P2P file-sharing ♥ open-source (and vice-versa)

SourceForge.net: All-Time Top Downloads

Four of the top five, six of the top eleven, and seven of the top twenty downloads of open-source software packages from Sourceforge are peer-to-peer file-sharing applications. (I've highlighted their rank and download tally below in red.)

Rank Project Name
  2Azureus - BitTorrent ClientAccepting Donations61,415,864
  7ZSNESAccepting Donations8,969,182
  8eMule PlusAccepting Donations8,068,745
  12phpMyAdminAccepting Donations7,133,215
  15TightVNCAccepting Donations6,034,358
  16FileZillaAccepting Donations5,911,896
  19ABC [Yet Another Bittorrent Client]5,560,464
If LimeWire, another open-source P2P file-sharing application, chose to distribute their application through SourceForge, it would be in one of the top spots, as well. (Download.com reports over 56 million LimeWire downloads.)

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Letter to NYTimes, take 2

To: nytnews@nytimes.com
To: public@nytimes.com
Subject: Plagiarism of my work in your paper


Last month, I sent an email to your corrections address, CC'd to your public editor, about the uncredited use of an illustration I created in your paper. (Message appended below.)

If the omission of customary attribution was an honest mistake, I would expect a correction and brief explanation. If it were a careless oversight, I would expect a correction and apology. If anyone on your staff passed off my work as their own, I would expect a correction and appropriate disciplinary measures.

But no matter the cause, or corrective measures you deem appropriate, a response other than the automated form letters my mail generated is warranted.

Thank you for your consideration,

Gordon Mohr

[original letter]
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Plagiarized (and ignored) by the NYTimes, day 37

Last month, the NYTimes republished, on the web and in print, an illustration I created for this weblog without permission or attribution. The next day, I emailed their corrections page and 'public editor'.

There's been no response or correction. Apparently the NYTimes itself recognizes it has a responsiveness problem...

Editor and Publisher: 'N.Y. Times' Releases Key Internal Report

As for accessibility: 'The Times makes it harder than any other major American newspaper for readers to reach a responsible human being,' the committee's 16-page report said. It also noted that the paper printed 3,200 corrections last year.
Perhaps I need to be more direct in my correspondence.

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Hepatitis B prefers boys; Asian misogynocide half as horrific as before

Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt in Slate: The Search for 100 Million Missing Women - An economics detective story.

Convinced now of the relationship between hepatitis B and birth gender, [Harvard economics graduate student Emily] Oster set out on a vast data mission to determine the magnitude of that relationship. She measured the incidence of hepatitis B in the populations of China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and other countries where mothers gave birth to an unnaturally high number of boys. Sure enough, the regions with the most hepatitis B were the regions with the most "missing" women. Except the women weren't really missing at all, for they had never been born.

If you believe Oster's numbers�and as they are presented in a soon-to-be-published paper, they are extremely compelling�then her detective work has established the fate of roughly 50 million of Amartya Sen's missing women. Her discovery hardly means that Sen was wrong to cry misogyny, at least in some parts of the world: While Oster found, for instance, that Hepatitis B can account for roughly 75 percent of the missing women in China, it can account for less than 20 percent of the boy-girl gap in Sen's native India. The culprits behind the disappearance of the 50 million women whom Oster did not find are likely the horrible ones that Sen and others have suggested.

Fascinating article, including the closing anecdote about a particular infant American girl. However, the framing -- "my, don't economics and statistics provide nice tools when used properly?" -- deemphasizes the questions most interesting to me.

Why would Hepatitis B skew birth sex toward males so much? Not the mechanism, but the motivation -- inasmuch as a virus can be said to have motivation, in that it will tend over the generations to do things that ensure its own prevalence or recede from interest. Are boys better vectors of the virus?

And turning back to the other missing Asian women -- the previously hypothesized explanations are all rather bleak. Also from the article:

[Economist Amartya] Sen charged these cultures with gravely mistreating their young girls�perhaps by starving their daughters at the expense of their sons or not taking the girls to doctors when they should have. Although Sen didn't say so, there were other sinister possibilities. Were the missing women a result of selective abortions? Female infanticide? A forced export of prostitutes?
If, even after the Hepatitis B effect, 50 million born Asian women have disappeared as victims of treatment ranging from neglect to murder, why would such practices be so ingrained and self-sustaining? What organisms' propagation benefits from such murderous misogyny?

Humans ourselves? (There is no shortage of Asian peoples, despite whatever gender injustices are being practiced.)

But also: cultural values and customs are not unlike viruses. They must transmit themselves from person to person, generation to generation, to even be noticed. They may advance themselves even at the expense of their hosts. Is misogyny itself a far-distant cousin of Hepatitis B, both malign self-replicating organisms on a human substrate, each sharing the same preference for men as better hosts?

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Google succumbs to the dark side

Google offers a personalizable portal homepage.

The drag & drop layout is cool.

