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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

FavIcon Tool

On my not-actually-written-down todo list for a while has been to produce a favicon for my site. Selecting an image and finding a tool are both issues:
  • Some time ago, Ian kindly provided an image for use as a website logo of sorts. I hadn't thought of using it for a favicon, it just came to mind when...
  • I spotted a tool for doing the conversion online.
So now, I have a favicon, providing just that little extra clutter to your visual experience :-)

I did feel that the animated favicon, with or without scrolling text, was perhaps a little too much.

(via A VC)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The photon's quantum nature flirts with the program's components...

Quantum computing is wierd. Really.

A new technique for quantum computing involves not actually running the "computer" at all:
The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.

"It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.
Bizarre indeed, but why bother?
"A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten.
Erm, well, yes, this is true, but only in quantum computing is it actually helpful.

(New Scientist article)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"the females accidentally bite bits off of the males during mating"

So, evidence is emerging that giant squid may not be carnivorous after all, despite the discovery of parts of one giant squid in the stomach of another. Says ABC:

But New Zealand based marine biologist Steve O'Shea believes that was the result of some bizarre mating methods.

He says the creatures do not mean to eat each other but the females accidentally bite bits off of the males during mating.


(via Schneier on Security)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Increased atmospheric CO2 levels may be causing increased river flows by allowing plants to photosynthesise more efficiently.

I've written before about the North Atlantic conveyor theory (1, 2) and the belief that the decrease in salinity in is caused in part by increased runoff from Siberian rivers. It had been assumed that this was a result of higher average temperatures reducing the amount of water held as ice. This belief seems pretty unassailable for the Greenland ice sheet (it's thinning measurably), but one scientist has observed that this increased runoff is occuring in many places, presumably in some cases where reduction in ice mass is inadequate to explain the change, and is now looking to the operation of photosynthesis in the presence of increased CO2 concentrations. Apparently one result of CO2 being more readily available is that plants evaporate less water in the process, and therefore absorb less water from the soil to begin with.

I wonder what other side effects are awaiting discovery.

(New Scientist article)

One mile down, 61999 to go

LiftPort is working towards a functioning space elevator by 2018. (No, really...) Last month they anchored a mile long ribbon to balloons over the Arizona desert. Sadly, their climbing robots broke down 460m above the ground, so I guess that's really a quarter of a mile down (erm, up), 61999.75 to go.

(New Scientist article)

Interrogation as a special case of negotiation (or vice versa)

Some years ago I read an account of interrogation techniques used to garner signed "confessions", primarily in P.O.W. camps, which alienate the confessor from his peers. I forget the source and the specifics but the process amounts to gaining a series of small concessions and a signed statement at the end of each of 10-100 day-long sessions. At each step, the statement is signed in sort-of-good faith in that it doesn't contain any assertions that are terribly offensive to the subject and, gee, dinner and some rest is looking pretty good right about now... The author's claim was that, over time and with a developing of rapport with the interrogator, the subject will end up in a situation where, through the making of serial concessions, his viewpoint has actually shifted, perhaps not to one of complete agreement with his captor, but at least to the extent where his signed statements - each of which he more or less agrees with (or at, doesn't disagree with enough to loudly decry them to his peers) - are grossly offensive to his peers who, upon being shown what he's signed will shun him. Presumably once this has occurred, recruitment of the subject and thereby obtaining his betrayal of his peers through the disclosure of confidential information is much simplified.

This is not a post about interrogation though, it's about negotiating price with the buyer of a startup. I couldn't help thinking about the incremental concessions element of the interrogation procedure when I read Lorne Groe's description of how he proceeds when confronted with a CEO who wishes to price on the basis of discounted cash flows:
When we meet I suggest that we make any changes (I put your projections back to their original form for the meeting) in real-time using my laptop and a projector. During the meeting I attack your projections, assumption by assumption, making small, subtle changes, as I know which areas to hit and how far to hit them. But it's most important that I get you to agree with the changes (since most CEOs know that the projections are BS this isn't that hard). You can't see the impact because Excel isn't recalculating the formulas. If you inquire about this strange phenomena, I simply say that there is something wrong with my Excel, and we'll I have to recalculate all the formulas at the end. When that happens, F9 is not your friend.
It's a little brutal, but there's a certain poetic justice to it in that it is only effective against CEOs whose spiel isn't informed by reality but is, instead, built on figures pulled out of the air.

Has "Peak Oil" transitioned from prediction to recorded history?

Deffeyes reckons it has:
That's it. I can now refer to the world oil peak in the past tense. My career as a prophet is over. I'm now an historian.
His estimation procedure puts total world oil reserves at 2.013 trillion barrels and the peak therefore at 1.0065 trillion barrels, which through interpolation of Oil & Gas Journal's end-of-year production numbers he puts at 16-Dec-2005.

I still maintain that it is unlikely that an accurate view of the world's total reserves is likely to be available at the moment of the peak, and indeed, not until years (or perhaps decades) later and that, therefore, the best that can be done in the interim is to identify local maxima in output shortly (weeks, months) after the fact.

(via Cardboard Spaceship)

NHS Bureaucracy

I recently had my first contact with the NHS in the shape of a consultation with a local GP. All went well, a sample was taken for a test and I was told to call back for the result in about 2 weeks (the consultation was 3 weeks ago). So, I called today, the conversation went as follows (paraphrased and with the less egregious stupdities elided):
  • Receptionist: No, that result's not on our screen.
  • Me: OK, it should have arrived already, what's the followup process?
  • Receptionist: You'll need to talk to your doctor.
  • Me: To be clear, I have to talk to my doctor to followup an administrative problem?
  • Receptionist: I'm not medically trained...
  • Me: Yes, yes, I know, but the problem isn't a medical one; you're sure that I have to talk to my doctor to follow up an administrative problem?
  • Receptionist: Yes, he can access more information than we can.
{{ I'm inclined to believe this. The "call for results" deal is really "call for the comments that your doctor wrote on your file after he reviewed the results when they arrived", which I suppose explains why they can offer such a service in the first place. }}
  • Me: OK, so...
  • Receptionist: You'll have to call back tomorrow before 10:30am to leave a message to have your doctor call you after morning surgery.
  • Me: ??!! Can't I just leave a message now?
  • Receptionist: No, the screen for the lady who takes messages for the doctors doesn't come up after 10:30.
I'm not making this up...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Unexplored options in air travel "security"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

So, how many times _did_ they pass the ball

Here's an intriguing visual cognition test (you'll need Java installed). It shows two teams, the white shirts and the black shirts, each of three people passing basketballs around. Watch the video carefully and count the exact number of passes that are completed between the members of the white shirts team.

I'll wait while you do so.

Really, go and count the exact number of passes completed by the white shirts team.

OK, done that? Good. Now, watch the video again, but don't count anything, just ... watch the video ...

(link found in Shapiro's Goal-free Living)