Thursday, December 21, 2006
Judge Posner Chats in Second Life™ 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This is a fascinating read: the University of Chicago Law School's Judge Richard A. Posner, of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, author of Not a Suicide Pact, and a blogger in his own right as half of the Becker-Posner Blog, took part in an unusual live online interview in Creative Commons' Kula Island - in the virtual metaverse of Second Life. Judge Posner provides provocative answers to questions on topics like intellectual property, constitutional law and civil liberties in the War on Terror, parody, satire, fair use and fan-fiction. Here's a taste (excerpt courtesy of nwn.blogs.com):
H[amlet] A[u]: Finally from me, sir, a question related to where we are now. The Internet is already an essential recruiting, communication, and logistical tool for Al Qaeda and its ideological adherents, so it seems inevitable to me that terrorists will be attracted to Second Life. For example, to "dry run" attacks in simulated environments they custom-build, to launder money through Linden Dollars, and most advantageous for them, to communicate anonymously as avatars in a way that would be very difficult for government officials to track. For all we know, Al Qaeda may already be in Second Life, doing those very things right now.

Obviously it's a concern, but what should be the legal response? A court warrant so the Feds can monitor chat dialog in Second Life? A law that requires Linden Lab to cull their database for suspect conversations and activity? Suggest some legal principles, sir, for Constitutionally permissible counter-terrorism in the metaverse.

J[udge] R[ichard] P[osner]: There is I believe no legal impediment to an FBI special agent enrolling in Second Life under an avatar that would not identify him as an agent. The general rule is that if a building or other area is open to the public, anyone can enter if he adheres to the rules of the owner, but the owner cannot bar an investigator who does not resort to coercion or other distinctive police methods of investigation.

But in response to your broader question, the Internet offers opportunities both for terrorists and counterterrorism. Open source intelligence (that is, intelligence gleaned from public sources such as the Web) is an increasingly important form of intelligence used by the CIA and other government agencies. So it's an arms race between the opposing forces, both seeking maximum advantage from the digital revolution.
Later, during a virtual autograph signing...
Cindy Heying, an avatar in the Pamela Anderson mode, approaches the Judge to have her autograph signed.
Cindy Heying [grinning]: Hello. Thank you!
JRP: Hi... Watch out, my wife is watching.
Suddenly, another griefer attack is unleashed on the colisieum.
Neptune Rebel: Fireball!
Chancery Jae: Oh no, it's Al Qaeda again.
Undaunted, Judge Posner continues autographing books.
Quee Taiyang [having her book signed]: Thank you your honor!
JRP: My pleasure. But where's the raccoon? Come back here, raccoon. That's an order.
Kear Nevzerov: Yes, sir?
JRP: Hi. I have a Maine Coon cat--half raccoon. Her name is Dinah. She was in the New Yorker.
KN: It's what they gave me when I signed up yesterday. Would like to lose the tail.
JRP: Your tail is great.
Good stuff. Read the whole thing at Wagner James Au's New World Notes.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Billy Idol - "Jingle Bell Rock" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
No kidding. He's released an entire album of sneerin' holiday faves, kool kats.

Labels: ,

UK Doc: Plus-size Clothing Should Bear Obesity Warning Label 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Yet another brilliant idea in the War on Obesity, as reported in the BBC:
A leading professor in the U.K. said that obese people should be warned about the health risks of their weight when buying clothes...[Dr.] Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said that oversized clothing should have obesity help line numbers sewn on them to try to reduce Britain's obesity crisis.
The suggestion would be to put the label on all clothes with waist sizes over 37 inches for boys or 31 inches for girls. Women's clothes over size 16 would also get a label. [read full article]
Notice anything unusual about this? There's no mention of warning labels on men's clothing. Why? Does the doctor believe that men would ignore or not take kindly to this sort of thing stenciled inside their trousers, or is the underlying assumption that unlike men, women and children are blissfully unaware of their size and need this sort of "reminder"?

Interestingly, the US version of this story makes no mention of warning labels* for mens' clothing, but one is mentioned in the original BBC article (over 40 in/102 cm).

