January 2004

Commercial Wearable Camera

Years ago, Steve Mann made Cool Site of the Day with his Wearable Wireless Webcam. Now, almost a decade later, you can order the DejaView CamWear Model 100 hat or glasses-mounted camera, which continually records a 30-second buffer of video so you can push a button and start recording from before you even know you wanted to. Price will be $399, available “in January” (so they’d better hurry!)

I don’t expect this first-generation product to make a big splash, but I do believe in the vision of always-ready wearable cameras and microphones with this sort of record-30-seconds-into-the-past kind of feature. The story is somewhat compelling for consumers (“when your baby makes that great smile, you can capture it and grab the best frame as a picture”) but even more so for industry and inspection, where you’re more concerned with documenting an event than with the artistry of the video.

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Mental illness in politics

No, I’m not talking about the presidential election…

Last week the California State Assembly discussed a new law (AB 1424) that would prohibit the state from putting a child in foster care solely for refusing to administer medication for a psychiatric disorder, or for refusing to allow the child to be tested for a psychiatric condition. An analysis of the bill can be found here.

According to a press release by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, the bill would protect children from “forced medication with dangerous psychiatric drugs.” He quotes Dr. Fred Baughman, a “pediatric neurologist,” as claiming mental disorders don’t exist, and quotes Cassandra Auerbach of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights as warning that psychiatrists are on the payroll of big drug companies and are covering up suicide statistics and other dangers of these drugs. The release doesn’t quite come out and say that psychiatrists are stealing your babies and stewing them for dinner, but it comes close.

I doubt this bill will ever make it out of committee, and that’s probably a good thing. In general I give deference to the parents when it comes to raising their own children, but two things set off alarm bells for me in this bill. First, I don’t like the way it treats mental illnesses as fundamentally different than physical illnesses. If the state should intervene when a parent refuses to administer life-saving medicine to treat a virus, it should also intervene when a child is chronically suicidal or homicidal. Second, I’m extremely sceptical of the two “experts” cited in the propaganda for this bill. Dr. Baughman seems to be of the opinion that mental illnesses don’t exist because we don’t yet know the direct causal links between brain chemistry and most illnesses. Even ignoring the fact that this lack of knowledge is true of many physical illnesses as well, the idea that mental illness is not associated with brain and body chemistry is ludicrous on its face: if suicidal thoughts and other dangerous behavior were not related to chemistry then psychoactive drugs could not have the effects they have. While they are not unbiased in this debate, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) testified in a letter to Congress that Dr. Baughman “represent[s] fringe opinions” about psychiatry. As for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, this righteously-named group was founded by the Church of Scientology with a charter to attack psychiatrists and the psychiatric profession. For those who don’t know their history, Scientology is a cult that considers the field of medicine, and particularly psychiatry, as evil incarnate. I recommend Garry Armstrong’s site for a good explanation of why. I don’t whether CCHR is behind this bill or just supporting it, but their association with it in any form makes me worried.

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National Geographic’s first digital shoot

Rob Galbraith’s Digital Photography Insights has a great article about National Geographic’s first cover story shot entirely in digital. (Props to Haberlach for the link.)

Digital had many of the advantages I’d expect: less equipment to get lost, easy backups, ability to review pictures on-site, and easier remote collaborative editing. The disadvantages were more surprising to me, and included having to deal with brightness differences on different screens, inability to edit on a large horizontal surface like a light-table, and poor contrast compared to slides when showing photos to a large group.

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Adopt-a-journalist: Zone defense or man-to-man

There’s been some discussion over at PRESSthink about the idea of individual bloggers adopting a single journalist to follow for the presidential campaign. There are a lot of links and discussion off that site, the post that brought it to my attention was Dave Winer’s post that we should track candidates by issue, not the journalists. I agree with Dave, but I don’t think we need to make that choice.

The nice thing about blogs is that we don’t have to choose between adopting candidates, journalists or issues (zone defense vs. man-to-man, as it were). Bloggers should adopt any combination of candidate, journalist, or issue to watch, and then send those posts to the appropriate aggregator(s).

The nice thing about reading aggregators is we won’t be stuck with one blogger’s inherently-biased view about a particular subject, nor will we only have mini-experts on the issue at hand. For example, the Krugman aggregator will have posts by the various bloggers who adopt Krugman, but also the occasional post by bloggers who adopt Bush (when they reference a Krugman article) or the middle-class tax cut (when they talk about that topic). And best of all from my perspective, if people start reading aggregators instead of individual blogs they might occasionally stumble across a post with which they disagree, and that sounds like a fine thing to happen.

Update: fixed my link to Dave’s post.

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The Net has no memory

USA Today is trying to play gotcha with Howard Dean by citing a letter that Dean wrote urging then-president Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia. AHA! says the press — but Dean criticized Bush about unilateralism, therefore he’s a hypocrite!

The bloggers, of course, have already jumped on it. Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds is gloating:

Hmm. Sounds a lot like the situation in Iraq under Saddam, except that with Iraq (1) the human rights abuses were worse; (2) the failures of the UN and the international community were greater; and, oh yeah, (3) there was a Republican president. I wonder which one of these factors made the difference in terms of Dean’s positions?

Meanwhile, Roger Simon seems to think that the Net has brought an end to hypocrisy.:

Normal political hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it is worse. Because this is Mr. Tell-It-Like It-Is and he isn’t. And he can’t. There’s too much information already on record. The Internet will be his great undoing. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Wait until summer. The same is true for Clark. In a sea of a million fact-checkers, his idiot vacillations seem all the more ridiculous. If he gets nominated, it is going to be a donnybrook.

