Huckabee Versus Budweiser: Where's the media when you need them?

How many journalists are covering the Republican presidential candidates right now? Probably thousands. But how many have read what front-runner Mike Huckabee hath written? Apparently very few. For example I can't find anyone looking into his attack on Budweiser.

No, I'm not talking about dredging the distant past for lost sermons but a text he published last year: Character Makes a Difference: Where I'm From, Where I've Been, and What I Believe (Paperback, June, 2007).

The problem that Huckabee has with Budweiser is the way the company's advertisements play to the selfish nature of man, for according to Huckabee, "We are not basically good; rather, we are basically self-centered, look to ourselves first, and preserve ourselves first at all costs."

Amazing Audio Assistant: Free content in convenient format, no fees required

A lot of the Christmas shopping buzz this year has been about digital this and i-that. Unfortunately, a lot of these digital gizmos cost at least $100. Consider iphone and PSP and Wii and digital cameras, pdas, smart phones, and various mp3 players. Not much in this category for the under $50 crowd. But wait, what is that cool silhouette in the corner?

This is a very cool palm-size, hand-held gizmo that I found for under$30. It delivers a non-stop music stream or current news, for weeks on just 2 AA batteries, with no subscription fees. It has a built-in clock and an alarm and operates in multiple languages. It comes with cool ear buds plus a speaker that is actually built into the device, no external pieces or cables required. And the whole thing is totally wireless.

Our XO Arrives: ahead of [revised] schedule!

We got our order in on 11/24/07 and our unit arrived yesterday, 12/22/07. A bit of surprise because I got email from OLPC on 12/21/07 saying it would not arrive by 12/24/07. But hey, I'm not complaining. For more on shipping check out this blog.

The timing is a bit unfortunate because we are away for a few days and not there to enjoy it, but we have house sitters who promise to take good care of it until we return. Meanwhile, we can enjoy that warm glow of righteous giving all over the holidays, knowing that OLPC will be delivering our 'given' machine to children in either Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda. Yeah!

In the meantime, I am finding all sorts of XO resources popping up. There is One Laptop Per Child News. There is olpc dot com. And there is the OLPC Wiki. Puget Sound has perhaps the first XO User Group. I'm not rating these sites, yet, just listing them for you to check out.

OLPC Getting Closer

Can you do this with your laptop?The excitement is mounting for people who placed an order for the XO under the "Buy-one-get-one" program, previously blogged here. Shipments are now rolling and the wonderful folks at One Laptop Per Child are working round the clock (is it too twee or non-PC to say they are working "like elves"?) to get as many machines as possible shipped to North American customers by the 25th of this month.

If the Fedex truck does not roll up with your XO by then, it will likely arrive shortly thereafter. And if you haven't ordered one yet, and Santa doesn't bring you one, the Give One Get One program is now open through December 31.

I plan to post my review as soon as mine arrives [or the eggnog haze clears, whichever comes later :-)]. In the meantime there is an extensive look at the XO on the blog of veteran LISP programmer Bill Clementson.

Be of Good Cheer: Maria Bamford is here

Okay, so there's nothing particularly Christmassy about Maria Bamford, apart from the [maybe] green background in this pic. But I always feel the need for a good laugh over the holidays and this lady makes me laugh, a lot.

I just got her first audio CD, The Burning Bridges Tour, and it's a gas. Who can resist such gems as "Goddess of Little Lake Pequaym" and "The Pterodactyl Song"? The answer, apparently, is quite a few of my friends, who don't seem to find Maria as hilarious as I do. No mind, I can put on my headphones and guffaw insanely at this true original without scaring the dog too much.

I mean, who else could come up with "My father is really just a series of sound effects." And then proceed to do the sound effects, in a way that is frightening real, at least to this old geezer. However, I am prepared to accept that others might not 'get' this gorgeously amusing comic, so I have two links here that will get you to a bunch of video clips from which you can judge for yourself before you splurge on an album. They are Comedy Central and Maria's official site. Enjoy!

Rough on Romney or Religion? Tim Russert needs a broader perspective

Did you see Meet the Press? Am I the only one who thinks it is unfair to prod Mitt (Republican presidential hopeful) Romney about his religious beliefs? At least there should be some reciprocity. Today we had Tim Russert asking Romney "was it wrong for your faith to exclude [blacks from the priesthood]"? C'mon Tim, are you going to ask Roman Catholic candidates if it is wrong for their faith to continue their ban on women in the priesthood?

And I don't recall Russert, a commentator I normally admire, asking Candidate Lieberman if he was ashamed that his faith did not ordain women rabbis until 1972? For sadly there seems be a lingering institutionalized hypocrisy about religion and politics in America. The advert for America chould read

"We are the land of religious freedom!"
(Some restrictions may apply and your mileage may vary, especially if running for public office. Note that freedom of religion may be interpreted as freedom to chose between a select group of religions. Religion is not optional, non-believers need not apply. Women may be denied equal standing.)

PayPal Broken? It certainly isn't working for me right now.

PayPal LogoIs anyone else having a problem with missing or invalid transaction numbers in PayPal? Here's the situation:

I sent someone money via PayPal but the recipient cannot collect it because "the transaction ID is invalid or missing." The recipient cannot query PayPal about the problem because "the transaction ID is invalid or missing."

I contacted PayPal via the Help center email. No reply.

I called PayPal's 888 number. "Your wait time is expected to be longer than 20 minutes."

I tried the Dispute Resolution section of the PayPal web site but of course, I should have guessed, that won't work because: "This transaction cannot be disputed at this time. This is usually because the transaction has not yet been completed." You can't dispute a payment if the payment has not happened. The payment has not happened because the system somehow went wrong (it's not like I assigned the transaction number).

So, $150 left my account on December 8 and is still not in the payee's account. I have a Premier PayPal account and I have to say this is the first time this has happened, but it is very troubling. How could the transaction ID not be correct? That suggests a serious glitch. And why is the wait time impossibly long? Have there been a lot of glitches?

Maybe I should have just put a check in the mail. But wait, it's"The Holidays" so I doubt that would work any better.

SLAM Bam, Thank You Tony: Reading Nick Hornby's Latest Masterpiece

SLAM by Nick HornbyVery good article today in the Washington Post, about Nick Hornby and his new novel. The novel is SLAM and it is something of a sleeper because you probably won't see it in the regular novel section of your local bookstore. Why?

YA!

As in Young Adult, a category of book that book stores tend to shove in the back. That's right, SLAM is published as a Young Adult book. And while I can heartily recommend SLAM to any teenager looking for a good book to read, I can also recommend it, just as heartily, to adults; it definitely challenges the whole idea of categorizing novels. (Shouldn't Catcher in the Rye be YA?)

SLAM is a brilliant novel, regardless of how you categorize it, but I only knew about it because the YA section is on the way to bathroom in my local Barnes & Noble. Now I am recommending it to friends. It is a word of mouth winner, a hidden gem. (Especially if you have a lot of literary friends who don't got to the bathroom at B&N, you get a chance to say "Oh, you haven't read Hornby's latest?")

But seriously,

Love Man: Otis Redding, 1941-1967

Otis Redding 1941-1967Otis Redding died forty years ago today, on December 10, 1967, when his plane crashed during a storm en route to a concert in Madison. He was just 26 years old.

Not only did Otis bring joy to millions around the world with his music, he blazed a trail for independent black artists. He owned his own plane (so he would never miss a gig). He retained the rights to much of his material so that it would continue to provide for his family. Otis was devoted to his fans. We remain devoted to him. Thanks Otis, for all the songs you gave us, including:

  • Respect

  • These Arms Of Mine

  • Pain In My Heart

  • (Sittin' On The) Dock Of The Bay

  • I've Got Dreams To Remember

  • Love Man

  • Chained and Bound

  • That's How Strong My Love Is

  • Mr. Pitiful

  • I've Been Loving You Too Long

  • I Can't Turn You Loose

  • My Lover's Prayer

  • Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)

  • Shake

  • The Happy Song (Dum-Dum)

  • Stay in School

  • I'm Depending on You

  • Your One and Only Man


Thanks as well for the songs you made your own, with performances like "Try a Little Tenderness." Your music has become part of the sound track of our lives. It's hard to think of an artist whose recordings crop up in more movies than yours. Just one of the many ways you will always be with us.

