This Weeks Reader December 29, 2007  

Saturday, December 29, 2007

My New Religion
It’s not a label that would have fit comfortably in the past. In fact, I’ve long been in the closet with all those other secular humanists who never cared enough about organized religion, one way or another, to complain about it in public - much less join an atheist group.But now I stand accused, by a prominent neighbor in Belmont, of wanting to establish “a new religion in America - the religion of secularism.” In a recent speech, Mitt Romney declared that I’m “wrong” - despite my never having gotten into an argument with anyone about which religion is right or wrong or whether they all should be avoided.

Real Flaws in Virtual Worlds
When it comes to developers the biggest problem in software security is that many still believe that security is all about functionality. For example, they think that sprinkling on some "magic crypto fairy dust" will solve the security problem. But the kinds of attacks we describe in our book are not based on traditional network-based attacks, remote buffer overflows, or SQL injection. Instead, they are based on taking control of the local game process on your own PC and having it do things on your behalf. Some of the most interesting attacks against online games involve building "bots" that can automatically play the game for you. The bot program runs on your PC along with the game client. The challenge is to have that happen in an undetectable fashion. (Incidentally, this is why games have so much relevance when it comes to future attacks on other distributed systems.)

(via Janet)

Game tax: State senator presumes gaming/violence correlation
A lawmaker in Wisconsin has proposed a tax specific to video games that would fund a juvenile offender program. Democatic State Senator Jon Erpenbach proposed the idea that a one percent tax would be levied on video games in addition to Wisconsin's five percent sales tax. The tax seems to presume a defined correlation between games and violence, and thus is being pushed as logical, though Erpenbach has said that he is willing to explore other funding sources after criticism regarding this correlation came from his colleagues.

Portal is a single-player first-person action/puzzle video game developed by Valve. The game consists primarily of a series of puzzles which must be solved by teleporting the player's character and other simple objects using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (the "portal gun"). The goal of each puzzle is to reach an exit point. The "portal gun" and the unusual physics it creates are the emphasis of this game.
(via onegoodmove)

Arrogance and Warming
The Bush administration’s decision to deny California permission to regulate and reduce global warming emissions from cars and trucks is an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry.

Insurance: Why it sucks
As usual with arguments about the invisible hand of the market, it's a load of rubbish. In this case, there's a simple reason why. The whole market based argument assumes that the people choosing and purchasing insurance are the same as the people consuming insurance services. They're not. Insurance companies mainly provide insurance through peoples employers. In fact, as it currently stands, unless you're buying insurance as part of a large group, it's almost impossible to get insurance for a remotely reasonable cost. So it's the employers who choose the insurance. The employees, who are the consumers of the insurance services, have very little (if any) choice.

Constant Viewer: Charlie Wilson’s War
In the first place, Constant Viewer can’t remember a major Hollywood movie that nailed Washington politics and policy making as well as this film does. Political science students should consider it required viewing. Secondly, while the trailer suggests that Hanks’ Charlie Wilson is little more than a buffoon, the character actually portrayed in the film is a clever, careful and conscientious man. Thirdly, Philip Seymour Hoffman is simply splendid, as usual. Finally, Julia Roberts manages to stretch her range and play a rich, glamorous woman. Okay, so maybe there are only three good reasons.

Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem
Making the original (which wasn't all that great but I didn't hate it as much as many folks did) look positively brilliant in comparison, this has to be the one of the dumbest fucking movies I have seen all year. And since just 2 days before I watched a movie that told us that Mt. Rushmore was carved for the sole purpose of hiding a clue that would lead to a lost city of gold that could have been used to restart the Civil War, that's really saying something.

Huckabee wants Ten Commandments in the White House
First, the notion that the Ten Commandments “form the basis of most of our laws” is transparently ridiculous. I don’t know if Huckabee has looked at the Commandments lately, but just the opposite is true.

The Ten Commandments, for example, make several religious commands: no false gods, honor the Sabbath, no idolatry, no using the Lord’s name in vain. They also include plenty of tips for good living: honor your parents, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet a bunch of stuff, don’t covet your neighbor’s wife.

Are any of these reflected in our laws? Of course not. There are laws against stealing and killing, but it’s fair to say those laws originate more from common sense than the Book of Exodus.

More Huckabee Absurdity
Utter nonsense. I can't see how anyone who has actually read them could possibly think that they are the basis of "most of our laws. Of the ten commandments, only two would even be constitutional in the United States, with a third being constitutional in limited circumstances. The other 7 could not possibly be the basis for any law because they would be clearly unconstitutional. Let's take a look at them one by one[.]

Pink Polka Dotted Elephant
An acquaintance of mine stood in a marketplace in India watching a man selling a magical cure. The man claimed that the concoction would heal every ailment from the common cold to migraines to cancer to speeding up the mending of broken bones. The sale came with a money-back guarantee. Before passing the bottle to the purchaser, the vendor would caution the buyer to never think about a pink polka dotted elephant when he took the medication. With such an absurd image planted in the mind, no purchaser could ever look at the bottle without thinking about the pink polka dotted elephant.

Tied Up in Knots
Belmonte calls the braid model "very obvious, but maybe not universal," meaning that different physical phenomena probably tie knots in different ways. In bacterial DNA, for example, one way that knots can form is by genetic recombination. That's when, to facilitate the reshuffling of genes, enzymes cut DNA at two places and reattach the ends in a different order. Bacterial genomes are circular, so recombination can produce veritable knotted loops.

In the late 1990s, biochemists discovered enzymes that seem able to detect when DNA has a knot. The enzymes then undo the knot by brute-force cut and paste.

Is science too hard for normal people to understand?
I’ve been thinking that science has come to the point where normal people — people without any science education, people who dropped out of high school, people who work at the corner gas station, people who think “math is hard” — just can’t understand it, so they reject it out of hand or they think of it as some kind of mystical force, no different in substance than any superstition.

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