Now, I like a good witch-burning as much as the next guy — it give me a great feeling of camaraderie with my fellow pilgrims as we congratulate each other and roast marshmallows on the embers. But this isn’t Internet-age fact-checking. This is good old-fashioned political gotcha, the high-stakes version of waiting for someone to not say “Mother may I” so you can give him noogies.

If the Net really was the “greatest memory device we ever had” and if “bloggers and others will dig it out and force the media to publicize it” as Simon argues, Reynolds wouldn’t have to speculate on why Dean might think Bosnia is different from Iraq. He could instead just go to speeches posted on Dean’s website and read for himself:

Let me be clear: My position on the war has not changed.

The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam’s ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk…

…The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.

And what of Dean’s position on unilateralism? Well, in a scoop that would make Drudge’s head spin, DocBug.com has obtained documentation (again on Dean’s Web site) that he’s not opposed to unilateralism per say, but that it should only be used when other options are gone:

Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented. America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary. But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort.

Simon is correct, the Net is the best memory device we’ve ever had. But if bloggers (and worse, professional journalists) can’t even bother to check a candidate’s own website, what use is that memory?

The Net is a great well of knowledge. Unfortunately, like all wells, it also makes a great echo chamber.


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Bush’s Legacy

I very much hope that two hundred years from now, President Bush is remembered most of all as the man who started us on the path back into space

…long after the economic ripples from early 21st century deficit spending have subsided.

…long after we survived the nuclearization of dangerous dictatorships, either because of or in spite of our leadership.

…long after the rebuilding of post-Sadam Iraq, into the thriving democracy, brutal theocracy, or boiling anarchy it eventually became.

…long after the US and its allies stopped viewing each other with arrogance, suspicion and contempt.

…long after a consensus on the causes of global warming was reached, and that understanding was used to avoid disaster.

…long after some claims that the United States had lost its guiding principles of freedom, openness and tolerance were proven unfounded, while others were heeded as the early warning they were, and our course was corrected.

Some are calling this all election-year posturing, but it’s more than that. This is a vision that humans should excel to heights never before achieved in all of history. It’s a vision that we should strive for knowledge and understanding of things larger than ourselves. And it’s a vision that the nations of the Earth should go together in this journey. This is the sort of vision that can last for centuries.

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Penn State offers free music downloading to students

On Monday, Penn State launched their program to provide their students with unlimited, legal, free music downloads through the newly reincarnated Napster 2.0. Downloads can be streamed or protected by Digital Rights Management software, and students will be allowed to keep their music until they graduate, or to purchase songs for 99 cents each. According to Penn State’s November announcement, the program is intended both to provide a legal alternative to illegal downloading and to “educate students on this issue”:

Why is Penn State providing a music downloading service to its students?

Penn State is concerned that some of its students don’t understand that downloading music over computer networks without purchasing copyright permission is both unethical and against the law. The University believes it has a responsibility to do something to change that. Penn State will continue to try to educate students on this issue and will continue to enforce its strong policies against copyright infringement. At the same time, the University wants to provide legal alternatives to illegal downloading. This service is directly aimed at helping students to understand the issue and to provide them with an alternative.

I’m curious how this plan pans out, and in particular what percentage of students will crack the DRM so they can listen to downloaded songs on their non-Napster MP3 players (e.g. iPod) or to send music to their friends at other schools. I expect a large number will, but perhaps I’m too skeptical in thinking that you can’t teach the lesson “music isn’t free” by giving someone free music.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether Napster can lock students in to their closed discussion communities and radio stations. It’s much harder to take these services with you when you graduate than it is to run your whole hard drive through a crack-kit — I’m sure Napster gave Penn State a good deal on the assumption that this is a good foot in the door.


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How to tell a Vermonter…

Club For Growth‘s latest anti-Dean ad really captures my image of a typical Vermonter:

Announcer off-screen: What do you think of Howard Dean’s plans to raise taxes on families by nineteen hundred dollars a year?

Husband: What do I think? Well, I think Howard Dean should take his tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-Reading…

Wife [continuing his sentence]: …body piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sled back to my typical California log cabin and have some flapjacks with maple syrup…

(Now that I think about it, this whole ad looks straight out of The Onion’s What Do You Think? column.)

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Bridging the gap between email/IM and Web

I recently came across two programs for helping transfer large files via instant messenger or email. I see both these systems as gap-bridgers — they bridge between the spontaneity of email/IM and the robust and recipient-controlled download you get with Web browsers. Since the Internet abhors a gap, I’ve no doubt this difference in functionality will go away in the near future, especially as Web-based protocols are further integrated into the OS and file systems.

  • DropLoad (http://dropload.com/) is a donation-ware website where you can upload a file (using the web-browser upload) and indicate an email address you want the file “sent” to. That recipient then gets sent a random-hash URL to the uploaded file. Files are deleted after 48 hours or once they are downloaded, whichever comes first.
  • HFS (http://www.rejetto.com/hfs/guide/) is a webserver where you can drag & drop files onto the server and get a new URL for the file automatically put in your clipboard. You can also create “virtual folders” that are essentially directories on the webpage. I’ve not tried this one, but it feels like a more lightweight (and potentially temporary) approach to what WebDav or shared file systems do.

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