Sunday, December 31, 2006

Good riddance to a dictator

They hanged Saddam Hussein yesterday. I certainly won't mourn him, except in the sense that I disapprove of the death penalty, and I consider his trial was barely better than a kangaroo court. When you consider the circumstances of his trial, the defence lawyers who were assassinated, the rush to return a guilty verdict, and now the unholy haste to kill him, this wasn't the finest hour of international justice.

But if you step back and consider the bigger picture, this was a death that will accomplish very little beyond a personal feeling of closure to his victims and enemies. (No doubt Mad King George will be grinning right about now.) His death will make him a martyr to many. Even those who would cheerfully have slit his throat, like Osama bin Laden, will no doubt be using Saddam's execution as "proof" (by which I mean propoganda) that the Iraqi government is nothing but a puppet of the Americans, killing Iraq's sons for the benefit of the USA.

It would have been better for Saddam to spend the rest of his life in jail as a warning to other dictators: you won't go down in a blaze of glory, shouting defiance at your enemies, you'll become irrelevent, unmissed, slowly drifting into old age and senility.

Be that as it may, whether Saddam's death would be more or less of a deterrent to others, one thing is absolutely certain: it will have no real effect on the Iraqi civil war. Unrepentent Baathists looking to put Saddam back in power have never been more than bit players in the Iraqi tragedy.

[sarcasm] However, on the plus side, at least now I no longer have to fear Saddam's invisible nuclear, chemical and biological weapons! [/sarcasm]

Professor Juan Cole has a detailed list of the top ten ways that the USA helped build Saddam's dictatorship. If you'd rather a brief overview, set to Bing Crosby's Thanks for the memories, Eric Blumrich has a very well done Flash slideshow.

Update, 1st Jan 2007 11:45pm:
The New York Times (DNA sample required) has a moving report on Saddam's execution. I hate to say it, but the old monster went to his death with more dignity and grace than his executioners showed. He was defiant until the end, and his bravery will surely give more ammunition to at least one side of the civil war.

Underarm hair

Echidne has a good rant about the conservative obsession with female body hair:

A recent wingnut cartoon adventure story (read: incitement towards civil war) has the picture [below] about the horrible enemies of all right-thinking wingnuts: animal rights activists and I guess the animals they protect. They're coming to get you and your Bible!

But look at the stubble on the woman's legs. That is a signifier that she is a feminist, a feminazi, a woman who will probably eat her children. She's having leg hairs! Eek. She probably has hairy armpits, too. Pardon me while I vomit.

Animal Rights Terrorists
(Click for larger image.)

I'm as much a product of my culture as the next person, so I'm not going to discuss the aethetics of body hair (female or male!) except to note that I was surprised to see letters to American Playboy running four to one in favour of centerfolds with neatly trimmed pubic hair instead of completely shaved. What interests me more is the sociology of the armpit wars.

Especially fascinating is the double-standard of the American conservatives, who on the one hand declare that the nature of women is not just biologically fixed but that it is God-given right and proper that it be so -- except for body hair. Woman who choose to keep their natural, "god-given" body hair and not shave it off are at best freaks and unnatural, and at worse evil.

Just think about that. It is unnatural to not actively remove your natural body hair.

How does this belief differ from the horrific tribal belief widespread across Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia that it is unnatural for women to keep their external genitalia? Of course shaving hair off is not the equivalent of permanently removing bits of your flesh, and there is a vast gulf between the social pressure to shave (whether women's legs or men's faces) and the sometimes forced practice of female genital cutting, but I'm talking about the attitute behind it. In both cases, it is natural to be unnatural, or if you prefer, unnatural to be natural.

Of course, it isn't just women who feel the sting of conservative social disapproval. In conservative circles, men who grow their hair long as god intended (why else would hair continue to grow after it reached the length of a short-back-and-sides?) are disparaged and suffer vituperation -- despite the Biblical precedent of Samson, and traditional drawings of Jesus Christ with long hair. It wasn't that long ago that long-haired men risked physical attack if they wandered into the wrong conservative area.

Beards, for some reason, come and go as fashion, and apart from the occasional outlawing of beards by (say) Russian czars, I don't know of any period in recent Western history when men suffered more than the lightest social disapproval for their facial hair or lack of it. (Although that disapproval can be pretty severe: try running for election as president with long hair.)

