January 2005

DRAKE BENNETT, The New York Times, reports:

Alexander Shulgin, Sasha to his friends, lives with his wife, Ann, 30 minutes inland from the San Francisco Bay on a hillside dotted with valley oak, Monterey pine and hallucinogenic cactus. At 79, he stoops a little, but he is still well over six feet tall, with a mane of white hair, a matching beard and a wardrobe that runs toward sandals, slacks and short-sleeved shirts with vaguely ethnic patterns. He lives modestly, drawing income from a small stock portfolio supplemented by his Social Security and the rent that two phone companies pay him to put cell towers on his land. In many respects he might pass for a typical Contra Costa County retiree.

It was an acquaintance of Shulgin’s named Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist and researcher into the effects of mescaline and LSD, who coined the word ‘’psychedelic'’ in the late 1950’s for a class of drugs that significantly alter one’s perception of reality. Derived from Greek, the term translates as ‘’mind manifesting'’ and is preferred by those who believe in the curative power of such chemicals. Skeptics tend to call them hallucinogens.

Shulgin is in the former camp. There’s a story he likes to tell about the past 100 years: ‘’At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only two psychedelic compounds known to Western science: cannabis and mescaline. A little over 50 years later — with LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, TMA, several compounds based on DMT and various other isomers — the number was up to almost 20. By 2000, there were well over 200. So you see, the growth is exponential.'’ When I asked him whether that meant that by 2050 we’ll be up to 2,000, he smiled and said, ‘’The way it’s building up now, we may have well over that number.'’

The point is clear enough: the continuing explosion in options for chemical mind-manifestation is as natural as the passage of time. But what Shulgin’s narrative leaves out is the fact that most of this supposedly inexorable diversification took place in a lab in his backyard. For 40 years, working in plain sight of the law and publishing his results, Shulgin has been a one-man psychopharmacological research sector. (Timothy Leary called him one of the century’s most important scientists.) By Shulgin’s own count, he has created nearly 200 psychedelic compounds, among them stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, ‘’empathogens,'’ convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one’s sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, drugs that deaden emotion — in short, a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience. And in 1976, Shulgin fished an obscure chemical called MDMA out of the depths of the chemical literature and introduced it to the wider world, where it came to be known as Ecstasy.

Clare Chapman, (UK) Telegraph, reports, via Rense.com:

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing “sexual services'’ at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her “profile'’ and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany’s welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

Steve Bono, Matthew Green, Adam Stubblefield, and Avi Rubin, Johns Hopkins University; Ari Juels and Michael Szydlo, RSA Laboratories write, via Slashdot:

The Texas Instruments DST tag is a cryptographically enabled RFID transponder used in several wide-scale systems including vehicle imobilizers and the ExxonMobil SpeedPass system. This page serves as an overview of our successful attacks on DST enabled systems. A preliminary version of the full academic paper describing our attacks in detail is also available [..].

Graph: The Sound of iPod

The iPod Linux Project reports, via Slashdot:

I got an iPod for christmas. The ipodlinux project was one of the main reasons for my choice and so I started exploring the iPod as far as I was able to. I patched the bootloader and got some basic code to run but there was no way to access any hardware other than the two CPUs yet. To get the LCD, Clickwheel and the harddisk working we needed to reverse engineer the bootloader in the flashrom. But to do that we first had to find a way to get that code. Seems quite impossible without any knowlegde about the IO-Hardware but I found a solution…


The (US) National Commuications System posted:

During emergencies, wireless service providers can experience congestion in their networks. Such congestion can severely curtail the ability of personnel with National Security/Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) responsibilities to use wireless services. To facilitate the completion of critical calls during these high usage events, WPS [Wireless Priority Service] enables NS/EP personnel to access the next available wireless channel before subscribers who are not engaged in NS/EP functions. Additionally, priority calls will not preempt calls in progress nor will WPS users monopolize all available wireless resources.

