Boundary Layer

The best way to find a line is to cross it

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Who shot first?

Han gets taken to court.

Monday, September 27, 2004


Today's revelation about incompetence or malfeasance within the Bush administration is brought to you by Time Magazine. It seems that some folks in the administration had the brilliant idea that they were going to Floridate the Iraqi elections.
But U.S. officials tell TIME that the Bush team ran into trouble with another plan involving those elections ? a secret "finding" written several months ago proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favored by Washington. A source says the idea was to help such candidates ? whose opponents might be receiving covert backing from other countries, like Iran ? but not necessarily to go so far as to rig the elections. But lawmakers from both parties raised questions about the idea when it was sent to Capitol Hill.

This is a bad idea for a whole bunch of reasons, most of which are well described by David Korn here.
But look what the Bush aides accomplished by even considering such a loopy idea. It will now be reported in the Arab and Iraqi media that the White House had thought about mucking about in the election. This will be read by many Arabs--and maybe even many Iraqis--as a clear sign that the Bush administration will be mucking about in the election. Assuming that the administration is telling the truth when it says it has abandoned this plan, that means the United States will still have to bear the PR costs for implementing such a scheme (even if it really did not) without receiving any benefits such a scheme might produce (say, pro-US candidates winning elections). The Bushies have managed to enhance distrust of the United States without obtaining anything to show for it. And, of course, any election results that might seem to favor the United States will now be further suspect. Who's in charge? Maxwell Smart?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Spurt of Growth Hormone

A recent issue of Science has a section on Science in North Korea. The article is only available to subscribers but here is a passage that stood out.
Closer to the ethical fringe, the North Korean government has a policy of administering human growth hormone to all children, aged between 12 and 15, who are deemed "unusually short"--less than 140 centimeters tall. The injections add about 1 centimeter in extra growth per year, says Kim Song Jun. His institute is conducting clinical trials of growth hormone for use in promoting health, from improving metabolism and softening skin to promoting faster recovery after operations.

I can find no other reference anywhere on the web to anything remotely similar. And that seems like an awful lot of HGH to distribute. 140 centimeters is about 4.5 feet which is pretty short for a 12 year old boy. According to this CDC chart it's right at the 5th percentile for a 12 year old boy of "other" race. It's likely that there would be more boys under that height in North Korea as food isn't exactly plentiful. In a country of 22 million, there are 2,843,250 males ages 0-14 as of 2000. Let's say that makes 500,000 12-14 year old boys. If 10% were under 140 cm that would be roughly 50,000 kids that have recieved HGH.

News From the Front

Operation Truth reports first hand accounts from soldiers in Iraq. They also have a blog.

They link to Company Command which is basically an "ongoing professional conversation about leading soldiers and building combat-ready units". Most of the site is available to military personnel only.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Seeing Science

The results of the second annual Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge are out and include some dazzling imagery of a feeding tick, a volcano, and movies of a bat in action, an overview of the 2002 European floods, and a presentation on RNA interference.

Hot Spots or Not Spots?

I find it difficult to get a handle on exactly how bad things are in Iraq and which areas are controlled by insurgents. I was all ready to make a map myself when I saw Juan Cole did something similar at the level of Iraqi provinces. According to him the red are the "present security-challenged provinces" and the magenta provinces are "those that saw recent heavy fighting".

Opium Poppies

Micheal Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, wrote a long article awhile back about his experiences with growing poppies in his garden and covered a lot of ground in the process. (via Metafilter)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Bad Times

A first-hand account of a hostage in Iraq. (via Metafilter)
Zeynep whispered that these new men were not Turkmen but Arabs, as she no longer understood their conversation. Mubashir made some sort of statement to them on our behalf and then bade us farewell. He and his men were heading back into Tal Afar to join the fight.

Within minutes of his departure, the Arabs burst into the room and roughly blindfolded me. As I tried to protest, I was kicked in the ribs, knocking the wind out of me. “Shut up American spy!” shouted my assailant.

