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Boomers are vulnerable to smallpox

Traditional threat-estimates of smallpox operate on the assumption that people like my folks, immunized in the fiftes, are immune. Not so fast -- turns out that most boomers' invulnerability has worn off.
The bad news comes from a study of 621 microbiologists in Maryland who received fresh vaccinations between 1994 and 2001 to protect them in their work. Only about 40, or just 6 per cent, were still immune from their earlier vaccinations.

"The study is, to the best of my knowledge, the only one since eradication which tries to look at the durability of immunity," says lead author Michael Sauri, director of the Occupational Medicine Clinic in Maryland. "It's showing us that after 20 years immunity is not going to be there."

Link Discuss (via Robot Wisdom)

Europe bound

Well folks, I'm off! I'm geoing to be in airplanes and airports for the next 36h or so, on my way to the Reboot conference in Denmark on June 4th, followed by the NTK Extreme Computing event on June 9th. Any blogging I do in the next day or so is subject to my ability to find a wireless link in SFO, JFK and Heathrow, but I leave you in Mark and Pesco's capable hands. Discuss

Ubiquitous computing comes to Walt Disney World

Disney's launching an ambitious ubiquitous computing initiative for their parks; opters-in will be tracked throughout the parks by inconspicuous device that will customize their experience, step by step.
Digital cameras disguised as lampposts will be scattered throughout the park. If you click on a handheld remote control, the lampposts will snap your picture as you wander around, then deliver the photos over the internet to your computer, from which you can order coffee mugs, T shirts or whatever emblazoned with whichever of them you prefer.

As your child approaches a costumed Disney character, she squeals in delight (or runs away) as the character greets her by name. The person inside the costume was tipped off to your family's identity by chips embedded in your souvenir autograph book. Then, as she passes attractions and other sights, the Mickey Mouse wristband you bought for her squeaks out various fun facts, enabling her to lead her family around like a tour guide. Just when you think you're safe at home, the wristband springs to life again triggered by infrared prompts from Disney TV programs.

Weirdly enough, I wrote about this in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," which Tor's publishing around Xmas:
Pirates was the last ride Walt personally supervised, and we'd thought it was sacrosanct. But Debra had built a Pirates sim in Beijing, based on Chend I Sao, the XIXth century Chinese pirate queen, which was credited with rescuing the Park from obscurity and ruin. The Florida iteration would incorporate the best aspects of its Chinese cousin -- the AI-driven sims that communicated with each other and with the guests, greeting them by name each time they rode and spinning age-appropriate tales of piracy on the high seas; the spectacular fly-through of the aquatic necropolis of rotting junks on the sea-floor; the thrilling pitch and yaw of the sim as it weathered a violent, breath-taking storm -- but with Western themes: wafts of Jamaican pepper sauce crackling through the air; liquid Afro-Caribbean accents; and swordfights conducted in the manner of the pirates who plied the blue waters of the New World. Identical sims would stack like cordwood in the space currently occupied by the bulky ride-apparatus and dioramas, quintupling capacity and halving load-time.
Link Discuss

Chess-playing automaton remembered

Great CNN review of a book about the famous Victorian hoax chess-playing automaton.
Charles Babbage, the godfather of the computer, played two games against the Turk. Edgar Allan Poe, the creator of the modern detective story, wrote an notable essay about it. Magicians based illusions on it. And it provoked questions about what we now call "artificial intelligence."

So, even after someone finally figured out how the Turk worked -- that, yes, there was a man inside this contraption -- its place in history was secure.

Except that, aside from books about oddities and curiosities, the Turk has been mostly forgotten by history. Tom Standage seeks to correct that oversight with his new biography of the machine, "The Turk" (Walker & Co.).

Link Discuss (Thanks, Grad!)

