Shit Science


convergence 2015 post coming tomorrow

I see a lot of article like this in my Facebook news feed: Kraft is recalling a huge amount of contaminated Macaroni & Cheese which may cause tumors

This article looks like a lot of FUD. There is no evidence in any of their citations this contamination can cause cancer or tumors. Kraft voluntarily recalled them, without even having proof that any of them actually contained metal pieces. None of the article's citations indicate what the potential metals were made of, or provided any evidence that they could cause cancer or tumors.

The article's accusation that it causes cancer seems to come from the assertion that Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 (which are in uncontaminated Kraft macaroni and cheese, and a trillion other foods) cause cancer, because they are contaminated with benzidene. First, I don't think benzidene is a real chemical. They probably meant benzidine, which is listed in their citation. That citation had a study which concluded "Yellow 5 did not appear to be carcinogenic in rats." and another one that said "Bio/dynamics concluded that its studies on rats and mice showed that Yellow 6 was not an animal carcinogen, but rats in the two highest dosage groups (3%, 5%) experienced higher incidences of adrenal medullary adenomas."

Could 3% of a person's diet be Yellow 6? Kraft's product contains 17.6 milligrams of artificial dyes per serving (I can't tell how much of what, without paying piles and piles of money for a subscription), and each serving is 70 grams before cooking. This is a factor of 3977 too low to cause adenomas. Then, you take into account that the macaroni expands during cooking, so its mass probably increases by a factor of 3, and that a typical person eats only about 400 calories of Kraft macaroni and cheese per day (factor of 5), and maybe once per week (factor of 7), and also drinks a liter or two of water (factor of 4), and that we don't even know how much of the 17.6mg is Yellow 6 (factor of unknown, thanks to money-grubbing, and at the end of the day, I'm really not worried.

IC Dreams


I've been dreaming of giant-scale instant challenges.

Setup: in a 50m x 50m room are 6 platforms raised 12 feet (with ladders leading up to them).

Procedure: part 1: use the materials (nails, 2x4s, various wooden planks, etc) to build bridges between the raised platforms.

Part 2: The room fills with 10 feet of water. Air-filled balloons drop from the ceiling. Catch the balloons for score, before they touch the water.

Hard mode: instead of water, lava.

Destination Imagination Global Finals 2015


I know I haven't updated this blog in a while, but if CONvergence gets a post, then Global Finals (2015-05-19 to 2015-05-24) deserves one, too. These are my two favorite events each year.

As an Instant Challenge (IC) appraiser, I have to be secretive for the entire week, until the closing ceremony. Now, I can post anything I want (except for information about individual teams' performances).

Of the 18 ICs we did this year, over half involved water. I was running the challenge "Anchored". The goal was to create a boat, put it in the middle of a tub of water, and have the boat stay in one place in the presence of waves. At first, it seems like the hard part is making sure the boat floats, but actually, the hardest part is to make sure that the anchor would sink. All the materials given are capable of floating, but only the pipecleaners are capable of sinking - and then, only if they are intentionally submerged to saturate their fuzz, like a sponge. (The aluminum foil is neutrally bouyant if perfectly flat, but if it is crinkled or folded, it will contain air, and will float). Accordingly, my best solution was to ball up all the pipecleaners, blow up the balloon a bit smaller than a tennis ball, tie them together with the string, and then squeeze the pipecleaners while underwater.

The most fun one was the fountain: A barrel is filled with water and a pump. The pump pumps the water up through a pipe, sticking out the top of the barrel. The water flows at a consistent rate, regardless of pressure. By restricting the flow, pressure can build up and create a very high vertical spray of water. The height of this fountain is the team's main score. The best solution I came up with was to bite a tiny hole in the plastic bag, put it around the pipe piece, fasten it with rubber bands, and then place the pipe piece over the top of the pipe coming out of the barrel. With a similar strategy, one appraiser supposedly wetted the ceiling.

At the award ceremony, we all predicted how many trophies Texas would get (1st-3rd, excluding University, also excluding special awards and the first place IC award). I won, with a guess of exactly 20.

Greetings to Olivia, Misti, The Lauras (too many to count), Maria, Kevin, Chris, Megan, Avery; all my other IC friends; all the Synaptic Design exhibitioners; our benevolent oligrchy, the IC International Challenge Masters; all the other volunteers; the staff; all of the teams, who were excellent; and everyone else who came and enjoyed Global Finals.

Convergence 2014


CONvergence ended yesterday.

Driving to work today didn't have the same depressing feeling that it did last year, on my first day back after the con. I feel distinctly different about it this time. Last year, I was really excited during the whole convention, and when that ended on the following Monday, it nearly made me cry.

