transfer." (Presumably the electrons read the markings to figure out which way to go, because moving under a voltage is just so out of style.)

Worse is that there are people who would buy this, the same sort of "audiophiles" who buy Monster cables and Brilliant Pebbles

More at Wired's Gadget Lab.

Subscribe to technology