Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just to be on the safe side



Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rejecta Mathematica

Rejecta Mathematica is a new, open access, online journal that publishes only papers that have been rejected from peer-reviewed journals (or conferences with comparable review standards) in the mathematical sciences. …

The scope of Rejecta Mathematica is very broad, encompassing all disciplines relating to the mathematical sciences, including: pure and applied mathematics, statistics, engineering, and computer science. Rejecta Mathematica places no conditions on the original reasons for a paper's rejection; all papers that can be legally published will be considered.

Editorial Policies
The screening process for publication in Rejecta Mathematica includes no technical peer review (hence the slogan Caveat Emptor). In the open letter, it is expected that the authors will discuss any known flaws in their paper with full and honest disclosure. Our primary editorial focus is to select papers based on their apparent potential interest to researchers in the mathematical sciences. Rejecta Mathematica is a unique social and academic experiment, and the papers we publish will be interesting for a wide variety of (often nontraditional) reasons.

"Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites"

From by a paper Eszter Hargittai
Hispanic students are significantly more likely to use MySpace than are Whites in the sample, while Asian and Asian American students are significantly less likely to use MySpace. Additionally, the latter group is much more likely to use Xanga and Friendster than are Whites, a practice that may be due to these services' popularity in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia (boyd & Ellison, this issue), where—given the immigrant nature of the sample—many students may have extended family and friends from earlier parts of their lives.

Regarding parental education, students whose parents have lower levels of schooling are more likely to be MySpace users, whereas students whose parents have higher levels of education are more likely to be Facebook users. These associations are not evident when aggregating all social network site usage, probably because the various relationships cancel each other out.

 Any SNSFacebookMySpace XangaFriendster
   Male85*78 49***63
   Female89*8059***6 4
Race and Ethnicity     
   White, non-Hispanic89 83**573***0***
   Hispanic8660***73*** 3*1*
   African American, NH84805800*
   Asian American, NH8884**39***13***10***
   Native American, NH83755880
Parent's Highest Level of Education     
   Less than high school8864***73***1*0*
   High school83*73*5762
   Some college8574*5762
   Graduate degree888341***9*4
Table 4.Percentage of different groups of people who use any SNS and specific social network sites.
Use is defined as "use sometimes" or "use often."
*p<.1, **p<.01, ***p<.001

Friday, November 16, 2007

Brain waves reveal intensity of pain

From Nature News
Recordings from electrodes in the human brain may offer the first objective way to measure the intensity of pain. Researchers say that they have found a neural signal that correlates with the amount of pain that an individual feels. The signal could be used to refine pain-relief techniques that involve stimulating the brain with electricity, they say.

Single cells have previously been identified in the human brain that are active in pain, but their response is binary, signalling either pain or no pain. Now, Morten Kringelbach of the psychiatry department at the University of Oxford, UK, and his colleagues have identified low-frequency brain waves that emanate from two regions buried deep within the brain when a patient is in pain. The more pain that is experienced, the longer the waves last. …

“It is an objective measure that correlates with a subjective measure,” says Kringelbach, who presented the findings at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, California, last week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Everyone wants to be a platform

From the New York Times
[Marc Benioff , CEO of] wants to turn Salesforce into a platform like Microsoft’s Windows operating system, a product so popular that it is the foundation for a veritable ecosystem of software developers [Emphasis added].

“In our industry,” he said, “the only companies that really make it big move from being a killer app to being a platform.” [Emphasis added]

But whether he can pull off that strategic leap is unclear. Salesforce has started to look less revolutionary as larger, more established companies have adopted its leasing model. And as Mr. Benioff himself notes, few software companies successfully make the move to platform status.

Yet that jump is critical to Salesforce’s long-term success. Its share price has tripled in three years, showing that investors are counting on success beyond the market for customer- tracking software.

“It’s been very impressive what Salesforce has pulled off,” said J. Bruce Daley, editor of The Enterprise Software Observer, an industry newsletter. “But I think this is a company about to hit a wall.”

Like others, Mr. Daley declared it “logical” that Mr. Benioff would try to use its beachhead in managing customer information to establish itself as a platform, a kind of holy grail of the software world [Emphasis added]. The plan is to persuade outside programmers to do what Salesforce cannot afford to do on its own: round out the company’s offering of products so that customers can lease a greater range of business tools, like payroll and accounting software.
Of course that's what Facebook is also trying to do, and that's the reason Google has formed an alliance of non-Facebook social software companies (including MySpace) to define an open standard for social software systems. Google has also just announced its open phone system, which it hopes will become a cell-phone platform. Google doesn't so much want to own platforms. It's more concerned that no one else own platforms. When a company owns a platform, (like Microsoft owns Windows), it makes life that much harder for anyone else wanting to make money via that platform. See Waiting for the Google Phone for more.

