Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Garden photo of the week

Garden Path 1
Originally uploaded by stiber.
After a week of rain, sun and the warming spring days bring out flowers and luxuriant growth. This photo of our side garden includes a foreground of strawberries (used as an edging around the back lawn), heath (the large bush on the right), and a stellata magnolia (which I keep pruned to around 6 feet). The arbor is covered with Kolomikta kiwi (male and female, growing from either side). In the background, besides a number of shrubs such as blueberries, are Siberian iris and oakleaf hydrangea.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Call for submissions for Carnival of the Liberals

I'm hosting the Carnival of the Liberals on June 7th, so send in your submission via the web form on the CotL site,, or email to Please send them in by midnight US Pacific Time on Monday, June 5, or else you'll have to wait two more agonizing weeks for CotL #15.

Because of the holidays, we're not defining a theme for this one. There wasn't a theme for the last one, either, so may be that's the new non-theme theme.

For more info about the carnival see the Carnival of the Liberals homepage.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Spamference, spamjournal, spamreviews

Everyone's favorite spamference, the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI; I'll refrain from linking to them in the name of not promoting that which doesn't deserve promotion) has now posted their conference submissions on the web. So, for your amusement and edification, head on over to My Pet Goat, where Mrs. Cake has baked up some pointers to them.

Of course, any profitable economic niche will attract new business ventures. The IPSI BgD folks do the WMSCI'ers one better, with two generic domains ( and, generic conferences (actually, VIP conferences, which are also "M+I+T++" conferences: "Multi-, Inter-, and Trans- disciplinary") held all around the world, and no less than two journals! Here, I'll concentrate on the journals, since I recently got some email about them. There are two: IPSI Transactions on Internet Research and IPSI Transactions on Advanced Research.

Among their submission rules are, "Each paper must include at least 10 references. Papers without at least 10 references will be returned to the sender." Why? I assume that's because this is how they get names of reviewers. They charge €500 to publish a paper, which as they say is fortunate for you, because, "...the publication fee is to be paid only if your paper is accepted - we do not charge for the reviewing process, which is a very costly process." How costly? Well, they need to send out 12 emails to solicit reviews. Here's what I assume a typical email looks like:
Dear Dr. Michael Stiber

We have found on the Internet that your area of research is similar
to a topic submitted in the paper for our Journal
Transactions on Internet Research.

We know that you are extremely busy, but please take time to do the
quick review of a attached paper and send us your comments on:

- What did you like in the paper
- What you did not like in the paper
- Scientific approach level in the paper
- Updated info in the paper, etc.

Any comments of yours will help the authors of the paper.
Please reply as soon as possible.

Our journal is aimed at supporting a truly multidisciplinary,
interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research.
For details, please see the web (

We expect that your review has two parts.
First, improvement requests to the authors.

Second, your recommendation:
A. Unconditional accept
B. Conditional accept, with minor changes
C. Conditional accept with major changes
D. Reject

If you have any more questions, please contact me!
Please reply to this e-mail.

Best Regards,
Prof. Dr. Veljko Milutinovic, Fellow of IEEE
Then they attach a PDF of the paper. Unfortunately, they don't offer to pay me for my review, so I'm not sure what makes this review process so expensive. Could it be a lot of time spent finding reviewers? Well, no, as they themselves say, they grab previous journal and conference participants, folks cited in references, and Google the rest. Despite what they say, my research interests aren't similar to the attached paper, so they don't seem to do much more than type in a keyword or two, grab an email address, and shoot the request off.

Oh, all of their issues seem to be online in PDF form, but you can subscribe for €500 if you're an individual (€1000 for institutions; €500 for top 500 institutions).

I'm sure that there are people submitting to these things and reviewing their papers in good faith. After all, people get taken in by spam all the time. On the other hand, they apparently get 27 hits/day on their journal web site, so I guess that shuts me up.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ward Churchill report released

Click the link from the title above, if you are the kind of person who likes to find out what happens after all of the sensational headlines and hoopla have faded away.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Thank You Qwest dot Org

Thank You Qwest dot Org has been created to centralize and promote the idea of providing positive feedback to a company that did something right. It also contains a lot of information about and arguments against the idea of wholesale data mining to find terrorist networks (and, regardless of what the President says, there's no way that tens of millions of phone records could all be directly tied to terrorist activity). Here's a quote from the site that sums up what I think it's all about:

Imagine how useful it would be for the Bush Administration to type in the name of, say, Seymour Hersh, and find out every government insider he’s talked to on the phone for the past four years?
What better way to hide the fact that you're spying on political enemies than to request records for millions of people, rather than just the subjects of interest? There's simply no excuse for invading people's privacy, even if all the government is interested in getting is a set of baseline statistical information for the population in general (in which case, personal information could be hidden by systematically replacing names and numbers with randomly generated symbols).

The Christian Science Monitor has an informative article about the utility of data mining for catching terrorists.

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
     -- Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, May 13, 2006

TiVo on Macintosh: to go or to come back?

Those of us with TiVos and Macs have been waiting a long time for "TiVo To Go" functionality. This is what allows one to download video from a TiVo across a home network to a computer and then watch the video on the computer (or burn it to DVD). This has been available on Windows for a while, but not on Macs. The sticking point has been TiVo's DRM (digital rights management): they haven't made it a priority to develop Macintosh software to decode their video. Well, while the latest version of the Mac TiVo Desktop software doesn't include TiVo To Go functionality, it may contain something even better (unless you're a frequent traveler): what some people call "TiVo To Come Back".

