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Week of 23 August 2010


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Monday, 23 August 2010
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11:21 - YouTube is broken again, and there's some debate in their forums whether this latest problem is a bug or a feature. A week ago, YouTube stopped sending new subscriber emails, so now there's no way to know who's subscribing to one's channel.

I noticed the problem quickly. The last email notification I got of a new subscriber was at 19:09 my time on Monday, 16 August. When I checked my email later that evening, I wondered what was going on. Ordinarily, I'd have expected anything from 6 or 8 to maybe 15 or 20 new subscriber emails over the course of the evening. In a typical 24 hour period, I might get 20 or 25 new subscribers--most of those in the evening and overnight--with maybe only 10 or 12 on a slow day and maybe 50 to 75 on a heavy day. So I knew something was going on.

The first thing I did was visit my account home page, where I verified under Email Options that the send email when "Someone subscribes to my channel" check box was marked. I cleared that, saved my settings, remarked the box, and saved settings again. No joy. As it happened, I'd just passed 5,000 subscribers. That was a nice, round number, so I just assumed that YouTube stopped sending new subscriber notifications once one reached 5,000 subscribers.

That's not the case. They've turned off new subscriber emails for all channels and, despite howls of outrage, they haven't responded with any explanation. Those who believe YouTube did this intentionally speculate that they're trying to stop the "sub4sub" phenomenon, whereby people subscribe to anyone who subscribes to them. There are channels out there that have 50,000 subscribers but have posted zero videos. In some cases, they haven't even favorited any videos, so their channel pages are pretty much empty. Obviously, sub4sub skews subscriber counts, so it'd make sense for YouTube to take action to prevent it. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that YouTube really cares about that. Here's the last new subscriber notification I received, with the channel name changed to XXX:

XXX has subscribed to you on YouTube!

Want to return the favor and subscribe to XXX? Just visit XXX's channel and click on the "Subscribe" button at the top.

Subscriptions allow you to connect with other people and be notified when they upload new videos or respond to others' videos (by favoriting, commenting, rating, etc). You can control which of your actions are publicly visible by going to your Sharing settings.

You can see new activity from your subscriptions on your YouTube homepage.

Now, it's true that the email doesn't include a clickable link, so if you want to subscribe to someone who just subscribed to you, you have to copy/paste the channel name into YouTube. Still, it doesn't appear that YouTube is discouraging sub4sub. If anything, the converse. Until some months ago, the new subscriber messages didn't include that second paragraph. Pournelle likes to quote Napoleon's dictum: "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence", and I think that's what's going on here. YouTube was fiddling with something and borked the new subscriber notification emails. Getting that fixed is obviously not a high priority.

Some people really care about this, because they send a PM to each new subscriber thanking them for subscribing, or they post a comment on the new subscriber's channel page. I've never done that, so I really don't need to know who's subscribing to me.



I mentioned the TV series Everwood the other day. That series ran four seasons, from autumn 2002 through spring 2006. Series 1 was released on DVD in September 2004, while the program was still being broadcast, followed by an almost five year delay before series 2 was released in June 2009. Series 3 was released in June of this year, and series 4 has not yet been released. The reason for the slow release schedule is the same reason that only series 1 of Crossing Jordan is available on DVD: music licensing costs. Basically, the RIAA demands ridiculously excessive licensing fees, making it uneconomic for the owners of these series to release them on DVD.

I don't know what the RIAA demands in licensing fees, but I'm sure it's more than the $0.01 per DVD (or less) that would be reasonable. The Everwood series 1 DVDs apparently include the music that was originally broadcast with the programs. That 5-year delay in releasing series 2 occurred because once the producers found out how badly they'd been raped in music licensing fees for series 1, they rightly decided not to pay the extortionate RIAA licensing fees for series 2. Instead, they simply replaced all of the music with tracks that they wouldn't have to pay the RIAA licensing fees for.

If there's any difference in the quality of the music, we sure haven't noticed it. I'd bet the replacement music is as good or better than the original tracks. Even if the original stuff had been "better", whatever that means, the replacement stuff is more than good enough. The RIAA is pricing itself out of the market, which is just fine with me. And they're certainly training TV series producers to avoid using any RIAA-controlled music in their programs. There are about a million bands out there who'd kill for the chance to do a work-for-hire gig to make the music for a TV series. I predict they're going to get a lot more work in the future. And some of that work will no doubt be re-recording tracks for older series that haven't been released on DVD because of high music licensing fees.

