Friday, May 18, 2007

Fill your car up with aluminum?

Pellets made out of aluminum and gallium can produce pure hydrogen when water is poured on them, offering a possible alternative to gasoline-powered engines, U.S. scientists say.

Hydrogen is seen as the ultimate in clean fuels, especially for powering cars, because it emits only water when burned. U.S. President George W. Bush has proclaimed hydrogen to be the fuel of the future, but researchers have not decided what is the most efficient way to produce and store hydrogen.

In the experiment conducted at Purdue University in Indiana, "The hydrogen is generated on demand, so you only produce as much as you need when you need it," said Jerry Woodall, an engineering professor at Purdue who invented the system.

Woodall said in a statement the hydrogen would not have to be stored or transported, taking care of two stumbling blocks to generating hydrogen.

For now, the Purdue scientists think the system could be used for smaller engines like lawn mowers and chain saws. But they think it would work for cars and trucks as well, either as a replacement for gasoline or as a means of powering hydrogen fuel cells.

"It is one of the more feasible ideas out there," Jay Gore, an engineering professor and interim director of the Energy Center at Purdue's Discovery Park, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "It's a very simple idea but had not been done before."

On its own, aluminum will not react with water because it forms a protective skin when exposed to oxygen. Adding gallium keeps the film from forming, allowing the aluminum to react with oxygen in the water, releasing hydrogen and aluminum oxide, also known as alumina.

What is left over is aluminum oxide and gallium. In the engine, the byproduct of burning hydrogen is water.

"No toxic fumes are produced," Woodall said.

Based on current energy and raw materials prices, the cost of making the hydrogen fuel is about $3 a gallon, about the same as the average price for a gallon of gas in the United States.

Recycling the aluminum oxide byproduct and developing a lower grade of gallium could bring down costs, making the system more affordable, Woodall said.

How I Failed the Turing Test

Some time around March, I started receiving a number of random instant messages from people I've never met before. Apparantly, my AIM alias had been added to at least two online lists and people all over the world were busy importing me as a buddy.

I say "at least two" because the people who contacted me fell into one of two camps: people who thought they were contacting a celebrity and people who thought they were contacting a robot. As I talked to more and more of these folks, I began to discover something really disturbing about myself:

I consistently fail to be perceived as human.

When this first started happening, a typical conversation with a celebrity admirer would go something like this (participant's IM handle is fabricated):

angelcutie42: hi!
jmstriegel: hey. what's up? do i know you?
angelcutie42: no
angelcutie42: someone gave me a bunch of screen names. i heard you are a celebrity.
jmstriegel: that's weird. i'm afraid i'm not a celeb at all.
angelcutie42: oh.
angelcutie42: bye

This was entertaining at first, but it quickly became a bit depressing as the angelcutie42s of the wired world would, one after the other, decide I wasn't worth talking to if I wasn't a celebrity. Want to know what it's like being dumped by a random groupie 5 times a day? Not good at all, thank you very much.

So that's when I started hamming it up a bit. I'm not really proud of it, but my fans wanted a celebrity.. so I gave them one:

sexybumkin123: hey.. so you're famous right?
jmstriegel: Who me? I'm a movie star.
jmstriegel: Shit, I gotta go.
jmstriegel: My limo just arrived and Paris wants her damned sidekick back.
sexybumkin123: Oh my god. Come back!
sexybumkin123: I love you!!!!

My groupies loved it. The more celebrity balogna I manufactured, the more they ate it, and the more they loved me.

Then, something strange started happening. As my career as an artificial celebrity started to take off, I began to receive some strange IMs from a whole new class of random people. These new admirers were convinced I was a robot... and it suddenly became clear to me that something was very wrong.

Nobody would believe I was human. In one troubling conversation after another, I felt my intellectual teeter-totter quickly tip from from actual to artificial.

fratburger86: hey. so you're a sex bot?
jmstriegel: umm, no. who the hell are you?
fratburger86: yeah you are! i found your im online
jmstriegel: that's fine and all, but i'm pretty sure you have me confused with someone else.
fratburger86: just a normal chat bot then?
jmstriegel: nope. i'm human
fratburger86: ok. sure.
fratburger86: asl?
jmstriegel: no thanks.
fratburger86: what?
jmstriegel: i'm not really interested in any conversation that starts with "asl"
fratburger86: oh come on. say something sexy.
jmstriegel: seriously, i think you want to talk to someone else.
fratburger86: i knew it!!!
fratburger86: you are totally a robot!

