July 2006

UV-meter bikini


Solestrom Swimwear has a new bikini with a built-in UV Meter so you can figure out how long before you’ve had too much sun. (Looks like it’s just a meter — it would impress me more if it let you input how sun-sensitive you are and it gave you a countdown of how long you had left before burning.)

From their press release:

The bikini collects UV data though a smart fabric belt, and reports the UV index to the wearer with 0.01 accuracy. The electronic components are neatly built into the removable belt, and can be worn even underwater. Next in the list is a lower cost cousin, the SmartSwim™ UV Index Detector Bikini, which has UV sensitive beads that change color with the level of UV intensity. The reading gives more of a range rather than an accurate number, but for those who simply need to know if the UV is low, moderate or high, this bikini fits the bill.

(Link via Retrospectacle.)

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NPUC 2006: Power to the users: the new web

Each year IBM Almaden hosts the New Paradigms in Using Computers workshop. This year’s theme was Web 2.0, which in this case roughly meant the mix of community sites, blogs and wikis that make up the supposed “next wave” of the Net.

Below the cut are my notes on this year’s meeting. They’re still in rough form (and of course are just based on my own recollection and what I managed to type as I was listening), but please enjoy!

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Socialtext wiki software goes open source

At IBM’s NPUC workshop yesterday, Ross Mayfield announced that his company has released an Open Source distribution of Socialtext, their flagship wiki software, under a Mozilla Public License (MPL 1.1). I wasn’t all that pleased with any wikis I’ve tried in the past (including SocialText when I played with it over a year ago)… might be time for me to give it another try and see how it looks.

Socialtext Open can be downloaded from Sourceforge.

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Personal Aura Device

personal aura device

My friends Bill & Amy have set up a page for their Personal Aura Device, a set of sound-reactive LED poi and clothing they’re designing and building for Burning Man this year. Seeing them in action is amazing — they have one controller with a microphone that wirelessly controls boards fitted with with extremely bright red, green and blue LEDs. The main music mode ties intensity of each color to a different frequency band in the audio, so base and drums beat in the blues, mid-tones in the greens and vocalists and guitar are followed by the red. It’s pretty hypnotic to watch, especially when they’ve got two sets of poi plus costuming all pulsing in unison to the music.

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What does cloning do to the stem-cell debate?

OK, so the whole stem-cell debate in congress mostly revolves around the fac that, as Bush put it, “…extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys its potential for life,” and opponents of embryonic stem-cell research suggest scientists should focus on adult stem cells that don’t have that potential. Which just makes me wonder, what happens if (or when) science advances to the point where human cloning is possible? Would adult stem cells be verboten as well? What happens when blood cells and dead skin have the “potential for life?”

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Singing sands

OK, this is too cool. From Physics News Update (with thanks to Strata for the link):

For centuries, world travelers have known of sand dunes that issue loud sounds, sometimes of great tonal quality. In the 12th century Marco Polo heard singing sand in China and Charles Darwin described the clear sounds coming from a sand deposit up against a mountain in Chile. Now, a team of scientists has disproved the long held belief that the sound comes from vibrations of the dune as a whole and proven, through field studies and through controlled experiments in a lab, that the sounds come from the synchronized motions of the grains in avalanches of a certain size.

You can hear recordings of singing avalanches from CNRS labs, and Prof. Melany Hunt at caltech has some movies of creating singing avalanches on her website.

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Freedom of speech, if you don’t mind walking

Today’s WSJ has a story on how the FBI threatened to take away Moroccan immigrant Yassine Ouassif’s green card if he didn’t become an informant (behind a pay wall, sorry, a summary is here). Down at the bottom of the story is this bit:

Ms. Aklaghi [Ouassif’s lawyer] says she learned more at that point about why federal authorities were so interested in him. Mr. Ouassif had been secretly recorded by an FBI informant talking to friends in a San Francisco mosque. A Homeland Security lawyer, she says, did not specify what Mr. Ouassif had said, but told her that his statements did not indicate criminal intent and were fully protected by the First Amendment. Nevertheless, his statements had landed him on the no-fly list, Ms. Aklaghi says, and led to all his subsequent travails.

So, if her information is correct, what this says is that Homeland Security is taking the position that though the First Amendment stops the government from “abridging the freedom of speech,” it doesn’t say anything about taking away someone’s ability to board an airplane if he says something we don’t like.

Homeland Security, of course, is not commenting at all, which points to the other big problem with all this nonsense: the people currently running the show are so secretive (and our congress so complicit) that it’s almost impossible to find out what’s actually being done in our name. Where’s the transparency? Where’s the freedom to be left alone when you’re doing nothing wrong? This is not how the America I learned about in civics class works. We deserve better — a lot better.

Update 7/12/06: corrected spelling of Aklaghi’s name.

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