Looking for balloons + online behavior test = $40K prize

The prize is $40,000, and it goes to the first person or group to determine the locations of 10 red balloons that can be anywhere in the continental United States.

The apparent frivolity of the challenge is only on the surface. This is not a game invented by some eccentric Web Midas. The contest, which takes place on Dec. 5, is being sponsored by Darpa, the Pentagon’s research agency.

The goal is to learn more about social behavior in computer networks and how large computer-connected teams use their resources and connections to compete.

There is also an invention being celebrated. Peter Lee, a computer scientist and one of the Darpa directors organizing the contest, said Dec. 5 would be the 40th anniversary of the day when the first four nodes of the Arpanet — the experimental military-sponsored computer network that was the forerunner of today’s Internet — were connected…

Dr. Lee said he was not certain what to expect in the tactics that teams might use to track down the balloons, which will be visible from public roadways for a single day. Some groups are developing software applications. Dr. Lee said he also expected large teams of spotters and even the possibility that some groups might use subterfuge like disseminating false information…

Contestants from anywhere in the world may participate in this contest, he said, and registration will stay open until the contest begins.

I’m game.

UPDATED: A group from MIT won. Why am I not surprised?

Boss of British Telecom has the only broadband home in town

35 miles from London!

British Telecom (BT) has admitted its chairman is the only person in a village on the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire border with broadband. Other people in Hambleden were told they could not have broadband because of the distance to the exchange…

In a statement, BT wrote: “Trials of new technologies are often conducted among a company’s own staff so there is nothing unusual in this situation.

“BT has learnt a lot through the trial the chairman participated in and hopefully those lessons will benefit the residents of Hambleden in due course…

Gary Ashworth, who lives in Hambleden, said: “If I was a BT shareholder I’d be upset… I think one can live with it, if it’s a level playing field it’s not a problem.

It’s this preferential treatment that Sir Michael Rake has had that’s upset most of the villagers…”

The government has promised to provide all homes in the UK with speeds of at least 2Mbps by 2012.

Part of rural life is delayed access to modern technology. We went with DirecTV and satellite television the 3rd month they were in business -back in 1994 – because they simply were the only access possible for “cable” channels.

After three different cable providers sold themselves to higher bidders – and fibre to the home finally reached our community we now have a choice of Comcast – or Comcast – for high-speed internet access. 2½ miles from the city limits.

Folks in Hambledon have my sympathy.

Cop killer freed early by Mike Huckabee – UPDATED

“Easier to change the Constitution than…to change the word of the living god”

Maurice Clemmons, a convicted armed robber being hunted for the killing of four police officers, was released early from prison by former Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee.

In 2000, Maurice Clemmons had served 11 years of a 95-year sentence for a string of robberies and other crimes when it was commuted by the then governor of Arkansas.

On Sunday, in an apparently random attack, Clemmons, 37, allegedly walked into a coffee shop in the suburb of Lakewood, near Seattle, and opened fire on the officers as they sat catching up on paperwork before the start of their shift…

The suspect, who has a long criminal history as well as mental health problems which have convinced him he is the Messiah, had allegedly boasted to friends on Saturday that he intended to kill police officers just days after being bailed on a child rape charge.

Mr Huckabee was accused of granting too many commutations and clemencies during the 2008 presidential nomination battle, in which he was the runner-up to John McCain

“Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state,” said Mr Huckabee.

Court papers indicate that Mr Clemmons is delusional and mentally unstable. He had once forced his wife and young relatives to undress on the grounds that the world was “going to end soon and that he was Jesus”, said a police report.

He also believes he can fly and was once seen jumping around in his back garden, trying to take off.

It’s praiseworthy in some Christian quarters that they take care of their own. So, don’t be surprised when a truly Christian and compassionate conservative releases a violent looneybird from prison with most of his sentence unserved.

UPDATE: Shot and killed by Seattle police. The cop-killer – not the professional Christian.

Cloud computing goes green – and underground

In the chill of a massive cave beneath an orthodox Christian cathedral, a city power firm is preparing what it thinks will be the greenest data center on the planet.

Excess heat from hundreds of computer servers to be located in the bedrock beneath Uspenski Cathedral, one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist sites, will be captured and channelled into the district heating network, a system of water-heated pipes used to warm homes in the Finnish capital.