This is where things took a turn for the worse.

I mentioned already that I couldn't convince a single person that I wasn't a chat bot. It's one thing for people to think you are artificially intelligent. I can live with that, I guess. What really killed me was that the more I tried proving my "actual" intelligence, the more my "artificial" intelligence would get called into question. Take this pivotal conversation:

jmstriegel: no, really. I'm quite human.
jmstriegel: test me if you want
shymuffin32: ok
shymuffin32: why do you like music?
jmstriegel: hmm. i've never really considered that.
jmstriegel: hell, i'm not going to be able to contrive a good answer for that one. ask me something else.
shymuffin32: jeesus, you're worse than eliza

And there you have it. I've been intellectually humbled by a 1960s robotic psychologist.

Stripped of all dignity and self respect, I decided to take my troubles to Eliza, robot psychologist and intellectual superior. Maybe she could help with the questions I now have. Perhaps there is some meaning to all of this that my feeble mind is incapable of investigating on its own.

eliza: Hello, I'm Eliza
jmstriegel: hi
eliza: How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
jmstriegel: people think i am a robot
eliza: How long have you been a robot?
jmstriegel: i'm not a robot
eliza: Do you believe it is normal to be not a robot?
jmstriegel: are you saying i'm not normal?
eliza: Perhaps in your fantasies I am saying you're not normal?
jmstriegel: no. i just want to be human
eliza: What if you never got to be human?

What if I never get to be human? It's a good question. What does it mean to not exist in the minds of others? I've not only failed as an intelligent human, but I couldn't even pass as artificially intelligent. Even Eliza appears sceptical... how long have I been a robot?

So what if I'm not intelligent? What if I'm not even artificially intelligent? What if I never get to be human?

At least I can pass as a pretty convincing celebrity.

BitTorrent pirate loses appeal in landmark case

Authorities believe a Hong Kong man who lost his appeal today in the territory's highest court is the first in the world to be convicted of downloading pirated movies using BitTorrent file-sharing technology.

Chan Nai-ming, who used the alias 'Big Crook' on the peer-to-peer BitTorrent network, was found guilty in October 2005 of copyright infringement and attempting to distribute three Hollywood movies using the popular file-sharing software.

While Internet users have used BitTorrent technology for years to download movies undetected, Chan was caught red-handed by a Hong Kong Customs officer in January 2005.

The three movies Chan was convicted of pirating were Dare-Devil, Miss Congeniality and Red Planet.

"He plainly succeeded in distributing copies of the films in question," the five-member Court of Final Appeal said in its judgment. "The appeal must accordingly be dismissed."

Chan had been sentenced to three months imprisonment, and had served several weeks in prison before the appeal against his conviction.

The defence argued that Chan merely enabled BitTorrent users "to make copies of their own" of movies stored on his hard disk, rather than trying to "transfer" any copy in his possession, according to the judgment.

But the judgment rejected that argument, saying Chan "did create and have possession of such a copy, transiently or otherwise, for distribution to the downloading swarm".

The Hong Kong government welcomed the judgment, saying it clarified the law regarding Internet piracy.

The BitTorrent system is designed to distribute large amounts of data such as movies by allowing individual computers to "share" the material they are downloading from a source.

Hong Kong's Commerce Secretary said the posting of copyrighted materials in Hong Kong using BitTorrent had dropped 80 per cent within a year of Chan's arrest in 2005.

Georgia judge halts lesbian adoption

Days away from her seventh birthday, a little girl named Emma Rose is currently trapped in Georgia’s foster care system, unable to reunite with the woman who has been her mother for almost a year — all because the mother is a lesbian.

The prospective adoptive mother, Elizabeth Hadaway, was also sentenced to 10 days in jail earlier this month by a Wilkinson County Superior Court judge who refused to grant the adoption in part because “the child will have a long-term exposure to the homosexual parent’s lifestyle.”

Wilkinson County is located about 133 miles southeast of Atlanta.

“I thought one of the first rules of being a judge was putting your owns morals or views or whatever aside — you’re supposed to be fair,” Hadaway said. “I didn’t think who I decided to sleep with at night would determine whether I was a good parent — I didn’t know that was even possible.

“I’m hurt and I’m let down, but I feel even worse for Emma,” added Hadaway, 28.