Sad State of the Internet: Criminals on the attack

There is no longer any doubt that as Wired recently pointed out, the Internet has become a huge playground for criminal hackers out to make a buck, something that security professionals have been predicting for years. Consider the number of malware detections reported by F-Secure, not a company given to exageration. Number of malware detections

The total number of detections in the years prior to 2007: 250,000.

Total number at the end of 2007: 500,000.

In other words, it took just one year to double a number reached over a 20 year period.

F-Secure is quick to point out that most of the new malware detected were variants on past code: "Genuine innovation appears to be on the decline and is currently being replaced with volume and mass-produced kit malware."

However, there is not really much consolation or comfort in this. The research indicates that "while new techniques weren't developed—the existing techniques were refined and adapted for much greater effectiveness. There are some very dangerous faces in the big crowd."

As Seen on 60 Minutes: Go XO!

XO on 60 MinutesNice one CBS, a big plug for XO on this evening's edition of 60 minutes. Can't wait to get my hands on mine! I'm not going to put a live link to laptop.org in here because it looks like they are swamped with hits right now.

Stephen

p.s. Nice one Negroponte also, and Google, and other corporates who are helping out XO including T-Mobile USA (giving away a year of free access to its nearly 8,500 wireless Internet hotspots in the United States to G1G1 donors) and Electronic Arts (giving the original "SimCity" to OLPC to put on laptops for free).

Just in Time for Cyber Monday: XO give 1 get 1 + a grin that will last for years!

XO ComputerThat's right, for a limited time you can get your own XO laptop [great for your kids or your sister's kids or your own personal use or app dev work] AND a child somewhere in world who has no computer will also get one, courtesy of you. Plus you get a $200 tax deduction AND a year of free T-Mobile Hotspot access. Not to mention a warm sense of satisfaction that will last for years. Just click on the cool machine and DO IT!

UK Child Data Missing: Mother of all data cock-ups?

First let me say that the choice of words in not mine. Apparently it is okay--in the UK--to use the term "cock-up" in a daily newspaper, as in "the mother of all cock-ups that has left half of Britain vulnerable to identity theft." (The Daily Telegraph)

The quote is from an opinion column that summarizes the situation so far. The basic facts are this: Two unecrypted CDs have gone missing, handed to a courier service and never delivered, potentially exposing the names, addresses, dates of birth and National Insurance [Social Security] numbers of the entire UK government child benefit database (this includes the bank account details of more than seven million parents, guardians and carers). As the Washington Post and others point out, that means it could affect more than 40 percent of the British population.

Please note the word "could" because, despite an array of armagedon-style prognostications from pundits, this incident, which is the talk of the nation in the UK at the moment, is not...

Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop: And a great big grin!

Thanksgiving. Christmas. Time to give, thanks and gifts. Time to get. And this year the giving and getting has never been better for geeks. Why? The XO is here.

XO ComputerYes, Oh happy day! XO Day! For the XO is the little laptop that could, as in 'could change the world.'

Come on all of you geeks out there. Get back to the edge. Buy an XO! Forget Wii. Forget Xbox. Forget Playstation and Bezos' Brain Fart (a.k.a. the Kindle). What your soul really wants is the coolest tech gift this year AND a very special feeling, a way to feel good about yourself for years to come: righteousness! And you get that from getting the XO.

That's because the XO is the laptop designed and destined for the developing world, places where they need computers that work and work cheap. The XO is the embodiment of One Laptop per Child and until we reach that target, surely anything else is just a diversion?

And right now is THE time to buy. If you live in North America and buy before Christmas, laying out about $400, roughly the same price as you would for Bezos' electronic version of a paperback book, you can get your own XO, a totally cool and very unique machine, AND have one delivered to a child in a developing country who really needs one. BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE...

U. S. Sentencing Commission Considers Shortening Terms for Imprisoned Crack Offenders

Good article here on the debate about the U. S. Sentencing Commission considering shortening terms for imprisoned crack offenders. This may be the end of one of the most obvious forms of institutionalized racism in America. Consider this congressionally imposed rule:
"The mere possession of five grams of crack cocaine requires a court to impose a minimum term of five years' imprisonment, regardless of mitigating factors that may be present in the case. In contrast, the possession with intent to distribute 500 grams of powder cocaine is required to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum."

So white folks who do powder get to slide, while black folks who do crack get serious jail time. Hello? Crack IS cocaine. This is discrimination, pure and simple. The good news is that things may be changing. Too bad about all those families ripped apart by this late twentieth century incarnation of the Jim Crow mentality.

Intellectual Property Inanity: Genes, Surnames, Our Past

I've just finished reading Michael Crichton's Next, a hoot of a book that totally skewers the patenting of genes (along with a lot of other harmful trends in scientific and medical research). He makes a convincing case for ending the patenting of genes and a lot of other naturally occuring material. As the strangely inspired judge states toward the end of the book:

Another Dependable Author: Cruz Smith and Stalin's Ghost

Just got the latest Martin Cruz Smith novel: Stalin's Ghost. This is another in the Arkady Renko series and as good as any of the others, all the way back to Gorky Park. I don't know how Smith does it, but he captures the essence of Russia time and again, over time, as the country has emerged from the Cold War to its current state of nationalist resurgence.

Is the Russia that Smith describes the real Russia? Well, between the previous installment, Wolves Eat Dogs, and Stalin's Ghost, I was fortunate enough to spend about a week in Moscow. Everything I experienced there meshed perfectly with the Moscow that Arkady inhabits in this latest installment. (I only wish I had used the metro while I was there--you'll understand when you read the book).

So my guess is that all the other Arkady Renko novels are equally realistic. Each captures a part of the Russian reality, not the whole story, but enough to give you a lot more insight into the country and its people that many history books and documentaries. And they are enjoyable books, dependably tense, full of surprises, and the persistence of Arkady, a character who seems to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune despite himself and his utter lack of respect for [illegitimate] authority.

GWMO Saga: We make it to Nashville (promise we won't sing)

Tuesday morning was wait-and-see time in our Fairfield Inn hotel room in Centerville, Ohio. Waiting for the phone to ring and Jim, the service manager at Planet Ford, to say "Your vehicle is ready." Jim called before noon. He said the necessary belts had been ordered and we would be ready to go by about 5PM for an estimated $450. We took Jim at his word and checked out of the hotel. We headed to a nearby Starbucks. Layla wore her Service Dog outfit and behaved wonderfully, as usual.

Layla

We nursed several lattes and cappucinos for several hours. I finished reading the truly awesome 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Just as I have suspected for years, the Americas were full of people before they came into contact with Europeans, people who had been taking care of these two continents for centuries, from the woods of New England to the Amazon delta. Makes me very hesitant to call St. Augustine the oldest city without some serious qualifications.

Big Vehicles Need Bigger Vehicles

Truck recovery truckBefore buying the Great White Mobile Office, seen in the background of the picture above, and discussed at length in other posts, I had not really thought about the problems of recovering such vehicles when they go astray, or just won't go. This recovery vehicle was capable of lifting 80.000 points, a lot more than the 18,000 gross vehicle weight of the office. Operating one of these recovery trucks is obviously an art. And when you need one there is no substitute. So we were grateful to Sandy's Towing of Moraine/Dayton for sending one out so quickly, and to Richard, the operator, who came up with an ingenious solution to our immediate problem of how to get the GW to Planet Ford.

The [Great White Mobile] Office Saga: Part Deux, Ohio here I/we come

...we join the story in progress...Stephen has won the bidding on a 35 foot long mobile classroom that was up for sale on eBay, allegedly built in 1987, supposedly equipped with a 460 Ford engine , and less than 1800 miles on the clock. He plans to use it as an office in New York but first has to get the thing from Ohio to Florida where he will equip it...

