January 2004

David Cho, Washington Post Staff Writer, reports:

HOPEWELL, Va. — Sonam always feared her devotion to Buddhism would land her behind bars in her native China. As it turns out, she is serving a long term in jail — not in East Asia but in central Virginia.

The 30-year-old Buddhist nun, who grew up in a Tibetan village near the foot of Mount Everest, fled to the United States in August after family members had been tortured and friends jailed for their faith, she said. But when she arrived at Dulles International Airport and requested asylum, federal immigration officials detained her and placed her in the local jail in this small city outside Richmond.

Sonam, who is known by that one name, has been here ever since except for a brief visit in November to a court room in Arlington where a federal immigration judge granted her asylum. But even as she was hugging her attorney in celebration, the lawyer from the Department of Homeland Security announced that she was appealing the case.

Sonam was then shackled and returned to her cell, where she waits for her next court date, which is likely to be in the fall at the earliest, her attorney said.


Alex Kirby, BBC News Online environment correspondent, writes:

The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.

The bird, a captive African grey called N’kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N’kisi’s remarkable abilities, which are said to include telepathy, feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N’kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.


COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Danish biotech company has developed a genetically modified flower that could help detect land mines and it hopes to have a prototype ready for use within a few years.

Cory Doctorow writes:

Someone told me about an ingenious way that spammers were cracking “captchas” — the distorted graphic words that a human being has to key into a box before Yahoo and Hotmail and similar services will give her a free email account. The idea is to require a human being and so prevent spammers from automatically generating millions of free email accounts.

The ingenious crack is to offer a free porn site which requires that you key in the solution to a captcha — which has been inlined from Yahoo or Hotmail — before you can gain access. Free porn sites attract lots of users around the clock, and the spammers were able to generate captcha solutions fast enough to create as many throw-away email accounts as they wanted.

Now, chances are that they didn’t need to do this, since optical character recognition has been shown to be readily tweakable to decode captchas without human intervention — that which a computer can generate, a computer can often solve.

My cow-orker Seth Schoen points out that human-generated captchas are much harder to solve: say, picking out a photo of an animal, at a funny angle, in a cage, and challenging attackers to correctly identify it. People can do so readily, machines probably can’t.

Except, of course, that getting people to pick out pix of animals at funny angles doesn’t scale. Unless, of course, you offered them free porn to do so (”Want free porn? Identify the animal in this cage!”).

Which suggests a curious future, where commodity pornography, in great quantities, is used to incent human actors to generate and solve Turing tests like captchas in similarily great quantities.

Mark Rasch, Security Focus, writes:

According to Greek mythology, the seer Laocoon, a priest of Apollo, warned the residents of Troy against accepting into their city the giant wooden horse designed by Odysseus and created by the architect Epeius. His famous warning, “Trojans, trust not the horse. Whatever it be, I fear the Greeks, even when bringing gifts,” applies equally today to importing unknown files as it did to the Trojans 4,000 years ago.

We think we know all about the dangers of Trojan horses, but there is a new and more dangerous legal wrinkle to consider. In the past few months, a couple of people in England were acquitted based upon the so-called “Trojan defense” — what we criminal lawyers used to call the “SODDI” defense: Some Other Dude Did It.

The Trojan defense presents two equally frightening problems: the possibilities of acquitting the guilty, or convicting the innocent.

The $99.95 Digium Wildcard X100P single port FXO card is nothing more than an Intel chipset Voice/Data/Fax PCI modem, available from Copmuter Geeks for $8.99

joakimsen said, “They change the PCI vendor ID via a resistor, simply modify one byte of the source code and it will detect it as the X100P.” Realty Dan adds, “Looking at your modified source code, the change from 0×8085 to 0×8086 [in zaptel/wcfxo.c] appears to be the one byte you referred to earlier. The resistor change was apparently used to produce the revised “pseudo-vendor” code in the much more expensive Digium card. This was an obvious move to make sure the cheaper card would not be recognized and, therefore, unusable. Hardly a way for a company to gain support and customer loyalty.”