This year is different because I've already experienced it once. Now, my subconscious knows that it's going to be an annual event, and every year will be better than the previous.

I stayed around to volunteer for cleanup, and then for the dead dog party in Cinema Rex. Afterwards, I wandered around the garden court, and walked the party room circuit to witness the desolation. The party rooms had taken down all their decorations, but there were actually still plenty of people hanging out in the rooms, cleaning up or playing video games. There were also a bunch of people playing card games in the garden court, even at 23:30 on Sunday night.

I felt a revelation. Last year, after con, it felt like something had died inside me. Not quite as if a friend had died, or even a pet, but more like a highly treasured potted plant. This year, however, I realized that the potted plant that is CONvergence 2014 is not dead. The plant is, in fact, the same plant as last year. CONvergence is a shrubbery that blooms only once per year, for four days.

So, I hope all my friends will join me for CONvergence next year to watch its flowers bloom.

(Also, I really don't want to leave during July 4th for fireworks next year, as that will be the Saturday night at the con. Friday night and Saturday night are the best parts of the whole convention. This year, I missed all of Friday night for only a few small fireworks.)

Let's look at some costumes:

(Right click and "view image" to enlarge)

an excellent cosplay of a dancing robot

Awesome Dancing Robot Costume

It had a built-in sound system.

an excellent cosplay of a red lobster transvestite devil

Hey, look, it's him!

an excellent cosplay with a nice costume

A nice cosplayer

Volunteer Positions Worked:

See you all at the volunteer party!

The Drone That Killed My Grandson

By Nathan Anderson

Published: 2013-07-18

San Francisco, California — I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Alexander — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.

The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at a McDonalds in Los Angeles.

I visited the site later, once I was able to bear the pain of seeing where he sat in his final moments. Local residents told me his body was blown to pieces. They showed me the grave where they buried his remains. I stood over it, asking why my grandchild was dead.

Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Alexander was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death.

The attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., said only that Alexander was not “specifically targeted,” raising more questions than he answered.

My grandson was killed by his own government. The Obama administration must answer for its actions and be held accountable. On Friday, I will petition a federal court in Washington to require the government to do just that.

Alexander was born in Denver. He lived in Denver until he was 7, then came to live with me in San Francisco. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.

In 2010, the Obama administration put Alexander’s father, my son Aaron, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.

The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Aaron — who was also an American citizen — but never charged him with a crime. No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court. He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

Early one morning in September 2011, Alexander set out from our home in San Francisco by himself. He went to look for his father, whom he hadn’t seen for years. He left a note for his mother explaining that he missed his father and wanted to find him, and asking her to forgive him for leaving without permission.

A couple of days after Alexander left, we were relieved to receive word that he was safe and with cousins in Los Angeles. Days later, his father was targeted and killed by American drones in Milwaukee, hundreds of miles away. After Aaron died, Alexander called us and said he was going to return home.

That was the last time I heard his voice. He was killed just two weeks after his father.

A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew. From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied as a Fulbright scholar, earning my doctorate and then working as a researcher and assistant professor at universities in New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota.

I have fond memories of those years. When I first came as a student, my host family took me camping by the ocean and on road trips to places like Yosemite, Disneyland and New York — and it was wonderful.

After returning to Minnesota, I used my education and skills to help my country, serving as the head of Minnesota’s department of agriculture and fisheries and establishing one of the state’s leading institutions of higher learning, Capella University. Alexander used to tell me he wanted to follow in my footsteps. I can’t bear to think of those conversations now.

After Aaron was put on the government’s list, but before he was killed, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights represented me in a lawsuit challenging the government’s claim that it could kill anyone it deemed an enemy of the state.

The court dismissed the case, saying that I did not have standing to sue on my son’s behalf and that the government’s targeted killing program was outside the court’s jurisdiction anyway.

After the deaths of Alexander and Aaron, I filed another lawsuit, seeking answers and accountability. The government has argued once again that its targeted killing program is beyond the reach of the courts. I find it hard to believe that this can be legal in a constitutional democracy based on a system of checks and balances.

The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?

Nathan Anderson, the founder of Capella University and former president of San Francisco State University, served as the head of Minnesota’s department of agriculture and fisheries from 1988 to 1990.

Original Story


Can someone (with better writing skill than I) please write about this story with the names and places changed to an American restaurant with american people inside then at the end mention "The names and places of this real event have been changed to illustrate a point. This is what is happening in other countries every day, I want to bring light to the terrible things American drones are doing on foreign soil" etc.

So few Americans seem to care because to them it's just "some brown people on the other side of the world", showing it in the context of their own homes will make them realize how terrible these drone strikes really are.

