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Archive for April 2010

Microsoft echoes Apple view on Adobe’s Flash

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Microsoft Corp joined archrival Apple Inc in criticizing Adobe Systems Inc’s widely used Flash multimedia software, creating a rare bond among the two computing giants.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs sharply criticized Flash, which is used to produce videos and games for many Internet sites on Thursday. Apple has banned Flash from its iPhone and iPad.

A Microsoft executive pitched in later that day, saying while the ubiquity of Flash makes it easy for consumers to access video on the web, the standard has flaws.

“Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security and performance,” said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for the Internet Explorer browser.

He said that Microsoft is backing the same protocols for delivering multimedia content over the Web that Apple is promoting, a group of standards known as HTML5.

But Microsoft was more conciliatory toward Adobe than Apple, saying it works closely with Flash engineers to help fix bugs that it finds in the product.

Steve Jobs, by comparison, said in his open letter that it is time for the industry to move beyond Flash.

Which is what Microsoft said when it became time to move beyond DOS. When a “standard” not only doesn’t progress; but, holds back development of improved standards and protocols – it’s time to move on.

Cripes, I’m sitting here constructing this Post with a browser that has a plug-in to block Flash. I ain’t exactly alone.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Business, Geek, History

Tagged with , , , , ,

Vietnam re-enacts fall of Saigon

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Vietnam has marked 35 years since the end of its war by staging a re-enactment of the fall of the Saigon.

Thousands of troops marched through the streets of what is now officially called Ho Chi Minh City to mark the day the communist North claimed victory…

The Vietnam War claimed the lives of three million Vietnamese and some 60,000 US soldiers…

The BBC’s Nga Pham in the city said the events began in the early hours to avoid the heat of the day, with a play recounting the history of the country from ancient times to when the North’s tanks smashed through the gates of the palace, leading to the surrender of the southern government…

A replica tank drove through the city to the palace, greeted by cheers from the crowds.

The event was an emotional one for many who lived through the war itself, with some people crying as they watched the display.

“We are here today, very emotional, and thinking of what happened 35 years ago,” said Vu Dang Toan, a member of the tank unit involved in the victory in 1975. “It was a great victory, it was very quick to liberate Saigon and the country is reunited…”

“I think of my comrades who sacrificed their lives for the country. We feel happy but we always are grateful to those who died for our country,” said 80-year-old veteran Vu Thi Nham.

Here I am living in a land where some veterans of that war still campaign for political office on the basis of their participation. Ignorant, base, in their claims of patriotism for the invasion of a land on the other side of the world.

I realize the phenomenon is nothing new. There probably were members of Caesar’s Legions who claimed a seat in the Roman Senate on the basis of their heroism in imperial war.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Are earthquakes getting worse?

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Ever since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12 followed by others in Chile, Baja California and Indonesia, many people have asked the question, “Are earthquakes getting worse?” The answer is a firm and unequivocal “No.”

I know it’s hard to believe given the devastation these earthquakes have caused and the intense level of media attention they have received. However, it turns out that large earthquake frequency has not changed at all over the last 20 years.

But don’t take my word for it. Go to the United States Geological Survey website and see for yourself. As of April 25, 2010 is on pace to have approximately 18 earthquakes larger than a magnitude 7 on the Richter Scale.

That sure sounds like a lot, but it’s only one more than last year and very close to the 15.4 large earthquakes per year that Earth has averaged over the last 20 years. Of course, some years are more active than others, but that is to be expected.

In fact, in 1995 there were 20 of these large earthquakes, but nobody talks about that year as being particularly lively. The fact that several of this year’s large earthquakes occurred near populated areas only adds to the perception that the overall frequency or intensity of earthquakes has increased.

Before the earthquake in Haiti, there hadn’t been an earthquake of that size in over two months. This ebb and flow of earthquakes is completely natural. And what about volcanic eruptions? USGS records show they have also remained constant since the 1960s, with between 50 and 70 eruptions each year.

Over the last few days, another misconception began to emerge when CNN published an opinion article by author Alan Weisman titled “Is the Earth striking back?” The piece outlined a theory that, as glaciers melt due to global warming, the Earth’s crust will begin to stretch and rebound.

It goes on to imply that this stretching could cause not only earthquakes, such as in Haiti and Chile, but also volcanic eruptions. The article even suggests this process is responsible for the recent eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland with its neighbor, Katla. “threatening to detonate next.” Do these studies exist? Yes. Is this really what they say? No.

Most scientific papers do not lend themselves to sound bites or headlines.

We can leave that to self-defined skeptics who read less than journalists.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Who was doing what when the drilling rig blew? Ask Halliburton!