Landed late in Columbus. Met by anxious Pastor Dan who drove me to the church parking lot in Urbana where the thing has been sitting. Looked it over best I could in the intermittent rain. Dan was keen to get to the Friday night high school football game that was in progress nearby [apparently attended by a huge crowd--cheers and band noise could easily be heard several miles away--the type of high school game where the ball is dropped from a helicopter].

I handed over a banker's check and...

Skybus Delivers: Cheap seats and relatively few hassles

Looking for the quickest and cheapest way to get from St. Augustine, Florida, to Columbus, Ohio? Skybus is answer. Could also be the answer if you are going between any two of these places:Skybus routes

Ten seats on every flight are sold for only $10. The rest cost more as plane fills up. I tried them out for the first time on Friday, to make the trip from Florida to Ohio to collect the Great White Office. I paid $90 including all fees, taxes, government surcharges, etc. That was at least $40 less than any other commercial flight I could find from Jacksonville, and this plane left from St Johns County airport just 3 miles and a cheap cab ride from my house, as opposed to 50 minutes and a $45 fare to JAX. To book...

The [Great White Mobile] Office Saga: An idea, an auction, a leap of faith

Once upon a time we lived in Florida and it was good. In fact, the living in Florida still is good. But a few years ago we found a magic valley in the North, in a state called New York, a hidden place peopled by cool folk and planted with many crops and trees. We bought a house on a hill there and it was good to visit. Then we thought, wouldn't it be nice to live here most of the time?

But there are some things lacking in our house on the hill, and I'm not just talking about no fibre optic net connection. There is no office space for my office stuff. There is a single car garage that would make a nice office but that would take a fair amount of professional contract work to convert, work I might not be there to oversee. So I thought, what about those offices they have on construction sites? And that's how we got into this...The [Great White] Mobile Office

UK Land Registry Axes Online Deeds

Good example of the downside of accessibility as UK Land Registry ends online access to deeds. Relates to something I long ago term the J. J. Gittes Dilemma, after the 1930s Los Angeles private detective immortalized by Jack Nicholson in the 1974 classic "Chinatown." It takes Jake Gittes several days and several beatings to uncover a land fraud which would--arguably--take just a few hours or even minutes to uncover on the Internet today. On the other hand, the expansion of freedom of access to 'public' records

One could argue, as I am inclined to do, that the need to access some records in person, or in writing, or through licensed channels, is not an undue hindrance to access. I have yet to find a single state official who can justify making details of my property ownership in Florida available to anyone, in any country, at any time, for any reason, with no fee, process of authorization, or record of access, which is the current state of affairs.

(I'm not even sure there are any state officials who realize that a. this is the state of affairs they have created and b. it is a problem.)

The Rose & Kettle: A great place to hang out

There are plenty of unique watering holes and eateries in the Cooperstown - Cherry Valley area, but perhaps none quite a special as the Rose and Kettle. Where else can you find great food, prepared by a rock star chef, served by an award-winning author, all to the sound of local musicians?

(On the left is Cherry-Valley singer Mike Hand performing with Cherry-Valley guitarist Carl Waldman.)

Clem Coleman works wonders in the kitchen (local grown treats like: Rosebrook Elk boneless eye o' the round roast with herb bread crumbs au jus; Gaia's Breath Farm organic pork shoulder roast cooked in Coca Cola, and the legendary Hanger Steak).

Front of house, Clem's wife Dana Spiotta keeps things welcoming and friendly (you'd never guess she has several novels under her belt, one of which won the 2006 National Book Award for fiction).

Spend an evening at the Rose and Kettle and you'll understand why it was voted Metroland's "Best Restaurant Worth a Drive" in 2007. Like many local institutions, the Roe and Kettle has fluctuating opening times, so to make sure you are not disappointed, check the blog before dropping by.

Blonde Faith: Why it's good to be able to trust an author

Just finished reading Walter Mosley's latest, Blonde Faith, and I wish I hadn't--finished that is. There are some authors who are so dependably good you just wish they'd write as fast as you can read, so you'd never be without one of their books. Almost all of my fiction reading is done just before I go to sleep and I look forward to that time as a reward for a hard day's work. If I don't have a dependable author to turn to, I get cranky and have a hard time falling asleep.

For me, Walter Mosley is one of the most dependable. Even though he has tried some very different genres over the years, I have enjoyed them all, from the spacey afro-youth novel "47" through the gritty tales of Socrates Fortlow to the darkness of "The Man in the Basement." For sheer enjoyment, the Paris Minton and Easy Rawlins series are the best and this is where Blonde Faith fits in. I don't want to give anything away, but this one could be a shocker for Easy fans. If you have not read any of the others in the series, don't start here, go for Devil in a Blue Dress. In fact, what I recommend--and literary purists are going to cringe at this--is first watch the movie of Devil in a Blue Dress then read the book. Why? Because then you will see Easy as Denzel Washington when you make your way through the rest of the series, and that really worked for me. Denzel Washington has the same wry smile of an angry soul that is so often an Easy's face.

And remember, with any Easy Rawlins novel you not only get night after night of suspense and intrigue and illicit sex, you also get a first rate education in what it felt like to grow up black in America in the forties and fifties (and probably the sixties through the nineties as well).

Brother Inkjet Issue Now on Blip.TV

Okay, finally found time to edit the video I make of the "empty" Brother ink cartridge and host it at blip.tv. Using a good digital kitchen scale it looks like at least 10% of the ink remains in the cartridge after the printer declares "cartridge empty" and refuses to print.

What Linguistic Neck?

In my last post I mentioned sticking my linguistic neck out. Then someone said "What linguistic neck?" Here's the rap:

Politics and Technology: Seldom a good match

People who were appalled to hear the Internet described as a system of tubes by the man in congress charged with overseeing said tubes may take some comfort in the fact that said man, Republican Senator Ted Stevens, is currently under investigation for corruption. But Democrats cannot claim to be great technologists either.

Consider the mess that politics is making of technology in the Democratic state of New York. Many Americans don't realize that New York state, when considered in terms of land use, is largely a rural state. In other words, most of the state is countryside, dotted with farms and populated at low densities. Many of these rural communities struggle to provide enough jobs at sufficient salary levels to prevent young people from moving away. There is considerable economic blight.

Technologists may look at this situation and see a chance for technology to come to the rescue.
Let's install broadband Internet access so higher paying tech jobs can be located in rural communities and the agricultural sector can reap the productivity benefits that come from Web 2.0 services. Great idea. Proven to work in numerous places around the world. Except that the free market does not like providing capital intensive technology to rural areas. The only reason that rural communities in America have phone services is a Federal program of subsidy to enable "Universal Service" (financed by a small charge on your monthly phone bill). But there is strong resistant among broadband providers (now mainly phone companies) to expanding that program by defining broadband as essential. See Universal Service.

But surely liberal New York state could do something about this, offer subsidies, lobby for access to FUS funds. But no. The state politicians are opposed to expanding FUS to cover broadband because a. New York might be a net loser of FUS funds and b. FUS broadband would be federal, available in all states, not just New York and "thus deprive New York of any advantages in might gain from having a state scheme to increase rural broadband access."

Now, are you ready for a big cynical dose of irony? There is no state scheme to increase rural broadband access. Why? Could it be because state officials and politicos have been feeding at the trough of the big telcos, companies that can't be bothered to serve those very communities through which they route their trunk lines to connect big cities, where there are large pools of customers?

One ironic twist in the teclo lobbying fandango is that they have been selling politicians [who think the Internet is a series of pipes, remember] on satellite Internet service as a way to fill the gap for rural areas. How altruistic is that? Let rural users eat broadband via satellite, hence there is no need for use to wire them. Except satellite is NOT competitive with wired broadband. So it is not altruistic at all. Telcos pushing satellite in rural areas is not a conflict of interest because satellite is a dead-end for serious broadband.