Platforms have made it into the broader consciousness of the community.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Computer Scientist Fights Threat Of 'Botnets'

I keep hearing about networks of unsuspecting PCs controlled by underground and malicious forces, but I don't know anything more definitive about them. Here's the start of an article from ScienceDaily.
Computer scientist Paul Barford has watched malicious traffic on the Internet evolve from childish pranks to a billion-dollar “shadow industry” in the last decade, and his profession has largely been one step behind the bad guys. Viruses, phishing scams, worms and spyware are only the beginning, he says.

“Some of the most worrisome threats today are things called ‘botnets’ — computers that are taken over by an outside party and are beyond the user’s control,” says Barford of UW–Madison. “They can do all sorts of nasty things: steal passwords, credit card numbers and personal information, and use the infected machine to forward spam and attack other machines.

“Botnets represent a convergence of all of the other threats that have existed for some time,” he adds.

One of the most menacing aspects of botnets is that they can go largely undetected by the owner of a personal computer. That feature has allowed botnets to grow exponentially online, with millions of infected computers bought and traded on an underground market that one security company estimates has surpassed $1 billion in activity, Barford says.
Here are some other recent articles. There's even a Wikipedia article on the Storm Botnet. It appears that the article is being kept up to date quite actively. That phenomenon itself is worth noting, namely that Wikipedia can serve as an instant forum for discussion and new about items of interest.

The discussion page of the Wikipedia page noted that the Storm Botnet seems to have passed it's peak. A PC World article from Oct 21 says it is only 10% of it's former size. See Storm Worm Now Just a Squall.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Waiting for the Google Phone

From The New York Times
The Google Phone — which, according to several reports, will be made by Google partners and will be available by the middle of 2008 — is likely to provide a stark contrast to the approaches of both Apple and Microsoft to the growing market for smartphones. Google, according to several people with direct knowledge of its efforts, will give away its software to hand-set makers and then use the Google Phone’s openness as an invitation for software developers and content distributors to design applications for it.
Google has done very well by encouraging software developers to use its mapping software. Can it do the same with a phone?

This is open source software as a way to make money. Google apparently will try to do it with a phone. It will make money if open source developers develop enough software that the phone becomes popular, which will then presumably provide a platform for Google ads.

Facebook is now hot because it is trying the same thing. In fact, Google, MySpace, and other social network sites are attempting to defend themselves from the Facebook strategy by developing a standard for software for social network sites. (Google calls it OpenSocial. The OpenSocial page includes a video of a Google person selling the idea to developers.) Facebook hasn't said whether it will help develop and adopt the standard. Facebook is in something like the position of Microsoft. It wants to be proprietary (like Windows) because it is by far the largest platform for social network software. The others are mounting a Linux-like challenge. Does Facebook have enough of a lead to stand alone? I suspect not, but we'll see.

Here's a New York Times story on OpenSocial.
FACEBOOK is an island. A most convivial island, with one’s classmates, friends, workmates and family members close at hand. An island that since May has been enlivened with entertaining fauna and flora in the form of minisoftware applications. But it’s still an island.

Suppose, however, that you could leave the island compound of a social networking site and take your network of friends, and friends of friends, anywhere on the Web? This is what makes Google’s announcement last week of a new alliance of companies so enticing — the possibility that social networking will become ubiquitous.

Google’s vision — “Social Will Be Everywhere” — is more compelling than anything Facebook could possibly devise. Who wouldn’t prefer the unlimited freedom to take one’s own trusted circle anywhere on the Web, as opposed to the cramped confines of island life?

And when has an island economy, even a well-provisioned one, ever matched the offerings of the entire Web? (Just ask AOL.)

A long, long time ago — last Monday, that is — Facebook seemed a much larger land mass than it ever actually was. That was when it was celebrating its ability to command a generous $15 billion valuation while pocketing a $240 million investment from Microsoft. Speculation abounded that when Facebook unveiled its new advertising platform this Tuesday, the company would soon have the ability to print money, offering up to advertisers audiences with any desired characteristics, based on the personal information that Facebook residents disclose on their profiles.

At that point, Facebook and other social networking sites appeared to be the only companies in a position to instill fear in Google. The sites tend to be the place where many members head first when they go online, and many end up staying right there. The sites also hamper Google’s ability to meet its grand charter of organizing the world’s information and making it available to all; the Google search crawler is not allowed to land on most social networking islands and gather data about what island residents are saying and doing.

Google has a social networking site of its own, Orkut, named after Orkut Buyukkokten, a Google engineer; it was introduced in January 2004. Measured in worldwide page views, it is in sixth place, with about 25 million unique visitors in September, according to comScore. But it remains unknown to most Americans: more than half of its members live in Brazil. Google has no idea how to use the popularity of a Portuguese-language site in one hemisphere to create a success closer to home in Mountain View, Calif. (Neither do I.)

In a bravura switch of strategy, Google left its own island to embrace open standards that belong to no one company. Its initiative, which it calls OpenSocial, is an appeal to software developers and Web sites to cooperate in adopting a single set of software standards for the little software widgets that can add a social-networking layer to all Web sites. Agreement on a standard would save users from the aggravation of joining multiple networks and save developers from the aggravation of writing code that works only with specific sites. Unlike Facebook’s programming requirements, Google’s use nonproprietary programming languages.

