March 2005

Jonathan Kent, BBC News, Kuala Lumpur, via BoingBoing, reports:

Police in Malaysia are hunting for members of a violent gang who chopped off a car owner’s finger to get round the vehicle’s hi-tech security system.

The car, a Mercedes S-class, was protected by a fingerprint recognition system.

Bob Parsons, President and Founder,, writes:

Dear Valued Go Daddy Customer,

Today I have the unfortunate responsibility of informing you that there has been a
decision made by bureaucrats of a Federal agency that takes away your right to
privacy as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

This decision was unilaterally made by the National Telecommunications and
Information Association (”NTIA”) — — without hearings
that would determine the impact on those affected, and delivered without notice –
in short, the NTIA decision was made without due process of any kind. This is
exactly how our government is not supposed to work.

The effect of this decision is to disallow new private domain name registrations on
.US domain names. In addition, if you already own a private .US domain name
registration, you will be forced to forfeit your privacy no later than January 26,
2006. By that time, you will need to choose between either making your personal
information available to anyone who wants to see it, or giving up your right to that
domain name.

RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, The Associated Press, reports:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Blockbuster Inc. has agreed to pay about $630,000 to settle claims by Michigan, 46 other states and the District of Columbia that the movie rental chain deceived consumers with its “No Late Fees” campaign.

The agreement, disclosed Tuesday, also requires Dallas-based Blockbuster to make refunds to consumers who claim the campaign misled them into thinking they could keep the video or DVD for as long as they liked.

Many consumers were angry to discover that overdue game and film rentals were automatically converted to a sale on the eighth day after the due date. If they then tried to return it, they were charged a $1.25 restocking fee.

According to the agreement, Blockbuster will have to refund consumers who were either charged the restocking fee or who paid the full price of the movie they rented.

As part of the settlement, Blockbuster will also have to change the way it advertises its no late fees policy, according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

Jason MacNeil (Toronto), Billboard, reports:

Former Crowded House and Split Enz drummer Paul Hester was found dead of an apparent suicide Saturday in a park in Melbourne. He was 46. “It is not a hoax or a rumor,” reads a message on the official fan site for Split Enz, Crowded House, Neil Finn and the Finn Brothers. “At this point, it has been confirmed though we have no other details at this time.”

“Over the years Paul has swung the extremes of happiness and sadness, but none of us ever thought this would happen,” the message added. “He loved life too much, and it really seems like a bad dream that we hope we’ll wake up from tomorrow. At the moment we are trying to look after Paul’s family — he leaves behind two beautiful girls.”

JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press Writer, reports:

HOUSTON Mar 24, 2005 — The truck driver charged in the nation’s deadliest smuggling attempt has been convicted on 38 counts of transporting illegal immigrants.

Tyrone Williams, 34, could be sentenced to life in prison but avoided the death penalty because jurors could not agree on whether he bore direct responsibility for the deaths of 19 people packed into his tractor-trailer in 2003.

“We don’t give the death penalty in this country for an accident,” defense attorney Craig Washington said Wednesday. “Tragedies happen every day. But every tragedy is not a crime.”

Remember the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”?

“Well, today we will experiment with a new form called the ‘tandem story’. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.”

PAM EASTON, Associated Press Writer, reports:

TEXAS CITY, Texas Mar 24, 2005 — All but one of the 1,800 or so oil refinery workers have been accounted for after overnight search efforts following the thunderous blast that killed 14 workers and injured more than 100 other people, officials said Thursday.

Via Slashdot, From Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s News Release:

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today filed a lawsuit against Vonage, the country’s largest Internet-based telephone service provider, for failing to make clear to consumers that the company’s current service does not include access to traditional emergency 9-1-1 service.

The dangers posed by Vonage’s failure to clearly disclose the lack of traditional 9-1-1 access surfaced last month when a Houston family that subscribed to Vonage’s service tried to call 9-1-1 during a home invasion. Two victims were shot multiple times, but the victims’ daughter was never able to get through to 9-1-1.

