Shut off Internet access – voluntarily

For those  who have trouble staying on task for hours at a time. Which probably means most computer users. Several applications now exist to block off Internet access, selectively block programs, etc. I do this by not turning on my wireless – but then I can’t stream music. So I’ll try something more elaborate.

Economist article: Software that disables bits of your computer to make you more productive sounds daft, but may help keep distractions at bay

Freeware: SelfControl 1.2.2 Block distracting websites for predetermined periods of time   SelfControl is an OS X application which blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time. For example, you could block access to your email, facebook, and twitter for 90 minutes, but still have access to the rest of the web.

via Download SelfControl for Mac – Block distracting websites for predetermined periods of time. MacUpdate Mac Software Downloads.

Your Brain on Computers –

Article yesterday on the brain-altering effects of constant computer use. It’s a complex topic and I think a lot more research is needed, but there is certainly something going on. The reporter, Matt Richtel, won a Pulitzer last year for his series on distracted driving while using cellphones. (I’m quoted in the article, but not by name.)

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive.

Continue reading

Disposing of old hard drives – do it right!

Here’s an expanded comment I posted to Computerworld recently. Re-using an old hard drive yourself, by putting it in an external drive enclosure and using it for backup is fine. (I have one in a safe deposit box, in case my house burns down). But don’t donate it, sell it, or even recycle it unless you destroy the data on it properly first.  RB

Recycle an Old Laptop Hard Drive

A reader, I’ll call him \”S,\” wanted to know if there’s a hard drive enclosure that can \”accept the thicker hard drive out of an old [laptop].\”

RB comment: Just be sure to destroy the drive if you are finished with it. Unfortunately, donating it /selling it are not wise. You can also do a “secure erase,” which encrypts the old data and allows the drive to be safely reused. Reformatting the drive, and running the various utilities that supposedly overwrite old data, are NOT substitutes, because they don’t get at the underlying data thoroughly. And tests of drives purchased on eBay still show about half of them have proprietary data, including financial records etc.

Here is one such academic study: Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitization Practices. There are many others.   Here’s a good popular article.

Here is an explanation of safe erasure.

For physical destruction, the easiest method is a hammer applied to the spindle. Once the bearing has “wobble” in it, the drive can’t read the tracks any more, and it would take an NSA-level lab to recover data, even partially. You can also smash the circuit card. It can be replaced, but the thief has to work much harder to find a compatible card.

The worst graph in a decade?

The back page of IEEE Spectrum this month has, hands down, the worst graph I can remember ever. It takes information on media spending in different countries, and transforms it into a totally confusing picture.

Worst graph in a decade?

Worst graph in a decade?

  • The horizontal axis should be country, while color should be different media. They have it exactly backwards. As it is now, the stacking renders comparisons impossible. Continue reading

Scientists Seeking NSF Funding Will Soon Be Required to Submit Data Management Plans – US National Science Foundation NSF

NSF pushes for more data sharing on funded projects.  Good – let’s hope NSF starts a race with NIH. The culture of data privacy is (superficially) good for individual researchers, but hard to defend for society and for taxpayers. One area in which the wide push for “stronger Intellectual Property (sic) Rights” is going the other way.

Scientists Seeking NSF Funding Will Soon Be Required to Submit Data Management Plans.  Government-wide emphasis on community access to data supports substantive push toward more open sharing of research data …  In particular, on or around October, 2010, NSF is planning to require that all proposals include a data management plan in the form of a two-page supplementary document. The research community will be informed of the specifics of the anticipated changes and the agency’s expectations for the data management plans.

via – National Science Foundation NSF News – Scientists Seeking NSF Funding Will Soon Be Required to Submit Data Management Plans – US National Science Foundation NSF.

Broadband speeds increase – does it matter?

If this increase in broadband speeds is correct, the Internet will (finally) begin to make inroads on the number of bytes people receive, not just the number of words. According to our estimates, average effective bandwidth on the Internet was too low to send many bytes, compared with TV. (Remember how awful YouTube videos were in early 2008?) Partly this is because bandwidth in the last mile, which this report apparently covers, is not the only limit on throughput. Latency delays, limits on originating sites, and pauses by users all reduce average throughput. (This is very visible when I surf from UCSD, where I have speeds above 100 Mbps to my desktop. I still encounter delays.)

US Broadband Speeds Rose 28% in 2009SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., February 9, 2010 – The US residential broadband speeds continue to increase, albeit at a slower rate than in 2008. Between year-end 2008 and year-end 2009, downstream bandwidth rose by 28%, reports In-Stat

via In-Stat – Press Releases.

The Internet already has a substantial fraction of average word consumption, because of the higher words-per-minute of reading over radio and TV.

If anyone knows of reliable data on average effective home Internet speeds, please send them along.

See Roger Bohn speak on HMI

Roger will be appearing at a UCSD colloquium on Wednesday, February 3, to discuss the results of the HMI project.

The event will be held in the Media Center / Communications building on campus (map here), and the nearest parking is just across the way on Muir College Drive. He’s scheduled to speak at 12:40PM in room MCC 201.

Here’s the official blurb:

How much information do Americans consume? At the start we have to define information, consume, and much.  All three definitions are unavoidably controversial. …

I will present and discuss our results, most of which are available in our report at We didn’t have strong expectations of what we would find, but we were surprised anyway. Continue reading