Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Four Conditions for the End of Torture

For the discussion on torture in this, or any other democratic country, to ever be satisfactorily complete, the following conditions must be satisfied.

  1. We must be absolutely certain what we mean when we use the word “torture”.
  2. Once defined, we agree that we do not torture.
  3. The decision to reject torture does not depend upon the effectiveness of torture.
  4. We are prepared for the worst possible outcome of not using torture.

Any discussion that does not deal with each of these issues to their logical conclusion is incomplete and will only force us to repeat the past. We find ourselves playing word games, debating how flexible our morals are and at what point we would give them up. Rule #3 and #4 are especially difficult, but our constitution is strongest only if we stick with it in the worst of times.

AT&T Goes After Sling

You know your company is doing something right when AT&T inserts a phrase in to their terms of service to block you:

This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services, customer initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device, web broadcasting, and/or for the operation of servers, telemetry devices and/or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition devices is prohibited.

Sling for the iPhone, you must be doing something right. If you get past the iTunes App Store gatekeepers, AT&T is setting up another gate right behind them.

[via TUAW]

UPDATE: That was quick. AT&T has apologized for the modification to the ToS:

“The language added on March 30 to AT&T’s wireless data service Terms and Conditions was done in error. It was brought to our attention and we have since removed it. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Behold the power of the Internet.

iPods, Obama and the Queen

An excellent article from Fred von Lohmann at EFF:

President Obama reportedly gave an iPod, loaded with 40 show tunes, to England’s Queen Elizabeth II as a gift. Did he violate the law when he did so?

You know your copyright laws are broken when there is no easy answer to this question.

[from iPods, First Sale, President Obama, and the Queen of England | Electronic Frontier Foundation]

The issue stems from how the law deals with bits (MP3s, software and Kindle eBooks) differently from atoms (CDs, paperbacks). If the President had bought a CD for the Queen (of the band Queen, no less) it would have been perfectly legal. But digital music, on the other hand, is much murkier territory— you own a “license” not the music. The article at EFF does much better justice to the topic, so read the details there.

Nature Beats SciFi

That’s a real undersea volcano near Tonga, halfway between Australia and Tahiti, aka the Pacific “ring of fire”.


The “ring of fire” is an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga. That is quite an arc.

Stephen Hawking’s Universe

Discovery is taking the “Planet Earth” model to a cosmic, with Stephen Hawking as co-collaborator and narrator:

“Stephen Hawking’s Universe” is a multimillion-dollar three-part special that will use the physicist’s theories and CGI to explore the mysteries of our galaxy and beyond.

“You got the greatest living mind on the universe, and we’re taking his knowledge and presenting it to people with fabulous computer graphics,” Discovery president and GM John Ford said. “We start at beginning of time, then go into whether time travel is possible, whether we are alone and some of the great questions, done with spectacular special effects.”

[From Discovery exploring ‘Universe’]

Read the rest of this entry »

An Eggcorn Fell from the Tree

In the past, I’ve written about snowclones– those great sentences which have a popular skeleton and just require you to fill in the blanks to seem witty and smart. And sometimes like an anchor for Entertainment Tonight.

Sentences like “Have goatee, will travel” and “In space, no one can hear you burp” or “All your pageviews are belong to us”. Replace ‘goatee’, ‘burp’ and ‘pageviews’ as you please, and you have yourself infinite snowclones.

Well, today I will introduce you to my friend, the eggcorn. Eggcorns are words that sound and feel just like the word it’s used in place of. But they’re wrong. Like saying eggcorn instead of acorn- it sounds sort of right, an egg-shaped corn, but it’s the wrong word.

People unintentionally use eggcorns all the time– “old-timers disease” instead of Alzheimer’s disease, “on the spurt of the moment” instead of “spur” or a “mute point” instead of “moot”. (No, Joey’s “moo point” doesn’t count. It’s a cows opinion.)

Check out the excellent Eggcorn database for more. And remember, just like snowclones, the term eggcorn was introduced on the brilliant Language Log blog.

Everything That Has Happened Before…

… will happen again.

First, a passage from HG Wells (via Dani Rodrik):

Everywhere as the Conference drew near men were enquiring about this possible new leader for them. “Is this at last the Messiah we seek, or shall we look for another?” Every bookshop in Europe proffered his newly published book of utterances, Looking Forward, to gauge what manner of mind they had to deal with. It proved rather disconcerting reading for their anxious minds. Plainly the man was firm, honest and amiable, as the frontispiece portrait with its clear frank eyes and large resolute face showed, but the text of the book was a politician’s text, saturated indeed with good will, seasoned with much vague modernity, but vague and wanting in intellectual grip. “He’s good,” they said, “but is this good enough?”

He speaks, of course, of Roosevelt and the expectations in 1933 before the representatives of leading nations met in London to find a way out of the Great Depression.

Now let us fast forward 66 years, to 1999 and landmark legislation to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that passed congress with bipartisan support:

Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another’s businesses. […]

”Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century,” Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers said. ”This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.”

That’s Obama’s economic adviser Larry Summers, just so we’re clear. But this is the real money quote:

”I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010,” said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. ”I wasn’t around during the 1930’s or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980’s when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.”

Dorgan was one of only 8 senators to oppose the bill.

UPDATE (3/31): NPR’s All Things Considered had a feature today drawing parallels between the circumstances surrounding 1933’s London conference and Obama’s summit with the leaders of the G-20 this week.

The mood was dark, but there was still hope: The United States had a dynamic new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He had taken office just three months earlier, and the world was waiting to see what he would do.

The Fall of General Motors


[From GM Bankruptcy – Will General Motors Surrive with Bailouts and Buyouts? | Blog | Personal Finance News & Advice]

Disruption Alert: Skype for iPhone

Far from being a regular software announcement, this feels like a watershed moment.

A tipster — a very reliable one — tells me that Skype is almost ready to launch that iPhone version, perhaps as soon as next week. CTIA Wireless, a large mobile industry trade event, kicks off in Las Vegas next Wednesday, so perhaps the announcement will be made there. I am working on getting more details, as well as screenshots of the service.

[via Om Malik]

skype.jpg When millions of people have handheld devices that can be publicized for use as VOIP phones, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers (and replacing them with a new one), it feels like we’ve crossed a significant threshold. There already is a Windows Mobile version, but that doesn’t get quite the press and mindshare as an iPhone app does.

How Do You Say “Irony” in Chinese?

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman recently said at a news conference:

“Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the Internet. In fact, it is just the opposite.”

The news conference was in response to the Chinese government banned all of YouTube, in response to a single video of Tibetans being beaten. [via Arthur Bright at the Citizen Media Law Project]