For the next hour, I was interrogated – beginning again with their presumption that I was either a CIA or Mossad spy. I gave all the possible details of my identity and when asked how I could confirm these “lies” I told them to research my writings on the Internet. In particular, they could not believe that I had written features for al-Jazeera’s website. Although intense, I was relieved when the questioning had ended without any physical force being used. I was premature in my assumption.

Wrath of God

I saw this and was wondering if it was true or not. It's a map of Florida with the counties colored by how they voted in the 2000 election with the three recent hurricane tracks overlaid. It seemed suspicious to me because of the way the tracks were drawn so I made a map myself.

I used low-res track maps so the tracks look jagged but whoever made this map took even less time than I did and clearly didn't bother following the actual tracks.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Off by a mile

Watching the daily track forecasts for Hurricane Ivan for the past week or so I noticed that the forecast positions were pretty far off and consistently North of the actual position by a wide margin. You can see a loop of the daily forecasts here. Here's a quick and dirty image with the orange discs showing actual positions and yellow lines representing the forecasts.

Now I know next to nothing about atmospheric science but it seems clear that their forecasts were pretty bad for more than a day ahead. There clearly is something systematically wrong with this prediction technique.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Reality Unchecked

Sy Hersh on Abu Ghraib.

You can -- we in the fall of 2003, the United States of America was in huge trouble in Iraq, just like we still are. We know nothing about the insurgency then. We knew nothing then. We still know nothing about it. We don't know whether there's going to be another bomb like there was this morning tomorrow. We have no intelligence, zippo. We had no intelligence then. The insurgency by August of 2003, the U.N. had been hit, the Jordanian embassy where we really do a lot of operating, intelligence stuff, was hit. Lesser known, pipelines were hit again for oil. Water lines were hit, and electrical power stations were all hit anew in August. It was like a huge escalation.

So, there was panic in the White House because August is, what, almost a year from re-election time. So, it became a political issue, just as you noted in the beginning. Cheney and the White House moves together when there's politics involved. We have to do something. So, they not only -- they decided they had thousands, 10-20,000 Iraqis in detention. And they had been unlike in Afghanistan where they were picked up on a field, many of these people were picked up at traffic checkpoints or they were busted -- people broke into their homes and grabbed all of the men. We had -- the idea was get some of the guys in captivity who had nothing to do with the insurgency, get them photographed, get a dossier of them looking like they were committing homosexual acts, blackmail them and send them home into the community, and have them become our agents inside the insurgency. Tell them to join the insurgency. That was the intellectual idea, so I've been told. The idea was let's get some guys and turn them, because sexual humiliation does proffer enormous blackmail. You're ruined forever. Just like in the Arab world, they still kill the daughter that commits adultery, et cetera, et cetera. They try to. That's still a reality. And so, that was the intellectual idea. So, what the kids were doing, or the young men and women, they weren't all kids, some were in their 30's, the awful acts that we saw in the photographs were the playing out of a process that at the beginning had some sense but it simply deteriorated to the point where whatever the initial idea was, they began this in September of 2003, the idea was to get better intelligence and use the prison population to find some people that could do it for us. By October, the C.I.A., which is not adverse to being tough in certain interrogations, they pull their people out and send them home. Because the C.I.A. realized that this was a mess. If you are telling me that people in Washington weren't aware that there was real problems going on in the prison system, you have to be kidding.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Here and There

A side-by-side comparison of life in New Jersey, Japan and China. (via Metafilter)

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Jan motherf*cking Hammer

Everyone has that story of going to someone's house and being appalled by that one album which has no business being anywhere near a stereo system. For me it's crashing at a friendofafriend's place on a road trip and laying my eyes on Styx's Grand Illusion. Of course tastes change, and now I actually dig some of the songs on that album.

And while I am partial to to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the guy in this story on ftrain isn't.

Also by Paul Ford but of a much more recent vintage is his XML/Semantic/Web/Congress project which sounds like it could evolve into something interesting which is another way of saying I have no idea what he's doing.

Learn about DNA a Flash

The Marian Koshland Musuem of Science of the National Acadamy of Sciences has a really long name. But more importantly it has two interesting and colorful online exhibits on DNA, and global warming.