SARS gets closer

According to this article in the New York Times, a flight from Tokyo to San Jose was quarantined on the runway after 4 onboard complained of SARS-like symptoms. Oddly enough, only the 4 were kept for observation; you would think at least their seatmates might have been kept around for a few days as nobody really knows how easy it is to transmit. Other passengers were given information and told to contact their doctors if they experienced symptoms.

I’m wondering what David makes of this chart accompanying the story. It would be nice if the little dots could indicate who among the infected died.

It would also be nice if China would give the rest of the world the information about the epidemic they’ve been sitting on since January!

Project Steve

As a scientist, the whole creationism debate infuriates me. Why is it that those that are wrong always have the best PR, and can whip up a list of “scientists” to support theories that no real scientist even gives a second thought to? The media eats that shit up though. So it’s nice to see something like Project Steve. A list of 200+ scientists — including 2 Nobel laureates — willing to sign there name behind evolution … all called Steve. Classic! Check out the media links. Nice to see scientists for once tackling the problem not with reason (which rarely works to sway public opinion), but with wit.

Cell phone + camera + locker room = trouble

Given their early adoption of anything electronic, it’s not too surprising that Hong Kong is the canary in the mineshaft (so to speak) on this issue. It’s unclear from this article whether unsuspecting gym-goers have been phonecammed, or whether people are just expecting trouble.

I must say that cameras posing as phones do raise some privacy issues– and not just when you’re naked. You know, that scary stalker-looking guy you always see at the bus stop… is he taking on the phone, or making a deposit in the electronic “spank-bank”?

Stand back! She’s gonna blow!

CD-ROM drives are getting faster all the time; the one in my 18 month old Dell is 32x, and 128x units are on the market now. But did you know that drives over 64x are theoretically impossible to create? This article is an amusing demonstration of what can happen if you spin an ordinary CD too rapidly.

So how do manufacturers get away with it? The trick is that they only report the speed of reading at the outermost track (where the CD-ROM surface moves fastest); the drive actually slows down to read the innermost tracks to maintain a constant bitrate. The practical study above assumed a constant speed for the whole CD. Unfortunately, The Age in Melbourne missed this subtlety, and published a sensational article warning hapless PC users to stand clear of high-speed CD-ROM drives.

“My TiVo Thinks I’m Gay”

David mentioned seeing this on slashdot a while back, but I just got around to tracking it down– and I’m ever so glad I did. We’ve all had the experience, I’d imagine, of being frustrated by the weird recommendations Amazon or Netflix sometimes turns up– but TiVo kind of takes it to a new level by randomly displaying its perceptions of you to whomever happens to flip channels.

As the WSJ points out in this article (paid registration required, otherwise use this link), having your TV serve up “personalized” content is a different thing altogether.

Suggesting programs is just the first step for this technology. The advertising industry is beginning to understand that such profiling will allow them to segment the market far more effectively than ever, allowing them to promise clients that their ads will be seen only by certain narrowly defined demographic/psycholgraphic groups. What’s more, TiVo data may reveal the existence of obscure segments that nobody would have though to target before– for instance, high-income lesbian republicans who enjoy watching westerns.

The best part of the WSJ article is at the end, when a hairdresser tells how quickly TiVo figured out that he and his partner ARE in fact gay, despite their attempts to trick it. “Mr. Leon believes the box was giving them a message: ‘You’re definitely gay. And you’re watching too much TV.'”

I have spent a fair amount of time cleaning up my Amazon recommendations– for instance, removing from my list things I bought as gifts, and rating the things it recommends that I bought elsewhere. Having done that, the “Just Like You” feature has gotten both interesting and creepy. Based on my suggestions, it finds another customer with similar ratings and then tells me what that person likes that I haven’t rated yet. The really creepy part is that I DO own about half of the stuff listed. So it turns out my supposedly eclectic tastes are a little less unique than I had hoped. If it ever shows me another person whose list includes Pedro the Lion, rugby books, Joan Didion, and the KitchenAid KT2651X Epicurean 475 Watt 6-Quart Stand Mixer in Cobalt Blue, the very foundation of my identity as a complicated consumer will be shaken.