Carrier participation in the WPS program is voluntary under the FCC Report and Order. To encourage participation, the National Communications System (NCS) is funding the technical development and implementation of priority features in the carrier networks. Although the FCC maintains oversight responsibilities for the WPS Program, the NCS manages the day-to-day administration on behalf of the Executive Office of the President.

When an approved WPS user wishes to change service providers, whether transferring their existing number or obtaining a new number, they must have their organizational WPS Point of Contact submit this change request online. The NCS will coordinate between the two service providers to transfer the WPS feature, if WPS is available in the service area of the new service provider. The new carrier cannot accept a request from the user directly to add WPS to the user’s new account.

Photo: zBox

Dr. Joachim Stadel, Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of Zurich
writes , via Slashdot:

Our in-house designed (Joachim Stadel & Ben Moore 2003), massively parallel supercomputer for running our cosmological N-body simulations. This machine consists of 288 AMD Athlon-MP 2200+ (1.8 GHz) CPUs within a few cubic meters. Under load it produces about 45 kW of heat, about equivalent to 45 electric hair dryers operating continuously! This amount of heat, combined with the extremely high density necessitated a new design for efficient cooling. The 144 nodes (2 CPUs per node) are connected using an SCI fast interconnect supplied by Dolphin in a 12×12 2-dimensional torus. The layout of the machine is ring-like, thereby allowing very short “ribbon” cables to be used between the nodes. This fast interconnect network attains a peak bisection bandwidth of 96 Gbits/sec, with a node-node write/read latency as low as 1.5/3.5 microseconds. Additionally the zBox has 11.5 TBytes of disk (80 GBytes/node) and 3 Gbits/s I/O bandwidth to a frontend server with 7 TB of RAID-5 storage. This is among the fastest parallel computers in the world! At “first light” it ranked in the top 100, but the technology advances quickly. (see top500, June 2003: Rank 144) (see top500, November 2003: Rank 276)

Photo: Manure on Fire
A huge mound of cow manure smolders at a feedlot near Milford, Nebraska.

The Associated Press reports (via CNN, BoingBoing):

MILFORD, Nebraska (AP) — Urban dwellers who enjoy dining on filet mignon at five-star restaurants would probably just as soon not know about David Dickinson’s dilemma.

Bad for the appetite, you know.

But Dickinson, who makes his living in the cattle business, has an environmental problem on his hands that is vexing state officials: a 2,000-ton pile of burning cow manure.

Photo: Damaged US Submarine

(US) Navy NewsStand reprots:

050127-N-4658L-015 Apra Harbor, Guam (Jan. 27, 2005) – The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) in dry dock to assess damage sustained after running aground approximately 350 miles south of Guam Jan. 8, 2005. The Navy former dry dock known as “Big Blue” is capable of docking ships that weigh up to 40,000 Long Tons. The Navy certified Big Blue for the one-time docking of San Francisco. San Francisco is the second fast-attack submarine to be attached to the forward-deployed Submarine Squadron Fifteen, home ported on board Naval Base Guam. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Mark Allen Leonesio (RELEASED)

Evan Schuman, eWeek, reports:

A hungry consumer pulls up to the drive-through window in a California McDonald’s restaurant and places a dinner order. The person taking the order points out that the caller placed only three drink orders for four dinners and reminds the diner of a special that day on apple pie.

This might be a fairly typical fast-food—or, in industry parlance, QSR for quick-service restaurant—exchange were it not for the fact that the customer and the order-taker are dozens of miles apart, connected through a VPN-secured voice-over-IP hookup.

The Associated Press reports, via The Ann Arbor News:

ADRIAN - A woman arrested after failing a sobriety test and telling police she drank three glasses of Listerine has pleaded guilty to drunken driving.

Photo: Train Wreck
Firefighters examine the wreckage from a train derailment in Glendale. Two Metrolink commuter trains derailed killing several people and injuring hundreds of others authorities said. (Associated Press)

Daisy Nguyen, The Associated Press, reports:

GLENDALE (CA) – A commuter train smashed into an SUV driven onto its tracks by a suicidal man early Wednesday, derailed and crashed into another Metrolink train, killing 10 people and injuring about 200, authorities said. Dozens of the injured were reported in critical condition.