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An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history…

The process is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor. Cement, pumped down the well from the drilling rig, is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned or when drilling has finished but production hasn’t begun.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement to fill the space between the pipe and the sides of the hole and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement; it isn’t known whether they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force…

The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week…

Halliburton also was the cementer on a well that suffered a big blowout last August in the Timor Sea, off Australia. The rig there caught fire and a well leaked tens of thousands of barrels of oil over 10 weeks before it was shut down. The investigation is continuing…

Federal officials declined to comment on their investigation, and Halliburton didn’t respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

Golly gee, that’s a surprise.

So, which members of Congress will now step forward and defend Halliburton? Anyone think Republican governor Bobby Jindal will point a finger?

When it comes to sleazy business dealings our nation is working hard at establishing new records for death and destruction.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Oil lobby killed safeguards on Gulf drilling rig

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.

The lack of the device, called an acoustic switch, could amplify concerns over the environmental impact of offshore drilling after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig last week.

The accident has led to one of the largest ever oil spills in U.S. water and the loss of 11 lives…

U.S. regulators don’t mandate use of the remote-control device on offshore rigs, and the Deepwater Horizon, hired by oil giant BP PLC, didn’t have one. With the remote control, a crew can attempt to trigger an underwater valve that shuts down the well even if the oil rig itself is damaged or evacuated…

Nevertheless, regulators in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil, in effect require them. Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.

The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

What that means in plain and simple English is that the Oil Patch Boys bought enough politicians and bureaucrats to stop regulation.

The U.K., where BP is headquartered, doesn’t require the use of acoustic triggers.

An acoustic trigger costs about $500,000, industry officials said. The Deepwater Horizon had a replacement cost of about $560 million, and BP says it is spending $6 million a day to battle the oil spill…

RTFA. Lots of history, lots of detail. You do the math!

It’s been decades since I left the offshore oil drilling industry – but, I stay in touch with the tech. This is a drilling rig which could have had better safeguards. Industry payoffs made the difference.

Migratory birds have smaller brains. And..?

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Researchers at Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications…shed new light on the evolution of brain size in birds. Scientists have known for some time that migratory birds have smaller brains than their resident relatives. Now a new study looks into the reasons and concludes that the act of migrating leads to a reduced brain size…

Understanding brain evolution is something that has interested scientists since the times of Charles Darwin, who considered that the large size of a human brain went hand in hand with the exceptional cognitive capacities of our species. One of the classic explanations is the protective brain theory, which suggests that a large brain — in comparison to body size — makes learning easier. This protects individuals from changes in the environment, such as those produced by changes in season. In the case of birds however not all species respond to seasonal changes in the same way. Migratory birds avoid these changes by travelling to less inhospitable places when conditions worsen. This is the strategy followed by swallows or cuckoos. Resident bird species stay in the same area throughout the year and face strong environmental fluctuations. Tits and crows belong to this group…

The study…points to the fact that being a migratory bird is what makes these birds have smaller brains. Researchers came to this conclusions by reconstructing the evolutionary history of passerine birds and determining the sequence of evolutionary changes which most probably led to the current situation. In the case of this group of birds “the first step was changing from a resident to a migratory life and the second step was a reduction in the size of the brains of migratory birds,” Daniel Sol explains. “Therefore,” he adds, “differences in brain sizes are not caused by nature’s need to provide resident species with larger brains, as suggested in the protective brain theory, but to provide migratory species with smaller brains.”

Normally a larger brain offers many advantages. Then why is it that in the case of migratory birds natural selection has favoured smaller brains? The study highlights various explanations, but the general idea focuses on the possibility that a large brain does not necessarily have to be better. According to Daniel Sol, “the brain is an organ that consumes a lot of energy and develops slowly and this can be too costly for migratory species which must travel far and have little time to reproduce.”

Several interesting ideas in the study. Some of which would be useful to a stand-up comedian.

The rest are meaningful to evolutionary biologists.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 6:00 am

Florida Gov. Crist announces Independent bid for Senate

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Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to abandon the Republican Party and run for Senate as an independent, made official at a St. Petersburg campaign event today, marks a stunning turnaround for a politician who just over a year ago was heralded as one of the GOP’s brightest young talents.

But Thursday’s rally also represents a general election kick-off for what is now one of the most entertaining and unpredictable races of the midterm election year, a battle between three viable statewide candidates…

Along with the slumping economy, an albatross for any incumbent, it was Rubio’s relentless criticism of Crist for embracing President Obama’s stimulus package that cost the governor precious support among conservative base voters, forcing him to quit the GOP primary altogether.

The Florida Republican Party has been thoroughly taken over by a range of right-wingers using teabaggers as their cheap foot soldiers. Republicans who might be moderates ain’t welcome anymore.

Still, a Quinnipiac University survey of Florida voters released earlier this month indicated that Crist would hold a narrow edge in a three-way contest with Rubio and Meek.