Another interesting factor is the double-edged way that conservatives use body hair as a weapon against women. If a woman shaves, then clearly she's (at least partially) submitting to particular social conventions. Any particular woman may or may not care about that -- after all, not all social conventions are bad. I don't see the social convention that people of both sexes shower and keep clean as particularly oppressive. But if a woman chooses to buck the convention, it gives conservatives two angles of attack: on the one hand, unshaven legs and armpits become a sign that the person isn't a real woman, that they are ugly, manly, unable to attract a man and therefore their entire motives become suspect: "they're just an angry man-hating feminazi".

But on the other hand, and at the same time, they are also condemned for wasting their time on silly trivialities. To the conservative mind, female body hair is simultaneously a trivial matter of grooming not worth getting upset about and a significant symbol of femininity that colours not only the entire personality of the woman but also the credibility of her message. It is as if somebody said "Oh, I don't care what the mathematics says, Professor Hawking's theories about quantum mechanics are all nonsense -- just look at the tie he is wearing!"

Hmmm. I'm reminded that Australia's Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, rose massively in opinion polls when he started plucking his eyebrows. As Mrs Impala reminds me, we're all baboons obsessed with pink bottoms really.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The RIAA according to McSweeney's

McSweeney's has parody letter of demand from the RIAA:

If you would prefer not to be stripped of your home and dignity, please send us $3,750 in the return envelope. If your toddler has been named in this lawsuit, explain to them that the fruits of their labor as an adult will go to pay a debt that will ultimately lead to their death at a young age due to their inability to afford medical insurance. Toddlers never understand that, but they'll get the point if you make them cry. If your household pet has been named in this lawsuit, it will be euthanized. If you are a 13-year-old girl, do not expect that the bad publicity in the past has made us hesitant to sue little girls—it has only made us hate you even more. If you, your household pet, or your toddler did not commit any of the acts above, then we will sue you and ruin your life forever for lying. Then we will sue you again, because it's not about the money anymore. It's about revenge.

Hogfather redux

After my review of Hogfather, I thought I should follow up with a shorter one from Mrs Impala. I agree with it entirely.

When it was good, it was very nearly very good, and when it was bad, it was am-dram [amateur dramatics].

Eighteen words to express what I took 1400 words to say. I guess we can see who is the wordsmith of this family.

Pink fluffy slippers

Conversation in the car tonight as Mrs Impala and I returned home from delivering a kitten to her home:

    Me:Was that woman jogging...?
    Mrs Impala:Yes she was.
    Me:She was jogging in fluffy...?
    Mrs Impala:Yes. Fluffy slippers. Fluffy pink slippers.
    Me:She was jogging in fluffy pink slippers. Well, it takes all kinds.
    Mrs Impala:Unfortunately.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dawkins "not really a scientist"

Speaking as somebody who studied the hard sciences, including physics, at University (and graduated too, I might add), there are very few things more pathetic and sad than a physicist trying to pull rank on a biologist.

One of those things, though, is a physicist trying to lecture a biologist about complexity. Puh-lease. The fundamental objects in physics are particles like photons and electrons, which obey simple, regular mathematical equations that you can easily write down, like E = mc2. The fundamental objects in biology are animals and plants with exceedingly complex and complicated behaviours. Try writing down a mathematical equation to describe the growth of rose bush, or the behaviour of a rabbit, or even a single DNA gene.

Physicist John Barrow was awarded the 2006 Templeton Prize for his pop-science/religion writings. Challenged by biologist Richard Dawkins over some of his claims, Barrow ignored the substance of Dawkins' argument and went straight for the ad hominem fallacy:

"You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist."

(Quoted from William Dembski's blog.)

[Aside: for a look at the maturity of William Dembski, one of the elders of the Intelligent Design movement, check out this.]

This sad little episode, I think, demonstrates the intellectual emptiness of Barrow, not withstanding that he is a highly educated physicist and no doubt a very good writer. But, when push comes to shove, he is incapable of defending his religious ideas except by flinging mud. And worse, he fails to realise that if his accusation is true, if Dawkins (like other biologists) isn't a scientist, what does that say about him, that he is incapable of answering Dawkins' challenge?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The (long-)awaited television adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather was shown on SkyOne in the UK on December 17th and 18th. Part One was the most successful SkyOne production ever, with 2.6 million viewers. Part Two wasn't quite so successful, but 1.5 million viewers is nothing to sneeze at.

