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June 22, 2007

The 21st century version of 'information sickness' — Hide it in plain sight


I originally encountered the term "information sickness" in Ted Mooney's memorable 1981 book, "Easy Travel To Other Planets."

Mooney was referring to one of his characters being so overwhelmed by the input of data from TV, radio, newspapers and whatnot that she simply shut down, becoming nonfunctional.

Ha — Al Gore hadn't even invented the Internet yet.

Now there's a whole new meaning to the term: it's used as a tactic by lawyers during discovery to drown the other side in paper.

By offering up endless file cabinets full of documents, none of which have anything to do with the issues in play, it's possible to bury the adversary in useless, costly, mind-numbing and time-consuming research, so much so that anything that is indeed relevant will be missed in the flood — if it's even present.

Now comes a lone citizen named Hasan Elahi to turn the tactic on forces far larger and more powerful than himself.

Clive Thompson's article on Elahi, in the current issue (June 2007) of Wired magazine, is simply superb.

In a two-column story he describes how the 35-year-old Rutgers University professor found himself on one of the U.S. government's watch lists in 2002 when returning from a trip to the Netherlands.

Rather than taking the chance that in the future he'd not only be detained but possibly much worse (think Guantanamo), Elahi put his entire life online, in near real-time.

That way it's easy for him to point out where he's been every minute.

As Elahi remarked, "I've discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away."

Here's the Wired piece.

    The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online

    Hasan Elahi whips out his Samsung Pocket PC phone and shows me how he's keeping himself out of Guantanamo. He swivels the camera lens around and snaps a picture of the Manhattan Starbucks where we're drinking coffee. Then he squints and pecks at the phone's touchscreen. "OK! It's uploading now," says the cheery, 35-year-old artist and Rutgers professor, whose bleached-blond hair complements his fluorescent-green pants. "It'll go public in a few seconds." Sure enough, a moment later the shot appears on the front page of his Web site, TrackingTransience.net.

    There are already tons of pictures there. Elahi will post about a hundred today — the rooms he sat in, the food he ate, the coffees he ordered. Poke around his site and you'll find more than 20,000 images stretching back three years. Elahi has documented nearly every waking hour of his life during that time. He posts copies of every debit card transaction, so you can see what he bought, where, and when. A GPS device in his pocket reports his real-time physical location on a map.

    Elahi's site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both. The Bangladeshi-born American says the US government mistakenly listed him on its terrorist watch list — and once you're on, it's hard to get off. To convince the Feds of his innocence, Elahi has made his life an open book. Whenever they want, officials can go to his site and see where he is and what he's doing. Indeed, his server logs show hits from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, and the Executive Office of the President, among others.

    The globe-hopping prof says his overexposed life began in 2002, when he stepped off a flight from the Netherlands and was detained at the Detroit airport. He says FBI agents later told him they'd been tipped off that he was hoarding explosives in a Florida storage unit; subsequent lie detector tests convinced them he wasn't their man. But with his frequent travel — Elahi logs more than 70,000 air miles a year exhibiting his art work and attending conferences — he figured it was only a matter of time before he got hauled in again. He might even be shipped off to Gitmo before anyone realized their mistake. The FBI agents had given him their phone number, so he decided to call before each trip; that way, they could alert the field offices. He hasn't been detained since.

    So it dawned on him: If being candid about his flights could clear his name, why not be open about everything? "I've discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away," he says, grinning as he sips his venti Black Eye. Elahi relishes upending the received wisdom about surveillance. The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there's a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho. "It's economics," he says. "I flood the market."

    Elahi says his students get it immediately. They've grown up spilling their guts online — posting Flickr photo sets and confessing secrets on MySpace. He figures the day is coming when so many people shove so much personal data online that it will put Big Brother out of business.

    For now, though, Big Brother is still on the case. At least according to Elahi's server logs. "It's really weird watching the government watch me," he says. But it sure beats Guantanamo.


"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose."

That's acquired a whole new, Orwellian layer of meaning as well.

June 22, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bird Salt and Pepper Shakers


High fired stoneware from Jonathan Adler.


Chartreuse or White.

3" high.


June 22, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Solar Paint


What if, instead of fussing around with installing solar panels on your roof, you could just paint your house with solar paint that generates electricity without the silicon integral to photovoltaic panels?

Fiona Harvey, in a story that appeared in the June 19, 2007 Financial Times, wrote that this paint is currently being developed by several different research groups.

She interviewed Sir David King, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, who told her, "I think solar paint is very interesting."

King recently singled out the technology as one with great potential to reduce the "carbon footprint" of buildings.

Ted Sargent, one of the leading investigators in this field, asked, in a CBC interview, "What if every surface was solar?"


Here's Mary Wiens's interview with Sargent.