The Associated Press reports:

(3/15/05 - HOUSTON) — Joyce John was upstairs at home after school one day when suddenly she heard gunshots and her parents screaming. Her mother, faced with two armed robbers, yelled for the 17-year-old to dial 911.

When she did, the teenager heard this message: “Stop. You must dial 911 from another telephone. 911 is not available from this telephone line. No emergency personnel will be dispatched.”

John’s parents were both bleeding from gunshot wounds by the time she realized the Internet phone service her family used did not offer 911 service. It took a frantic 10 minutes after the robbers fled the home for her to reach another phone — at a neighbor’s house.

The Associated Press/ By RAJESH MAHAPATRA, Associated Press Writer (NEW DELHI), via Google News, reports:

MAR. 23 6:08 A.M. ET International aid groups on Wednesday slammed the Indian Parliament’s decision to approve patent legislation that ends the decades-old practice of allowing domestic drug companies to make low-cost copies of expensive Western medicines, saying hundreds of thousands of poor people will be affected.

The changes, expected to become law later this week, stem from India’s membership in the World Trade Organization, which enhances the country’s participation in global trade but requires it to enforce stricter patent rules for its US$5 billion (euro3.8 billion) pharmaceutical industry.

International aid groups said the legislation will curb the supply of cheap generic drugs to impoverished nations, threatening the survival of AIDS and cancer patients there.

Some 50 percent of 700,000 HIV patients taking antiretroviral medicines in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on low-cost drugs from India. A month’s dose of a generic AIDS drug cocktail costs US$30 (euro22), or 5 percent of similar drugs sold by western producers.

“Because India is one of the world’s biggest producers of generic drugs, this law will have a severe knock-on effect on many developing countries which depend on imported generic drugs from India,” said Samar Verma, regional policy adviser at Oxfam International.

The Paris-based Doctors Without Borders described the Indian move as “the beginning of the end of affordable generics.”

Maggie McKee, news service, via Slashdot, reports:

A number puzzle originating in the work of self-taught maths genius Srinivasa Ramanujan nearly a century ago has been solved. The solution may one day lead to advances in particle physics and computer security.

Karl Mahlburg, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, US, has spent a year putting together the final pieces to the puzzle, which involves understanding patterns of numbers.

“I have filled notebook upon notebook with calculations and equations,” says Mahlburg, who has submitted a 10-page paper of his results to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The patterns were first discovered by Ramanujan, who was born in India in 1887 and flunked out of college after just a year because he neglected his studies in subjects outside of mathematics.

But he was so passionate about the subject he wrote to mathematicians in England outlining his theories, and one realised his innate talent. Ramanujan was brought to England in 1914 and worked there until shortly before his untimely death in 1920 following a mystery illness.

China View, via Google News, reports:

BEIJING, Mar. 22 (Xinhuanet) — Rubella, a major cause of serious birth defects such as deafness and blindness, also known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), has been eliminated from the United States, health officials said Monday.

Shadow,, via writes:

One evening I approached an old friend- an aged man, who was struggling with a muddy tractor wheel on the edge of a field. I sat back a little way in the brush, and cracked a few twigs so he would know I was there.

“Hey, Shadow,” he called, frowning at the muddy mess in front of him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an incredibly crumpled package of cigarettes, and turned, arching his back. I could tell he had been at this for a long time. He looked very tired. He took a few steps and sat down on a rotted tree stump at the edge of the woods.

“I want to tell you about something I saw once.” He lit a cigarette, and coughed a few times.

“I used to work at this school bus factory. We assembled the drive train and exhaust systems for fleets, and public transit and school systems - we shipped buses all over the world. I won’t say the name of the company, or what country it was in. That’s not important. I want to tell what happened there, all in a single day, a long time ago.”

