October 8, 2007

Today’s ‘Wide Open’ Posts

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:32 pm

No, I don’t intend to put all the good stuff over at Wide Open on a daily basis. It’s just how it worked out today:

Couldn’t Help But Notice (100807)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:11 am

Following up on this post about how two of the three credit bureaus are allowing consumers to freeze their credit files: Make that all three, as Experian has joined in. A description of what credit freezes are and what they involve is at the second half of this post.

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The Toledo Blade has finally met a tax it doesn’t like: the mileage tax, or forcing drivers to pay a for each mile they drive as a replacement for the gasoline tax. It figures that Oregon would “in the lead” with this tax, which combines heavyhanded governmnet compensation with the worst of Big Brotherism (using global positioning systems to track a car’s mileage — and of course whereabouts — 24-7). I also suspect that this wouldn’t be a substitute tax, but just another new one.

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The fact that E-Mail Free Fridays are springing up says a lot about how office employees, even in the same room, who could, like, really, actually talk to each other on the phone or (imagine that!) face to face aren’t doing so enough.

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Marc Dann had a bad Thursday and Friday of last week:

  • Thursday, Dann learned that when you make an agreement with someone, you can’t just renege on it, even if you’re the attorney general, who is supposed to, uh, understand contract law. Specifically (HT State of the Union), “The state cannot back out of an agreement it reached in May with one skill-game manufacturer to allow it to legally operate the Match ‘Um Up game in Ohio, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge David W. Fais ruled today.” The Dispatch article “conveniently” fails to report that Dann attempted this gambit only after having received contributions to defray inauguration-related costs from device manufacturers.
  • Friday, the Associated Press reported (HT RAB) that Dann appears to have done the pay-to-play thing in giving work to a Sandusky lawyer. We were told all of this would end by Dann during the 2006 campaign, weren’t we? Why yes, we were: “Dann, a Youngstown Democrat, campaigned on a promise to combat the influence of campaign money in the awarding of state work….”

Inquiring minds would like to know where these stories appeared in the print editions of the Dispatch and Blade, respectively.

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Hong Kong cuts taxes again (WSJ link requires paid subscription) — and so should we (bolds are mine):

Chief Executive Donald Tsang delivers the first policy speech of his new term on Wednesday and it promises to make instructive reading for lawmakers elsewhere in the world who want to make their economies competitive.

Mr. Tsang’s move was mooted earlier this year, when he promised to cut taxes on both salaries and corporate profits to 15% during his next term. The salaries tax currently stands at 16% and the profits tax at 17.5%. On Friday, the South China Morning Post reported he’ll start the ball rolling this week, sooner in his term rather than later.

Singapore, Hong Kong’s big competitor in the region, has been steadily cutting corporate taxes over the past few years. Its rate now stands at 18%. Hong Kong is firing a shot across its rival’s bow, and so far it seems to be working. The mere mention of an impending tax cut helped boost Hong Kong’s market 3.18% Friday.

….. Big spenders elsewhere in the world — Democrats in the U.S. Congress, take note — might argue that Hong Kong’s big budget surplus ($7.1 billion last year) means it can “afford” a tax cut, while America’s deficit means the U.S. can’t. But the boost the Hong Kong market got from the mere report of an impending tax cut is one sign that America — and other world financial centers — can’t afford not to cut levies. In the race to attract new business, New York and London are competing against a territory that thinks a 17.5% corporate tax is too high.

Positivity: Spam weapon helps preserve books

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:56 am

From Pittsburgh, PA, via the BBC:

Published: 2007/10/02 10:01:32 GMT

A weapon used to fight spammers is now helping university researchers preserve old books and manuscripts.

Many websites use an automated test to tell computers and humans apart when signing up to an account or logging in.

The test consists of typing in a few random letters in an image and is designed to fight spammers.

Carnegie Mellon is using this test to help decipher words in books that machines cannot read by letting sites use them to authenticate log-ins.

The test, known as a CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart), was originally designed at Carnegie Mellon to help to keep out automated programs known as “bots.”

Spam messages

Bots are designed by spammers to post advertisements in discussion forums or to sign up for large numbers of e-mail addresses which are later used to send spam messages.

A CAPTCHA consists of an image containing letters or numbers which have been heavily distorted, making it hard or impossible for a bot to “read.”

By requiring web site visitors to type in the contents of the CAPTCHA before being allowed in to the site, humans can be admitted while all but the smartest bots are rebuffed.

CAPTCHAs are unpopular with many Internet users because the words they contain are often so heavily distorted to foil bots that that many humans struggle to read them.

This means potential visitors’ time is wasted while they make repeated attempts to decipher the CAPTCHA they are presented with.

But the CMU research team, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has devised an ingenious system to put the time used interpreting CAPTCHAs to good use.

Text files

The team is involved in digitising old books and manuscripts supplied by a non-profit organisation called the Internet Archive, and uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to examine scanned images of texts and turn them into digital text files which can be stored and searched by computers.

But the OCR software is unable to read about one in 10 words, due to the poor quality of the original documents.

The only reliable way to decode them is for a human to examine them individually – a mammoth task since CMU processes thousands of pages of text every month.

To solve this problem the team takes images of the words which the OCR software can’t read, and uses them as CAPTCHAs.

These CAPTCHAs, known as reCAPTCHAS, are then distributed to websites around the world to be used in place of conventional CAPTCHAs.

When visitors decipher the reCAPTCHAs to gain access to the web site, the answers – the results of humans examining the images – are sent back to CMU.

Every time an Internet user deciphers a reCAPTCHA, another word from an old book or manuscript is digitised.

Deciphered correctly

To ensure that the reCAPTCHAs are deciphered correctly, website visitors are actually presented with images of two words to examine, the contents of one of which is already known.

“If a person types the correct answer to the one we already know, we have confidence that they will give the correct answer to the other,” says Luis von Ahn, a Professor at CMU.

“We send the same unknown words to two different people, and if they both provide the same answer then effectively we can be sure that it is correct.

Go here for the rest of the story.