Archive for November 29th, 2004

Around the World in a Flying Fuel Tank

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EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.
– Outsiders look at the GlobalFlyer, a single-seat airplane designed
to make the first solo, nonstop, unrefueled
flight around the world, and wonder how a pilot could function for
70 hours in a cigar-shaped cabin so snug he cannot even get out of
his seat.

Technicians at Scaled Composites, the company that built the plane, like to
call it the Flying Fuel Tank. At takeoff – on Jan. 4 or as soon thereafter
as the weather permits – it will weigh as much as a 50-seat commuter plane.
If it is successful, it will land nearly three days later weighing less than
a medium-size S.U.V.

On a recent test flight here it did not so much take off like a jet (which
technically it is) as glide into the sky. Fully loaded, it will need more than
two miles of runway to lift off.

The GlobalFlyer is first of all a feat of engineering – building a plane strong
enough to climb into the sky with so much fuel and efficient enough to fly
almost 20,000 miles without refueling. It is also a test of the pilot’s skill
and of human endurance.

article from the
New York Times

Outsourcing Torture

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In
a particularly disquieting development a local law firm here in the Boston
area has been implicated in a despicable practice which has been largely
overlooked by the American public and press.  We are talking about
the circumvention of legal, moral and international prohibitions of torture
by turning selected suspects over to unscrupulous allies to do the dirty
work for us.

This is no less a crime than hiring someone to kill your
ex-wife. The connection to the Dedham Law firm is convoluted but unquestioned.  They
are the legal owners of a mysterious white private jet which has been
flying all over the world, picking up those selected for torture and delivering
them to the torturers at least since 1991. From the
Boston Globe
:

Since that time, the jet — apparently on long-term
lease to the US military — has surfaced in other alleged cases of what
the CIA
calls "extraordinary" rendition — the secret practice of
handing prisoners in US custody to foreign governments that don’t hesitate
to use
torture in interrogations.

The covert procedure, which must be authorized by a presidential directive,
has gained little attention inside the United States. Yet, "extraordinary
rendition," one of the earliest tools employed
in the war against terror, has outraged human rights activists and former
CIA agents, who say it violates the international convention on torture
and amounts to "outsourcing" torture.

"People are more or less openly admitting that there are certain practices
that we would rather not do in the US, so why not let our allies do it?" said
Ray McGovern, a former CIA operations officer who has frequently criticized
the tactics used in the war on terror.

In recent weeks, the practice has become nearly synonymous with the white,
20-seat, private Gulfstream jet, numbered N379P and registered in Massachusetts.

Obviously, torture is something we shouldn’t be associated
with in any way, shape or form.  At the same time, and as the gripping
"24" has dramatize, in a hypothetical situation in which terrorists
have smuggled a nuclear device into an American city, and the authorities
have an individual in custody whom they believe knows where it is, what
to do?

Who could argue, with millions of lives at stake, that
the authorities should not do whatever necessary to obtain the information.  Could
it not be argued that if they refrain from using force or torture and the
worst happens, they would be morally if not legally responsible for the
massive death and destruction?

Of course, that is an extreme and fantastic scenario.  The
problem is, if you admit the possibility of torture in such a situation,
where do you draw the line, and how do you avoid using it in cases that
are not so extreme, immediate or clear-cut? What criteria do you apply
to torture?

We do not have the answer, but are convinced that paying
(of course we are paying, but with what corrupt currency?) others to do
our dirty work out of the sight of decent people and the oversight of responsible
authorities is wrong, unAmerican and illegal.

article from the Boston Globe

Is this Possible?

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We
have become obsessed with the idea of connecting a small digital video
camera directly to our ipod. This is not just because posting on the
topic allows us a chance to use these quasi-pornographic photos (if
not for their redeeming
social
value).

In a previous
posting
we outlined the basic problem;
the main drawback to using a digital video camera to record interesting
portions of your life is where to put the large digital files which result.
Digital Audio Tape requires time-consuming transfer, winding and rewinding
we thought we had left behind with audio cassettes. Flash memory is limited
to about 15 minutes of video per card, and recordable mini-DVD’s are
limited in availability, capacity and compatibility.

A new alternative places a tiny hard drive on a Compact
Flash size card. Each MicoCard costs $200 and holds 4 gigabytes, enough
for an hour of high quality video.

We were almost convinced. What a cool solution; a tiny
hard drive you could hold in the palm of your hand.  Then we realized
– Hey, we already have a tiny hard-drive we carry with us everywhere
we go! And it holds 40 gigabytes! Why can’t we record from our digital
camera directly onto our iPod?

We posed the question here on
the Dowbrigade, and despite a couple of comments, nobody had any idea
if it could be done, or how. We can’t find anything about the topic on
the web.  So we asked John and Jon, the tech twins who live in the
server closet at work.

They consulted and concurred that IF the camera manufacturer
adhered STRICTLY to the IEEE-1394 standards and protocols, it was theoretically
possible, but they doubted it would work in real life.

Thirsting for more expert advice, we visited the Apple
Store in the Galleria Mall, swamped with desperate Christmas shoppers.
The iPods were flying off the shelves so fast they didn’t even keep them
on the shelves; they were piled on a wheeled cart directly behind the
register, where they were periodically restocked as the mountain diminished.

After a respectable wait I was able to ask a cheese-faced
13-year-old clerk if it was possible to record directly from a digital
camera onto an iPod. He informed me categorically that it wouldn’t work
because the hard drive on the iPod isn’t fast enough to write video in
real time.

When we had a chance to think about this, it didn’t
really make sense. It occurred to us that our OTHER external firewire
hard drive can record an entire DVD-quality feature length motion picture
(for review purposes only) in about 3 minutes, could our iPod really
be that much slower? Sure, the movie has been compressed and
codexed, but isn’t there a way to do that on the fly?

Our next stop was Microcenter, the biggest and best
all-around computer store in the Boston area.  The sales guy in
the digital imaging section actually thought about our inquiry for a
moment and pronounced it an excellent idea.  However, he noted,
it would depend on the camera manufacturer formatting their output into
a data stream the iPod could recognize and record, and they really had
no incentive to do so. He further suggested that the most likely appearance
of this technology would be if Apple came out with a proprietary video
camera designed to record directly to their iPods.

Does anyone know how much of this is pure bullshit and
how much has a grain of truth.  If this is theoretically possible
but presently unimplemented, how hard would it be to do? In our imagination
it opens up a host of new possibilities.

We had always thought that the Warholian ideal of being
able to record and annotate every step of your waking life (why stop
there, remember Sleep?)
was decades away.  Even videoblogging ala Steve
Garfield
involved
lugging a ton of equipment and transferring and processing before posting.

But now we are imagining a palm-sized video camera attached
to a palm-sized iPod and a tiny omni directional microphone, all controlled
from a handy remote. The camera could be incorporated inconspicuously
into
a
hat or
helmet, so that at the touch of a single button you could record whatever
your eyes were pointed at and your ears could hear. Other people, even
right next to you, need not even know you are a walking documentary.

So once again, let me ask the blogosphere: Is it possible
to record live video onto an iPod? Are we nuts or is this the coolest
idea since podcasting itself? One significant difference; while podcasting deals with content diffusion and consumption, this enters the relm of content creation and media manager, using the iPod as an audio/video recorder, repository, mixer and master control device.