Briefly stated, this allows you to view video files stored on a computer via your TiVo -- no need to connect the computer to the TV (if you're even able to do that). Couple that with the already existing ability to transfer video files from TiVo to computer (via a web browser) and some utilities to convert non-TiVo-originated video to something the TiVo likes, and you can archive TiVo video for later viewing, view video from the web on your TV, etc.

You can look in this thread on the TiVo Community web site for much of the information, but here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Get the newest TiVo Desktop (1.9.3) software and install it.
  2. The software has a hidden option to share video from your computer. Start up System Preferences, open the TiVo Desktop pane, and start and stop it. This will ensure you've got a preferences file. Quit System Preferences; you'll be changing the prefs file manually next.
  3. Change the prefs file to enable the video sharing UI. The prefs file is ~/Library/Preferences/com.tivo.desktop.plist. You can edit it by hand, using Property List Editor, or using a command line operation via the Terminal. The goal is to set VideoUIEnabled to true. The command line to do this is:
    defaults write com.tivo.desktop FileVideo -dict-add VideoUIEnabled -bool true
    It's important that you keep that as one line.
  4. Now restart System Preferences, go to the TiVo Desktop pane, and you should see a "Videos" option. Select that, enter your TiVo's media access key (a 10-digit number; you can get this from you TiVo under "System Information"). You'll note that, by default, videos in ~/TiVoShows are shared. A little poking around leads me to believe that, while running, the TiVo Desktop software checks this directory every 10 minutes for changes.
  5. You also need to open up a hole in your firewall to allow your TiVo to access shared videos. Select the Sharing pane in System Preferences; the TiVo Desktop software should have created an entry under the Firewall option. Click the check box next to it to allow video sharing.
  6. Click the "Start" button back at TiVo Desktop, and your computer should appear at the end of "Now Playing" on your TiVo. You'll only be able to see videos on your computer if you have .mpg or .tivo files in your TiVoShows directory and TiVo Desktop has "noticed" them (it will create .properties files when it polls the directory and notices that files have been added).
  7. If you hold the "option" key down while clicking on the TiVo Desktop preference pane icon, you'll get an option to enable logging. This might be useful to help you debug problems.
  8. To get video off of your TiVo for archiving, use your web browser. Go to the URL https://your.tivo.ip.address/nowplaying/index.html, entering "tivo" for the username and your media access key for the password (I believe you need to append your parental access code to the media access key if you've enabled that feature). You should now see the contents of your TiVo. Clicking on a program will start it downloading to your computer. The resulting .tivo file is encrypted, but of course you can archive it. Put it in your TiVoShows directory and you'll see it on your TiVo the next time the Desktop software polls that directory (of course, you can always stop and start the TiVo Desktop software to for it to rescan the directory right now).
  9. To convert other video to something a TiVo would like, get TiVoizer from VersionTracker. It provides a very simple GUI wrapper around command line video/audio transcoding tools and works quite nicely, placing its output directly in your TiVoShows directory. You can get more information about the video and audio formats TiVos like on the TiVo web site.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Kudos to Qwest; complaints to Verizon

Well, it seems that, among the major telecoms, only Qwest executives actually adhere to their privacy policies or have unease about doing illegal things. I have Verizon phone service; if you do, too, send them email via their web form. Ask them why they've violated their privacy policy, which states:

As a rule, Verizon will notify you and give you the opportunity to "opt out" when we disclose telephone customer information outside of Verizon. In fact, we generally keep our records of the services you buy and the calls you make private, and will not ordinarily disclose this information to outside parties without your permission. However, we do release customer information without involving you if disclosure is required by law or to protect the safety of customers, employees or property....

Examples where disclosure is required by law or to protect the safety of customers, employees or property:
...Verizon must disclose information, as necessary, to comply with court orders or subpoenas.

I believe the essence of this matter is that there were no court orders or subpoenas involved. Perhaps Verizon thought their employees would be placed in danger if they didn't cave in? Or was there some quid pro quo involved? Regardless, if you're a Verizon customer, contact them and ask them if your records were involved and if they've decided to ignore their privacy policy under other extralegal circumstances.

While you're at it, send a compliment to Qwest, indicating that you wish that your home phone provider had their integrity.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Life imitates art imitates writings about art at Penn State

I'm teaching recursion in class right now, and so especially appreciate the following saga from Penn State. Prof. Charles Garoian, Director of the School of Visual Arts, has spent some time thinking about censorship in the arts:

Increasingly, attacks on learning are also coming from the political left with objections predicated on issues of political incorrectness... In many cases, teachers have been fired, disciplined or harassed in the wake of such attacks. In some cases, teachers have suffered damage to their careers and reputations.

One result of censorship is that teachers become increasingly reluctant to use materials in their classrooms that may raise difficult social questions, communicate values, portray potentially controversial subject matter or cause students to think about important issues.

So, if you were Prof. Garoian, what would you do? Become the censor you criticized in your own writing, of course. In particular, you would cancel an art exhibit based on its content, then claim it really was cancelled for technical reasons, then, after calls for an apology, get publicly spanked by your university president.

The Volokh Conspiracy article (in non-bloggy chronological order) has a detailed account of the whole thing. I'm content with the reminder that recursion abounds in our daily lives.