Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Month: October, 2008

Seasons Givings: 2008

A few years ago, this blog made the front page of Slashdot with a list of “geek” charities and projects that I thought were worth my donations.

For this year, I have a shortened list- a couple of old favorites and a couple of new favorites. Let me start with the new:
In their own words: is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

Proposals range from “Magical Math Centers” ($200) to “Big Book Bonanza” ($320), to “Cooking Across the Curriculum” ($1,100). Any individual can search such proposals by areas of interest, learn about classroom needs, and choose to fund the project(s) they find most compelling. In completing a project, donors receive a feedback package of student photos and thank-you notes, and a teacher impact letter.

This is fantastic- and you can select a school close to your home if you want. They funded over $6.4 million worth of school projects in 2008.


Kiva lets you make loans to the working poor- you will be repaid, but without interest. You can fund real people, with real small business projects. They partner with expert microfinance institutions in the regions where you lend money. I’ve been lending small amounts of money to projects all over the world for a couple of years now- it works, the money has always been repaid.


And then there are a few old favorites- no surprise if you read this blog regularly.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

If you believe in any of the things I write about here- defending your rights in the digital world- then EFF is fighting for you. Just today, they announced that they are challenging the constitutionality of the law granting telecom immunity to the companies that helped the government in its domestic illegal wiretapping.

Creative Commons

For an idea about why I support Creative Commons, check out my article about why this blog is CC licensed. I joined the Creative Commons network a couple of days ago- if nothing else, it gives you a free, privacy-protected openID profile.

And a few honorable mentions:

Possibly the most fascinating …

Possibly the most fascinating Ebert review ever (read through to the end):

White Spaces Update

Media and internet legal scholar Susan Crawford has an update on white spaces on her blog:

Today, with Congress in recess, leaving less room for last-minute-Lucy-with-the-football lobbying gambits, the FCC appears to be poised to release a report saying the white spaces can be used without necessarily causing interference to existing broadcasts.

Lucy pulls back the football

If you’re unfamiliar with the issue, she has a brief introduction to white spaces in the article. A few weeks ago, we also had a video from the People’s Production House that described the issue in non-technical terms. In short- there are a lot of frequencies that will become available when the digital television transition occurs next year and there is a lot of interest from certain entities with deep pockets in keeping them locked away. This report from the FCC is potentially a step in the right direction.

In case you were confused, the…

In case you were confused, the studio just changed the name of Tarantino’s next movie from “Inglorious Bastards” to “Inglorious Basterds”.

The World’s Tallest Obama Supp…

The World’s Tallest Obama Supporter:

Faulty Avionics Caused Qantas Jet Dive- not Wireless Mouse!

Turns out it wasn’t a random passenger clicking in morse code that caused the Qantas jet to dive [via BBC]:

The ATSB said its inquiries had found a fault in a computer unit that detects the angle at which the plane is flying.

Somehow I’d suspected it wouldn’t be consumer electronics. Of course, the fact that they even considered it means that something is wrong.

Why is Barack Obama advertisin…

Why is Barack Obama advertising on the radio in *Massachusetts*?

Don’t Turn the DRM Lights Out

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

  • Major corporation launches music service with big PR blitz.
  • Music is sold with DRM that prevents the songs to be listened to in devices and software of the customers choice.
  • Customers buy said music- clearly the major corporation would never pull the plug on the service and so their music would live on for ever.
  • Major corporation pulls the plug on their music service.
  • The customers music turns to toxic digital pulp.

First it was MSN. Then Yahoo. And now WalMart. WalMart closed down its DRM-laden music service and told its customers that their DRM servers would be switched off, making the music they purchased unusable in the long run.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but there were an outcry and WalMart has now said the DRM servers will stay powered. Just as MSN and Yahoo did in the past.

Video and eBook DRM- you’re up next!

Financial news headlines today…

Financial news headlines today obsolete in minutes. The Dow surged 200 points in the past few minutes, but headlines say “losses extended”.

Think About the Children Award: Delta and American Airlines

Ars Technica is reporting that American Airlines and Delta announced this week that they would block “inappropriate” sites on their in-flight WiFi service.

As recently as last month, they had left the matter up to the good judgment of their customers. It seems like the judgment of their customers has crashed with the economy and is no longer trustworthy.

As Jacqui at Ars Technica points out, travelers have always been able to bring video porn and “men’s magazines” on to the plane- it has always been up to their “good judgment”. The Internet changes nothing- except the ease with which the gatekeepers can control access to content.

Keep in mind, the problem here is not porn (nor it is the theoretical hazard of WiFi on a plane). The problem is: who gets to decide which site gets blocked. What is inappropriate? Of course, this problem will blow up in their face when the service enters the mainstream. Expect some genius to set up a web site where people can submit legitimate web sites that were blocked by AA and Delta- which will then become a PR fiasco for the airlines. They will have inadvertently blocked a competitor, or a detractor or the ACLU or the NAACP or something much simpler, and will be faced with the wrath of a thousand blogs, with the mainstream media not far behind.

In anticipation of that day, the inaugural Think About the Children Award goes to Delta and American Airlines! This award is reserved for those entities that, in the name of protecting children, use a sledgehammer to thread a needle.