The RIAA needs a reality check. Their music just isn't worth much, and certainly not nearly what they insist on charging for it. There's no way it's worth the $0.79 to $0.99/track that iTunes and Amazon charge. A track isn't worth even a tenth of that, and possibly not a hundredth. I might be willing to pay $0.01/track for the perpetual right to use a DRM-free track, and to give it away or sell it if I wanted to, but that's about my limit. I suspect in reality that's also about the market limit. If the estimates I've seen of the ratio of purchased/copied tracks are anywhere near accurate, dividing the total price paid for the music on the average MP3 player by the total number of tracks on that player would come to about $0.01/track. So why not sell it for that and have done with it?


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Tuesday, 24 August 2010
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10:31 - Barbara and I finished watching series 4 of Dexter the other night, and agreed that it was disappointing, to say the least. Actually, I think Dexter started going downhill fast sometime back in series 3. The writing was uneven at times in series 1 and 2 as well, but in series 4 it became monotonous, boring, and far-fetched. We certainly won't be adding series 5 to our Netflix queue.

I'm still hard at work on the microchem kits.


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Wednesday, 25 August 2010
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10:43 - Over on the messageboard, David Hardy posted a link to a video of one of our snipers providing overwatch for a squad of our Marines in the Middle East. I should warn you that this video is graphic, but it is worth watching to get some idea of what our young men and women go through every day over there.

Incidentally, if you're wondering how shooting bad guys from a mile away qualifies someone to receive the Bronze Star for valor, know this. Sniping is an extremely dangerous activity, for the sniper. The first lesson they teach in sniper school is to shoot-and-scoot. A sniper who fires more than one shot, possibly two, without changing locations is likely to come under attack from artillery, mortars, or counter-snipers. Furthermore, sniper teams are often forced to operate alone, far from friendly support. A sniper team is all offense and no defense. The sniper has only his rifle, which is totally unsuited for a firefight, and his or her spotter may, at best, have an M4 carbine as a desperate, last-ditch defensive weapon. If a squad of bad guys had shown up, this sniper team would have been SOL. But they held their position for 12 hours, and by doing that they probably saved the lives of quite a few Marines.

Without sniper teams like these, a lot more of our young men and women would be coming back from the Middle East in body bags. So it came as a shock to me when I learned several years ago that the military authorities don't provide our snipers with everything they need to get the job done. Sure, the military provides the snipers with rifles and ammunition and everything else they consider "essential". But that leaves out a lot of small stuff, without which the sniper teams are less effective.

Several years ago, I came across a website named Adopt-a-Sniper, which detailed what our snipers needed and weren't getting. I donated then and a couple times since, but it's been a while. The site is now AmericanSnipers.org, and it's a federally-qualified non-profit organization. When I went over there this morning to donate, I found that they no longer accept PayPal. They use Authorize.net now, and you can donate securely with any major credit card. Please send them whatever you can afford. These folks are helping our snipers keep our young men and women alive in the Middle East.



13:12 - From Derek Lowe's blog, here's a woman who should be fired, at the least. Actually, I think she should face criminal charges. It's a shame. She looks like a nice enough young woman. But the story is one of stupefying incompetence and irresponsibility, not just on the part of the grad students who caused an explosion that resulted in serious injuries and property damage. But on her part. Here's the aftermath:



Notice anything missing? That would be the blast shield, which any undergraduate chemistry major knows (or should know) is essential when one is working with energetic materials (AKA, explosives). Even in my piddly little home lab, I have a blast shield, which is actually a sheet of polycarbonate thick enough to stop a .44 Magnum slug pointblank. And I don't synthesize or work with explosives, ever.

Dr. Hope-Weeks was working on a project for Homeland Security that involved synthesizing and characterizing various explosives likely to be used in improvised explosive devices. You know, stuff like triacetone triperoxide (TATP), AKA Mother of Satan. And her lab had no blast shields. None. That she allowed any work to take place without blast shields is sufficient grounds to fire her, if not to file criminal charges.