The decision by MySpace, the No. 1 social networking site in the world, with more than 100 million unique visitors in September, to join OpenSocial gives Google an impressive assembly of social networking partners. The group includes Bebo, the No. 1 networking site in Britain, as well as SixApart, Hi5, Friendster, LinkedIn and Ning — and Orkut, of course. Google also signed up some other participants, like, that are not social networking sites but which welcome social widgets. If Facebook chooses to remain a holdout, it will not be as the head of a countercoalition but as a cranky recluse.

Google’s self-interest is plain enough: it does not want Web users to disappear from its radar when they head off to proprietary social networking islands. Incidentally, if software based on OpenSocial specifications spreads throughout the Web, and if users are permitted to assume more control over how their personal information is used and sold, it is possible to imagine a day when all sites on the Web are equipped to utilize one’s social network, regardless of where it originated. These are not small if’s, of course, but it is also possible to imagine members receiving feeds about what friends are doing and updating others about their own activities while roving far from the island. Why spend time on a social networking site if its functionality can be made portable?

Usually, coalitions are collections of also-rans, trying to challenge the industry leader. Why would MySpace, owned by the News Corporation, elect to throw its considerable influence behind OpenSocial? In the future, its primary competitor might not be Facebook, now No. 2, nor any other island-state, but rather the entire Web, endowed with social-network awareness based on open standards. So far, every time the Web has matched up against a proprietary alternative, the Web has prevailed.

I spoke early last week with Joe Kraus, Google’s director of product management, who oversees OpenSocial. The long-term vision, he said, was to enable social networks to be portable: “You want your friends to go with you — you don’t want them to be locked up.”

What would be possible if social networking were freed from social network sites? Mr. Kraus offered an illustration: “Imagine how much better Craigslist would be if your friends were with you, and friends of friends,” permitting one to hone in on listings posted by those in one’s most trusted group. He said the ability to add a layer of social relationships to a site like Craigslist “takes an impersonal site and makes it personal.”

Indeed, it is an intriguing example of what’s possible, but the fact that he used a hypothetical one — Craigslist has not joined OpenSocial — suggests how early it is in Google’s effort to spread “social” everywhere.

Another example of reality intervening

From The New York Times
One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

The jamming technology works by sending out a radio signal so powerful that phones are overwhelmed and cannot communicate with cell towers. The range varies from several feet to several yards, and the devices cost from $50 to several hundred dollars. Larger models can be left on to create a no-call zone.

Using the jammers is illegal in the United States. The radio frequencies used by cellphone carriers are protected, just like those used by television and radio broadcasters.

The Federal Communication Commission says people who use cellphone jammers could be fined up to $11,000 for a first offense. Its enforcement bureau has prosecuted a handful of American companies for distributing the gadgets — and it also pursues their users.
Perhaps this is a good example of platforms. We created a platform in which the cell phone frequency was reserved for cell phone companies. But like most human-created platforms it is artificial. So it's possible to sabotage it. Then the question becomes whether it is worth the social cost to police it. And that becomes, among other things, a battle between business and others. The cell phone companies are fighting to keep the platform sacred. Here's what they say.
Cellphone carriers pay tens of billions of dollars to lease frequencies from the government with an understanding that others will not interfere with their signals. And there are other costs on top of that. Verizon Wireless, for example, spends $6.5 billion a year to build and maintain its network.

“It’s counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman. The carriers also raise a public safety issue: jammers could be used by criminals to stop people from communicating in an emergency.

In evidence of the intensifying debate over the devices, CTIA, the main cellular phone industry association, asked the F.C.C. on Friday to maintain the illegality of jamming and to continue to pursue violators. It said the move was a response to requests by two companies for permission to use jammers in specific situations, like in jails.

Abolishing the death penalty by making it too expensive

From The New York Times
States unwilling to pay the huge costs of defending people charged in capital cases may be unable to conduct executions.

For Brian Nichols, accused of killing four in the courthouse shooting in March 2005, the costs have already reached $1.2 million. That, together with legislative cuts, has left the state public defender system with no money. Until the bills are paid, the judge has delayed the trial, saying that it is unconstitutional not to pay the defense and thus pointless to proceed. In turn, lawmakers have accused him of conspiring to end the death penalty in Georgia.

The state could avoid the multimillion-dollar trial by dropping the death penalty option. Mr. Nichols has offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole, but the district attorney, Paul L. Howard Jr., has declined.
Reality always intervenes—even if it takes a long time. This is the legal equivalent of evolutionary pressure. The cost of the death penalty has risen because those opposed have insisted that the accused receive a reasonable defense. That's justified under our legal system. Since there really is no reasonable defense against a charge where the penalty may be execution, the price has risen to the point that it is unaffordable.

I particularly like this example (although I should do a better job of explaining it) because it relates evolutionary processes, politics, economics, the centrality of energy to all dynamically emergent phenomena.