Another curious thing: UK news outlets haven't picked up this story with anywhere near the frequency US TV news stations have. Maybe because a story like this is the perfect "you won't believe it!" tease for the 11 o'clock news. Then again, I sometimes wonder if the UK and US are in some sort of secret competition to see who can create the nanniest nanny-state.

* Yes, I know some will argue that a precedent exists in warning labels on alcohol, cigarettes, even lottery tickets. I would argue this is different. Plus-size clothing does not cause obesity, nor is it an "addictive consumable" as these other products are. Using this logic, one could advocate for warning labels placed on all highly caloric or fattening foods...or products that induce people to be sedentary, like automobiles, or computers...or perhaps bathroom scales should be required to sound an alarm if the weigh-ee exceeds a specified weight limit. You get the general idea.

Labels: , ,

Putting Christ Back Into Christmas...32 Times 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Here's a strange little Chicago news story that may both warm your heart and make you shake your head in puzzlement.
Dozens of people looking for Jesus can find him at a church on Chicago's South Side.

Thirty-two plastic baby Jesus dolls were stolen last week from nativity scenes in people's front yards. Then on Saturday morning a woman found all the missing Jesuses lined up along the fence on her lawn and she gave them to St. Symphorosa Church. The Rev. Marcel Pasciak said the woman was one of his parishioners at St. Symphorosa and "panicked" when she saw the dolls.

Fourteen of the dolls' rightful owners had claimed them by Tuesday morning. Pasciak said he thinks teenagers took the baby Jesuses as a joke and not as a religious statement. "Don't they look funny?" Pasciak said as residents came to claim their decorations. "We're putting Christ back into Christmas literally and metaphorically." [read full article on Chicago Tribune]
From CBS2 Chicago:
Father Marc Pasciak at St. Symphorosa is standing guard now over dozens of statues of Christ as a baby.

"'We've got 32 Jesuses," Pasciak said. The statues were unceremoniously dumped on a lawn, then delivered to the church to make their pilgrimage back to their own mangers. "If they had went to the police, they would have been put into evidence and wouldn't have been home for Christmas," said church employee Nancy Groszek.

Remarkably alike, how do you know which Jesus is yours? "I hope it's mine. It should be, but you know, you get nervous about these things and I don't want to take anybody else's baby Jesus," Dawn Chladek said. Chladek found hers and soon baby Jesus was back to take his rightful place.

Coincidentally, St. Symphorosa's Jesus was nearly stolen a couple of years ago. A guard had to chase the thief down. Now, when the manger goes up this week, it will be protected by Plexiglas and a lock. [read full article/see video on CBS2]
[Image copyright CBS2 Chicago]

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 18, 2006
Does Ray Bradbury Have a Beef With Christian Sock Knitters? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Via Neil Gaiman's blog, a delightfully tongue-in-cheek webtoy that turns product recommendation portals on their head. Tired of having books, movies, and music shoved under your nose by nosy computer algorithms?

Try the UnSuggester: when you choose a book or author it returns the inverse, titles you likely wouldn't enjoy based on your search entry. The UnSuggester is more useful than you'd think - consider how many bad holiday gifting choices you can avert if you know what books to avoid!

As an experiment, I entered Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (a wonderful, phantastic fictionalized memoir inspired by Bradbury's childhood in 1920's Waukegan, Illinois) as as book I enjoy. Based on this selection, the UnSuggester predicts I wouldn't like these books; oddly enough they mainly deal with conservative Christian theology and knitting:and...drumroll, please...I haven't laughed this hard in days.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 16, 2006
The Internet "You" Revolution 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
You...and you...and you...and by extension, me, are TIME's 2006 Person of the Year:
...[L]ook at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web. Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together (15 years ago, according to Wikipedia) as a way for scientists to share research. It's not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution. [keep reading]
I couldn't agree more. In a way aren't the hundreds or thousands of little digital fingerprints behind a genuine "Second Life" (separate from the wildly popular self-contained virtual universe/game of the same name)? A second DNA?