Why? Two words. Latency and cap. Satellite Internet users have a bandwidth cap. Even if you pay Hughes Net $199 per month they won't give you more than 450 megabytes of bandwidth per day. If you watch streaming video over broadband you can easily consume 60 megabytes an hour. Imagine a family of four. They each could watch a few hours of streaming video in a day. Boom, there goes your limit. And the consequences are dire if you exceed that limit. You are throttled back to a plain old dial-up pace of connectivity for the next 20 to 24 hours. And don't think this is just about unfairness to YouTube addicts. These days we get clients asking use to download hundreds of megabytes of code and documentation per day.

Then there is the latency. It renders VPN use almost impossible. And VPN is the single most important technology for enabling telecommuting from rural areas!

And we haven't even talked about what happens when you get bad weather (you get bad connections, dropped packets, total loss of connectivity, snail pace response times). Then there So, satellite is amazing technology, no doubt about that, but is not at all comparable to wired broadband.

So, what are rural users to do? I expect that some of them will organize and lobby. Others will simply build their own alternatives and, hopefully, deprive the telcos of revenue. If you light up the valley with WiFi, for example, you could steal a bunch of revenue from cell and land line providers. Maybe then those land line owners will be more appreciative of the folk of who allow them to run their fibre through their valley without bothering to give the locals a taste.

Covering Off the Coming of Words

One of the things I love about language is the emergence of new words and phrases. Recently my brother [who is more English than me, what with being born and raised and living there] started using the verb cover-off, as in "We need to cover off these items at our next meeting." And also, "I think all the important stuff has been covered off."

Thoughts Prompted by the Jena 6

I posted some thoughts about racism in America today over on the DNWA site.

These were prompted by the case of the Jena 6 and the fact, made evident by this case, that the form of institutionalized racism we are dealing with in America today is a lot harder to identify and target with clarity, particularly when compared with forms of racism that existed forty years ago. We need new strategies of protest and change-making, new ways of seeking justice and new alliances with which to advance them.

You don't have to spend much time dealing with the justice system to realize that there is considerable racial injustice. But at the end of the day it was a lot easier to rally the world to the cause of the Greensboro 4, jailed in 1960 for peacefully refusing to leave the Woolworth's lunch counter, than the Jena 6, jailed in 2007 for beating someone up.

Brother Ink Jet Ripoff: Class action coming

Here's an update on the the Brother inkjet ripoff, namely the fact that:

a. Cartridges are declared empty when there is still ink in them.
b. You can't print anything when any of the four cartridges are declared empty.

I have now documented this in two models and comments indicate others (mine are the MFC 3820CN and the MFC 420CN). I have also found a law firm that is considering a class action law suit.

Next step to post my video of this problem and the weight readings that indicate how much ink is left when Brother says the cartridge is empty (hint is more than 5%).
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Living in Fear of GPS: Sat-nav nightmares

As a species we like to think that technology holds the answer, that technology offers advantages. But does technology offer more advantages than drawbacks? I have always argued that technology itself is neutral. Whether or not the net effect of its development is positive depends upon its users, we humans.

Case in point: GPS. On a recent trip to Britain I found a phenomenon that illustrates my point rather well: sat-nav blight. This is the appearance of an increasing number of large vehicles in small towns due to lorry [truck] drivers using GPS devices that direct them on shortcuts which may, or may not, be appropriate. Here are some examples:

Sat nav leaves cheese truck stuck.
First 'ignore your sat nav' roadsigns go up.
Traffic analysis of heavy lorries on the B1078.
Sat-nav drivers land in deep water again.
End to sat-nav blight.

Sat-nav stories.

Dieselization? The devil's in the details

As a fan of diesels--the cleaner ultra, ultra, low sulfur diesels--I thought this was an interesting article on the dieselization of Europe, written circa July, 2007. Quote: "Europe has been moving towards a majority diesel fleet since the European Commission encouraged lower taxes on diesel fuel to encourage its spread at the pump. This is because diesel engines are more fuel efficient and therefore more economical burning less CO2."

This is the point at which some 'greens' will jump in and shout about diesel pollution and soot and carbon black, but I just don't buy the argument that Europeans are blindly killing themselves with diesel cars while states like California and New York are saving lives by preventing their residents from owning diesel cars. Just doesn't add up. Why aren't Calif-orkians pushing to ban all diesels, including semis, which are almost universally diesel? Probably because a. those trucks truck in many goods and foods that the Calif-orkians consume, and b. diesels really are more efficient and, overall, less polluting.

Furthermore, while it is possible to argue that a person who needs a car to get from A to B should choose an electric or hybrid over a diesel, it is NOT possible to argue that a person who needs to haul a couple of tons of stuff from A to B over hilly terrain should buy a hybrid, because there are no hybrids than can do that (yet?).

There is no escaping the fact that diesels extract more power from fuel than gasoline engines. You only have to compare the two on a hilly country road. A diesel can maintian speed with fewer revs and fewer downshifts than a gas engine of comparable displacement. It is simply more powerful. Articles and blog posts in the US that compare a big Mercedes sedan with a teeny gas or gas/hybrid car are missing the point, largely because they are written in the absence of small diesel cars for comparison. The big Mercedes is hauling around a lot more weight. The real comparison is the sort of small diesel family car people buy by the millions in Europe, regularly getting 50+ miles to the gallon (like the Citroen I bought in 1992--great performance, great handling, a smooth and quiet highway cruiser at better than 50 mpg).

That is why, according to PSA, the collective Peugeot and Citro├źn brand, "the percentage of the European fleet [18 EU countries including France, Germany and the UK] of new car registrations has risen from 22.3% in 1997 to 50.8% in 2006."

Note that the country with the highest percentage of diesel cars is France with 71.4% of new cars registered in 2006 being diesel (over 1.4 million). According to California green thinking, the French must be hell bent on mass suicide.

Steve Donnelly and the Soaring Seventies Guitar Solo

Last month's post about guitarist Steve Donnelly [Great Guitarists Never Die--My roomie from uni lives on] was perhaps a little too cryptic even for a blog post. So let me explain, Steve was my first year room mate at the University of Leeds. The day that I arrived at the flat, assigned to me by university housing, Steve was practicing on his Fender Telecaster, feet up on his Marshall amp, surrounded by every cup and mug in the place, all of which contained various amounts of coffee dregs (to his credit, Steve quickly rounded the mugs up and set about washing them).

The point is, he was a dedicated guitarist, even back then, and already very good. He had been playing the pub scene in London for several years and when he told me that Mick Fleetwood had asked him to be in the new line-up it was not hard to believe. But Steve found that being in a band has its downsides, like getting paid in relation to effort. So he does session work, paid for every hour of his time. Over the years he has developed a reputation as the go-to guy for great guitar work, appearing on albums by Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, John Wesley Harding, Nick Lowe, and Sheryl Crow. He was also a member of Suzanne Vega's stage band on the Nine Objects Of Desire tour.

One of Steve's specialties is the soaring seventies guitar solo and so when the late Brian Gibson decided to make a movie that revolves around a mythical seventies super-group, he turned to Steve for the guitar work, and the job of teaching actors to look like they are playing great guitar. The result was Still Crazy, a very enjoyable movie, particularly if you are a fan of Billy Connolly, Jimmy Nail, or the quietly brilliant Bill Nighy. In some reviews I have seen various musicians from Foreigner and Squeeze credited with the music, but there's no doubt Steve created the film's musical centerpiece: Brian's Theme. Check it out on Amazon.

We Are The Knights Who Say Ning?

I don't think of myself as easily impressed, so please check out this social networking site and see if you agree with me that it is awesome: ning.com.

I used this site to create a social network in about 15 minutes, complete with custom colors, video and audio uploading, slide show, forums, and membership invitations.