    Solar Revolution: Solar Paint

    Ted Sargent is a pioneer in solar science. He's working on solar technology that could literally be woven into every aspect of daily life, from our clothes to our roads, using what is known as a spray-on solar cell. The implications for our energy systems are profound. As Ted says, "Solar energy is not just an exciting science problem, but an incredibly important human problem."

    Ted is working on solar nanotechnology with the potential to make solar energy very cheap and allow society to collect it on a huge scale. Currently, solar technology costs more to build and install than most people are willing to pay. Solar panels, for example, the technology most commonly associated with solar energy, are installed on your rooftop. The cost of collecting one kilowatt per hour of solar energy (about a third of the electricity an average household uses on any given day) is about $11,000.

    Not only are panels expensive to install, they capture only the visible portion of the sun's rays so they work only on sunny days. Ted's focus is the infrared portion of the sun's rays which accounts for more than half of all solar energy. What's more, infrared energy is available to us even in cloudy weather.

    As with so many eureka moments in science, Ted's came while he was working on something else. He wanted to develop a camera that could see in the dark and was working on a sensor to measure infrared rays.

    One day in the lab, a graduate student shone an infrared light on the sensor and watched it convert the energy from that light into electricity.

    "The graduate student who was working on it came into my office," recalls Ted, "and says, 'looks like we've got a photovoltaic... something that can really do power conversion.'"

    Together they began exploring the significance of their discovery. "Because there's something about infrared colors that's intangible. They're colours you and I can't see, so we don't necessarily appreciate them, but we recognize that half the sun's energy reaching earth, in fact a little more than that, is invisible to us. 'Infrared' means beyond red, so it's beyond what you and I can see but it's just as real as anything, any other source of power, and if we don't tap into it in our solar cells, then we throw away more than half of the sun's potential energy we could be using."

    In fact, the potential is almost unbelievably huge. "Another way to look at that," says Ted, "if we could capture all the energy reaching us from the earth in one hour and turn it into electricity we could power the earth for a year."

    Current technology captures only a fraction of that energy. Even the best plastic solar cells available capture only 6 per cent of the sun's radiant energy, none of it in the infrared spectrum. By focusing on the infrared portion, Ted is hopeful that new technology based on his research could someday capture up to 30 per cent.

    The secret is "quantum dots," particles made from semiconductor crystals. They can be tuned to absorb particular colors of light, dots so tiny they can be dispersed in a solvent and then painted onto something else - a house, a car, even a sweater. Sargent imagines clothing that could be used to charge cell phones and laptops, electric cars powered by a solar cell on the roof or roadways covered with solar cells. "If only we could find a way to coat those kinds of structures," says Sargent, "to make building materials or paving material out of solar energy converters, we would have a massive resource we could then tap."

    Ted figures the first practical applications of this research could be on the market within a decade but he's reminded almost every day by headlines about rising fuel costs and climate change that the solution is urgently needed.

    "We're part of a race," he says. "We're running out of fossil fuels, and the cost keeps going up, and even if we're not worried about that problem, the deleterious prospect of using those fuels affect us every day. It's at the front of the newspapers. You can't help but think of the implications for the natural world, the implications for civilization, to capture the sun's rays in abundance."

    That sense of urgency is echoed in Ted's conversations with his graduate students. "The passion that the PhD students and post-doctoral fellows bring to this work is remarkable," he says. "They're working twenty hours a day in the lab in order to get there."

    And they push one another. "These kinds of considerations," says Ted, " how to get efficiency up, can we get another factor of 3 doing this, another factor of 10 doing that," are part of the talk during coffee breaks. "And every now and then in one of our meetings where we're making systematic progress towards this goal, I'll say, 'listen guys, this is great, and we're optimizing, but we need a revolution here. We need something to take us to next level.' Sometimes the grad students will say, 'Well, that's true but we just got a factor of 3 through systematic optimization over the last week. If we can give you another factor of 3 two times that's a factor of 10 and you know, that's a revolution. It's constantly on our minds."

    That's not the usual chit-chat the rest of us have over coffee. But Ted says the work has changed him, and changed his experience of standing in the sunshine outside the John Galbraith building on the University of Toronto campus where he and his colleagues work.

    "You go outside and stand in the sun and it beats down on you," says Ted. "I mean it's incredibly powerful. And you can't but wonder, surely there has to be enough energy there for something as small as the earth. And indeed there is. And it's been powering life forever. This is our only energy source. It's the sun that feeds plants that ultimately feed us. Clearly it's power is vast. And one that's largely untapped. And as scientists and engineers, it's incumbent on us to make sure it's something we can tap into that's practical."

    Ted is convinced that when those problems are solved, solar energy will simply overwhelm our current reliance on conventional fossil fuels or nuclear energy. "Abundant, free and clean," says Ted. "Why would we do anything else. Well the answer is we haven't yet engineered our way through this. The limitations today are technological and ultimately that means they're human. And that's what engineers do. They break assumptions."


Prefer to watch or listen to the interview?

No problema.