Audio CDs demystified

Excellent in-depth technical discussion of CD-audio, and how copy prevention systems (don't) work.
You betcha. Computers read data tracks first, but the data track has to be located at the end of the CD. Sounds confusing, but it has to be that way. In computer parlance, an Enhanced CD is a form of multisession CD. The CD is written to more than once; in the case of Enhanced CDs and Mac-PC hybrid CDs, this happens because you want to write two different types of data to the same CD. Audio CD players can only read the first session on a CD--again, no need or ability to know what multiple sessions are since an audio CD is expecting to see only audio CD tracks. So the audio content has to be the first thing on the disc, located on the inside of the disc surface. The data track is on the outside.

So if you take a magic marker--or, more dangerously a piece of electrical tape or a Post-it note--and use it to cover over that shiny band that divides the audio program from the data track, your computer won't realize that there even is a data track as it scans from the beginning of the CD--the inner part where the audio stuff is--to the outside looking for data. What your computer will see is a final audio track that seems to go on and on until it reaches the edge of the disk. This will put a whole lot of silence at the end of the last track when you rip the CD (a problem you can rectify using the Quicktime Player as an audio editor), but otherwise you'll be good to go.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Derek!)

I've been Expediated again

Yesterday's Expedia horror story only worsens. I called American Airlines yesterday and used the fact that I was a gold frequent flyer to get them to intervene, booking me my one-day extension to my London ticket.

But I just re-contacted American Airlines, and discovered that Expedia wouldn't let them change the ticket. Expedia told me that the ticket couldn't be changed because American Airlines had placed restrictions on the fare, but when American waived those restrictions, Expedia blackballed my changes.

So I'm back in hold-queue hell. Let me say this again, in case I wasn't clear enough yesterday: Stay away from Expedia. Abandon travel, ye who book there. Expedia not only treats its customers terribly as a result of incompetence; it also actively works to their detriment, deliberately imposing obstacles on their travel.

I feel like a fool for having allowed myself to be duped by Expedia. I will certainly never book there again, and I sincerely hope that you-all will benefit from my mistake, and stay clear of Expedia from now on. Discuss

Malware artworks

A German museum has mounted a display of computer virii as art, sponsored by Symantec:
Viruses_culture
Virus charms and selfcreating codes - Alessandro Ludovico
Action sharing - epidemiC
AntiMafia - epidemiC
Audience versus sharing - epidemiC
Vopos, an experiment in art - 0100101110101101.0RG

Computer_language
:(){ :|:& };: - Jaromil
If ( ) then ( ) - Jutta Steidl
Language, a virus? - Florian Cramer

Link Discuss (Thanks, Ronks!)

MacSlash's domain stolen

This guy appears to have stolen MacSlash's domain. Any readers in Valencia are invited to drop by his house and ask him why he did it:
Vicente Peiro Crespo
Chiva , 23 , 27
Valencia, Valencia 46018
ES
The worst thing is, Dotster appears to be complicit in this, too. God, the domain system blows. Who's in charge, anyway? Link Discuss (Thanks, Paul!)

Second-gen cyberpunk jewelry

Isabel "Rudy's Daughter" Rucker sells her handmade jewelry online. Makes me wish I wore cufflinks. Link Discuss (via The Schism Matrix)

Flaming Bibles!

It's a Bible that shoots a jet of flame from between its pages, allowing you to be just as fire-n-brimstone as you need to be. Link Discuss (via Making Light)

EFF's comments on the BPDG final report

Maybe you noticed that I didn't do much posting yesterday. That's because I was working on the EFF's comments on the BPDG co-chairs' final report. Follow the link below to read 'em, and if you're down for the cause, talk to your employer about signing onto them, then contact Seth.
The BPDG's objective is to write a legally mandatory "standard" that will undermine public policy interests, fair use, First Amendment rights, and the innovation that is the sweetest fruit of a competitive marketplace.

We hope that readers of the Co-Chair's Report will find, in this briefing, compelling evidence of the dangers presented by the BPDG recommendations and will recognize them as the self-interested aspirations of a small, partisan group seeking to write an anti-competitive law that protects its commercial interests at the public's expense.