Did I miss something or is this not an amazing bargain (it's free) and a great leap forward for people who want create content rich communities to serve their needs?
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1-20-09 License Plate Says It All

January 20, 2009 is the last day that President Bush will be in office (barring any sweeping changes to, or suspension of, the Constitution).

I have it on a license plate on the front on my ride. A great parking lot conversation starter.

Q. "What's that mean on your license plate?"
A. "That's Bush's last day in office."

What happens next is interesting. Most often the person says something like "Can't come quick enough." So if you happen to think Bush is one of the worst American presidents ever, you have found a kindred spirit, without having to nail your colors to the mast. After all, if the person says "I'll be so sad to see him go" you can react accordingly.

Ding Dong Gonzales is Gone: But Bush continues to insult his critics

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has resigned. But President Mr Bush apparently thinks there was no reason for him to do so, saying Gonzales had been subjected to "months of unfair treatment" and that "his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

So Bush thinks that objecting to an AG who tries to strong-arm people who are in intensive care is unfair and political. Funny, it struck me as all about fairness and thus the opposite of political. I mean, Gonzales made me feel sorry for Ashcroft, a guy for whom I previously had little respect.
As reported by the Washington Post: "On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit...White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. [went] to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal...Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought."
I would say I am delighted that Gonzales is gone, but Bush is still there. He has the power to say who the next AG will be. After Ashcroft, a guy who lost a senate race to a dead man, Bush gave us Gonzales, who was so bad a lawyering I wouldn't have him defend me pro bono on a parking ticket. I dread to think who the next Bush AG will be.
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Penelope Draws Near: Prepare to beta test!

And now Penelope's time is drawing near! As of 8/9/2007 the first public beta was reported to be "a few weeks" from release. This release will be a great way for lovers of Eudora to pitch in and help the developers by providing feedback.

If you're not following any of this, check my previous posting on the retirement of the Eudora email client and the evolution of the Penelope replacement.

And some readers may be asking "Why all the fuss about Eudora?" Let me try to explain. As an email client Eudora is fast and efficient. It lets you filter messages into mailboxes very easily and it lets you search any or all of those boxes in a flash, using as many criteria as you can imagine. Furthermore, it stores all of your mail and attachments in a very logical manner. All attachments go in the Attachments folder. All messages for a particular box go into an indexed text file named after the box, readily readable in an ASCII editor. I cannot recall losing a single message in 15 years due to the program 'eating' it the way Outlook is apt to do. The simplicity of file structure lets me move Eudora from one machine to another (or to a new one) without any fuss.

Eudora also does a great job of not losing or scrambling messages when a connection is dropped mid-POP. And there is a very good Junk filter. And Eudora will check all my different addresses at once. I don't think there is anything else out there that does all of that. But if there is, please let me know. I can compare it to Penelope as she enters beta.

Bluetooth Turn On: Mystery solved for Sony Vaio SZ360P and others

Over the last 30 days or so I have been breaking in a new Sony VAIO. As I have done several times in the past, I purchased one of the not quite new models (in this case, the SZ360P). This strategy lets you get a pretty decent feature set and price without paying an excessive premium.

One of the reasons I chose this model is the built-in Bluetooth. I had a Bluetooth dongle that I used on my previous Sony VAIO, but the performance was quirky at best.

When I say breaking in, I mean the process whereby you remove all the built-in rubbish that you don't need and add the programs that you do need plus the data from your previous machine. (Yes, yes, I know, if I bought an Apple Macintosh I wouldn't have all this work to do, but that is a bit of us an over-simplification, as any truly honest Mac owner a would acknowledge.)

One of the things that annoys me on any Windows machine these days is the proliferation of icons in the tray in the bottom right-hand corner. In an effort to clean this up on the new machine I apparently removed a control for the Bluetooth radio. Little did I realize how difficult it would be to get my Bluetooth capability back. The past few days I have been experimenting with voice recognition software and was considering using a Bluetooth headset to do my dictation. When I came to mate the Bluetooth headset to my Sony VAIO I kept getting a message that a Bluetooth radio was not turned on. Seeing no switch by which to turn on the Bluetooth radio I was perplexed. I went online to find out if anybody else had this problem.

Isn't it wonderfully comforting to find other people posting messages about a problem? Apparently the Bluetooth radio switch is so non-obvious that some folks had been doubting whether or not their machine actually had Bluetooth installed.

So, in the hopes of helping anybody else who has questions about the Sony VAIO Bluetooth radio switch, the following pictures are posted, starting with the Vaio Central utility seen here (this can be accessed from the Start menu or the Vaio Support Central app.

Warning! Every Sony VAIO comes with a host of built-in utility programs which clog up the Start menu. I am in the habit of either removing these from the menu or bunching them all together in their own folder. In the past some of these utilities have turned out to be quite frivolous, however, the one that turns on the Bluetooth radio is quite essential, as there is no hardware switch to do this.

What you need is the Wireless Switch Settings. This brings up a dialog which is pretty obvious. If you "Enable the Bluetooth device" you turn on the Bluetooth radio. But it would help if it actually said that, and if the "Bluetooth settings" applet which you access from the Control Panel explained that.

Success in this endeavor is at least rewarded with a cool blue light on the keyboard, just above the mechanical switch that turns on/off the Wi-Fi radio. (I guess that one extra switch for the Bluetooth would have broken the design budget).

As you exist this dialog you are treated to another, which alerts you to the addition of the new icon in the taskbar. Despite my dislike for the clutter these icons create, I am leaving this one in place. Otherwise I might have to search my own blog for instructions on how to get it back.

Note: as with Bluetooth on other devices, it is a good idea to check your settings whenever you have Bluetooth active. You don't want your notebook to be discovered and access by an unauthorized user.
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Naturally Speaking I'm Blogging

This is my first attempt to write a blog posting using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I have only spent about an hour using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. So I don't think the program is fully trained yet. However, what the program is able to achieve so far is quite surprising. Everything that I have dictated up until this point, has been correct.

I am having slightly more trouble using the commands, however, they promise to be extremely useful, if for example, I am able to dictate a blog posting, copy it, then paste it into a blog post. At the moment, I am using the DragonPad application to do my dictation. It seems that the DragonPad is optimized for taking in spoken dictation. Later on I will try dictating directly into the blogger application.
The ideal situation would be to sit looking at the screen surfing the web with voice commands, and then using the Google toolbar to send webpages to my blog where I can add text and then post.
One of the things that I am interested in finding out is whether or not some of my recent reluctance to do typing is related to the pain it generates either immediately or after the fact. (Ever since the end of last year, my left shoulder and upper on inheriting during an off to typing.) Whether or not the pain has been a deterrent to typing, I am more determined than ever to pursue computed dictation as an input method for my writing.

I have tried this several times in the past, using previous editions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the main competitor, IBM ViaVoice. (Interesting to note, Dragon NaturallySpeaking very easily recognizes both its own name and that of IBM ViaVoice.) Each time, I eventually gave up.

In my recent reading about voice recognition software, which I can remember testing at least 10 years ago, I noticed that several people stressed the need to persist with a voice recognition program in order to get the best performance from it. Apparently, Dragon NaturallySpeaking continues to learn as you use the program. The more you use the program, the better it works. This added incentive may be enough to keep me going through some off the rough patches.

There are several surprising side effects to using voice recognition software. Personally, I am getting quite a kick out of making the computer do something with just my voice. Having something, albeit an inanimate object, obey my every come on, well it's just rather satisfying.

(Notice that in the last sentence I used the phrase "obey my every come on" but in fact what I said was obey my every command, so you can see that there are some interesting wrinkles to be worked out.)

To review, I have now dictated thus far with only one or two mistakes. Not bad for $89 (at Staples) with fairly comfortable headset included.
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Great Guitarists Never Die? My first year roomie fron uni lives on

One of the greatest guitarists of our time is someone you've probably never heard of, Steve Donnelly. Here he jams with another excellent player, Elliott Randall. Might seem a little slow to start with, but watch those fingers warm up, until Steve's pick goes flying!

