Saturday, April 19, 2003

Inventor of the Week

The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates those inventors who have turned their
ideas into accomplishments. We foster an enthusiasm for asking?and
answering?the questions that change lives. Learn how our acclaimed awards
and outreach programs inspire the next generation of inventors, and explore
our unique Invention Dimension.

(two idaho guys are there!!:)


PHILO T. FARNSWORTH (1906-1971) - Electronic television

Philo Farnsworth conceived the world's first all-electronic television at
the age of 15. By the time he died, he had earned over 300 US and foreign
patents for electronic and mechanical devices.

The "Idaho" Potato - Luther Burbank


Luther Burbank (1849-1926) - The "Idaho" Potato

Luther Burbank had only an elementary education, but was always an avid
reader. At the age of 19, he was profoundly impressed by Charles Darwin's
treatise The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication: "It opened
up a new world to me." At 21, Burbank purchased a 17-acre plot of land; he
went on to become one of history's most inventive and productive breeders of

The Amazing Colossal Colon


Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the US, a
depressing statistic made all the more tragic when you consider that a large
number of those deaths could have been prevented with regular screenings and
a better understanding of symptoms and methods of prevention. In an
(admittedly kooky) effort to drop some knowledge on a colon-ignorant public,
the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation is sponsoring the Colossal
Colon Tour - no, not a series of Liam Gallagher concerts but an educational
exhibition with a four-foot-high, 40-foot-long mock-up of a colon that
visitors can crawl around in to get close up views of cancer and various
other afflictions affecting that part of the body. The gigantic colon will
be visiting 20 US cities now through November; hurry to the official site to
see if your town has made the list. If you're disappointed that the colossal
colon won't be making a stop near you, don't fret: you can experience a
virtual colon crawl at the site as well.

It doesn't come to Idaho, but you can take the on-line tour!!

Deep Sea Invasion

It sounds almost like a Hollywood plot about secret invasion of Earth: a
killer alga with no natural predator escapes from an aquarium into the
Mediterranean. A marine biologist warns of dire consequences. Authorities
ignore him for years in spite of growing evidence. Within two decades, the
pestiferous plant has a chokehold on waters off southern Europe and has
spread to Australia and California. Problem is, it's true. At the companion
site to its Apr. 1 broadcast "Deep Sea Invasion", Nova describes the enemy,
Caulerpa taxifolia, as "a bright green seaweed with fernlike fronds that is
used to decorate saltwater aquariums." This invader looks harmless, but its
inherent toxin kills fish and invertebrates. Apparently the only thing that
slows it down is a massive dose of chlorine, which also kills everything
else around it. Nova has the grim details, as well as background on other
invaders such as comb jellyfish and the water hyacinth that threaten other
species with extinction. Chilling.

The Museum of Unworkable Devices


The Museum of Unworkable Devices

What do Bob Fludd's 1618 closed-cycle mill design and M.C. Escher's
"Waterfall" lithograph have in common? They both look nice - and they're
both impossible. Like alchemists, who hoped to transmute lead into gold,
perpetual-motion machinists have been around for centuries. So far, nobody's
ever built one - although some claim that nature is rubbing our noses in the
fact that free, non-polluting energy sources are all around us. To the claim
that perpetual motion is impossible because friction can never be entirely
eliminated, the defenders point to the atom, in which electrons circulate
around the nucleus forever. Umm, OK. The Museum of Unworkable Devices, while
largely geared to lengthy debunkings of perpetual motion machines, does
provide at least a limited venue for those who disagree. It may be an
unbalanced approach, but it seems somehow appropriate for a site dealing
with perpetual motion to be out of balance - maintaining a state of
imbalance has been key to so many proposals for perpetual motion machines,
after all.

An Alternative for Musicians and Producers

MetaFilter Launches Music Site

MetaFilter, the popular community weblog, has opened MetaFilter Music, a
section through which members can share their own music with the world.
Participants are encouraged to make their work available under the Creative
Commons license, thus bypassing what many acknowledge is the badly broken
legislative music licensing framework. The site is so new, there's not much
content yet, but the meme propagated by MetaFilter is more significant than
the music. What will happen to the music industry if a large number of music
producers choose to ignore the licensing framework that's currently so
heavily skewed to the benefit of large record companies? Also, note the use
of Andromeda, a low-cost, cross-platform, professional music-streaming
server. It's something to consider if you want to host your own music Web
MetaFilter Music:
MetaFilter discussion:

Visual Thesarus

I always did like that java applet....nice application of it:

Oh the Contrasts

US Government Backs Software to Evade Chinese Net Censorship

An agency of the US government admits it has commissioned software that
individuals can use to circumvent censorship blocks like those used by the
Chinese government. The International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), the US
agency in question, broadcasts the well known Voice of America over radio
and Internet feed, which are routinely jammed by various governments,
notably the Chinese. The IBB commissioned famous anti-censorship activist
Bennett Haselton of to create an easy-to-use proxy program
that would enable anybody to circumvent such censorship. Haselton's program
works only under Windows XP and Windows 2000 and is certainly less complex
than alternative proxy software, which is generally designed for experienced
sysadmins. The irony - given all the laws that Congress has passed to censor
the spread of information, like the DMCA - is delectable. CNET has more.
Proxy software:

followed by:

Super-DMCA Laws Outlaw Common Net Technologies, Stifle Research

Niels Provos is a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan who studies
the security-related technologies of steganography and honeypots. Now, as a
result of a law that just took effect in Michigan, he's had to move all
information about his thesis to servers in the Netherlands. The new law,
part of a spate of similar so-called "Super DMCA" legislation recently
enacted in several states at the behest of the film and music industries,
makes it a felony not only to possess software capable of concealing the
existence or source of any electronic communication, but also to tell others
how to do it. This in effect outlaws common Net technologies such as NAT and
firewalls, and has forced Provos to move his research materials - which are
all about concealing communications - offshore. SecurityFocus has the story,
while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has state-by-state
information about such laws.

Spam Attack

[Note that the editors do not condone or encourage this type of behavior]

Internet-Generated Attack on the Physical World

An interview of "spam king" Alan Ralsky happened to mention his hometown.
Seizing upon that bit of info, the Slashdot crowd figured out Ralsky's home
address and decided to spam him back, with junk mail. Collectively, they
signed him up for tons - literally, tons - of catalogues and other junk mail
delivered by post. Ralsky's home mailbox was buried by the subsequent
avalanche of junk. Web search engines make it easy to find catalogue and
other mail lists; Google alone turns up over 250,000. Some relatively simple
scripting through the Google API interface can automate the job of signing
people up to them - and that means you don't need a large, motivated
community to pull off this postal spam attack. Three researchers have
written a paper that shows how to do it, and note that they've known about
this type of exploit for years. Crypto-Gram has the story, Slashdot the
discussion. Avi Rubin, one of the paper's authors, supplies it.