Thanks to the miracle of bittorrent remote viewing, I managed to watch Hogfather in the comfort of my home in Australia, many weeks before it is due to be broadcast here.

As a huge fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, I was looking forward to this programme, but not without a certain amount of trepidation. What if they mucked it up? You might not be able to make a Savile Row suit out of hessian sacking, but the best materials in the world won't help if the tailor can't sew.

So, with great relief, let me say that Hogfather didn't suck. Nor did it blow. It didn't even bite. Am I damning the show with faint praise? Yes and no -- it could have been better, but it was good enough that I wasn't disappointed. I give the first episode a generous B- and the second a conservative B+, for an overall mark of B, or if you prefer, a Distinction.

To my mind, the highlights of the show were Marc Warren and Michelle Dockery as Teatime and Susan. Warren's Teatime was off-putting and disturbing in all the right ways. So many people have commented on the similarities of Warren's performance to Johnny Depp's version of Willy Wonka that it would be amiss of me not to do so as well. Teatime's Wonka-esque voice, the inappropriate laughter, and the skewed way he looked at the world made the character so much more than just another nasty bad guy. After Warren's excellent role in the Doctor Who episode Love and Monsters (an episode I didn't especially like, but that's another story), he is certainly an actor I'll be watching out for in the future.

Likewise, Michelle Dockery was excellent as Susan, although probably a little more attractive (roaw!) than Pratchett's concept. Well, it is television, and the conventions of television are such that the female lead must be a hottie. Fortunately, Dockery is not just a pretty face: she can act, and succeeded in capturing the essence of Susan: slightly put-upon, slightly more than slightly annoyed, determined, independent, and a real Hero despite her wish to be "normal". Unwilling she might be, but when a job needs to be done, you won't find her wanting.

I was pleased that they managed to capture Susan's wild and uncontrollable hair without going for the crazed dandelion look of Paul Kidby's drawings.

Death was amazingly believable. Ian Richardson, who did the voice of Death, did a truly excellent job. I had always imagined Death as speaking like James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) on steroids, but Richardson's performance won me over. The 6'7" Dutch actor who played death, Marnix van den Broeke, did a fine job: Death moves likes an animated "skellington" should, animated without being alive, every movement deliberate and careful. And Death of Rats was as cute as a tiny skeletal rat could be.

David Jason's portrayal of Albert was also well done. It wasn't the Albert of Pratchett's novels, who is edgy and quite nasty and on the side of good for purely selfish reasons, but it was an Albert. A gentler Albert, like the slightly disreputable kindly uncle you wished you had, a bit of a chancer but still a rough diamond, and always good for a laugh. So not the terrible head of Unseen University from the days when being a wizard meant using magic to turn your enemies into wisps of slightly greasy smoke.

The choice to play Albert as comedy relief actually did work, but it did mean that one of the great lines from the book fell completely flat in the movie. In the book, when Albert introduces himself as the pixie "Uncle Heavy", there is genuine menace in it. In the movie, it just comes across as pathetic. Good ole Albert trying to be tough? Don't make me laugh. As wonderful as the line is, it should have been left out of the movie.

And that illustrates one of the problems with the film adaptation: it followed the book too slavishly at times, which meant that those poor benighted souls who have never read the book would often be confused. Adapting a novel for the screen requires more than merely cutting entire scenes because they won't fit within the time constraints.

Take the introductory voice-over, about the Big Bang and the Discworld, which was taken virtually word-for-word from the novel. In the book, it worked. As a narration, yawn. Especially since it was repeated on the second night.

It was disappointing that so many wonderful scenes from the book had to be left out, like the old boots and shoelaces. Of course you can't fit the entire book into a three-hour movie, but I'm sure there are many gems on the cutting room floor, and even more that never even made it into the script. That's why it is such a pity that the entire narration was repeated at the start of part two. Between the "Previously On Hogfather..." recap, and the repeated narration, episode two lost all of eight minutes. Eight precious, precious minutes, which would have been more than long enough for the beggars' feast. Programmes like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica manage to run through their "Previously on..." in under a minute, and they sometimes show scenes from two or three years previously.

