MonthMarch 2009

VidoopCAPTCHA – is this a joke?

vidoop captcha

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I HATE CAPTCHAs. I’ve sworn never to use them for years now. I guess it falls in line with my politics – I refuse to treat all commenters like spammers. I use Askimet here, and even it eats legitimate comments once in a while. But at least it’s invisible to users – no need to make everyone pass a Turing Test to do anything.

Vidoop’s new CAPTCHA system, pictured above, is atrocious. They advertise it as “computer proof but not human proof.” It stands as a perfect example of what I hate: increasingly difficult hoops for customers to jump through to use a product or service. I get a headache just thinking about the possibility that one day I might have to take tests like this one every single time I sign-up to try a new web service, participate in an online discussion, or even leave feedback or ask for support from a service I pay for.

Even if it turns out to be easier than deciphering and correctly typing blurry numbers and letters, I worry that it may in fact be, on occasion, human proof.

Let’s look at their demo. Which ones is “castles”? It must be S, even though that doesn’t look like a castle to me. In this case, there’s nothing else that seems to qualify so it should work out. But assuming they’re putting one of their best examples forward as a demo, what do their less-than-best ones look like? Is there really no chance that sometimes it might be a little confusing which picture they want? Especially for people who aren’t native English speakers.

Designers & developers: your job is to decrease the number of annoyances in people’s lives, not increase them. Your job is not to keep spammers out, it’s to keep customers in.

Parts of Flint may go feral

Property abandonment is getting so bad in Flint that some in government are talking about an extreme measure that was once unthinkable — shutting down portions of the city, officially abandoning them and cutting off police and fire service.

Temporary Mayor Michael Brown made the off-the-cuff suggestion Friday in response to a question at a Rotary Club of Flint luncheon about the thousands of empty houses in Flint.

Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city’s tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine “shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn’t) provide services.” […]

City Council President Jim Ananich said the idea has been on his radar for years.

The city is getting smaller and should downsize its services accordingly by asking people to leave sparsely populated areas, he said.

Full Story: Mlive

(via Cryptogon)

See also:

Feral cities – The New Strategic Environment

Update: See US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive

Slate: How cities should deal with squatters

On the supply side, local governments should penalize owners who stockpile vacant housing, perhaps by imposing increased property tax rates on properties left vacant, and by moving aggressively to seize vacant properties when the owners fall behind on paying those taxes. On the demand side, governments should expand homesteading programs that permit and help low-income people to take over vacant housing—but only after it finds its way into city hands.

To be sure, these programs were only marginally successful in the 1970s, in part because of lack of funding, but also because of the difficulty of restoring abandoned urban properties to habitable condition. The housing that is becoming vacant during the current downturn, by contrast, is relatively new and should be easier for homesteaders to repair. The federal government should also move quickly to protect those in financial trouble from foreclosure and eviction by requiring foreclosing banks (many of which are themselves receiving taxpayer bailouts) to rent out foreclosed homes to their former owners at fair market value. In fact, as this letter to the editor in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday correctly observed, allowing owners to remain as renters in their foreclosed homes helps safeguard the value of the houses—which is good for the occupants, good for the banks, and good for the housing market as a whole.

The sudden increase in squatting shows that the housing market that is out of kilter. The solution is not to chase squatters off, but to bring the market back into balance by helping them find a place to call home.

Full Story: Slate

(via The Agitator)

Artists, Foreclosures and the Ruins of the Unsustainable

Although it is small consolation in the face of overwhelming economic strife in Detroit and elsewhere as the foreclosure crisis continues, this story gave me a real feeling of hope and renewal. To me, this example and other corresponding cases – like the artist-driven re-imaginings of shopping malls and big box stores seems symbolic of an even larger cultural shift. The arts community isn’t just moving into one downtrodden urban neighborhood; rather, they’re taking on the ruins of the unsustainable. They’re taking on big box stores, shopping malls, and grid-connected homes in the car capitol of North America. And they’re not just creating new art. They’re seizing the opportunity to turn old shells of buildings into independent, renewable energy-powered, 21st century-ready spaces.

What I’m most eager to hear next is that creative pioneers are conquering McMansions in the suburban hintersprawl. As Bryan Walsh wrote recently for Time Magazine, “The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (on one-sixth of an acre [675 sq m] or more) in the U.S.”

Will subdivisions be turned into workshops and performance spaces? Or possibly into small-scale agricultural communities, or enclaves for artisan food-production? At the very least, will they become denser, transit-connected and less car-dependent … and what will drive that?