The SUV driver changed his mind about suicide and left the vehicle before it was hit, Police Chief Randy Adams said. The man will be charged with homicide, he said. He was identified as Juan Manuel Alvarez, 26, of Compton.

“This whole incident was started by a deranged individual that was suicidal,” the chief told a press conference at the scene of mangled railcars north of downtown Los Angeles.

via BoingBoing:

On John Perry Barlow’s blog today, this account of a random human connection by VoIP — testament to how technology can make this an oddly intimate planet.

Reuters reports, via Google News:

BOMBAY (Reuters) - Rescue workers began at daybreak on Wednesday the grisly task of searching through debris from a stampede and fire that killed nearly 300 people at a temple in western India, and police said the toll could rise.

Officials said a short circuit following the stampede may have sparked a fire in roadside stalls as 300,000 people were on an annual pilgrimage to the popular Mandher Devi temple, on a hilltop near Wai, about 160 miles southeast of Bombay.

Scores were crushed to death on the steep and narrow hill path leading to the temple and many bodies were charred, witnesses and officials said.

Many women and children were among the nearly 300 people crushed or burned to death, officials said.


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Google Inc. (GOOG) is using its popular Internet search technology to find information and images broadcast on television, continuing a recent effort to extend its reach beyond the Web.

The Mountain View-based company planned to introduce the new video search service Tuesday in an index that will be operated separately from the market-leading search engine offered on its home page. The feature pinpoints content previously aired on a variety of television networks by scanning through the closed caption text that many programmers offer.

Google’s index, which began storing information last month, includes programming from ABC, PBS, Fox News and C-SPAN.

“We think TV is a big part of people’s lives,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s vice president of product management. “Ultimately, we would like to have all TV programming indexed.”

Bill Gates, World’s Richest Man, Bets Against Dollar (Update3)
Bloomberg reports:

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) — Bill Gates, whose net worth of $46.6 billion makes him the world’s richest person, is betting against the U.S. dollar.

“I’m short the dollar,'’ Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., told Charlie Rose in an interview late yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The ol’ dollar, it’s gonna go down.'’

Anthony and his laser projecting “uClinux”! Anthony is the first person to have successfully produced a fully-working uClinux-powered lasershow controller.

Nathan Wolfe, in The War Stories Section of The Broadcast Archive, writes:

Of the 400+ member companies of NATE (and nonmembers that should be) that have guys climbing and working on towers, how many of those guys climb the big ones? You know, the guyed towers that thread the sky like a needle with their incredible height. I got that chance, but it was work that needed to be done at night during the customer’s “maintenance window”. My adventure began at 9:00pm when I met my coworker, Mike Croix, at the shop in the San Francisco Bay Area on a midsummer night in 1999.

Photo: Johhny Carson
Talk show host Johnny Carson wipes his eye after watching a series of clips from earlier shows during the last taping of The Tonight Show

The BBC reports:

Johnny Carson, the former host of NBC’s Tonight Show, died on Sunday at the age of 79 after losing a battle with the respiratory disease emphysema.

He appeared on network television every night for three decades, and launched the careers of Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and George Carlin.

President George W Bush said Carson “had a profound influence on American life and entertainment”.

David Reid writes (via BoingBoing):

Research is nearing completion on a system that will allow the melting and casting of bronze, silver, gold, and even cast iron, using an unmodified domestic microwave oven as the energy source.
A potential foundry in every kitchen !!

Miniature FM Transmitter

Source: VA3AVR

Peter Saint-André writes:

As I prepared the slides for a talk I gave yesterday in San Francisco, I started to think about the history of messaging. I came up with the following timeline (the early dates come from Joel Mokyr’s book The Lever of Riches)…

Lawrence Kiminski, The New York Daily Times staff reporter, writes:

Remember Enron? Fade to black. Now think iBill, that is, Internet Billing Company, the world’s largest online credit card processor, and apparently one of the largest purveyors of false promises mixed with alleged criminal theft on a massive scale.

iBill processes online credit card orders for thousands of websites around the world. These are generally small businesses that cannot generally afford to obtain their own merchant account, or businesses operating in a high risk online market, who have hired iBill to process their orders. In return iBill takes up to nearly 20 percent off the top for themselves, plus another 10 percent for reserves, for a whopping 30 percent that iBill removes from the customer. And for what? The process takes only a minute and a third of the gross sale is gone, eaten up by iBill. Okay, that leaves around 70 percent for the small business to operate. Right?