Chey's Xtreme Flowers "Today's Best" on Zazzle

Chey's amazing image called Extreme Azalea's was selected as one of "Today's Best" on zazzle.com!

In fact, she has been getting a lot of favorable comments on her latest direction in digital imaging, taking her photographs of flowers and 'shredding' them into various levels of abstraction. Like Xtreme Sunflowers:

In-Fill Blogging: Ethical? Annoying? Who Cares?

I assume there are statistics out there that will back me up when I say most blogs drop off faster than most new Year resolutions. They start ambitiously, sustained by initial enthusiasm, then the posts start to falter. Periods of revival occur from time to time.

One reason I think/know this? I have started a lot of blogs that have fallen off the wagon, so to speak. This very blog right here...

Farewell Eudora, Hello Penelope: Your faihtful users await your email excellence

If I had more free time, like a lot more, I would consider having a farewell party for Eudora. Which Eudora? Not Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer prize winning author? No, Eudora the email program that was named after Welty thanks to her widely anthologized short story: Why I Live at the P.O.

I have used Eudora (a dialog from which can be seen above) as my main email client for about 15 years. I have faithfully paid for upgrade after upgrade, all the way to version 7. My Eudora email archives tell the story of my life for those 15 years. The version that I have used for the last few years has a superb search feature that lets me access just about any aspect of that past in a matter of seconds.

But alas, Eudora is no more. Or rather, there will be no new versions. From 1991 to 1996 the program was supported and improved by Qualcomm, the folks who make cell phones (nod if you find that as puzzling as I do). Along the way a sponsored version was developed and the latest version of that can still be found. But the paid version is no longer sold.

Thankfully, Qualcomm made the laudable decision not to simply ditch the code and strand loyal users. The company donated the code to the Mozilla Foundation. You can found out the latest at Penelope on MozillaWiki. That's right, the new name for Eudora is Penelope. And although Penelope is not quite ready yet, she is getting there.

Hence this posting. After all, the decision to hand the code to Mozilla was last year. The official end of Eudora paid edition was May of this year. But the fact that Eudora is evolving is still news to a lot of Eudora users. I mean, I am a heavy user and I only found out by accident when I went to the web site looking for a better understanding of the Junk Mail filter (yes, it has a pretty good junk mail filter as well as a great search feature).

I think there could be millions of people out there happily using some version of Eudora not realizing what has happened. So, fellow Eudorans, go the link above and bookmark it. Soon it will be time to test and perfect a successor.
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Electric Vans v. Internet Shopping

An interesting story in the London Sunday Times speculates about the effect of Internet shopping and resulting shopping delivery requirements.

I'm not sure I agree with the thesis that Internet shopping is pushing up carbon emissions, there are so many offsetting factors to consider. But I was impressed with the Smith Edison electric vans featured in the story. With a 3500 pound payload, 150 mile range, and 50 m.p.h. top speed, these vehicles could handle a large percentage of the local delivery duties in most countries.

Islamic Terrorism: The view from Scotland

The closer you are to acts of terror the more you tend to think about them. That can produce some useful insights. I happened to be in London in October 1992, standing a few hundred yards from where an IRA bomb went off in the Sussex Arms pub, with deadly consequences. That made me think very seriously about terrorism. For example, I like to point out to my fellow Americans that Britain never defeated the IRA, it was forced to craft a political solution.

Fast forward to July, 2007. My wife and I are in Scotland for a few days of rest and relaxation, just as the Scottish parliament opens and a Scot, Gordon Brown, takes over as prime minister of Great Britain from the very English Tony Blair. Then a Muslim man, who is not from England or Scotland, drives a Jeep full of explosive materials into Glasgow airport. Here are some observations:

1. The airport was re-opened less than 24 hours after the attack, a very British response to terrorists: Don't let them change your way of life.

2. Within 2 days of the attack some Scottish Nationalist politicians were publicly speculating as to whether Scotland would be safer if it seceded from the rest of Britain (the SNP has historically opposed the war).

3. In Gordon Brown's first speech to parliament he suggested a change to the British constitution that would shift power to declare war [or not] to parliament. Such a change could have prevented Blair from going to war in Iraq [given that 80% of the British population were opposed to that war].

No wonder Bush looked so sad to see Blair go. It is clear that a lot of people in the UK think the terrorist acts committed by Muslims in the UK are a result of the UK's support of the Iraq war. In other words, they see a connection between acts of terrorism and the acts of other players on the global stage.

Of course, Bush might be consoled by the fact that Tony Blair's wife is no longer "the wife of the Prime Minister." Cherie Blair has frequently been at odds with the official Bush/Blaire doctrine, for example:

The prime minister's wife, Cherie Blair, was last night forced to apologise after she acknowledged that Palestinian suicide bombers may be driven by a lack of hope about their future. On a personal appearance with Queen Rania of Jordon, Mrs Blair told reporters: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress." Guardian, June 19, 2002
and
Cherie Blair has criticised the policies of the US President George W Bush, attacking his stance on terrorist prisoners and gay rights. Scotsman, October 31, 2004

Google Bug Mis-categorizes Users: The joys of bear-beiting

You wouldn't know it from where you sit, but I am writing this post in German. I can demonstrate what I mean with an image:

I am actually writing this post in Scotland and I don't sprechen Sie Deutsch. So why are the Blogger menu items in German? The answer is a bug in Google's slightly too clever system for presenting users with geo-appropriate versions of itself and its applications. I first noticed this when visiting England earlier this year. One of my browsers has google.com set as the home page but clicking the Home button in that browser took me to google.co.uk. You might not think that is a problem, but when you search for something like a Sony Viao via google.co.uk you get offered the best deals on Vaios in the UK, which is not what you want if you live in the US and plan to buy your Vaio there (for one thing laptops generally more expensive in the UK, and for another, their keyboards are significantly different from US models).

However, getting the UK version of Google is a relatively minor inconvenience compared to getting the German version, which is what has been happening on my trip to Scotland. And it is not just Google search that is in German. All the Google apps, including Blogger, are in German and so far I have not found a way to 'make' Google sprechen Sie Englisch. What I have found is one explanation for this problem: Google uses the location of the ISP by which you are connecting to the Internet to determine what country you are in. Google then uses the language of that country in its menus. (What Google does in multi-lingual countries like Belgium and Canada I don't know.)

But how does this ISP-language link explain German Google appearing in Scotland? A quick traceroute showed that the ISP used by the hotel at which I am staying is based in Germany. They have a UK company but apparently the main servers are registered in Germany. Apparently the coders at Google had not considered that possibility.

The whole thing is a great example of the huge difference between physical categories and digital categories. Categorizing physical things is challenging. Read David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous and you realize how tough (for example, I had no idea there were two kinds of indexing specialists known as lumpers and splitters).

Weinberger ably demonstrates that one of the wonders of the web is the way it can break down categories. Search for a book at Amazon or anything on Google and the results will display its many facets. Search for "cycle" and you will see what I mean. Cycles of all kinds pop up: life, the sea, pedal bicycles, motorcycles, and so on. And your media choices include data, images, news, blog posts, etc. However, when you connect to the web you do so from a physical location. Google determines and categorizes that location for you, but not always accurately.

This whole Scottish-German experience has been quite educational. I think I might have found a new way to teach foreign languages. When you use a foreign version of a program that you know well, like Blogger in this case, you quickly recognize and translate foreign words, such as bearbeiten, which means edit. Actually, I'm rather partial to bearbeiten. Sounds much more exciting. Honey, I'll be there in a minute, I just have to do some quick bear biting.
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Army Gets Big Boost in Safer Vehicles: Too much, too late

The US Army is placing rush orders for up to seven times more specially designed armored vehicles to help protect troops in Iraq in a move that could cost more than $20 billion. The vehicles are MRAPs, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

The decision to order up to 17,770 MRAPs for the Army comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made the vehicle the Pentagon's top priority. "The MRAP's V-shaped hull and raised chassis are up to four times safer against the top threat to U.S. troops in Iraq — improvised explosive devices, or IEDs."

