Monday, March 23, 2009

Hedy Lamarr and her exciting career

Today we celebrate the Ada Lovelace Day. Lovelace, Mother of Programming, she was an English aristocrat who wrote instructions for Charles Babbage's Analytical machine. Today we celebrate the women in science. so I will blog about the most recent and surprising case I came across: Hedy Lamarr.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, in Vienna, besides being a movie star, she had a very interesting life, she created the "Frequency Hoping" method to direct missiles during World War II, but it wasn't until much later that her concept was employed. Her adventures during the pre war time, running away from his husband, an arms dealer that worked with Hitler and Mussolini despite being half Jewish would not be out of place in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon neither. But it's sad that this part of her life is not generally acknowledged, she is more remembered by her movies and beauty.

I came across her intellectual feat reading Greg Egan's Dark Integers, where he mentions a communication technique called Hedy Lamarr. It tickled my curiosity and thanks to the advantages of this hyperlinked world of today, I grasped a bit of Lamarr's life that might not be as glamorous as the rest, but that to me is more exciting.

Even if Lamarr was an icon of classical femininity (after all, it was she who wrote: "Any girl can be glamorous, all she has to do is stand still and look stupid."), which is not the only possible choice of style and behaviour for a woman, she proves that no matter how stereotypically frivolous a person might look, what matter is what goes inside her or his head, not the silly projections we make. Fortunately, we live in times where women have increasingly the same opportunities than men, where social pressures are less overwhelming and where the expectations for women are changing, at least in some countries.

I hope that one day my sisters in Muslim countries will be able to say the same, to emulate Hedy Lamarr, in her artistic and technical achievements if they wish so.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being a criminal, Aussie Style

The Australian Government seems to have a list of websites that will be banned as they depict child pornography, however, it seems that many of these websites are not related in any way to it:

...about half of the sites on the list are not related to child porn and include a slew of online poker sites, YouTube links, regular gay and straight porn sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions such as satanic sites, fetish sites, Christian sites, the website of a tour operator and even a Queensland dentist.

And, as the list is secret, there are not established mechanisms to fight the decision of being included or even to know if one's website is there.

If linking to this list makes me a criminal in Australia, so be it. But I am not staying silent while the basic right of Freedom Speech is torn to pieces by obsessive governments. Child pornography is a very serious issue and should be fought, but this kind of crap does not help.

Instead of fighting us and upsetting us, why does not the Australian Govt. works with us?
I bet that a list of confirmed hosts of kiddie porn (not of dentists, Satan worshipers, masochists and travel agents) would attract the attention of lots of people (Including 4Chan) that would love to stop the bastards who abuse kids. Hell, I would learn myself how to contribute to a DDoS attack to stop such a thing. Despicable scum has been stopped before, and the DoS attack to Scientology was a thing to remember. It can be done, it will be done. Most of us here in this new territory are not evil people, perverted sadists who abuse children. Most of us are as disgusted and outraged as Australian politicians and we want to end the suffering. But censoring in an opaque way does not help.

It is time for governments to wake up and smell the coffee. You cannot stop us and you will fail if you try. You cannot control the Internet anymore, we are too many and our collective intelligence surpasses all your resources. If you want to stop this problem, many of us will be happy to help, use the power of crowds wisely.

Hat tip to BoingBoing.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On taxes and growth

Tired of hearing the mantra about how good are tax cuts for the economy and people, I decided to try to find for myself with the available data if this was true or not. So, I decided to create a Gapminder graph to check possible correlations between Growth, Unemployment and the top marginal tax rate.

I cannot find definite trends, but it seems pretty obvious that high taxes do not kill the economy, neither tax cuts prevent unemployment.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Feasible nightmares

A friend sent me an ominous message, a link to a blog claiming that two of the biggest seed providers for amateur gardeners and farmers were going to be bought by Monsanto, the bête noire of the Organic movement, producer of most of the GM crops cultivated around the world.

Even if these rumors turned to be false, the acquisition of companies like this by the likes of Monsanto is not a far-fetched possibility considered only by people wearing tinfoil hats. One of our main problems is the uniformity of crops around the world. Monoculture has homogenized varieties in almost every field in the world, despite the fact that conditions are not the same. Homogeneity makes plants vulnerable to blights in many different places, and as the same variety is sold almost everywhere, it causes less than optimal yields, as the plants are not selected for the specific weather and soil where it is being cultured, rather than to the environment where the variety was developed. A merging or acquisition of a big independent seed company by Monsanto or another humongous corporation would make our current situation even more fragile, as we would be left depending of very few big providers who could fail to deliver, as opposed to depend on networks of seed developers and farmers, a resilient network that can work if some hubs fail, as opposed to monopolistic approaches. If this happens, by the time Antitrust laws can be enforced, it might already be too late.

But reality seems to be stranger and scarier than fiction. We do not need Monsanto buying any company to lose our diversity and independence concerning seeds. A new law proposed by American congresswoman Rosa DeLauro would penalize heavily all those people who sow and harvest their own food with the excuse of “food safety”. As usual, in the name of an unattainable absolute security our liberties are eroded. I say “ours” even if I am not American because the American market is the main income source for many of these companies, so whatever happens there will affect us all.

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