November 7, 2006
Life imitates art: Intellipedia is the true-life counterpart of Neal Stephenson's ('Snow Crash') Central Intelligence Company
I'm only about a quarter of the way into "Snow Crash" (published in 1992) and I'm purposely limiting how much of it I read each night in bed so as to prolong the book as long as possible.
Zowie, it's good.
Anyhow, on page 21 of the (Bantam Trade) paperbook version Stephenson introduces the CIC, the Central Intelligence Corporation of Langley, Virginia.
The CIC database is known as the Library, "formerly the Library of Congress but no one calls it that anymore."
Continues Stephenson, "And as the number of media grew, the material became more up to date, and the methods for searching the Library became more and more sophisticated, it approached the point where there was no substantive difference between the Library of Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency. Fortuitously, this happened just as the government was falling apart anyway. So they merged and kicked out a big fat stock offering."
Neither was Intellipedia a few years ago.
Frank Ahrens's "Web Watch" column in this past Sunday's (November 5) Washington Post Business section was about this new kid on the wiki block.
Long story short: "Since its introduction in April, the classified version of Intellipedia has grown to 28,000 pages and 3,600 registered users."
Here's the column.
- A Wikipedia Of Secrets
Imagine if, in August 2001, the U.S. intelligence agencies had dumped all of their information into one secure, online resource where it was searchable and accessible to anyone who had the proper clearance.
Who knows if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 could have been averted? But one thing is clear in the documentation and reporting that has come out in the past five years: Intelligence agencies then were not talking to each other enough, owing to divisional rivalries, lack of trust and the bunkering of intel operations in their own "silos."
Now the intelligence agencies are trying to remedy those problems with something they call Intellipedia, a model based on the popular online, user-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia.
U.S. intelligence czar John D. Negroponte discussed the database in Washington last week, saying it would allow analysts to collaborate, adding and editing intelligence to create a resource for all 16 U.S. agencies that have access to the top-secret version of Intellipedia.
Since its introduction in April, the classified version of Intellipedia has grown to 28,000 pages and 3,600 registered users, the government said. There are other versions of the database for "secret" and "sensitive but unclassified" intelligence.
U.S. officials said last week that Intellipedia is currently being used to prepare a report on Nigeria.
In theory, Intellipedia, like Wikipedia, is a great idea: Citizen editors, or in this case, intelligence assets, enter their information unfiltered onto the great database. Then it becomes easily searchable by any user. For instance, if the agency preparing the report on Nigeria punches in that country's name, it could find intelligence that an asset has entered from the field in Africa, or data entered by an analyst in a cubicle in Langley.
There are other possible uses, as well, the agencies said, such as quickly spreading information about pandemic potential from nation to nation.
Of course, Intellipedia probably has its downsides, just like as Wikipedia does. Knowing only what the government tells us about Intellipedia, we don't know how tight the peer review is. On Wikipedia, administrators will lock users out of an entry if it is being vandalized, typically by partisans, such as the Wikipedia entry on Israel during its war with Hezbollah.
One can only assume the top-secret version of Intellipedia has the same administrative safeguards, or at least a more collegial attitude among its contributors. There is also the concern that intelligence will be politicized, such as happened in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
And not all intelligence is equal or equally sourced. One of Wikipedia's flaws is that there's no way of knowing if the entry on Chaucer has been authored by a Chaucer scholar or an English lit undergrad. Presumably, Intellipedia's authors have a similar range of expertise — they're not all James Bond and Jack Ryan.
Authorities say they will offer access to Intellipedia to allies Canada, England and Australia.
And there is the threat of compromise by hostile hackers, who could plant disinformation designed to throw U.S. intelligence experts and enforcement authorities off track, especially before a planned attack.
Authorities have admitted as much.
"We're taking a risk," Michael Wertheimer, the intelligence community's chief technical officer, told Reuters. "There's a risk it's going to show up in the media, that it'll be leaked."
For kicks, here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on Intellipedia.
I wonder if there's an Intellipedia entry on Wikipedia?
Collapsible Measuring Cups
The paper catalog describes them as "Kids' Measuring Cups" but they look like they'd work fine in the adult kitchen space as well.
From the website:
- Collapsible Measuring Cups, Multi-Colored
Essential kitchen equipment for kids and fun-loving adults, these colorful silicone measuring cups are a great help in teaching culinary math and science to young chefs practicing their favorite recipes.
The red, blue, yellow and green cups “pop” instantly into shape, then collapse for convenient storage.
For easy reading, measurements are marked both on the handle and bottom of each tool.
All pieces are microwavable and dishwasher-safe.
1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1-cup capacities.
Set of four, one of each.
Bonus: 'You'll receive a matching set of four collapsible measuring spoons, 1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (retail value $4.95), when you purchase the Collapsible Measuring Cups between 10/15/06 and 12/31/06."
Tell you what: I'd buy the cups just to get the spoons.