Yes, the two grad students involved were incompetent and irresponsible. Yes, they disobeyed her direct order to synthesize no more than 100 mg of each compound. Yes, a PI is responsible for lab safety only in the same sense that a ship captain is responsible for the safety of his ship. Obviously, she couldn't be expected to be looking over the shoulders of her grad students every moment. But her lab had no blast shields. What on earth could she possibly have been thinking?

And it could have been even worse. Notice the large jug of heptane near the left edge of the image. They're lucky they didn't burn down the whole building. Incredibly, the grad student who caused the explosion is reportedly recovering from his injuries and writing his dissertation. They're going to even consider awarding this guy a Ph.D.? That may be the most horrifying part of this whole horrifying mess.


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Thursday, 26 August 2010
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08:40 - I've never understood why it's considered not just acceptable but mandatory to lie to children in some situations. People have tried to explain it to me, usually with the argument that there are some things that children aren't capable of understanding, but those arguments always seemed baseless to me. If a child asks a question, by definition that child is ready to hear the answer. A child is as intelligent as the adult that child will become. The child simply lacks data and experience.

The child's question invariably is about sex or death or religion or some other fundamental issue. I don't think it's a matter of the child not being capable of understanding the answer. I think it's a matter of the adults either being embarrassed or not having a good answer themselves. Someone commented once that I treat children like miniature adults, and I think that's true. If a child asks me a question, I attempt to answer it honestly and completely. I don't duck the question. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the child.

Back when I was a teenager, I got in trouble for answering such a question. I was with a large group at a local park for a picnic or the 4th of July or something. A little kid, maybe 5 or 6, saw two dogs mating and asked me what they were doing. I told the kid they were making puppies. The kid just said, "Oh" and thought nothing more about it. The kid's mother was nearby. She heard what I said, and she absolutely freaked. She took me aside and gave me hell. According to her, I should have told the kid the dogs were wrestling. Wrestling?

I thought about that the other night when we were watching an episode of Everwood. The lead character is a single dad. His 10-year-old daughter, Delia, comes across their 30-something close friend and next-door neighbor Nina's vibrator. Delia is a smart and curious kid, and naturally wants to know what it is. I'd have answered her question, and the inevitable follow-on questions, honestly and completely, and without a second thought. I guess that makes me unusual. In fact, I guess it might get me arrested. For telling a child the truth.


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Friday, 27 August 2010
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08:12 - As I think I mentioned earlier, my formal connection with Maker Shed came to an end earlier this year, when Maker Shed decided to de-emphasize science products. (We're still friends; I'm just no longer working there.) At the time, they still had a fair amount of inventory on hand, which they've been selling down since.

The Maker Shed team has now decided to hold a clearance sale, with all chemicals and lab equipment priced at 50% off the former prices (which were competitive with Home Science Tools and similar vendors). If you want to grab some chemicals and equipment at excellent prices, now is the time to do it.

http://www.makershed.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=135

The prices shown on that page are the original prices. Just add whatever items you need to the shopping cart and at checkout enter the coupon code

MADSCIENCE

and the 50% discount will show up. In effect, these are wholesale prices, or close to them. The difference is, you can order one or two beakers or flasks or whatever at these prices instead of having to order a case of 144 or 288. You won't find prices this low elsewhere, so you may want to stock up now, while the getting is good.

The sale runs through 30 September. I no longer have access to inventory numbers, but I suspect they have a lot of some items and very few of others, so the sooner you get your order in the more likely you'll be able to get the items you want.


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Saturday, 28 August 2010
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09:11 - Here's something interesting.

From: Rod Schaffter
  To: Bob Thompson
Date: Fri Aug 27 14:40:57 2010
  Re:  Override any Flash Blocker with most easy HTML code

Hi Bob,

An interesting Demo

http://netticat.ath.cx/Misc/overrideflashblockdemo.htm

"Just one simple line of HTML code is needed, like this:

<embed src="http://any.com/Misc/demo.flash" width="550" height="71">
</embed>

The trick is not to write the object tag with the Flash classid, and to mind that the src path should not end with a typical Flash identifier (like .swf). For example try the code with any YouTube video.