BBC reports:

35mm Camera has reached the end of its role. The album seems to be closing on the era of taking photographs using film.

The sad news came with the announcement from Kodak, the firm which gave the world the $1 Brownie, and thus was largely responsible for getting the planet pointing and snapping, that it will no longer sell 35mm cameras in the US or Western Europe.

While it will still make film, for those who cling to fond traditions, the company also announced the passing of APS, its young offspring which had tried to broaden the company’s horizons in the mid 90s.

BBC reports:

Scientists in Russia are baffled by a girl who apparently has X-ray vision and can see inside human bodies.

Reports say 16-year-old Natalia Demkina has been tested by doctors at the children’s hospital in Saransk and they can’t explain her strange talent.

BBC reports:

Computer systems which direct Britain’s air traffic are to be changed after a near-miss between two passenger planes over Wales, according to reports.

BBC reports:

A tax office official in Finland who died at his desk went unnoticed by up to 30 colleagues for two days.


by Joi Ito


(CrapHound via BoginBoing)

S-H-H-H-H! Participants in the retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center in the Colorado Rockies observe the formal Zen Buddhist dining ritual known as oryoki. (Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)

KAREN ROBINOVITZ, The New York Times, writes:

IGHT after the new year, Tracey Ross, owner of the Los Angeles boutique that bears her name, turned in her Manolo Blahniks for Nike hiking sneakers and headed out to the mountains of Calabasas, Calif., to check into the Ashram, a boot camp-like spa where the motto is “To become, we overcome.”

For seven days, Ms. Ross, 42, had to wake at 5:45 a.m. to do yoga before breakfast (a k a one scrambled egg, three slices of apple and herbal tea), hike for hours up a trail that previous guests like Oprah Winfrey had named Heartbreak Hill, (”It’s straight up and so unforgiving,” Ms. Ross said), grab lunch (six pieces of vegetable sushi with brown rice or a salad consisting of one apple and tofu yogurt dressing, along with three almonds), and then endure five more hours of intense physical activity ranging from aqua aerobics to weight training before having a bowl of lentil soup for dinner and crawling into bed to pass out. She endured blisters, an array of aches and pains, chapped lips and no-frill accommodations that were nothing like her experiences at the top-tier hotels she normally frequents. For this she paid $3,500. And she called it a vacation.

“I needed a timeout from my busy life,” she said. “I can’t get that in St. Barts, where I wind up shopping and going out every night. I needed to get back to the basics and nature. I needed sweating and a sense of accomplishment, not to mention a week without makeup and getting dressed up.”

CHARLES V. BAGLI and RICHARD SANDOMIR, The New York Times, report:

The revival of Brooklyn has been painfully slow, an effort eked out neighborhood by neighborhood, with chic new restaurants in Fort Greene, artists’ lofts in Williamsburg, new businesses in industrial Red Hook and the transformation of derelict factory buildings into million-dollar condominiums in an area with the unlikely name of Dumbo.

From the JPL Website:

They said it couldn’t be done. But in the sleepy little town of Montrose, California, nestled in the hills surrounding JPL, master watchmaker Garo Anserlian of Executive Jewelers is perfecting a timepiece for hundreds of Earthlings bound to Mars’ irregular day. Past the glass cases of what looks like an ordinary jewelry store is a workshop where watches are losing 39 minutes a day.



‘I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling… your face… interwoven… who is…’ Patient mumbles inaudibly to a tune (sounds like ‘Thanks for the memory). He changes medium to Tempera.

These 9 drawings were done by an artist under the influence of LSD — part of a test conducted by the US government during it’s dalliance with psychotomimetic drugs in the late 1950’s. The artist was given a dose of LSD 25 and free access to an activity box full of crayons and pencils. His subject is the medico that jabbed him.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Adobe Systems Inc. acknowledged Friday it quietly added technology to the world’s best-known graphics software at the request of government regulators and international bankers to prevent consumers from making copies of the world’s major currencies.