Maybe all our cached Internet presences aren't "second lives" but extensions of our current ones. I've often joked here and with "meatspace" friends that "Google is forever," but in a way it's true: our electronic traces, fragile as they are when a blog post or office document "disappears," are in other ways doggedly hard to expunge and will likely exist beyond our mortal lifetimes in many cases. The technology is new and undergoing rapid change, but there will come a time when massive amounts of archived information will exist as historical artifacts. Our digital presences will outlive us, replicated and re-replicated every time someone downloads, saves or views a piece of who we were.

Consider the case of Malachi Ritschler, the Chicago artist and political activist who died in early November in an act of self-immolation as protest. Ironically, if there were no Internet, outside of his circle of family and friends, word of Ritschler's actions would certainly stopped when the mainstream media stopped their coverage. His final story would be a microfiched newspaper archive. With the Internet, not only did Ritschler's story attain a life of its own through his publication of a pre-demise auto-obituary, but those who saw the significance of his actions have utilized the Internet to spread the word. In a small way he has achieved immortality, although he is not physically present to experience it.

However, in some ways the Web is not all that conceptually different from older means of communication; at its core it is merely physical "mail" transmitted by wire (or wirelessly), differing only in the fact that the information that once traveled by mail (letters, books, movies, photos, recordings, etc.) had been translated into numerical existence. The quantum leap (and some would argue, the threat to conventional intellectual property) the Internet affords is speed of transmission and nearly unlimited - viral - replicability of digital commodities. What many find disturbing is that we ourselves - translating and extending our identities into digital existence - are becoming one with the commodity.

Developing a rational and workable understanding of "property," "commerce," and even "identity" within the new rules of the Internet age is in its infancy, hence the horrible mishmash of electronic frontier laws and jerry-rigged web filters governments around the world are using to try to block the Internet - in part, or in totality.

Increasingly, the Internet is precisely what the world is: kaleidoscopic, perpetually changing, hopeful, chaotic, constructive and destructive. The Internet is amoral, in the sense that without external intervention it is only a neutral conduit for human interaction; it is no more moral or immoral that the people who inhabit it.

One thing that needs to happen to genuinely fulfill the web's promise is greater global access to the Web, although political and business interests threaten to decrease access through economic (Net Neutrality) or ideological (censorship) barriers.

We need to step back and look at what the Internet age truly means. It means we are beginning to live in a fundamentally different world, one in which the old strictures only marginally apply. The physics of human relations have been shattered into bits and recombined - we have the never-before dreamed capability to represent (or misrepresent) ourselves at will behind an electronic wall almost instantaneously beyond the boundaries of space.

For centuries we have dreamed of traversing oceans and continents in the blink of an eye. We have dreamed of shape-shifting, and of invisibility. What magic proved incapable of bestowing upon us in fleshly form, the magic of the digital age has made possible. On the Web we can become fledgling creatures of pure data, without bodies to restrain us.

Perhaps it would help to think of the Internet and its recent "You"-revolution as a freshly-minted "Sixth Sense," one we are only beginning to learn how to control. As a global electronic society we will need years, if not decades, to master these exploded boundaries and reconfigure our identities and politics, as well as our responsibilities and moralities, into this open space of possibility.


Saturday, December 09, 2006
So, How Does This Blogger Beta Thing Work, Anyway? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Yesterday, I somehow managed to migrate my Blogger account onto the new Blogger Beta system - I pressed the button and hoped for the best, knowing full well I might shred four years' worth of posts on seven blogs in the process. Talk about faith-based blogging.

Here goes nothing, dear readers.

{whirr whirrr klunk}

Hey, I think I like this...the new "labels" feature is something I've envied on other platforms like Typepad, and good on Blogger for incorporating it into the beta.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 165: The "Goodbye Effect" Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 


Monday, December 04, 2006
Forget Polonium-210: Fear the Zombie Chickens 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Have you seen the recent "CNN 360° Special Edition with Anderson Cooper" lede on the radioactive toxin that felled former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko? "It’s potent, poisonous and puzzling. How did Polonium 210 become an assassin's weapon of choice? Find out if it can ever be used against you?"