The FlashBlock developers replied me that they never claimed nor advertised Flashblock as protective software - they don't intend to fix the issue. "

Cheers,

Rod Schaffter

--
“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”
--Josiah Charles Stamp

Well, it doesn't override mine. When I visit that page I get the following:

This demonstration is designed for FlashBlock only.
You either have no FlashBlock installed, or
you have Javascript disabled (FlashBlock needs Javascript!)

(I have NoScript set to block flash on sites I haven't whitelisted.)

I tried it on a system with Flashblock installed but not NoScript and this technique does indeed override Flashblock. Yet another good reason to install NoScript. If indeed the Flashblock developers don't fix the problem, that leaves little reason to bother installing Flashblock.



I know newspapers are hurting badly for advertising revenue, but it still pisses me off when I see one of those full-page ads for borderline fraudulent items. This morning, our paper had a full-page ad for some $300 "miracle" cooler that supposedly uses 95% less electricity than air conditioning. The reason, of course, is that it's just a box with a fan in it. It doesn't actually cool the air unless you use your freezer (and your electricity) to produce blocks of ice and put those in the "miracle" cooler. And they don't count the electricity needed to make the ice. You could instead visit Home Depot and spend that same $300 on a window air conditioner that would provide more cooling with lower total electricity consumption and a lot less hassle.

I told Barbara that it reminded me of the Saturday Night Live routine from 25 or 30 years ago, when Father Guido Sarducci did a fake ad for Mr. Tea, which was simply a funnel on a stand. You put your tea bag into the funnel with your cup underneath and poured boiling water through the funnel. And it was only $19.95. Saturday Night Live posted their own 800 number in the fake commercial, and was stunned to receive a flood of calls from people who actually wanted to order Mr. Tea.



12:12 - Thanks to PZ, I've found yet another woman I adore. This one is apparently a top-tier porn movie star, with 800 porn movies on her resume. She's an outspoken atheist, a feminist (in the good sense), and, from the interview, is obviously intelligent. (And has a formidable vocabulary; so few people actually use words like "bloviate" in the course of ordinary conversation.) Reading this interview immediately destroyed my stereotyped image of porn stars. I'm not sure why I ever accepted that stereotype. Even before she died in 1967, I was aware that Jayne Mansfield, the archetypical 1950's "dumb blonde", in fact had an IQ well into the genius range. If a "dumb blonde" can be a genius, there's certainly no reason that a porn star shouldn't be intelligent, well-read, and thoughtful. So I've now added one more person the list of people I'd like to know, but will probably never meet.


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Sunday, 29 August 2010
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14:32 - Many of my atheist friends and acquaintances favor the building of the ground-zero mosque, invariably on First Amendment grounds. I oppose it, on the grounds that the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, not freedom of totalitarian political systems. Islam is the enemy of humanity, and to treat it otherwise, let alone to offer it the privileged position of a religion in US society, is stupidity that beggars belief.

Someone, maybe it was me, commented that a rational person can't reason with Nazis; one can only kill them before they kill him. The same is true of Islamics. And before anyone objects and starts talking about "reasonable Muslims", there aren't any. None. Any true Muslim is by definition unreasonable. It's not a matter of only "radical Muslims" trying to kill and enslave us. That is the goal of all Muslims. It's a core part of their so-called religion.

A lot of my correspondents know people whom they consider "moderate Muslims", but those are not true Muslims at all. They are apostates, only superficial Muslims, and Islam has even less use for them than it does for us. Anyone whose goal is not to kill and enslave infidels like us is, by definition, not a real Muslim. "Moderate Muslim" is an oxymoron. How to sort them out? I've said this before. Demand that they eat a ham sandwich and piss on a copy of the Koran. If they do that, they're okay. If they don't, shoot the sons of bitches.

The American people, by and large, understand clearly what our ruling class does not. Islam is our implacable enemy. And by "our" I don't just mean those of us who are US citizens. I mean that Islam is the implacable enemy of nothing less than Western Civilization. Islam has considered itself at war with Western Civilization for more than a thousand years now, and its goal has remained unchanged all that time. They intend to destroy us, however long it takes. Because Islam is stupefyingly incompetent, they can achieve that goal only if we're stupid enough or politically-correct enough to help them.

Here's Pat Condell, who understands what our ruling class does not.




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