Hadaway first began trying to adopt Emma Rose last spring at the request of the young girl’s biological mother, Deborah Schultz, who is also a lesbian. According to court documents and an interview with Hadaway, Schultz informed Hadaway that she had fallen on tough times and asked Hadaway to take custody of her six-year-old daughter.

Hadaway traveled to Florida last May to pick up Emma Rose, and a month later she was granted legal custody of the child by Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge James Cline. A few months later, Hadaway underwent a mandatory home evaluation by a local adoption agency, where it came out that Hadaway was a lesbian and living with her partner of seven years.

“We were pretty open about it and the lady who did the home evaluation was fine with it,” said Hadaway, who noted that the home evaluation found her suitable to adopt Emma Rose.

During a November hearing to finalize the adoption, Hadaway said Wilkinson County Superior Court Judge John Lee Parrott was originally supportive and encouraging of the adoption he was preparing to grant; however, once Parrott skimmed the home evaluation report, Hadaway said the judge’s mood shifted, and he began “acting really disgusted.”

“He started flipping through the home evaluation … and his whole demeanor really changed at that point,” Hadaway said. “He took his glasses off, and he sat there and looked at the other side of the room, and he said, ‘Let me get this straight — you are in a homosexual relationship,’” Hadaway said of Parrott.

Hadaway admitted she was in a lesbian relationship, and Parrott said he needed to do research to determine if Georgia law allowed adoptions by gay parents, according to Hadaway. On Jan. 8, 2007, Parrott issued a ruling that denied Hadaway the right to adopt Emma Rose and ordered the young child be returned to her biological mother within 10 days.

Parrott did not respond to interview requests.

Family union

Parrott’s 16-page ruling is inundated with references to Hadaway’s homosexuality, and his belief that placing Emma Rose in a lesbian home is not in the best interest of the child.

Parrott conceded that Georgia law has no requirements relating to the sexual orientation of adoptive parents, but accused Hadaway of attempting to “subterfuge and sham” the court by applying as a single adoptive parent when she “seeks to accomplish an adoption by a de facto homosexual couple," according to a copy of the ruling provided to Southern Voice by Hadaway.

Parrott also argued that the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage approved by Georgia voters in 2004 effectively prohibits adoptions by same-sex couples.

“[Hadaway] seeks to have her and her same-sex partner treated as a family union or unit, the same as a married couple for the purposes of adoption,” Parrott wrote. “Clearly, then, the unmarried homosexual union in this case would be getting a direct benefit of marriage under Georgia adoption law: the ability to adopt.”

Without the legal protections of divorce, Hadaway has no way to insure her lesbian partner will maintain financial responsibility if the couple breaks up, Parrott noted.

“If approved, the requested adoption would place the child in a markedly less secure legal environment than a child adopted by a legally married couple,” wrote Parrott.

But Hadaway contends that she alone is financially secure enough to raise Emma Rose, and that her partner’s income was included in the home evaluation because the report requires the listing of financial information for all adults in the household.

Parrott also ruled against placing Emma Rose with Hadaway because the young girl would be exposed to both homosexuality and discrimination.

“If the instant adoption is approved, inevitably the child will witness both directly and circumstantially the homosexual activity of [Hadaway] and her same-sex partner,” Parrott wrote. “There has been no study conducted … into the isolation and stigma that the child may face growing up in a small, rural town with two women, in whose care she was placed at the age of six, who openly engage in homosexual relationship.”

‘Deprived child'?

Parrott’s ruling ordered Emma Rose to be returned to Deborah Schultz within 10 days, or be declared a “deprived child” and turned over the Georgia Department of Family & Children Services. Hadaway and Shultz met at a truck stop in Jeffersonville, Ga., on Jan. 12, 2007, but Shultz refused to take Emma Rose back to Florida with her, instead reiterating her wish for Hadaway to raise the young girl.

Prior to Parrott’s Jan. 8 ruling, Hadaway left her longtime partner and moved to Bibb County, 70 miles south of Atlanta, which she considered more progressive and tolerant than Wilkinson County. After Shultz refused to regain custody of Emma Rose, Hadaway said she was encouraged by attorneys and DFCS workers to apply for an adoption in Bibb County Superior Court.

Upon discovering that Emma Rose remained in Hadaway’s custody, Parrott issued two more rulings: a Feb. 12 order to place Emma Rose in DFCS custody, and a March 23 ruling finding Hadaway and her attorney in criminal contempt for not following his order to transfer custody of the child. The two women were sentenced to 10 days in jail, or five days plus a $500 fine, but are currently appealing Parrott’s decision.