How could any true patriot argue dispute the virtue of the Army getting a big boost in safer vehicles? Well, consider:

1. By the time the vehicles are built and deployed in Iraq, America might not be in Iraq.

2. The MRAPs will only escalate the conflict (they are already vulnerable to newer devices being deployed against them).

3. You cannot defeat terrorists by upping the weaponry.

4. You cannot solve a problem today by spending today. The time to provide these vehicles was 2003 when we sent in the troops. Or 2005 when they were urgently requested.

Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that our armed forces should get the best possible equipment to do their dangerous jobs as safely as possible. But it is a bit late for that in Iraq. The whole invasion was a blunder and surely the best course of action now is to retreat and conserve resources, physical and fiscal.
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Charge Bush With Contempt? Go Leahy

Senator Leahy, not exactly a political hot-head, said on Sunday that he may seek a charge of contempt against President Bush. The contempt charge could come into play if the White House continues to withhold documents pertaining to the firing of US attorneys. Read on in the article and you see that contempt could also be in the cards with respect to the domestic eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency.

Pulling Back the Curtain on Cheney: Not a pretty sight

Fine Concord Monitor article pulls back the curtain on Cheney. Pulls together a lot of emerging themes, like John Ashcroft actually being a good guy relative to Cheney. Documents what has to be the most "un-open" administration in US history. To follow a thread from my previous post about emails, this administration seems to have flaunted the law like no other:
"Given the heavy reliance by White House officials on RNC email accounts, the high rank of the White House officials involved and the large quantity of missing emails, the potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive." -- Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for the US Congress

Is Everything Miscellaneous? It often feels that way

Do you have a hard time fitting your life into categories? Is it hard to separate work from play, office from home, partying from networking, the obviously relevant from the maybe someday relevant? If so, fear not, apparently you are not alone. For a start, there's me. I'm with you. For several years now it has been getting harder for me to categorize things. At first I thought it was a lack of mental discipline, or laziness, or maybe even the onset of old age.
(Quick, before I forget, an aside about old age and forgetfulness: I recently told my mother that I was concerned because, since I turned fifty, I seem to be forgetting more things. My mother, who is nearly eighty, replied: "Don't be silly, I used to forget loads of things when I was only twenty.)
But this category problem, this blurring of the lines, turns out to be a trend, a sign of the times, as described and discussed is the book Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto and a Harvard professor with a doctorate in philosophy (but a cheerful way of writing very accessible prose nonetheless). Here's some of the blurb from the book:
Human beings are information omnivores: we are constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing data. But today, the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place--the physical world demanded it--but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.
And everything includes us. Or at least me. Think about it like this: Try answering the following three questions with a single word:

1. Where are you from?
2. What do you do?
3. Where do you work?

Some people can, but many cannot. My Dad could: Coventry/Engineer/Dunlop. I cannot. As regards question one: I was born and raised in England, but that included a spell in Canada and I have now lived in America for longer than I lived in England. I live in Florida now but also spend quite a bit of time in New York. I lived for more than five years in Scotland (which is different from England) and another five years in San Francisco (which is different from everywhere).

Question two: What I do is information security consulting, and privacy consulting, and film producing, and real estate development, but mainly what I do is write.

Question three: Where I do this stuff is all over. Mainly my office at home but sometimes at a client's office and basically anywhere there is power and bandwidth, which includes planes and trains and automobiles, which are not anywhere but somewhere between two wheres.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying my life is cooler than my Dad's. And I'm exaggerating a little to make my case. My Dad led a very interesting life, having served as an engineer in the Royal Navy during and after World War Two. He worked in Canada and 'the States' for several years before settling in at Dunlop in Coventry (but always as an engineer). And he was exploring new options (in engineering) when his life was tragically cut short at 50. However, I think you get my point. And his father could easily have supplied one word answers, as could my maternal grandfather.

But wait a minute, is this 'personal miscellanitude' merely or solely a result of things going digital? What about increased educational opportunities, fewer borders, greater social and physical mobility, cheap air fares? These have all played a part, as have changes in the workplace ethos, like big companies undermining job security and some of them screwing employees out of pensions (my mother still gets a widow's pension check every month from Dunlop but I know a number of people my age who have already lost pensions).

What I think is happening is that forces at play in the physical world are complementing the effect of digitalization. Infinite varieties of order, individualization of world view, these are possible in the digital world and they are reflected in the real world. If this sounds vaguely familiar from philosophy classes, think Hegel and his use of the term 'reflection.' The digital world initially reflects the physical but evolves according to its own internal reason. And the physical world takes on aspects of the digital, at least in our perception of the physical. It is at least worth considering that we are "being digital" when we feel like previously unrelated things in fact go well together or previously related things have no compelling reason to stay that way.
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About Brad Pitt and You: Search engine trick barks up wrong tree

Pursuing my obsession with search engines [and myself] led me to enter my name into dogpile, self-described as "all the best search engines piled into one." In other words a so-called meta-search engine that pulls results from other search engines. What I found was quite interesting and applies to everyone, so you might want to try it. Go to dogpile.com and search for your exact name plus any other person, like Brad Pitt, or a place, or a thing. As an example, I put this in the search box:

"Fred Whassaname" gold

The first result from that search is a sponsored one. The second result from that search or any other search that follows the name/gold pattern, is a page at About.com that is headed "Gold Jewelry - How to Buy Gold Jewelry." The URL of this result is:
holidays.about.com/od/fashion/a/gold_jewelry.htm.

When you go to this page via the above search you will not find any mention of Fred in the text of the page, but if you search the source code of the page you will see an interesting trick at the bottom, an html IMG SCR tag that points to page at the New York Times, a page with the name in it:

http://up.nytimes.com/?d=1/&g=T&h=76NFF02820kA
012J&hs=76NFF02820kA012J&t=2&r=http%3a%2f%2fww
w%2edogpile%2ecom%2finfo%2edogpl%2fsearch%2fweb%2f
%25252522Fred%25252BWhassaname%25252522%25252Bgold
%2f1%2f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d
%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%
2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d
%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f417%2ftop%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f1&u=http%
3A%2F%2Fholidays%2eabout%2ecom%2fod%2ffashion%2fa%
2fgold%5fjewelry%2ehtm


In other words, the New York Times, which owns About.com, makes up pages on the fly, just to meet your search criteria. Making things up is not what one would expect from the New York Times, not after it got rid of those plagiarizing journalists. And one consequence of this nasty little search hack is that you can enter your name together with that of your favorite movie star and get a bunch of hits that appear to link you with that person. But it also means you can get a bunch of hits off:

"Fred Whassaname" felon

This raises the possibility that someone could conclude, if they just go by the number of hits, that poor Fred is a felon. There's no basis for this and somehow it just feels wrong.
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Storm Over Missing White House Email: But will anyone be held accountable

A White House spokesman had stated that only a handful of people were using Republican Party email accounts to conduct government business, but the number has now risen to 88.
Over 50 [of these 88] have no email records at all and there are only 130 emails from Karl Rove during President Bush's first term and none before November 2003 [even though] the Presidential Records Act requires the recording of any communication used in governing [but Bush White House] officials bypassed this by using email accounts set up and run by the Republican Party.
So much for an "open society" any time soon.

In Corporations We Trust ? Not!

An interesting piece by Paul Brown in the New York Times today suggests that "maybe senior executives really do not have a clue." He reports that a study in the McKinsey Quarterly, the business journal of McKinsey & Company, found “a trust gap between consumers and global corporations, as well as a lack of understanding among business leaders about what consumers really expect from companies.”

As an example he cites the finding that, while 68 percent of executives said that large corporations made a “generally” or “somewhat” positive contribution to the public good, fewer than half (48 percent) of consumers worldwide agreed. The number was just 40 percent in the United States.

