MonthNovember 2010

Colton Harris-Moore Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Charges

Harris-Moore is pleading not guilty to federal charges:

“Barefoot bandit” suspect Colton Harris-Moore, the teen accused in a two-year spree of sometimes-shoeless burglaries and thefts, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of interstate transportation of a stolen plane, boat and gun.

Not guilty pleas on behalf of Harris-Moore, 19, also were entered in federal court by his lawyer to charges of being a fugitive in possession of a firearm and of flying a plane without a pilot’s license.

The five charges, collectively punishable by up to 43 years in prison, were brought in an indictment returned by a grand jury last week, adding to the prosecutions mounting against the youth in his home state of Washington and elsewhere.

Reuters: “Barefoot bandit” suspect pleads innocent

It wasn’t clear to me from this article whether he’s pleading no guilty to *all* charges against him, or if there may be other charges that he will plead guilty to. Previous coverage suggested his lawyers were trying to reach a plea-bargain. The story does note that charges from Washington and various states are piling up.

United Nations No Longer Condemns the Execution of Homosexuals

The General Assembly passes a resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions and other killings every two years. The 2008 declaration included an explicit reference to killings committed because of the victims’ sexual preferences.

But this year, Morocco and Mali introduced an amendment on behalf of African and Islamic nations that called for deleting the words “sexual orientation” and replacing them with “discriminatory reasons on any basis.” […]

The resolution, which is expected to be formally adopted by the General Assembly in December, specifies many other types of violence, including killings for racial, national, ethnic, religious or linguistic reasons and killings of refugees, indigenous people and other groups.

Reuters: U.N. panel cuts gay reference from violence measure

Fighting Advice from Juicy Juicy Karkass

Pope Softens Stance on Condoms


When asked whether the Catholic Church is “fundamentally against the use of condoms”, the Pope is said to have replied, in the book entitled Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times:

“It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” he said.

The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by prostitutes as “a first step towards moralisation”, even though condoms are “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection”.

BBC: Pope Benedict condones condom use in some cases

Seattle Police Rounding Up Super Heroes

Phoenix Jones

A police bulletin has been sent to all officers this week, requesting they look at the Real Life Super Hero national website to get an idea of what they are dealing with.

The Rain City Superhero Movement includes the likes of Thorn, Buster Doe, Green Reaper, Gemini, No Name, Catastrophe, Thunder 88, Penelope and Phoenix Jones the Guardian of Seattle. All masked, they carry Tasers, nightsticks, pepper spray, but no firearms. […]

The police will be interviewing more member of the Rain City Superhero Movement this week, to be identified. Basically, the plot of Civil War is being carried out on the streets of Seattle – just without any dead giant black men.

Bleeding Cool: Seattle Police Almost Shoot “Superhero”

(via Cat Vincent)

My childhood self would be glad to know that I would live long enough to see the day when the real-life superhero problem would be “hard news.” My adult-self, however, disapproves of vigilantism and thinks this whole thing will only end badly.

Virginia Rastafarians Get Their Own Prison

Dreadlocked Rasta

The story is a little confusing, but the AP is reporting that several Rastafarians in the Virginia prison system are being moved to their own prison. The Rastas have been held in solitary, sometimes for years, for refusing to cut their hair. Presumably, they are in prison for more than their growing their hair out, they’re just in solitary because of their hair. There are as many as 50 Rasta in Virginia currently in solitary for this reason. The Rastas will now live two to a cell, but “they will not have all the privileges of inmates in general population.”

AP: New prison for Va. Rastafarian inmates

(Thanks Mark!)

Are Wandering Minds Unhappy Minds?


That seems to be the conclusion of the recent Track Your Happiness Survey:

Our lives are most enjoyable and content when we are completely focused on the job in hand – even more than when we are daydreaming about pleasant thoughts.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” their study concluded.