Citing a report by Alicia Gregory, a doctor hired by Wilkinson County DFCS to conduct an independent assessment of Emma Rose’s situation, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Tilman Self ruled March 30 that Hadaway be restored custody.

“Dr. Gregory concluded, and in fact was quite adamant, that Emma’s best interests would be served by returning Emma to [Hadaway’s] custody,” Self wrote. “Indeed, Dr. Gregory stated that Emma’s current foster placement was the worst possible scenario for Emma.”

But when Hadaway and Wilkinson County sheriff’s deputies attempted to retrieve Emma Rose from her foster family on April 3, they were rebuffed.

“The foster family would not turn her over to me,” Hadaway said. When the sheriff’s deputies informed the foster family that they had a Bibb County court order demanding Emma Rose be returned to Hadaway, the foster father allegedly called Parrott. The judge told the officer that he was not recognizing the Bibb County order, and if Hadaway wanted custody of Emma Rose she would have to re-apply in Wilkinson County.

“If anyone’s a pervert in this whole thing, it’s him — he’s sick,” Hadaway said of Parrott. “He’s mad because I’m gay, and he doesn’t want me to have custody.”

With Georgia law neither banning nor endorsing same-sex adoption explicitly, Parrott’s original order denying the adoption to Hadaway was within his authority, said Jim Outman, an adoption attorney in Atlanta.

But Hadaway is entitled to re-apply for an adoption if her circumstances change — such as moving to Bibb County — and Parrott’s efforts to prevent that have been “very extreme,” Outman said.

“If I petition [a judge] to do something and you deny my petition, that doesn’t invite you to become my enemy for life,” Outman said. “He’s carrying his beliefs beyond any case before him, and he’s saying he’s going to save this child from this lesbian woman.”

Hadaway’s new lawyer — Parrott prohibited her first attorney from continuing to represent Hadaway after he found them both in contempt — is filing a habeas corpus claim and a writ of mandamus with the Georgia Supreme Court in an attempt to get the Bibb County custody order enforced.

There is no timeline for when a ruling will be issued.

Blind man says his gun permit does not make him dangerous

A blind man who has concealed weapons permits in North Dakota and Utah says he's not a danger to society, even though he can't see the gun he's shooting.

Carey McWilliams, 33, says he has followed all the required rules, and he wants Minnesota to join other states that have granted him a concealed weapons permit. He says he was rejected first by a Minnesota county sheriff and then by a judge in that state.

"I'm trying to prove a point that people without sight still can carry (a gun) because brains are more important than eyesight in securing public safety," McWilliams said. "The shooter at Virginia Tech had really good eyesight and he killed 32 people."

Bill Bergquist, the Clay County, Minn., sheriff, said he felt bad about denying a permit for McWilliams.

"He's a super nice guy," Bergquist said. "But the application states that a person should be able to show proficiency on the firing range and a proficiency of the weapons. That's the issue.

"Sometimes I have to ask myself, what is right in this case? I felt when I denied it, he could have his day in court."

McWilliams said he completed the required class and shooting exercise by Paul Horvick, a National Rifle Association instructor. Horvick said he believes gun rights are private and would not comment on anyone he has taught or tested. Documents on Minnesota weapons hearings are sealed.

McWilliams said he uses special low-range, hollow-point bullets that are effective only in tight quarters.

"If I use a gun it will be at point-blank range, period," he said. "A sighted shooter is probably more dangerous because they can see something scary and pull their gun in haste."

Under Minnesota law, an applicant must be issued a license for a gun or a concealed weapon if he or she completes the class and shooting exercise and passes a background check - unless "there exists a substantial likelihood that the applicant is a danger to self or the public if authorized to carry a pistol under permit."

McWilliams believes Minnesota officials have violated his constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

"It's nobody's business that I'm blind," he said.

McWilliams lives in a Fargo trailer park with his wife, Victoria. One of their neighbors, Jon Storley, accompanied McWilliams during his appeal to the Minnesota district court.

"He's not a nut, he's not a weirdo, he's not a freak," said Storley, a cab driver and rock musician. "I'm not a lawyer, but in this case I believe the judge was legislating from the bench."

Storley also said he doesn't blame Bergquist and Kirk for their decisions, calling the case "a kettle of worms."

Oddly enough, the permit McWilliams obtained from the state of Utah is recognized in 30 other states - including Minnesota. McWilliams said he had to complete a "firearms familiarity course" before receiving the Utah license.