And what was with the narration "a midwinter festival bearing a remarkable similarity to your Christmas"? Breaking the fourth wall works when it works, but breaking it to insult the viewer's intelligence does not work. ("What? The Hogfather is like Father Christmas??? Who would have guessed?")

But I don't wish to pick at every little weakness of the show. It is enough to mention a few of the things that could have been done better. Some of the scenes felt like they were being performed on a stage instead of filmed for television. The two media are very different, and what works on the stage doesn't work on television. Nigel Planer overacted in his role as Sideney the wizard, treating it as pantomime instead of television. So did Tony Robinson in his minor role as department store owner Crumley. The actor playing Medium Dave Lilywhite was merely adequate, but Chickenwire was grossly mishandled. Chickenwire in the novel is supposed to be a vicious criminal, streetwise and tough. We saw virtually none of that in the movie. At least Medium Dave looked tough; Chickenwire didn't even do that much.

The wizards, sadly, were mostly played as doddering, frightened old men, especially in the first half, without capturing any of their magisterial greatness, or their argumentative personalities. They improved slightly in the second half, and Archchancellor Ridcully did a fine job in both episodes. (Like Albert, Ridcully wasn't quite the Ridcully from the books, but he was a Ridcully.) So did Ponder Stibbons, and Hex was a fine piece of the filmmaker's art. It was amazing how much emotion a Rube Goldberg machine and an animated skeleton can put into a conversation. And the Eater of Socks was very well done indeed.

I prefer to emphasise the glass half full, so I'll say no more about the flaws. I liked the show, despite them. The minor characters of Violet and the Oh God of Hangovers were done very well. Death's final confrontation with the Auditors was filled with real power and emotion. For a skeleton with no facial expression, Richardson and van den Broeke made Death come alive, pun intended. They came close to the remarkable performance of Hugo Weaving in V For Vendetta, and I consider that high praise indeed.

In my opinion, Hogfather is one of the more difficult Discworld novels to adapt to the screen. It has a number of intertwining subplots and is more explicitly philosophical than many other Discworld novels. To really get the best from the story, the reader needs to know the characters of Susan, Death and Albert from previous books. SkyOne were aiming very high by choosing Hogfather as their first Discworld production. Having aimed so high, it isn't so surprising that they fell short of perfection, but what they accomplished was well worth watching. Let's hope that they will learn the right lessons from this, and the next Discworld movie will be better still, with a bigger budget, and a director who will do things my way.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lucky socks

Thought for the day:

I find it appalling and terrifying that a species capable of creating and deploying weapons of mass destruction panics because it can't find its lucky socks on a Thursday morning. -- Mrs. Impala

Friday, December 22, 2006

This year in review

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World has a review of the major events of 2007:

Senator Trent Lott on Iraq

Part One
Part Two
This Modern World archives

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Murder in Baghdad

One of the more egregiously stupid Internet memes (in the actual sense, not in the stupid LiveJournal sense of a quiz or survey) going around is the flood of chain letters claiming that Iraq is no more dangerous than Washington DC. If you've got pro-Iraq war friends, you've probably seen some of them. They use statistics to prove that living in Washington DC was -- and maybe even still is -- more dangerous than living in Iraq.

And by prove I mean mislead.

John Rogers of Kung Fu Monkey had something to say about the claims. Actually, he has two things to say: a nice version, and a not-so-nice version.

The nice version looks at the numbers, corrects the misleading use of statistics -- is it an accident that the pro-war zealots are averaging the death rate over chaotic murderous Baghdad and peaceful Kurdistan? yeah, sure it is -- and comes up with some conservative estimates for the yearly death rate in Baghdad:

544 murders per 100,000 in Baghdad versus 80 in Washington at the most lawless. (Today, Washington's murder rate is "merely" 35 per 100,000.)

Comparing apples with apples, Baghdad is at least fifteen times more dangerous than Washington D.C., and that only counts the risk of murder, not of kidnapping, torture or maiming.

One thing which surprised me was the equivalent figure for US troops in Iraq: 602 deaths per 100,000 per year. Given the low profile the media has for casualties, I was shocked that it is as high as that -- but I'm even more shocked that the risk to civilians in Baghdad is merely 10% lower than the risk to hated foreign occupiers.