The BPDG "process" has been rife with acrimony, arbitrariness and confusion, to an extent that cannot be fully ascribed to mere haste. EFF believes that the failings of the BPDG process stem directly from BPDG's efforts to cloak a inter-industry horse-trading exercise in the trappings of a public undertaking, with nominal participation from all "affected industries." In reality, the representatives were hand-picked by the conveners of the BPDG to minimize any dissent, as is evidenced by the high degree of similarity between the original proposal brought to the group by its conveners and the final report that the co-chairs unilaterally present herein as the group's findings.

Throughout the process, the absence of any formal charter or process afforded the co-chairs the opportunity to manipulate the rules of the group to suit their true purpose while maintaining its illusory openness, as when the scope of the group's discussions was summarily expanded to encompass all unauthorized redistribution of feature films, as opposed to unauthorized redistribution over the Internet.

Link Discuss

Germans worried about analog sovereignty

My analog hole article from last week made it to Germany. Did you know that "Plug the Analog Hole" is "das analoge Loch stopfen" in German? I think. Link Discuss

I will never do business with Expedia again

I travel a lot -- twice, three times a month some months. I have used Expedia for the past couple years, but I think I've just about had it with them. I like the "convenience" of Expedia; I can get a conference invite while I'm sitting in the keynote at another conference, price out the ticket, email the conference organizers and find out if that's acceptable, get a response by email and book the ticket.

But man, "convenience" is a slippery concept here. I need to extend an RT ticket from SFO to London by one day. I have spent hours and hours (six+ by my calculations) on hold with half a dozen different "travel agents" at Expedia, trying to make a trivial change. One agent actually told me, yes, the change has been made, that will be $200, but one of her cohort called me at SIX AM this morning to tell me that she'd been mistaken, the ticket could not be changed at all. Since then, I've been fed half a dozen different stories, including:

  • You no longer have any ticket, we cancelled your ticket, it will cost $2000 extra to get your old ticket back
  • No changes can be made
  • The change has been made
  • I will see if I can make the change
I sent Expedia a note telling them how disappointed I was with the "service" they provided, and got an empty, vacuous, unsigned form-letter in response.

I've had it with Expedia. A travel agent may be less "convenient" in that she will only be available during business hours, but nothing is worth the days of aggro that even the simplest change with Expedia entails.

I'm posting this to warn you off -- don't be suckered in by Expedia's "convenience." They clearly have no idea what they're about, have no concept of customer service, and will not get you where you need to go. Discuss

Insider Haunted Mansion blog

Chef Mayhem (AKA Jeff Baham), the world's foremost Haunted Mansion fan, has a sporadic blog with insider news about the progress of the finest Disney-park ride, ever, period. Lots of juicy stuff here: The October 30th Hallowe'en party at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World (admission "limited" to 999), the story behind the new safety spiel (not the voice of the Haunted Mansion Holiday rehab, who refused to overtape Paul Frees's classic narration) and the upcoming Haunted Mansion Holiday soundtrack CD release. Link Discuss

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Great Beyond

RIP Mildred Wirt Benson, creator of Nancy Drew, dead of cancer at 96.
Benson was a journalist for 58 years and wrote more than 130 books, including the Penny Parker mystery series. She also penned countless short stories, but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, who inspired and captivated generations of girls...

She wrote children's stories when she was in grade school and won her first writing award at 14.

Benson was the first person to receive a master's degree in journalism at the University of Iowa in 1927, according to the school.

She was introduced to journalism through her first husband, Asa Wirt, who worked with The Associated Press. In 1944, Benson 1944 began working at the former Toledo Times and later at The Blade.

She covered city hall, federal and courthouse beats and wrote a weekly column in The Blade from 1990 until January, when she reluctantly retired.

Link Discuss