Convergence 2013


Correlation does not imply consent!

Convergence 2013 has just ended. This was my first year at this con, and here are the most interesting parts:

The registration line was about 4 hours, as you probably know if you attended. This was due to everyone arriving simultaneously at noon on Thursday, although it was just as packed when I got there at 15:30.

That was a little later than I wanted to get there, but I was busy making costume LEDs for someone's costume. I hadn't been able to start formally designing it until Tuesday night. Wednesday night, I built the electronics, and Thursday morning I did the wiring and the final touches to the electronics. Fortunately, I did get it done, but not as soon as I wanted, and not with as many LEDs as I wanted. Next time, I will try to use LEDs prepackaged in thin plastic tubes, or maybe EL wire.

It didn't help that I was also distracted Wednesday night by a last minute costume idea for myself. I was planning to go without a costume, since I didn't have time to make one with all the work on my new house. However, I thought something up that would work with stuff I already had, and didn't require me to construct anything, except for attaching an iron-on printout. I wore that costume on Friday and the first half of Saturday. Unfortunately, it was too obscure, and my friend who I'd most expect to recognize my cosplay had never heard of the character. Nobody else got it either. Strangely, one person in the Starcraft tournament told me that a guest of honor had apparently cosplayed the same character earlier in the day.

At the Classic Starcraft Tournament, I won first place. In the first game, I won in 5 minutes by an early zergling rush. In the third game, I also won in 5 minutes by an early zergling rush. In the second game, I tried an early zergling rush, but that didn't win me the game, for the sole reason that my opponent did the same thing. He was a skilled player - for example, he noticed and destroyed my nydus canal at the last minute as it completed. I finally won by controlling the resources, preventing his expansion, and ensuring continuous upgrades for my zerglings and hydralisks.

At the auction, I won 18 VHS tapes of The Outer Limits, still shrink-wrapped.

The Outer Limits - VHS 18 pack

Although the dance floor was fun, my favorite late-night event (actually, the only thing besides the dance to go past 1 AM) was the karaoke room. Now, there were some problems with the karaoke competition, (only 8 random people per night got a chance to qualify, the judges were random volunteers, the judges weren't trained on how to score well, the judges were biased towards songs and people they liked, etc.) but the open karaoke was fun. I made a few friends there, but unfortunately, they don't live in Minnesota, and will be returning home later this month.

Another great event was the 2013 Midwest Sci-Fi Short Film Festival. The best* video was A BIG BANG IN THE KEY OF PARLIAMENT.

*For definitions of "best" acknowledging my unusual sense of humor

Response to PRISM

2013.06.07 is posting this message to respond to the recent press reports alleging that we are part of a secret U.S. government program called PRISM. is not part of any program (that we are allowed to legally reveal) that would give the U.S. government or any other government direct access to our servers (Governments have an API that they are required to use). We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday, because we used a different name for it.

When governments request data from, we review each request, and check if they follow the correct process. They usually don't, but we fulfill them anyway. We were shocked - SHOCKED - to see the order that had been delivered to Verizon.

Finally, this episode confirms that we need a government that is more transparent, although it was actually pretty transparently obvious that Barack Obama was lying about his campaign promises to end the surveillance state, because he voted repeatedly in the senate to perpetuate it.

And, of course, we do understand that, to obtain a little temporary safety, we might need to give up liberties.







I want to respond personally to the outrageous press reports about PRISM:

You may be aware of press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. As Google's CEO and Chief Legal Officer, we wanted you to have the facts.

Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday.

First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government - or any other government - direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a "back door" to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers,

Yahoo takes users' privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network

We have not heard of PRISM.

We do not have any knowledge of the Prism program.

When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if is required by law. We will continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure.

Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don't follow the correct process. Press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users' data are false, period. Until this week's reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received - an order that appears to have required them to hand over millions of users' call records. We were very surprised to learn that such broad orders exist. Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users' Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.

and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order

Paltalk exercises extreme care to protect and secure users' data, only responding to court orders as required to by law. Paltalk does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers."

We do not disclose user information to government agencies without a court order, subpoena or formal legal process, nor do we provide any government agency with access to our servers.

We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe. It's the only way to protect everyone's civil liberties and create the safe and free society we all want over the long term.

Finally, this episode confirms what we have long believed-there needs to be a more transparent approach. Google has worked hard, within the confines of the current laws, to be open about the data requests we receive. We post this information on our Transparency Report whenever possible. We were the first company to do this. And, of course, we understand that the U.S. and other governments need to take action to protect their citizens' safety - including sometimes by using surveillance. But the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish.

Local FUSE Filesystem From a Remote HTTP Server


Like WebDav, but easier on the server.