The not-so-nice version... well, let's just say that Rogers' questions the sanity of anyone who unfavourably compares U.S. cities with a place where car bombs regularly kill hundreds of people, where virtually every single day the corpses of torture victims are found with electric drill holes through their bodies.

Rogers asks:

[...] denying reality Is. Not. Helping. We can't have a conversation about what to do next as long as a chunk of this country keeps clapping its hands and wishing hard. Hey, somebody wants to argue we need to stay for ten years, fine, lay it out. I'm open to the idea (I'm a Powell guy, what can I say). But how am I supposed to take this seriously when some people in the same breath try a bunch of statistical shell-games to show everything's just hunky-dory?

Two from "Sadly,No!"

Two interesting posts from Sadly,No:

  1. The Apocalypse

    Pastor Swank writes about the differences between Christian and Muslim conceptions of the apocalypse. The gist of the column is, our apocalypse makes sense because we’re us, but the Muslims’ is crazy because they’re them.

  2. Dear Abby

    DEAR ABBY: My problem is an interesting one. I am the president of a country I’ll call “The Untitled Tapes of Harmonica.” Our troops are currently fighting a war in another country, called “Iran.” Things aren’t going so well right now but, like most Harmonicans, my administration wants to succeed in Iran because we understand success in Iran would help protect the Untitled Tapes in the long run. Our goal is clear: a democratic and peaceful Iran that represents all Iranis.

    But my real problem is with my father [...]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Apologies for the stick-figure style, but this cartoon sums up my basic philosophy nicely.


(Click image to see full-sized version.)

The cartoon is by Randall Munroe and is published under a Creative Commons licence. The original can be found here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


"Pretexting" is a name for a particular type of old-fashioned fraud: it is when a person calls another party and pretends to be somebody else in order to get information under false pretenses. Morally and ethically it is fraud, but a legal gray area in some places. California was considering a bill to explicitly make pretexting illegal.

Until the MPAA stepped in and said they needed to commit fraud to protect their bottom-line.

Plural of virus

There are many schools of thought on the question of what is the plural of virus. Or to be precise, seven schools of thought.

The first is that virus is an irregular noun, derived from the Latin word for "poison", and therefore we need to make it a plural in the same way we would with syllabus/syllabi, fungus/fungi or cactus/cacti: "viri".

The second school of thought is that "viri" is bogus, because that in fact is the Latin word for men, not poisons, and therefore we need to make virus plural by dropping the -us ending and adding two i's, just like the Romans did with filius/filii (son/sons): "virii".

The third school of thought is that the word is virus and not virius, and anyone who would hallucinate an extra i in the word is obviously a nutter. There is no recorded use in Latin of virus being used in the plural: it is an uncountable word, like air[1] or bravery, and so didn't take a plural.

Therefore, like chassis, corps, deer, moose, sheep (and sometimes fish) the plural is the same as the singular: "one virus, two virus".

The fourth school of thought is that saying two virus is just wrong, no matter what the rules for bloody 4th declension uncountable nouns are, and that perhaps virus in the original Latin was like corpus/corpora, opus/opera and genus/genera: "virora".

The fifth school of thought is that the plural of virus, like certain other Greek words, should be "vire".

(This is the point where the first four schools of thought batter the fifth school with a Clue Stick, because virus was not a Greek word.)

The sixth school of thought is that "virorum" sounds about right, if virus was a second declension neuter noun, which it wasn't, and if we thought to correct the Romans' own spelling, which we don't.

The seventh school of thought is that we aren't ancient Romans, and the English word virus is not the Latin word meaning poison, and we aren't obliged to follow the Latin rules of making words plural any more than we are obliged to follow Latin grammar.

Therefore virus is a regular noun, and we make it a plural using the same rule used for words like bus/buses and campus/campuses.

So there you have it: seven possibilities, all of which (with the exception of virii, which is just dumb) have respectable rationalisations, although the one for "vire" is really stretching it.

Viri, virii, virus, virora, vire, virorum and viruses. Which is correct?

When faced with a difficult question like this, there is only one way to decide:


Obviously we can't include "virus", because any search we do will find the singular as well as the plural. Besides, while virus to the Romans was an uncountable noun, like "fun" or "information", in the modern English sense it is countable. So virus is out on a technical disqualification.