“One morning, one of the assembly line workers came up to me. He was as white as a ghost. He was stuttering and his face was covered with tears. I was shocked, because I had known this man for a long time- he was usually very level headed. He led me over to the assembly line, and pointed to the partially assembled buses that stretched the length of the factory.”

“I dropped my daughter off at school today. I noticed, for the first time, that the exhaust from our buses is exiting at the exact height of a grade school child’s face. We are poisoning our own children, and others all over the world.”

“I didn’t know what to say to him. I looked down at the floor.”
‘I figured out how to fix it,’ he told me, ‘Im just going to start chopping up the pipe inventory and have them reroute it through the top, back here, like a tractor trailer…”

Christopher Lee and Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post Staff Writers, report:

Ten people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded yesterday by a gunman who opened fire at a high school and a private home on an isolated Indian reservation in northern Minnesota and engaged in a brief gunfight with police before killing himself, the FBI said.

The gunman killed his grandfather and a woman at his house, local officials said. They said he then traveled to the high school in Red Lake, a town of a few thousand on the southern shore of an inland lake, where witnesses said he charged into the school waving his gun and grinning as he shot down students, teachers and a school security guard.

The name of the student was not disclosed by officials, but the Associated Press reported that several students said he was Jeff Weise. It was not immediately clear if he was a student at the school.

“At this time, we do believe the shooter acted alone,” FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said in a telephone interview last night. It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killed 13 people and wounded 23 others before killing themselves on April 20, 1999.

The shooter entered Red Lake High School, which has about 300 students, in the middle of the afternoon. The security guard, who was at the entrance, was the first person shot, McCabe said.

Groklaw, via Slashdot, reports:

You know how in almost every FUD article about the GPL, they always say that the GPL has never been tested in a US court?

That isn’t actually true. There have been cases where it played a role and the judges took it seriously even if they didn’t directly rule on it. Now there is a case in Michigan, which just settled, where the GPL not only stood its ground, it came off victorious, and this time it was very much a part of the case. I had a chance to interview the attorney that represented the GPL side, Eric Grimm.

The case involved software written in part by Drew Technologies, Inc., to which others contributed, in reliance upon the GPL. DrewTech, an engineering firm in Michigan, develops custom vehicle communications solutions for the automobile industry. DrewTech released the software at issue on SourceForge, under the
GNU General Public License (”GPL”).

I never thought I’d find cars fascinating. But this case changed my mind. It’s a struggle over ownership of software written and released under the GPL but later claimed as a copyrighted work by a publisher of standards for the automotive industry, the Society of Automotive Engineers. But on a deeper level, it addresses a new issue. With cars now being computerized, can manufacturers assert copyright and trade secret rights over software? Over standards? Before you answer, did you know that there is proposed legislation, the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act?

You can read it and about it here on the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s web site. (more…)

Express News Line reports:

The virginity pledgers invite more sexually transmitted disease risks than non pledgers.

The study, by Yale and Columbia University researchers after examining sexual behaviors of 11,400 adolescents found virginity pledges encouraging STD risks.

They found that many pledgers who claimed to be virgins were having premarital sex. Although a large number of adolescents avoided vaginal intercourse, they were more likely to have oral and anal sex without the use of condoms.

The team found the male pledgers 4 times more likely to engage in anal sex and both male and female pledgers 6 times more likely to have oral sex.

The study steered by Dr. Hannah Bruckner was published in Journal of Adolescent Health.

Kate Palmer, Foreign Policy, writes:

People can get almost anything on the black market—drugs, passports, even human organs. Now add Web sites to the list. Inside many authoritarian regimes that closely monitor and censor the Internet, access to blocked Web sites has become a black market commodity like any other. Typically, the process is simple: Savvy black marketers in cybercafes, universities, private homes, and elsewhere exploit technological loopholes to circumvent government filters and charge fees for access. According to the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) (, a research organization devoted to tracking blocked Web sites, black market access to filtered pages in Saudi Arabia runs anywhere from $26 to $67 per Web site.