The strangely seductive new website of French makeup artist Nicolas Degennes
Though it does employ Flash, it makes up for that defect with wonderfully creative imagery and design.
See for yourself.
Playaway — 'World's first self-playing digital audio book'
K.C. Summers brought it to my attention in a brief review in the November 5 Washington Post Travel section, which follows.
- It Came In The Mail
An occasional look at products the travel industry insists we need
What: The Playaway, a self-contained digital audiobook.
Aimed at: Technologically challenged recorded-book fans who want to look cool.
How much: $29.99 to $54.99.
But does it work? Smaller than an iPod, the Playaway is so darn cute you want to chuck it under its little plastic chin. But the tiny audiobook system has plenty of other advantages over MP3 players, books on tape or CDs. It's far easier to use — nothing to download, no CDs or cassettes to lug around, no need for a separate player. It comes preloaded with one book and runs on one AAA battery (provided); all you have to do is press "play," pop in the ear buds (also provided) and listen. There are titles for all interests, from the 9/11 Commission report to "The Da Vinci Code" to "Getting to Yes."
There's even a button that allows you to slow down or speed up the narrator's voice (hours of fun!) and another to change the reader's pitch and tone. Technophobes of the world, take heart: Who needs a clunky old iPod?
The Playaway is available at area Borders and Barnes and Noble stores, Hudson Books, Brookstone, Target.com and Amazon.com, or from the company's website, www.playaway.digital.com
"Technologically challenged recorded-book fans who want to look cool?"
"Technophobes of the world?"
Summers is playing my TechnoDolt™ song.
There's a video demo of the Playaway here.
BehindTheMedspeak: Got Lice? Who you gonna call?
Dale Clayton, PhD studies birds and lice.
He's a professor of biology at the University of Utah and co-director of the university's Center for Alternate Strategies of Parasite Removal.
He moved from England to Salt Lake City in 1996 but found the air was too dry to keep lice alive on his laboratory birds.
He had to humidify his lab to keep his bugs — and research — kicking.
Then the penny dropped.
He reasoned that if dry air could kill lice on birds, mightn't it do the same on humans?
Ten years later, the LouseBuster (below) is here.
Not to nitpick or anything, but this puppy's got promise.
Long story short: Results of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics by Clayton's research group showed that the LouseBuster (top, demonstrated by Clayton on Sarah E. Bush, his daughter) killed 80% of hatched lice and 98% of eggs on infested children.
Can your lice remedy do that?
In 30 minutes?
With no chemicals?
Didn't think so.
More here from WebMD.
Here's the abstract of the journal article.
- An Effective Nonchemical Treatment for Head Lice: A Lot of Hot Air
Objectives: Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) are a major irritant to children and their parents around the world. Each year millions of children are infested with head lice, a condition known as pediculosis, which is responsible for tens of millions of lost school days. Head lice have evolved resistance to many of the currently used pediculicides; therefore, an effective new treatment for head lice is needed. In this study we examined the effectiveness of several methods that use hot air to kill head lice and their eggs.
Methods: We tested 6 different treatment methods on a total of 169 infested individuals. Each method delivers hot air to the scalp in a different way. We evaluated how well these methods kill lice and their eggs in situ. We also performed follow-up inspections to evaluate whether the sixth, most successful, method can cure head louse infestations.
Results: All 6 methods resulted in high egg mortality (88%), but they showed more-variable success in killing hatched lice. The most successful method, which used a custom-built machine called the LouseBuster, resulted in nearly 100% mortality of eggs and 80% mortality of hatched lice. The LouseBuster was effective in killing lice and their eggs when operated at a comfortable temperature, slightly cooler than a standard blow-dryer. Virtually all subjects were cured of head lice when examined 1 week after treatment with the LouseBuster. There were no adverse effects of treatment.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that one 30-minute application of hot air has the potential to eradicate head lice infestations. In summary, hot air is an effective, safe treatment and one to which lice are unlikely to evolve resistance.
Miracle Hook — 'Sticks with suction, holds like glue'
From the website:
- Instant-Up Hook
Instant hook holds plenty — won't mar walls.
Just push on the dome and this hook sticks like glue to any smooth surface — the kitchen wall, the bathroom door, even a mirror!
It holds an amazing 17 pounds yet can be moved without leaving marks, scratches or residue behind.
Quick-release tab makes it simple to remove.
2" x 4.5"
Blue, White or Red.
MorphWorld: University of Virginia Soccer Coach George Gelnovatch into Zinedine Zidane
The coach, 41, is completing his eleventh season at UVA's helm.
you don't need me for.
Light Show Pen
From the website:
- Light Show Pen
"Lighten" your mood with this Light Show Pen.
Click the button and the pen barrel illuminates your writing area with one of eight fun colors.
Or if you're in a real funk, choose the multi-mode to cycle through all the colors, creating a psychedelic light show!
Makes nighttime scribbles more fun, too.
Gift-boxed with replaceable button batteries and one ballpoint refill.
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.