Hold, reality check please. Now, it's hardly the assassin's "weapon of choice" - heck, if a bullet was good enough for journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a bullet's probably good for most of us unfortunate enough to the victim of assassins. Considering society's overall misplaced conception of risk, and that radioactive isotope's rarity and costliness, I hardly see the need for polonium-210 to make our personal fear checklists. You know what we really need to worry about?

Zombie chickens. Yes, you read that correctly. However, if you're about to take a bite out of a nice juicy drumstick right now, I'd suggest you put it down - or skip this post.
When Jim Stauffer of Petaluma saw a chicken crawling out of a mound of compost like the living dead, he knew something had changed at the egg farm next door. "We called them zombie chickens," Stauffer said. "Some of them crawled right up out of the ground. They'd get out and stagger around."

What changed was the method used to get rid of "spent hens," which are chickens that no longer produce eggs. And the change isn't just in Petaluma; it's throughout the country.
As a last resort, many farmers have turned to killing the chickens and using them to make piles of compost. Hens are placed in a sealed box which is filled with carbon monoxide. Within seconds the chickens are unconscious. Less than two minutes later, they die from lack of oxygen. Farmers say the method for euthanizing and composting the chickens is humane and health officials say they have heard no complaints.
"There's not a lot of difference between euthanizing them on the ranch or hauling them to the slaughterhouse," said Arnie Reibli of Petaluma, who sells more eggs than anyone in Northern California.

Robin and Skip White, who live near the same chicken ranch as Stauffer, said they've had a half-dozen chickens escape from the ranch when it changes its stock and join their flock over the past seven years.
They didn't know about the new composting method, but their latest arrival, which they've named Survivor, showed up around the same time as the first composting operation. The all-white chicken "looked like it had been pulled through a knothole" because it had worn its feathers off moving around in the cage where it was kept while it produced eggs, Robin White said.
"People's eating habits have changed," Reibli said. "A chicken in every pot - that was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Those were stewing hens. But people don't cook like that any more."

[read full article at the Santa Rosa [CA] Press-Democrat >> via Slashfood]

Friday, December 01, 2006
Homeland Security's ATS System May Be Tracking You...and Your Dinner 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I guess this means I shouldn't request the halal meal on my next flight?
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Without their knowledge, millions of Americans and foreigners crossing U.S. borders in the past four years have been assigned scores generated by U.S. government computers rating the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years. The government calls the system critical to national security following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some privacy advocates call it one of the most intrusive and risky schemes yet mounted in the name of anti-terrorism efforts.

Virtually every person entering and leaving the United States by air, sea or land is scored by the Homeland Security Department's Automated Targeting System, or ATS. The scores are based on ATS' analysis of their travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered. [read full article]
Besides the troubling privacy aspects of the Automated Targeting System, what bothers me most is that travelers have virtually no recourse to challenge an ATS trigger - they aren't allowed to see their ATS scores, nor the reasons why they might be tagged as security risks, even in error.

In this instance, the "if you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about" argument doesn't wash, since the ATS system is monitoring the personal data of millions of average travelers, not just suspected terrorists. What if my national origin, travel patterns, and even - for Pete's sake - my choice of airline seat or meal tag me as a "risk"? For instance, is the vegetarian meal considered more un-American* than the lamp-warmed steak-and-glue combo?

Fear not: Homeland Security's computers plan to keep a record of your seating assignment - and whether you had the beef or the chicken - possibly for years after you're dead.

Homeland security may contend that allowing travelers to know their risk scores would jeopardize public safety - but how? By allowing them to change behavior patterns that generate "red flags"?

If ATS sounds like just another small concession we all have to make for everyone's security, consider this: imagine how frustrating it would be if you had no way of knowing your financial credit score. Suppose you were repeatedly denied access to a home or car loan, a credit card, or even a job or apartment because your "secret" credit rating tagged you as a high risk. Now imagine you had no way of knowing what your score was, if there were any erroneous information on your record causing a problem - and had no way of challenging the situation?

*Considering some of the craziness abounding these days, choosing veg might even tag me as a Satanist; you never know.