Robert Booth, The Guardian (UK), via, reports:

Academics will today argue that the growing use of computers in secondary school classrooms and for homework could be leading to worsening performance in literacy, science and maths.

An international study of about 100,000 15-year-olds in 32 different developed and developing countries suggests that the drive to equip an increasing number of schoolchildren in the UK with computers may be misplaced.

In a report to be given at the conference of the Royal Economic Society in Nottingham this week, Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann of Munich University say the research shows diminished performance in students with computers.

The New Scientist, via Slashdot, reports:

1 The placebo effect

DON’T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.

This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it’s not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.

So what is going on? Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don’t know.

Photo: Pixar Cubicles

BoingBoing notes:

AICN’s Moriarty took a tour of Pixar, and marvels at the nesting habits of wild animators at home in their native environment:

He also led us through the section of the building where the animators actually work. Here’s where the Wonka factory comparison felt strongest. Instead of cubicles, each of the animators has a customized space. (…) A lot of the animators decided early on that they didn’t want cubicles, so instead, Pixar found these groovy little cottages that they bought for them. Walking through the animation department is like walking through a neighborhood for dwarves. Lots of little houses laid out along “streets,” each one with an address on the door.

Jesse James Garrettwrites:

If anything about current interaction design can be called “glamorous,” it’s creating Web applications. After all, when was the last time you heard someone rave about the interaction design of a product that wasn’t on the Web? (Okay, besides the iPod.) All the cool, innovative new projects are online.

Despite this, Web interaction designers can’t help but feel a little envious of our colleagues who create desktop software. Desktop applications have a richness and responsiveness that has seemed out of reach on the Web. The same simplicity that enabled the Web’s rapid proliferation also creates a gap between the experiences we can provide and the experiences users can get from a desktop application.

That gap is closing. Take a look at Google Suggest. Watch the way the suggested terms update as you type, almost instantly. Now look at Google Maps. Zoom in. Use your cursor to grab the map and scroll around a bit. Again, everything happens almost instantly, with no waiting for pages to reload.

Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in what’s possible on the Web.
(more…) reports:

Global computer maker IBM has announced that it has developed a new mouse adapter that will eliminate excessive cursor movement for users who suffer from hand tremors.

Photo: building in a bag
(Photo: Courtesy of William Crawford and Peter Brewin)

Rowan Hooper, WIRED, via Slashdot, reports:

In a world with millions of refugees, numerous war zones and huge areas devastated by natural disaster, aid agencies and militaries have long needed a way to quickly erect shelters on demand.

Soon, there will be such a method. A pair of engineers in London have come up with a “building in a bag” — a sack of cement-impregnated fabric. To erect the structure, all you have to do is add water to the bag and inflate it with air. Twelve hours later the Nissen-shaped shelter is dried out and ready for use.

Photo: 1.4mm Thick Gigabit Ethernet Cable

Gizmodo, via Slashdot:

Flat network cables aren’t anything new, but I’m pretty sure ones like this are. Japanese accessory king Elecom today announced the “LD-VAPF/SV05” network cabling, coming in at 1.4mm thick. With such a thin cable, you can run it pretty much anywhere you like; I guess it would work particularly well under carpet, in doorways, or as a new type of karate belt. The Cat5 standard cables support up to 1000BASE-T, and are reinforced with aluminium.

Michael Singer, Internet News, (via Slashdot) writes:

Voice over IP (VoIP) promises to radically change the way companies do business, but one side effect of less expensive communications threatens to give the whole ecosystem a black eye.

Overseas telemarketers are quickly learning that they can use IP voice calls to “dial for dollars,” getting around both traditional long-distance cost constraints and U.S. Do-Not-Call regulations to flood Internet traffic with phone calls that would make even the most egregious spammer blush.

“If you thought spam was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Burton Group analyst Fred Cohen told “The average enterprise or household could see as much as 150 calls a day from these telemarketers. It has to happen, because it is a market force that takes the market feedback and makes it into a profitable approach.”

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