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Flooding the clone zone

Financial Times: S Korea�s �giant step� in human cell cloning
Scientists have cloned embryos for the first time from patients with serious diseases and injuries. The research at Seoul National University in South Korea demonstrates the principle of �therapeutic cloning� producing stem cells genetically identical to the patient, which could repair any damaged or diseased tissue.
Two entries ago, I pointed out that Francis Fukuyama's ideas about limits on third-world pharmaceutical trials, reported in the Washington Post, were largely contradicted by a story running the same day in USA Today.

Now, his prediction that "the number of people who are going to want to take the risk [of human cloning] is going to be awfully small" has been shown as similarly naive by South Korea's enthusiastic progress in therapeutic human cloning.

Events haven't just overtaken Fukuyama, they've completely lapped him.

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BitTorrent without centralized 'trackers', Azureus with magnets

Bram's BitTorrent 4.1.0 beta, released a couple of days ago, adds a trackerless torrent option based on a Kademlia-based distributed hash table (DHT). It follows in the footsteps of alternative BitTorrent client Azureus, which earlier this month introduced its own distributed tracker capability also based on Kademlia. Alas, these features appear to have been developed independently and are incompatible with each other.

The original Kademlia paper was published just over two years ago, and it's nearly 2 years to the day after I posted an article to infoAnarchy about the Kademlia-demonstration P2P sharing tool VarVar. Kademlia was the first DHT I could intuitively imagine working well in chaotic real-world P2P nets.

The Azureus implementation also supports the use of hash-based magnet URIs to compactly advertise specific 'torrent' control files which may be available from the peer network. I first proposed magnet URIs as a multi-application standard for website-to-local-app coordination in June 2002.

The inevitable usually takes a little while.

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Fukuyama's sensibilities overtaken by events

Washington Post, May 16, 2005: Inventing Our Evolution: We're almost able to build better human beings. But are we ready?

Francis Fukuyama, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and director of the Human Biotechnology Governance Project, thinks many biological innovations that are possible will be held back by social pressures:

Taboos will play an important role, Fukuyama says. "We could really speed up the whole process of drug improvement if we did not have all the rules on human experimentation. If companies were allowed to use clinical trials in Third World countries, paying a lot of poor people to take risks that you wouldn't take in a developed country, we could speed up technology quickly. But because of the Holocaust -- "
USA Today, May 16, 2005: Costs, regulations move more drug tests outside USA
Cost is one factor. Trials in Eastern Europe, Asia and Central and South America might cost 10% to 50% less than trials in the USA and Western Europe, says Ronald Krall, GlaxoSmithKline's head of development.

Researcher and clinic/hospital costs are lower and patient recruitment is faster, which also lowers costs. Bigger populations more in need of medical treatment make faster recruitment possible, Wyeth's Ruffolo says.

Fukuyama is also quoted in the WP article:
"But not everything that is scientifically possible will actually be technologically implemented and used on a large scale. In the case of human cloning, there's an abstract possibility that people will want to do that, but the number of people who are going to want to take the risk is going to be awfully small."
He seems to be implying that human cloning is inherently risky to those considering the procedure. I think he's got it backwards: the first cases for cloning will rather be seen (or marketed) as a risk-reducing tactic. Make a clone to harvest compatible fetal stem cells, perhaps with some genetic patching. Make a clone to harvest compatible organs some time in the future. "Don't be the last of your ultra-wealthy clique to take this prudent life-extending step, now available more cheaply than ever before!"

The risks in such a situation would only be those imposed by society, not inherent to cloning as a process. Based on animal experiments, cloning doesn't appear to need a giant laboratory or infrastructure. So this "possibility" won't stay "small" and "abstract" for very long.

(This idea is ripe in popular culture, as well, with both a recent book and upcoming movie considering the lives of clones raised from birth for others' welfare.)

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Top grades in monkey torture

Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey: Sorry, Fluffy, but I really need an A

An English exam authority has a system where test-takers get adjustments to their scores for recent traumatic events. The bonus for a dead pet is 2%.

But that's neither here nor there. What I like is directly addressing animals in english with subtle threats, as in "Sorry, Fluffy, but I really need an A." Can't get enough of it. I've mined the vein myself, with "Play it stupid, man-mouse, and we might just let you live" and "Hey, you two sheepboys�stop that jibber-jabbin'!" Of course those were manimals to be precise.

But that's neither here nor there, either. The genre reminds me of my favorite skit of The State, "Monkey Torture". I only saw it once, and have been hoping to find it again ever since. I recently found a transcript of its episode here.

For reference in case that site ever goes away, I reproduce the skit's script here. I think it holds up well in text, but maybe that's just because I can still hear Thomas Lennon's unique inflection as I read it. Submitted for your approval, "Monkey Torture", written and acted by Thomas Lennon and Michael Black, from episode 201 of The State:

Barry Lutz Show

Barry Lutz (Miichael Black): Barry Lutz here with the Barry Lutz Show. My guest tonight is Dr. Martin Crank. America's foremost primate zoologist.

Dr. Crank (Thomas Lennon): Good evening.