Wrong. How about ZERO percent? iBill is now taking all of the money, including that 70 percent, for a total of 100% and giving the starving client, the business which earned all of the money from their own customers, zilch, nothing. Oh, iBill promises to pay but those promises have been empty for months. iBill breaks those same promises weekly, daily, without shame and without any believable explanation. iBill’s clients have no choice but to sit and wait to be evicted from their shots, or from their home in the case of the mom and pop home business, or find another processor. Unfortunately, that change can take up to four months and the prospects are dim. iBill knows this and is cashing in at the expense of the unsophisticated website business. From what we have learned, iBill has an incredible distaste for any small businesses. They take their hard earned bucks and leave them out in the cold. Yes, I know this sounds inflated, but it is not. As far as trust goes, iBill is the epitome of evil in the online processing market.

iBill was told early in 2004 by First Data (the company which controls iBill’s account) that iBill’s merchant with First Data would soon be terminated and that they, iBill, should make plans to find another relationship with another bank. iBill ignored the warning from First Data until it was too late. iBill lied to their customers about what had happened and ended up with little or no money to pay their website businesses (webmasters), mostly small businesses where their online sales account for 100 percent of their income which is no zero. iBill is forcing an incredible number of businesses into financial ruin and bankruptcy.

iBill is not paying clients, and they are now under investigation by the US Justice Department. iBill has always refused to take responsibility. However, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. An Appellate Court has, in essence, indicated the problem was iBill’s alone. There is really no doubt that iBill is the guilty party here, responsible for thousands of their clients going unpaid, lying to them, secretly planning to coax these same clients to hand over more of their money but with no plan but promises to replay them. There’s a word for this. THEFT. Felony theft. If iBill is not stopped, they will undoubtedly continue to lie and steal from their customers, from their clients, and from their stock investors. But the equally important problem is that iBill refused to communicate with their client in any meaningful manner. That problem also continues.

Initially respected, iBill has become one of the most reviled, despised, mistrusted, and suspicious companies on the Internet, with business practices reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune, reports:

PARKERSBURG, W. Va. — More than 50 years after DuPont started producing Teflon near this Ohio River town, federal officials are accusing the company of hiding information suggesting that a chemical used to make the popular stick- and stain-resistant coating might cause cancer, birth defects and other ailments.

Intelsat reports, via Slashdot:

Intelsat, Ltd. announced today that its IS-804 satellite experienced a sudden and unexpected electrical power system anomaly on January 14, 2005, at approximately 5:32 p.m. EST that caused the total loss of the spacecraft. In accordance with existing satellite anomaly contingency plans, Intelsat is in the process of making alternative capacity available to its IS-804 customers. The satellite, launched in 1997, furnished telecommunications and media delivery services to customers in the South Pacific. Intelsat and Lockheed Martin Corporation, the manufacturer of the satellite, are working together to identify the cause of the problem. Intelsat currently believes that there is no connection between this event and the recent IA-7 satellite anomaly as the two satellites were manufactured by two different companies and their designs are different.

X-Ray of Nail in Skull

David Pescovitz, BoingBoing, writes:

Colorado construction worker Patrick Lawler visited a dentist about a toothache a few days ago. It turned out that a four-inch nail was embedded in Lawler’s skull and he didn’t even realize it. The nail entered his brain through his mouth when a nailgun backfired the week before. After a four hour surgery, Lawler is recovering just fine. From an Associated Press report:

“This is the second one we’ve seen in this hospital where the person was injured by the nail gun and didn’t actually realize the nail had been imbedded in their skull,” neurosurgeon Sean Markey told KUSA-TV in Denver.

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