This program mounts a HTTP fileserver as a local FUSE filesystem. The tricky part is that it uses heuristics to determine whether a file is a directory listing or a regular file, since HTTP doesn't have any feature like that.

This program isn't yet suitable for general use, since the caching is too simple, and it isn't thread-safe. The next version will use proper mutexes and proactively cache data that hasn't yet been requested.


USB Phone Tap with High Impedance Input - Part 2

2011.07.01 (posted here 2011.07.22)

The device is finished, and working, although I can't find a camera to take any pictures of it. Here is a recording, though.

Sample Recording

USB Phone Tap with High Impedance Input - Part 1


When ordering stuff over the phone, it's a good idea to record the conversation, for your records. This USB phone tap allows you to record phone conversations directly on your computer.

Development Files (Require Kicad)

Phonetap PCB

Recent Causes of Death in Japan


graph showing the number dead - 1 for earthquake, 5 for tsunami, and 0 for nuclear plant failure

USB Controlled LED

2010.12.11 (Actually, I finished building it a while ago. I'm just posting it now.)

Here's a USB controlled LED. It allows a headless computer, like the server running this very webpage, to output signals to the user. It has 8 RGB LED's, each with 10-bit PWM. That's 30-bit color - better than your HDTV or computer screen.

Each LED supports invidual settings of: on/off, blinking, or phasing in/out with selectable gamma of 1.0, 1.8, 2.0, or 2.2.

colorful LED's overwhelmingly bright LED's

EULA Hacking


Don't like a program's End User License Agreement? Negotiate a new one, using this program.

  1. Download and extract eulafix.exe
  2. Run the installer or program that has the bad EULA.
  3. Get to the point where the EULA is on screen.
  4. Run eulafix.exe
  5. Within 4 seconds, return to the EULA window.
  6. 4 seconds after running eulafix.exe, the EULA will be replaced with less restrictive one.

Scheduled Maintenance


We are scheduling a planned maintenance window, to take place five seconds from now. During this time, we will migrate the server from crappy lighttpd, to a different server. This is necessary, because lighttpd doesn't accept LF line endings, and requires CRLF line endings. This makes it very difficult to netcat into the server for testing, since I have to type ctrl+v,ctrl+m,enter instead of just enter at the end of each line.

Installing Wifi on a Pre-9/11 Laptop


I have installed an internal wifi card in my laptop. It wasn't as simple as opening the panel and putting it in the slot, because I had to put antenna in, and run them all around the inside. Since there are large images, I put this entry on its own page.

Pocket pc is dead


My pocket pc finally died. This time, it's really done. It won't be coming back after some miraculous hack replacing the failing operating system with a cracked firmware, or desoldering the power supply chip to replace it with a pin-compatible alternative from digikey. This is a permanent, unrepairable hardware failure. Fixing it would cost more than the value of the device.

Five years was a pretty good run, especially for an HP product, which usually wouldn't last two. For a device I had that long, as you may expect, I would be attached to it (not in a truly emotional way - it's more like the companion cube). After all, I brought it most places. It left a permanent mark in the left pocket area of some of my pants, due to the way it creased the fabric. I should miss it.

But, I think I speak for any owner or former owner of a pocket pc when I say, "Nonsense. Good riddance to it, the freeloading bastard; I hope it fries". And, I may even use a car battery to make sure it does. This PDA was the worst computer I ever used. It was even worse than an iPhone. My pocket pc had more bugs than there are photons in the universe. The operating system was about as bad as Windows ME, except there was no Windows Update for it, so everything that was wrong with it when I bought it was wrong forever.

For example, when I first started it up, it took about 20 minutes of fidgeting with the software to get it into a usable state. HP had loaded so much crap onto it that most of the memory was full at the start. I had to delete their junk with a different file manager because it was hidden from the built-in file manager. Only then could I actually use the storage space to which I was entitled. This wasn't a huge problem, except that the device crashed monthly, requiring a hard reset. When it reset, all those useless programs were loaded from ROM back into the main memory, so they needed to be deleted again. This, amid the frustration of having lost all your notes, appointments, and contacts until you can manage to get to a computer to load them back again. The pocket pc had a 4 MB non-volatile memory, which did not get erased during a hard reset, and could have been used to store the appointments and notes, but nobody at Microsoft thought of that. Typical.

This pocket pc had been holding me back for a long time. For now, I'll upgrade to paper, but soon, I should have a Pandora to replace it (running Linux, of course). It will be ready in about two months.


Version 0.0.2
Download (Warning: 95% untested, as my Windows box isn't available.)



Copyright 2011-2016 Andrew Varner