DAVID FISHER IN NIUE, Sunday Star Times (NZ), reports:

Niue’s status as a nation is under question after the cyclone that hit the tiny Pacific nation, causing more than $50 million damage.

In the aftermath of the storm, some island leaders are calling for a return to New Zealand governance, and expect the population to fall from about 1200 native Niueans to an unsustainable 500 people.

i worship a god with an elephant head

Nicholas Thompson, Washington Monthly, writes:

Every two weeks or so, I pack up my Taylor acoustic guitar, fill my backpack with CDs of my music, and head down into the New York City subways to busk away. I make good money, and I get to watch and study people, too. For example, I can now tell from about 50 feet away whether a woman is likely to give me money.

If she’s walking fast, wearing headphones, angrily porting a briefcase, or chasing down one of her children, that’s an easy no. She wouldn’t throw a dime into Jimi Hendrix’s case. Other women, who are more aware of their surroundings, have greater possibility. Usually it boils down to makeup and midriffs. If the woman is decked out, she may look at me, but only to see if I’m looking at her. But if a woman is dressed casually, walking slowly, and thinking about something beside herself, she’s likely to listen for at least a few moments, and then I have a decent chance she’ll enjoy the music, stop, and maybe buy an album.

This is but one of the lessons I’ve learned from performing in train stations that I think could be helpful to the floundering music industry, or at least to the many talented musicians stifled by it. These lessons haven’t gotten me rich, but I’ve sold about 500 records in the subways playing sporadically since releasing my new album in January. I make more money down there per hour than I do as a journalist. And while my sales and profits have gone up, the music industry’s have gone down. Sales of recorded music in the United States have dropped by more than a 100 million units in the past two years, and, after decades of steady gains, industry revenues have dropped 15 percent over the last three years.

Phosphor, on SlashDot, writes “A visitor to the Adobe Photoshop-for-Windows Forum (registration required to post, can log in as guest) has described a curious ‘feature’ with Photoshop 8 (also known as ‘CS’). Seems this latest version of Adobe’s flagship product has the built-in ability to detect that an image is of American currency. Something has been built into Photoshop’s core coding that can detect something in images of currency and will prevent the user from opening the file. Apparently it will also do this with Euro notes; info on other currency is pending.”


During the 1970s, magazines published in Communist Czechoslovakia were controlled by the state, like the majority of other enterprises. Very few good magazines were available and were difficult to get hold of, so people would borrow and exchange them when given the opportunity. This also applied to magazines aimed at young people, which was probably one of the reasons why almost everyone from my generation, when we get on to the subject of pinhole cameras, has fond memories of the cut-out paper camera known as Dirkon*, published in 1979 in the magazine ABC mladch techniků a přrodovědců [An ABC of Young Technicians and Natural Scientists].

Its creators, Martin Piln, Mirek Kolř and Richard Vykovsk, came up with a functional pinhole camera made of stiff paper, designed for 35 mm film, which resembles a real camera. It may not be the most practical of devices, but it works!

My first attempt at putting together a paper Dirkon a few years after it came out fell victim to a total lack of patience on my part. Today, twenty years later, I decided that I had to include this unusual pinhole camera in my collection. So I got hold of an old copy of ABC and set to work. This time I was successful, and here [is a] sample photograph. (Instructions at pinhole.cz via BoingBoing)

ELIZABETH BECKER and EDMUND L. ANDREWS, The New York Times, report:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 With its rising budget deficit and ballooning trade imbalance, the United States is running up a foreign debt of such record-breaking proportions that it threatens the financial stability of the global economy, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund.


Gollum has a new precious, my precious, and he is not going to let that fat hobbit get his filthy paws on it, will he, my precious? (T-Shirts Available)

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