“The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Telegraph: Why our wandering minds are making us miserable

(via Coewrote)

I’m skeptical about causation here – could it actually be that when we’re doing something we enjoy, we’re less likely to let our minds wander? Wouldn’t that be a symptom, not a cause, of unhappiness? Here are the things that cause mind wandering, according to the study: “resting, working or using our home computer.” The things we are doing when most focused: “sex, exercising or in intense conversations with friends.”

The methodology of the survey is somewhat questionable as well: it required people to self-report their levels of “happiness” at different times during the day and answer assorted other questions like “do you have to be doing what you’re doing right now” and “do you want to do be doing what you’re doing right now.”

For what it’s worth, I tried participating in the survey, but found it to be a hassle and quit doing it. The questions were often vague and difficult to answer accurately, especially if I had to fill out the survey hours after it came in. One thing I found especially difficult is that when I was fully engaged in something, I was a lot less likely to be aware of whether I was happy or not.

A quick note on the results: since you can put in anything you want for “what are you doing,” it’s possible that particular tasks done on a home computer (like “working on my screenplay,” “sequencing electronic music,” or “reading my favorite blog” were broken out separately, unjustly maligning “home computer” usage).

Amber Case has a write-up about her participation in the survey here.

Update: This New Scientist story has more:

Crucially, episodes of mind-wandering tended to precede bouts of low mood, but not vice versa, suggesting that the former caused the latter. […]

“This is a really solid piece of work,” says Jonathan Smallwood at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He says that mind-wandering and levels of happiness have been linked in laboratory studies, but never before in such a large population of people going about their daily lives.

But the claim that mind-wandering causes unhappiness needs to be further evaluated, he adds, because he and others have shown the effect can run in the opposite direction. In laboratory experiments, he found that lowering a person’s mood, perhaps by showing them a video about a sad story, led to more mind-wandering.

“It’s difficult to make causal claims,” says Smallwood. “But it’s undoubtedly the case that negative mood and mind-wandering are inextricably linked.”

Oh, and see also:

What the Brain is Doing When it is “Idle”

Boredom can be lethal

Why boredom is exhausting

All Life on Earth Could Have Come From Alien Zombies

Flu virus

Scientists have speculated that life could have come to Earth from space — a notion called panspermia — since the 1870s, when Lord Kelvin suggested microbes could have ridden here on a comet or meteor. Others have suggested tiny organisms could cross the galaxy embedded in dust grains, which could be nudged from one planetary system to another by the slight pressure of stars’ radiation.

However, most astrobiologists think that same radiation spells a death sentence for delicate microbes.

“That essentially kills panspermia in the classical sense,” said astrobiologist Rocco Mancinelli of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

But maybe not, says astronomer Paul Wesson, a visiting researcher at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada. In an upcoming paper in Space Science Reviews, Wesson argues that even if the actual microbes are dead on arrival, the information they carry could allow life to rise from the charred remains, an idea he calls necropanspermia.

Wired Science: All Life on Earth Could Have Come From Alien Zombies

What the article doesn’t mention is that a bacteria sample recently survived a year and a half in space, without oxygen.

Jorge Luis Borges Self-Portrait

Jorge Luis Borges self-portrait

Jorge Luis Borges Self-Portrait, self-portrait. From the collection of Burt Britton. Borges was nearly blind when he drew this for Britton.

(via CC Huang)

The Gamification of Work


I wrote a follow-up of sorts to my post here The Problem with Gamification:

With all this in mind, is it possible to effectively apply game mechanics to work-related applications? The jury’s still out on Rypple and Moxie’s implementation of badges, but I’m hopeful about both. Meanwhile, Pietro Polsinelli has written an essay on game mechanics and how he applied game design to his social bookmarking/task management web app Licorize. Polsinelli considered how certain common game activities correlate to activities in the application and added points and scoring to those activities. The essay is well worth reading for anyone interested in game mechanics in work related applications.

ReadWriteWeb: Buzzword Watch: The Gamification of Work

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