“You can’t compare this to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut or Jesse Ventura in Minnesota or anything like that, because now we are going to have a sitting incumbent governor running as an independent candidate against two traditional party candidates,” said Justin Sayfie, a Republican who supported Crist when he ran for governor in 2006. “There is no textbook example of how you win a race like that…”

As a sitting governor, Crist has the ability to insert himself into the newspaper headlines and local newscasts every day. That free exposure could make up for what he may end up lacking in campaign money.

Crist made several moves in recent weeks — including vetoing a teacher pay bill popular among conservatives and reversing his support for offshore drilling — that made clear he plans to target moderate voters instead of Republican regulars.

“He cares about everyone in the state of Florida, not just Republicans,” State Sen. Mike Fasano said. “I wish we had more politicians like that.”

The ethos of ex-Republicans who became independents because of crap wars and lousy fiscal policy by the Bush and Rove set aren’t exactly in line to be impressed by Rubio’s embrace of the same old sleaze. Crist is someone they could vote for – as a Republican or an Independent.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 30, 2010 at 2:00 am

India, Pakistan talks signal thaw – I hope

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Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed today to resume peace talks between their top diplomats and work toward rebuilding trust shattered by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that New Delhi blamed on Pakistani militants.

Officials said India’s Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, agreed on the need to normalise relations dogged by more than six decades of hostility since both gained independence from Britain. They deputed their foreign ministers to meet at a later date to discuss the resumption of a wide-ranging formal dialogue that began in 2004, but was suspended after the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

The two prime ministers met for more than an hour in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, on the sidelines of a summit of south Asian leaders. It was their first meeting in eight months…

The two prime ministers “agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalised and the channels of contact should work effectively to enlarge the constituency of peace in both countries,” Nirupama Rao told reporters…

India and Pakistan have been under pressure to resume their peace dialogue – which eased historic tensions although it made little headway on the key issue of Kashmir, which they both claim in entirety and have fought two of their three wars over since gaining independence in 1947.

Overdue. I always say that. I always mean it. RTFA.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Court says sneaking veggies into kid’s food ain’t copyrighted!

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The author of a children’s cookbook cannot copyright ideas for slipping vegetables into children’s food, a federal appeals court said in upholding a ruling in favor of the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld in a copyright infringement case.

Jessica Seinfeld wrote a cookbook, “Deceptively Delicious,” offering tips that were similar to those of author Missy Chase Lapine, author of “The Sneaky Chef.” Lapine sued, claiming that Seinfeld had stolen the ideas.

In a ruling announced Wednesday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s judgment there was no copyright infringement.

“Stockpiling vegetable purees for covert use in children’s food is an idea that cannot be copyrighted,” the court said in its decision.

Seinfeld’s attorney, Orin Snyder, called Lapine’s accusations “an abuse of the judicial system.”

“Two different courts have now seen through these false allegations, and that is why this case has been definitively thrown out of court,” he said in a statement.

Overdue.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Are you concerned enough about animals’ Right to Privacy?

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Dr Brett Mills’ study ‘Television wildlife documentaries and animals’ right to privacy’ analyses the making of documentaries that accompanied the BBC wildlife series Nature’s Great Events (2009). Exploring the debates on ethics, animal welfare and rights and human rights, Dr Mills suggests that animals have a right to privacy but this is turned into a challenge for the production teams, who use newer forms of technology to overcome species’ desire not to be seen…

“This is an important debate for two reasons. Firstly, wildlife documentaries are usually seen as important pieces of public service broadcasting, and it’s therefore worth us thinking about the ethical contexts within which such productions exist. Secondly, such documentaries are the key way in which many people ‘encounter’ a range of species from all over the globe, and so they therefore contribute to how we think about other species and human/animal interactions. By exploring what wildlife documentaries do, and how they do it, I hope to contribute to environmental debates at a time when the global effects of human behaviour are rightly under scrutiny.”

At the heart of the documentary project is the necessity for animals to be seen. Dr Mills suggests that this necessity itself raises a series of ethical concerns, but these seem to be sidelined in the moral debates surrounding wildlife documentaries. The use of sophisticated aerial technology to film animals, for example, is justified because it does not disturb them, yet the question of whether it is appropriate to film animals in this way is not raised. Underpinning such action is an assumption that animals have no right to privacy, and that the camera crew have no need to determine whether those animals consent to being filmed.

Unlike human activities, a distinction of the public and the private is not made in the animal world. There are many activities which animals engage in which are common to wildlife documentary stories but which are rendered extremely private in the human realm; mating, giving birth, and dying are recurring characteristics in nature documentaries, but the human version of these activities remains largely absent from broadcasting.

Dr Mills said: “It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy.

Anthropomorphism carried to a logically absurd extreme.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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