There a link to a video between the second and third paragraphs of the interview.

June 22, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

'Morning Conference' — Excellent new blog by an anesthesiologist called 'jnkdg'


You don't have to be a chef to know the meal's delicious — but you might appreciate it all the more.

The blog is called Morning Conference and started just four weeks ago with a May 26, 2007 post.

I hope the individual stays with it 'cause it's a very authentic account of what it's all about behind the drapes.

Trust me....

June 22, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mag Rx — 'If you can't read the labels, taking pills can be bad for your health'


From the website:

    Mag Rx

    Clip on to any prescription bottle to read the super tiny print on the label.

    It's a matter of safety: we have to be able to read labels on pill bottles to be sure we're getting the right dose or even taking the right pill.

    But that type is awfully small.

    With this magnifier, we can read those labels clearly.

    Attaches easily to most standard prescription bottles and folds back against bottle for convenient storage.


    • Magnifier folds back against bottle for convenient storage

    • Clip-on magnifier fits most standard prescription bottles

    • Ensure you are taking correct dosage

    • No more squinting to read labels

    • Easily read fine print



A set of 2 is $19.95.

June 22, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Experts' Expert: Finest martial arts movie ever made


The opening sentence of Dave Kehr's June 19, 2007 New York Times story: "A frequent candidate for the finest martial arts movie ever made, 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,' has at last been rescued from the video bargain bins... and given a first-class release...."; Kehr's review follows.

    The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

    A frequent candidate for the finest martial arts movie ever made, “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” has at last been rescued from the video bargain bins (where it has long languished under the title “Shaolin Master Killer”) and given a first-class release by the Weinstein Company’s new Asian action label, Dragon Dynasty.

    Produced by the storied Shaw Brothers studio, “36th Chamber” (1978) belongs to the second wave of the golden age of Hong Kong action filmmaking. It was released when the ground rules laid down in the mid-1960s by the genre’s pioneers, King Hu and Chang Cheh, were giving way to the harsher vision of a younger generation of directors, much as the epic westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks led to the tighter, nervier work of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher.

    But the western analogy goes only so far: structurally, the Hollywood genre the martial arts films most resemble is the musical. The trick in both genres is to find a plausible, unobtrusive and emotionally satisfying way to arrange a series of disconnected performance pieces, and “36th Chamber,” written by the prolific Ni Kuang and directed by Liu Chia-liang, finds an elegant solution.

    Loosely based on the traditional story of San Te, the Shaolin monk who introduced the secrets of kung fu to the Chinese masses oppressed by Manchurian rule, “36th Chamber” follows San Te’s training at the legendary Shaolin temple, as he progresses from a spoiled merchant’s son to a grand master. His training takes him through a series of chambers in which he confronts different tactical and physical challenges, ranging from balancing on floating logs to head-butting his way through a corridor blocked by low-hanging sandbags.

    This is, of course, the structure of practically every video game ever designed, but it makes for a beautifully paced and consistently surprising movie. Mr. Liu, directing his brother Gordon Liu as San Te, brings different styles and rhythms to each chamber, ranging from horror-movie intensity to slapstick comic relief.

    Mr. Liu, who also directs and does action choreography (most recently for Tsui Hark’s ill-fated “Seven Swords”) under the Cantonese transcription of his name, Lau Kar-leung, possesses an impeccable sense of how action is amplified and energized by editing, and there are passages here that approach the purity of dance. (Gordon Liu, with his unsmiling, classical poise and clarity of line, would not seem out of place in a ballet company.)The Dragon Dynasty transfer actually improves on the Hong Kong DVD release, with a brighter, sharper image and a heap of supplementary material. The extras include an interview with Gordon Liu (recently seen in two roles in the “Kill Bill” films) and a commentary track by the musician RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (a Shaolin scholar of some standing) and the Los Angeles film critic Andy Klein. (The Weinstein Company, $19.95, R)

June 22, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

D5: All Things Digital — Conference Highlights


The Wall Street Journal's fifth annual tech heavyweight get together is now history.


Conference hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher have created a website featuring meeting transcripts and videos, including an 8-minute long highlight reel from the conference's main event, the live meet-up between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

June 22, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gross Cakes Cookbook


You won't find this one in Saveur but no matter, we know who we are and what we're really about.

From the cookbook website:

    Gross-Out Cakes Cookbook

    Tease the taste buds and tickle the imaginations with the 20 dreadfully wonderful recipes in this unique Gross Cakes Cookbook!

    Thrill little ones and "adult kids" with crazy (yet completely edible) Kitty Litter Cake, Booger Bundt, Toenail Torte, and more!

    Includes easy instructions for creating a hideously delicious centerpiece for birthdays, holidays, school parties, and other surprises!

    Softcover; 64 pages.


Note: bookofjoe has just declared itself the Official World Headquarters of the AKF*.


*Adult Kids Foundation

June 22, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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