Barry: Doctor Crank, In your many years of primate research you've developed-

Dr. Crank: Ah, research is such a restrictive term, I feel I've I opened up a whole area of research that I like to call 'monkey torture.'

Barry: Monkey torture. What exactly does this process entail?

Dr. Crank: Well, first I lure monkeys into my apartment with bananas, then they fall through a trap door into my secret lair, where they undergo extensive...monkey torture.

Barry: The rack, bamboo shoots, hot water strap basting....

Dr. Crank: No, no, it's psychological.

Barry: Psychological....for example?

Dr. Crank: Ah, well, I have this one monkey who's name is Bongo. And, uh, sometimes I'll pretend like he's dead. He'll be right there,and I'll say, uh, "Boy, I sure miss Bongo ever since he died." Then I'll pretend I can't see him. Another really good one is, uh, sometimes I'll pretend like I'm gonna set them free, I'll drive the car right up to the edge of the jungle and stop. Then I'll turn the car right back around, right back to my secret lair.

Barry: Dr. Crank, what have you learned from your many years of monkey torture?

Dr. Crank: They hate it. The whole being tortured thing. Drives them nuts.

Barry: I understand you've had a lot of trouble getting funding lately.

Dr. Crank: Well, recently, yes. This country is full of what I like to call 'bleeding heart liberals,' who I guess are turned off by the idea of torturing monkeys for no good reason. I guess all can say is "Sorry...I'm the bad guy?"

Barry: Do you have any advice- do you have any advice, Dr. Crank, for any young people who are watching the show and are interested in pursuing a career in monkey torture?

Dr. Crank: Yes, I'd say, get a monkey, and...torture the hell out of it.

Barry: I see you brought a little friend of yours with you and you're going to demonstrate some of your tortures.

Dr. Crank: This is little Ricky.

Barry: Hello, little Ricky.

Dr. Crank: Say hello.

Barry: Do you know who I am? I'm Barry Lutz!

Dr. Crank: I've got something really horrible in store for him. The first thing I'm going to do is convince Ricky--

(phone interrupts)

Barry: (answers it) Barry Lutz. It's the ASPCA, for you.

Dr. Crank: Yes...You're going to file criminal charges... if I don't quit torturing monkeys... And I'll have to take all the monkeys to the zoo where they'll be loved and cared for? Yes, good bye.

Barry: Dr. Crank, I'm so sorry. It seems as though you won't be torturing monkeys anymore.

Dr. Crank: It would seem so. If that had been the ASPCA and not my friend Terry calling from backstage.

Barry: Well Dr. Crank, you had me completely fooled.

Dr. Crank: Well, more importantly, we had little Ricky here fooled...You're not going anywhere, smart boy!

Barry: My thanks to Dr. Crank. Join us tomorrow where my guest will be Chef Paul Perdoe, who will show us how to make little edible luggage. Yeah, that does sound good!

I'm the bad guy?

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Giant, cheap, flat HD displays?

Chicago Sun-Times: Big screens a growth industry for Motorola

Motorola today will announce it is ready to begin marketing a new technology to "grow" large-screen TVs using atom-sized carbon nano tubes as seeds with the potential to produce superior images at a fraction of the price of today's big screens.
Jim O'Connor, vice president of Motorola technology incubation and commercialization, says a 40-inch screen will cost under $400 and that "[t]he technology is ready to deliver now."

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Chimeras rule! (by majority)

I'm fascinated by chimeras -- organisms made up of cells of varying genetic composition. It happens naturally in humans with odd implications. In one case, initial tests on a woman's son, who was naturally conceived and delivered, indicated he was not genetically her offspring. In fact, the mother was a chimera, and the ovary/egg cells which had contributed to her son were of a different genetic makeup from her blood cells, used for other profiling.

I had always thought this a rare condition. But: NYTimes: Cheating, or an Early Mingling of the Blood?

Dr. Ann Reed, chairwoman of rheumatology research at the Mayo Clinic, who uses sensitive DNA tests to look for chimerism, finds that about 50 to 70 percent of healthy people are chimeras. The more scientists look for chimerism, the more they find it. It seemed not to exist in the past, she said, because no one was explicitly looking for small amounts of foreign cells in people's bodies.

"Some believe that if you look hard enough you can find chimerism in anybody," said Dr. Reed, who also has not been involved in the Hamilton case. It is so common that she thinks there must be a biological reason for it. It also may cause problems, she and others say.


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I can't get no NYTsatisfaction

Fifteen days later, no response from the New York Times to my email about their uncreditted swipe of my collage work to illustrate a story.

I know that they make corrections when they omit or misattribute published graphics; see for example the April 24th Corrections. It includes three separate picture credit corrections.

Further, by viewing the referenced stories, it's clear that the NYTimes also updates the online versions to include the corrected credits. Yet the story which grabbed my graphic still has no online correction.

Perhaps the NYTimes views the Internet and blogosphere as a giant anonymous hive mind from which creative content can be copied and pasted at will without attribution? That's what it's starting to feel like here.

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