Full Story: WorldChanging

Squatter cities as the cities of the future – TED talk by Robert Neuwirth

See also:

The Sudden Stardom of the 3rd World

Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education

10. Teach yourself programming
9. Get a Personal MBA
8. Learn to actually use Ubuntu
7. Get started on a new language
6. Trade your skills, find an instructor
5. Academic Earth and YouTube EDU
4. Teach yourself all kinds of photography
3. Get an unofficial liberal arts major
2. Learn an instrument
1. Learn from actual college courses online

Full Story: Lifehacker

And of course, also check out Personal University

(via Robot Wisdom)

Huffington Post to launch investigative journalism venture

The Huffington Post announced today that it is launching a new initiative to produce a wide range of investigative journalism — The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. It is being funded by The Huffington Post and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and will be headed by Nick Penniman, founder of The American News Project, which will be folded into the Investigative Fund.

“The importance of investigative journalism cannot be overstated — especially during our tumultuous times — and we are delighted to be creating an initiative whose goal is to produce stories that will have a real impact both nationally and locally,” said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. “Everyone who recognizes the role good journalism plays in our democracy is looking for ways to preserve it during this time of great transition for the media. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund is one of the ways we are addressing that need, while also providing work and a platform for seasoned journalists downsized by major media outlets. We are grateful to the American News Project and The Atlantic Philanthropies for their generous contributions, and intend to engage with other donors as we continue to expand the Fund.”

Kenneth Lerer, co-founder and chairman of The Huffington Post, said, “There is no more critical reporting than investigative journalism. This nonprofit investigative journalism venture is a very important and logical next step for The Huffington Post. Our mission will be to produce and distribute distinguished, independent journalism made widely-available to all news outlets. We are proud to be working with our prestigious partners and look forward to expanding and building upon this venture with other investigative news organizations from around the country, and the world.”

Full Story: PressThink

Sustainable Industry: Retraining America’s Workforce

In the energy sector, utilities are especially struggling to lure young people to an industry that’s plagued with a somewhat outdated stigma. Peter Darbee, CEO of San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric (NYSE: PCG) in January 2008 told the San Francisco Chronicle that within five years more than 40 percent of the utility’s 20,000 employees will be eligible for retirement. Almost half the nation’s utility workforce will be nearing retirement age by 2016, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Overall, job seekers with college or technical training will have the best shot at filling utility positions. Computer systems analysts and data analysts are expected to be among the most in-demand workers, in addition to employees with the training to help utilities expand their renewable energy portfolios, according to the Labor Department.

When it comes to training a workforce for a rapidly changing economy, the country’s nearly 1,200 community colleges are at the center of it all. PG&E has even partnered with community colleges to develop its PowerPathway program to train future employees.

With shorter programs and lower tuitions—about $2,360 on average nationwide—than four-year schools, community colleges present fewer barriers to entry for students than private technical colleges or even big, state universities. Plus, many technical and career programs are designed to train and certify workers for in-demand fields in less than a year compared to conventional four-year degree programs.

Full Story: Sustainable Industry Magazine

Was the Tunguska Fireball a Comet Chemical Bomb?

Over a century ago, on June 30th, 1908 a huge explosion detonated over an unpopulated region of Russia called Tunguska. It is probably one of the most enduring mysteries of this planet. What could cause such a huge explosion in the atmosphere, with the energy of a thousand Hiroshima atomic bombs, flattening a forest the area of Luxembourg and yet leaving no crater? It is little wonder that the Tunguska event has become great material for science fiction writers; how could such a huge blast, that shook the Earth’s magnetic field and lit up the Northern Hemisphere skies for three days leave no crater and just a bunch of flattened, scorched trees?

Although there are many theories as to how the Tunguska event may have unfolded, scientists are still divided over what kind of object could have hit the Earth from space. Now a Russian scientist believes he has uncovered the best answer yet. The Earth was glanced by a large comet, that skipped off the upper atmosphere, dropping a chunk of comet material as it did so. As the comet chunk heated up as it dropped through the atmosphere, the material, packed with volatile chemicals, exploded as the biggest chemical explosion mankind had ever seen…

Full Story: Universe Today

(thanks Mac)

Even the mother behind “Meghan’s Law” says that charging teens with ‘child pornography’ for posting pics of themselves is absurd

A 14-year-old girl has been accused of child pornography for posting nearly 30 explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.

The charges could force the teenager from New Jersey, US, to register as a sex offender, if convicted. […]

If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with the state as a sex offender under Megan’s Law, said state Attorney-General Anne Milgram.

She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff sentence is unlikely.

Some – including the New Jersey mother behind the creation of Megan’s Law – criticised the trend of prosecuting teens who send racy text messages or post illicit photos of themselves.

Full Story: Sky News

(via Biohabit)

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