On with the Googlefight! Last word standing is the winner!

Round One:
VIRI defeats VIRII 2,380,000 to 711,000

Round Two:
VIRI thrashes VIRORA 2,380,000 to 582

Round Three:
VIRE defeats VIRI 4,400,000 to 2,380,000

Round Four:
VIRE soundly defeats VIRORUM 4,400,000 to 267,000

Round Five:
VIRUSES tramples VIRE into the ground, stomping it flat and doing a little victory dance over its bloody corpse with a comprehensive 50,900,000 to 4,400,000 massacre.

But wait... fight officials are investigating the participants for the illegal use of acronyms, place-names and words in Foreign to bulk up their scores. So let's repeat the Googlefights with more focused terms:

COMPUTER VIRII defeats COMPUTER VIRI 313,000 to 144,000
COMPUTER VIRII defeats COMPUTER VIRE 313,000 to 187,000
(Vire isn't so tough without all those place-names, hey?)
COMPUTER VIRII defeats COMPUTER VIRORUM 313,000 to 14,800
COMPUTER VIRUSES defeats COMPUTER VIRII 18,700,000 to 313,000

The results speak for themselves: despite apparently 313,000 over-educated but not-quite-as-educated-as-they-thought Latin-philes and/or L33t5, VIRUSES is the overwhelming winner. And all is well with the world.

Aside: this exercise is an interesting example of the growth of the 'Net. I had originally done these Googlefights back on 23 November 2004, with considerably different results:

viri 389,000 2,380,000
virii 426,000 711,000
virora 309 582
vire 397,000 4,400,000
virorum 35,000 267,000
viruses 11,700,000 50,900,000

[1] Air in the sense of what we breathe. "Airs and graces" seems to be the only exception, and that is merely a figurative sense. Back

Monday, December 18, 2006

The power of ridicule

Blogger Brian Flemming quotes a reader discussing the power of ridicule to make serious social changes:

I think we should not underestimate the power of embarrassment. The book Freakonomics briefly discusses the way the Ku Klux Klan lost its subscribers, and the example is instructive. A man named Stetson Kennedy, almost single-handedly it seems, eroded the prestige of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s by joining them and then leaking all of their secret passwords and goofy lingo to the people who were writing "The Adventures of Superman" radio show. Week after week, there were episodes of Superman fighting the Klan, and the real Klan's mumbo jumbo was put out all over the airwaves for people to laugh at. Kids were playing Superman vs. the Klan on their front lawns. The Klan was humiliated by this, and was made to look foolish; and we went from a world in which the Klan was a legitimate organization with tens of millions of members – many of whom were senators, and even one president – to a world in which there are now something like 5,000 Klansmen. It's basically a defunct organization.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Final Authority

Surely this has to be a spoof? Perhaps not -- there is no limit to nuttery.

The author of this website has decided that, on the basis of Biblical authority, the Earth must be stationary. The Sun naturally moves around the Earth (like a million tonne battleship being spun around on a string by a two-year-old). The author also has a bee in his bonnet over the name of the American continents. Or should I say, "Cabotia".

There's more: Hitler had a hydrogen bomb, big enough to devastate the entire UK, but it was stolen by the Americans and tested in Alaska, causing a tsunami. Naturally enough, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia was also caused by the Americans -- following orders from the Jesuits.

You can't parody stuff like this! Summing up the author's level of misunderstanding and confusion about scientific knowledge is this quote, from the stationary Earth page:

Many people consider the Encyclopedia Britannica the FINAL AUTHORITY on all scientific matters.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Your shoes are spying on you

Bruce Schneier blogs about a surveillance system that automatically tracks people by their shoes.

Don't toss your loafers away and go barefoot just yet: it can't track any shoes, just the particular combination of Nike + iPod Sport Kit.

Schneier writes:

To me, the real significance of this work is how easy it was. The people who designed the Nike/iPod system put zero thought into security and privacy issues. Unless we enact some sort of broad law requiring companies to add security into these sorts of systems, companies will continue to produce devices that erode our privacy through new technologies. Not on purpose, not because they're evil -- just because it's easier to ignore the externality than to worry about it.