“It is perfectly feasible that a quite considerable proportion of the heating in the capital city could be produced from thermal energy generated by computer halls,” said Juha Sipila, project manager at Helsingin Energia.

Finland and other north European countries are using their water-powered networks as a conduit for renewable energy sources: capturing waste to heat the water that is pumped through the system…

Data centers such as those run by Google already use around 1 percent of the world’s energy, and their demand for power is rising fast with the trend to outsource computing.

One major problem is that in a typical data center only 40-45 percent of energy use is for the actual computing — the rest is used mostly for cooling down the servers.

“It is a pressing issue for IT vendors since the rise in energy costs to power and cool servers is estimated to be outpacing the demand for servers,” said Steven Nathasingh, chief executive of research firm Vaxa…

Besides providing heat to homes in the Finnish capital, the new Uspenski computer hall will use half the energy of a typical datacenter, said Sipila…

The center’s location in the bowels of the cathedral has an added bonus: security. It is taking over a former bomb shelter carved into the rock by the fire brigade in World War Two as a refuge for city officials from Russian air raids.

It’s always positive to see a community find something useful to do with a leftover church.

Saddam Hussein TV channel launched

A television channel dedicated to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has appeared on Arab satellite networks. Its launch came on the third anniversary, on the Islamic calendar, of the former president’s execution.

It is not clear who is behind the channel which broadcasts the speeches, images and even poetry of Saddam Hussein, backed with patriotic music.

It is broadcast from outside Iraq and some analysts suspect his former political supporters of bankrolling it…

We know the world is filled to capacity with people who adore the politics of the US and UK, right?

The ‘al-Arab’ channel, dubbed Saddam TV in Iraq first appeared on Bahrain-based Noorsat and Egypt-owned NileSat on Friday and is also streamed on the Internet…

One Baghdad resident told the BBC that the channel has become his favourite even though watching it makes him sad for reminding him of when Iraq was safe. However the BBC’s Natalia Antelava in Baghdad says that many in the city are indifferent to the news of the channel’s launch.

The British Parliament and the U.S. Congress will no doubt hold hearings trying to understand how such a thing should take place.

The following week someone may tell them that people other than Western politicians have the ability to control electricity.

Homework – where you remember not to smoke the seeds

Yup. Looks like Trailer Park Boys to me!

At most colleges, marijuana is very much an extracurricular matter. But at Med Grow Cannabis College, marijuana is the curriculum: the history, the horticulture and the legal how-to’s of Michigan’s new medical marijuana program.

“This state needs jobs, and we think medical marijuana can stimulate the state economy with hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars,” said Nick Tennant, the 24-year-old founder of the college, which is actually a burgeoning business (no baccalaureates here) operating from a few bare-bones rooms in a Detroit suburb.

The six-week, $485 primer on medical marijuana is a cross between an agricultural extension class covering the growing cycle, nutrients and light requirements (“It’s harvest time when half the trichomes have turned amber and half are white”) and a gathering of serious potheads, sharing stories of their best highs (“Smoke that and you are … medicated!”)…

Even though the business of growing medical marijuana is legal under Michigan’s new law, there is enough nervousness about the enterprise that most students at a recent class did not want their names or photographs used. An instructor also asked not to be identified…

Because the Michigan program is so new, gray areas in the law have not been tested, creating real concern for some students. For example, it is not legal to start growing marijuana before being officially named a caregiver to a certified patient, but patients who are sick, certified and ready to buy marijuana generally do not want to wait through the months of the growing cycle until a crop is ready. So for the time being, coordinating entry into the business feels to some like a kind of Catch-22.

Even though I don’t smoke or drink, I have to hope programs like this continue to progress. Anything and everything that nudges, drags, pulls or shoves this society out of the 19th Century morass of morality and fear – is worthwhile.

Gay couple’s wedding in Argentina – victory over prejudice! UPDATED

The Beruti register office in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires will never have witnessed a marriage like it. On Tuesday, Alex Freyre and José María Di Bello, who met three years ago at a conference on HIV, will make history and divide a continent as they become Latin America’s first gay married couple.

The ceremony will be a tribute to their determination as well as their love for each other, after a bitter three-year campaign which has divided a city, outraged Argentina’s powerful Roman Catholic church and overturned the constitution…

Not surprisingly, the marriage is already being hailed by equality activists as a significant triumph against the odds in a traditionally macho society. Argentina – and Latin America in general – is not known for a tolerance of sexual diversity, and violence against gays is an everyday occurrence.

