blunt essays with sharp points

The Weather Is Running Late Today

by Scrvpvlvs
Mar 17, 2008 5:10 PM–From a statement issued by the National Weather Service, Fort Worth, Texas:


Apparently enough faith in your weather forecast can lead you to characterize the weather itself as running late!

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Snapfish Tricks Confidential Information Out Of Visitors

by Scrvpvlvs
Mar 13, 2008 5:09 PM–An invitation to view a friend’s private photo album reads: “(Friend’s name) has created an account on Snapfish for you. Please enter your name, email address and password to access your account.” Snapfish then prompts for full name, e-mail address, password, and retype password.

It’s a classic confidence game. Snapfish creates a pretext for the need for your real name. You are being led to believe that what you enter is being compared with information your friend gave them already. There seems to be no harm in logging in to an account that has already been created. Bull Shit, as we say in my state. Snapfish is setting up the account now. It’s you, not your friend, who is giving up your real name.

Earlier, they created a pretext for your friend to give up your e-mail address. You know that worked, because the e-mail came from Snapfish. Your friend was led to believe that the appropriate way to protect the confidentiality of the photo album is to give away confidential information about you. And that is false. I’ll look at how Flickr, the Yahoo property, handles this in a moment.

First, I want to avoid a possible misunderstanding about my amazement with Snapfish. While I don’t like being required to sign up before I can see my friend’s photo album, I do accept it. That’s not the con. E-mail addresses are valuable. Any site has every right to ask for an e-mail address in payment for locked content. It’s up to me to decide whether the release of personal information is worth it to unlock the content. My complaint is not about requesting personal information but about the pretexts.

So about Flickr. It does not play this confidence game. When I share a private photo album with a friend, I supply zero information about my friend to Flickr. Instead, Flickr supplies me with a guest pass in the form of a web address. The guest pass is valid until I choose to expire it, and I can deliver it any way I like to anyone I like. My friends remain anonymous.

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Intelligent Transportation Systems

by Scrvpvlvs
Mar 12, 2008 6:34 PM–The Freakonomics blog was talking here about what causes traffic jams, and this reminded me of something I wanted to write about.

The traveling exhibit Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination came to our science museum not too long ago.

In one video, a senior civil engineer (who I believe was Joseph Sussman at MIT) pointed out that we have designed in to our current transportation system a certain rate of crashes. As long as we use roadways, drivers, and vehicles the way we do, there will be these crashes. Traffic will back up, and worse, people will be injured or killed.

This transportation design is why the current safety model wraps large amounts of metal and safety gear around the motorists.

Significantly for our petroleum consumption, most of the fuel burned by personal vehicles turns out to be moving the vehicle, not the passengers. And, of course, a substantial amount of the cost of the vehicle is the safety system.

He also pointed out that many modern cities were designed in the automobile age. Destinations in such cities are very far apart. It becomes difficult to make public transportation of any kind effective in these cities on existing roads.

He was arguing for intelligent transportation systems. The benefits, he said, are huge in accident prevention, fuel consumption, and trip times. The difficulty is that the project is the size of what we did with rail and with the interstate highways, and probably requires a sea change in attitudes about piloting one's vehicle.

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A Foolish Consistency [link]

by Scrvpvlvs
Mar 11, 2008 11:18 AM–This article from the Science-Based Medicine blog is an unsettling reminder that people, even people in the scientific community, believe themselves much less gullible than they are, believe themselves immune to human weaknesses they can easily see in others, and effortlessly ignore facts that contradict what they believe.

This fact of human nature is why Richard Feynman, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, wrote that the first principle of scientific integrity, the main reason science has advanced our knowledge so greatly, is, “you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

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