"Basically, they just passed around a couple of guns," McWilliams said.

McWilliams, who got his North Dakota permit in 2001, testified during the 2005 North Dakota legislative session against a proposal to drop the written part of the concealed weapons test. He told lawmakers it would allow people who are ignorant about firearm regulations to get permits. The test was eliminated.

The Legislature also decided to keep individual information about weapons permits confidential, said Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.

"All I can tell you is the total number of permits that have been issued," she said. The state has issued 8,030 permits, she said.

McWilliams lost his eyesight when he was 10 years old, after a series of headaches and gradual deterioration. It was a mystery to doctors.

He said he was a victim of domestic violence growing up and was stalked by gang members. "I've had situations where I would have felt threatened if I hadn't been carrying," he said.

McWilliams has written two books, including an autobiography published earlier this year that talks about his experiences in sky diving, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. He was in two segments of Michael Moore's antigun movie, "Bowling for Columbine," including a scene showing him cradling an AK-47 assault rifle.

Much of his autobiography is about his weapons training and testing.

"My permits together allow me, with reciprocity, to carry my gun in 30 states, one of which could be yours," he writes. "But never fear, with my extensive experience in firearms, I have take all reasonable measures to ensure the safety of others."

The 10 Greatest Completely Insane Television Shows Of All Time

During the upfronts this week, the media has been freaking out about the fact that ABC has given the greenlight to the new sitcom Cavemen, which is based on the popular series of Geico commercials. While I will reserve my judgement until I actually see the show (keep in mind it does feature our own brilliant Nick Kroll), I would like to point out some of history’s other competely insane TV shows, several of which actually weren’t half bad.

10. Homeboys In Outer Space (UPN, ‘96-’97) - Two black dudes fly around the galaxy in a “space hoopty” guided by a sassy onboard computer named “Loquatia”. Seriously. That was on television.

pular TV series about some chick hiding a coked-up space alien in her attic. Even more amazing is that TV audiences were able to put up with Robin Williams‘ wacky spaceman antics for a full 4 years without wanting to tear their eyes out.

6. Dinosaurs (ABC, ‘91-’94) - Oh, but to have been in the network pitch meeting where some dude was all like, “See, it’s a blue-collar family sitcom - but instead of people, they’re talking DINOSAURS!” And then some high-powered executive type starts nodding his head purposefully, then does a slow golf clap before asking if there could be an idiotic catchphrase, perhaps if the baby dinosaur keeps repeating, for no particular reason, “Not the mama! Not the mama!” while hitting people with a prehistoric frying pan.

5. Out of This World (Syndicated, ‘87-’91) - So it’s like a teen coming-of-age drama, except Evie - the puberty-ravaged Jr. High girl who the show’s about - is a half-alien who has the power to start and stop time like a clap-on lamp. Instead of using these powers for something awesome (say, robbing enough banks to retire by the time she starts high school), Evie mostly just tries to figure out why that surfer dude doesn’t like her. And somehow we never even got to see her mother tell Evie about the time she f*cked an alien.

4. Cop Rock (ABC, ‘90-’90) - Perhaps the most insane idea ever to have landed in the small mind of a desperate TV producer, the entire concept of a series that combines the melodrama of an urban cop show with the flamboyance of musical theater is something so retarded it almost becomes genius again. I seriously hope this gets a DVD release soon, because I would really love to enjoy lyrics like “We’re the local color with the coppertone skin / And you treat us like we’re guilty of some terrible sin.” over and over again.

3. Mr. Ed (CBS, ‘61-’66) - A pioneer in the “insane sitcom” genre of TV shows. I mean come on, it’s about a horse that f*cking talks, and with absolutely no explanation of how this horse somehow became imbued with the ability to communicate in clear, eloquent English. And why English? Why can’t the horse speak French or Portuguese or something?

2. Alf (NBC, ‘86-’90) - So a cat-eating alien crash lands into the home of a suburban family named “The Tanners”, then spends four years hiding in their kitchen (great hiding place, ALF!)? In the end, ALF ends up getting caught by the Military, who has presumably spent the last 20 years conducting scientific tests to determine why he’s such a smart-ass, the results of which were later used to create the character of Chandler Bing on Friends.

1. Manimal (NBC, ‘83-’83) - An entire show about a shape-shifting doctor who could turn himself in to an animal to fight crime? Yes, please! Besides, the title alone is one of the most awesome things television has ever given us.

Worst Dad Award Nominee