“This marriage is bigger than José María and I,” Freyre told the Observer. “It is a victory for all who face prejudice and discrimination across Latin America and the Caribbean. It is proof that at last the grip of the Catholic church is slipping across Latin America, the system that has kept gay communities silent and fearful is crumbling. What is happening on Tuesday is a strike against those attitudes that have repressed sexual rights across this continent for too long.”

Well said. RTFA.

I’m “almost” inclined to predict that once Latin America gets a few dozen ordinary marriages accomplished, the populace will set aside one more outdated edict from the Catholic Church and let people go about living ordinary lives.

“Almost”, but not quite.

UPDATE: A judge is trying to postpone the marriage. The couple will show up at the registry office, anyway, Tuesday morning.

UPDATE: Well, it took another month; but, this young couple finally got married. There are judges everywhere in the world who must think they are Republicans. Hateful bastards who get some pleasure from delaying someone else’s rights – even if it’s just for weeks – trying to hold back civi rights for all.

Voters ban minarets from Swiss architecture

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Swiss voters have approved a proposal to ban the construction of minarets, after a rightwing campaign that labelled the mosque towers as symbols of militant Islam, projections by a respected polling institute show.

The projections based on partial returns indicate that support swung from 37% in favour of the ban a week ago to 59% in today’s referendum…

The nationalist Swiss People’s party (SPP) described minarets, the distinctive spires used in most countries for calls to prayer, as symbols of rising Muslim political and religious power that could eventually turn Switzerland into an Islamic nation.

Which is fracking absurd.

Muslims make up about 6% of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people, many of them refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Fewer than 13% [of those] practice their religion, the government says, and Swiss mosques do not broadcast the call to prayer outside their buildings…

The move by the SPP, the country’s largest party in terms of popular support and membership in parliament, is part of a broader European backlash against a growing Muslim population. It has stirred fears of violent reactions in Muslim countries and an economically disastrous boycott by wealthy Muslims who bank, shop and holiday in Switzerland…

If there is a boycott – and I would support it – the Swiss would be getting what they deserve. Let their government collect taxes on purity!

The SPP has campaigned against immigrants in previous years – mainly unsuccessfully – with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports.

Bigotry can still be counted upon to turn out votes from ignorant fear-filled people. In any country. Though the Swiss hold more than one inauspicious record for silliness like this. After all, they didn’t allow women to vote in national elections until after 1971.

The soldier who smuggled himself into Auschwitz

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Denis Avey is a remarkable man by any measure. A courageous and determined soldier in World War II, he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a camp connected to the Germans’ largest concentration camp, Auschwitz.

But his actions while in the camp – which he has never spoken about until now – are truly extraordinary. When millions would have done anything to get out, Mr Avey repeatedly smuggled himself into the camp.

Now 91 and living in Derbyshire, he says he wanted to witness what was going on inside and find out the truth about the gas chambers, so he could tell others. He knows he took “a hell of a chance”…

You wouldn’t think anyone would think or do that, but that is how I was. I had red hair and a temperament to match. Nothing would stop me.”

He arranged to swap for one night at a time with a Jewish inmate he had come to trust. He exchanged his uniform for the filthy, stripy garments the man had to wear. For the Auschwitz inmate it meant valuable food and rest in the British camp, while for Denis it was a chance to gather facts on the inside…

He talked to Jewish prisoners but says they rarely spoke of their previous life, instead they were focused on the hell they were living and the work they were forced to do in factories outside the camp…

“There were nearly three million human beings worked to death in different factories,” says Mr Avey. “They knew at that rate they’d last about five months.

He says he would ask where people he’d met previously had gone and he would be told they’d “gone up the chimney”.

Part of the historic record so rarely taught in detail, nowadays.

I’ve known a few survivors of Auschwitz. Been there once. Knew one pair of survivors who met inside the concentration camp – and married afterwards.

I’ve known soldiers with the courage to travel beyond the boundaries of humanity like Avey – and spent the remainder of their lives surviving what now is called PTSD. My dearest heroes.

RTFA. Imagine a little of what Denis Avey saw and experienced.