The study also found--no surprise here as far as I'm concerned--that executives were out of touch with people. For example, when asked what three concerns would be most important to them over the next five years, “Executives predicted consumers would put job losses and offshoring first, followed by privacy and data security, and the environment...[whereas]...almost half of the consumers picked environmental issues, followed by pension and other retirement benefits, and health care.”

I wonder how the average annual compensation of the 4,000 global business executives interviewed for the survey compared to that of the 4,000 consumers they failed to understand. So, when asked to rank different institutions in terms of being trusted to act in the best interest of society, consumers not surprisingly placed large global corporations below all the other choices, including nongovernmental organizations, small regional companies, the United Nations, labor unions, the media.

I bet those global corporate executives are crying all the way to the bank [off-shore no doubt, in the corporate Gulfstream probably].
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Electric Ferrari? No, but this electric beat a Ferrari

As a lifelong EV fan I just love watching these two videos:

The electric car beats the Ferrari and the Porsche
The electric car beats the Lamborghini and the NASCAR

Even when you set aside the mega-geek factor and the bragging rights, I believe fast and powerful electric cars and trucks are the way to change the American perception of EVs for the better.

For the record, my first ride in an EV was 1971, before some readers of this page were born, and it was not a demo or a prototype. It was a commercial vehicle in daily use, a British milk delivery truck to be exact (you may have a hard time finding info specific to these EVs on the web unless you to know that the Brit term for them is "milk float"). Being a 'milkman' was a great way to earn money between high school and university and I was in good company (Sean Connery worked as a milkman in Edinburgh, although he drove a horse-drawn cart, not an electric 'float').

In techno-speak and biz-think, the role of the electric milk float meshes perfectly with the traditional characteristics of an electric vehicle. The range was 30 miles, plenty for the inner city delivery route I covered. The speed topped out at 30 mph, the highest speed limit of any of the roads on the route. The float pictured on the right is pretty much the same as the one I drove. It is even in the livery of the Unigate company, the same dairy I worked for, owned by food giant Unilever. The image is from the amazing milkfloats.org.uk web site. Amazing because yes, there is a whole web site devoted to these vehicles.

The awesome torque of electric motors was perfectly suited to getting a loaded truck off the mark and up to speed in a hurry. The crates back then were metal. The milk bottles were glass, and a full load of 750 Imperial pints weighed, well, it weighed a whole...a big...well a heck of a lot (if anyone happens to know how much, I'd love to hear from them). The point about the weight is, heavy loads are easy for an electric motor to handle (as most EV fans know, electric motors drive locomotives and cruises ships). Furthermore, the weight declined during the seven to eight hours that I spent dropping off full milk bottles and picking up empties, even as the batteries were being discharged. Back at the depot I would plug it in to recharge in overnight and it would be ready to go the next morning.

Remember folks, those EVs have been working like that, efficiently and pollution-free, since the 1960s. This was not a reaction to the oil crisis of the 1970s. What do you bet that more than 80 percent of all U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicles fit the 30/30 operational parameters of that old milk wagon? We could have had four decades of great gas-saving and emission-reduction from the postal service rather than a sweetheart deal for a petroleum-based government contractor (Grumman seems to make most of the postal vans I see in Florida--and I think the USPS ordered them in 1986).

China Sentences Former Drug Regulator to Death: Accountability indeed

China’s former top drug regulator has been sentenced to death for taking bribes to approve untested medicines. This was announced as the country’s main quality control agency started its first recall system targeting unsafe food products.

One can't help but wonder if there is something America can learn here about accountability. We see Bush appointees departng office, after making dismal and disastrous decisions, loaded with medals on their chests and cheered by pats on their backs. In contrast, the Chinese are executing a public official for taking bribes. A meaner spirited person than I might be tempted to wonder just how many people would be left alive in the White House if we applied the same rule here.

Money Handling Lags Behind Technology [in big chunks]

Finally, on 5/22, I got the payment through for cobb.com, sold 8 days earlier. As I suspected, the buyer has positioned the domain as a parking site. Whether or not the owners will now try to sell it to a "Cobb" business, I don't know. I contacted as many of those as I could ahead of the auction and they we obviously outbid by the new owner.

The length of time it took to complete the transaction was surprisingly long. What we have right now in the transaction field is a strange mix of models and technologies. Some transactions seem fast. For example, deposits to, and debit purchases from, my Bank of XXXX account seem almost immediate, although the 'posting cycle' may not match always match what you see when monitoring online. Paypal seems to happen fast and top-ups from my bank account are pretty quick.

But try moving a lot of money and things slow down. When you go from moving hundreds of dollars to shifting thousands, your choices start shrinking. At the same time, confidence in the system and trust in the customer seems to decline (as anyone who has heard the dreaded words come through the drive-thru speaker: "There'll be a hold on these funds").

As with all things commerce-related, it's all about trust and so far there is little evidence that the new forms of trust enabled by technology have outpaced the new forms of trust-abuse, a.k.a. fraud, that technology has engendered.

Anyway, cobb.com has gone, long live cobbsblog.com!

The Intuitive Interface Myth: The fault of gurus and experts

Okay, so I am officially fed up with the notion that graphical user interfaces are "intuitive" and "easy to use." There is nothing inherently intuitive or easy in a GUI. It all comes down to the design. Moving a mouse pointer over an icon and clicking it may look cool, may feel cool, but how easy is it for the average person? The answer depends on a variety of factors, like hand eye coordination and icon design. Half the time my screen has a bunch of icons on it the meaning of which is less than obvious. In other words, I have to learn what the icon means, I cannot simply intuit the meaning. Surely a word would be better? Yes, I know that you can turn on words for some icons, but this is inconsistent between applications and operating systems. And when you get to the web all bets are off. Some sites underline links, others don't. Some use rollovers, others don't. The same function is given different names on different sites, and so on and so forth.

How did we arrive at this situation, where computers and software are designed with interfaces that are non-obvious? Obstacles and not enablers? There are several parties to blame. Let's start with the industry giants and the wars between them that did not help (a great case study for MBA students--how the free market influences interface design--does the iPod dominate MP3 players due to interface? Did the windows wars between Apple and Microsoft help or hinder the interface evolution?).

Competition is great for some things, but when companies get fixated with one-upping the competition (in order to sell more product) there is a tendency to force software and hardware developers to add bells and whistles and do things different, even when an unadorned standard config is working fine. There is a whole book in this phenomenon, but consider one example, an interface issue that may well be the single greatest cause of lost productivity in the late nineties and early oughties (or whatever this current decade is called).

I'm talking about the way File Save works. Back in the old days, somewhere between the Pterodactyls and the 386 chip, it was "standard" for the File Save command to require confirmation, much the same way that the File Save As command does today. Suppose you had opened up the spreadsheet of weekly sales figures and updated them. When you selected File Save the spreadsheet application would ask you: Yes or No? The reason for this was obvious: You might want both versions of the spreadsheet, the one that you opened and the edited one . The latter might be very different. For example, the original might be the Megabank proposal which you had edited to become the Ultrabank proposal. You might have deleted a lot of information from the original on the way to the new version.

Obviously the File Save As command is for just such situations, but if there was one instruction that was drummed into the brains of early adopters of PC technology, back in the days when they were prone to disk crashes and brownouts and OS flakiness, it was this: Save now and save often. At that time, saving was not a destructive process. But it became one. And the Apple Mac was where it started. The Mac introduced "File Save with no overwrite confirmation." This meant you could have a problem if you opened a 10 page report, spent an hour re-writing the last 5 pages, hit File Save, then changed your mind about the changes. Even worse, open the document, perform Select All , Cut, File Save, and think about what happens if the machine hiccups before you Paste.

In all these scenarios there were workarounds that prevented them from being problematic, but they required a significant change in work flow. And for what? To make it easier to save work, a goal not necessarily accomplished without some hard lessons and tough data losses in the interim. Arguably things got worse when Microsoft Windows apps aped this style of File Save. (I well recall long distance arguments as a beta-tester with Borland as it struggled to choose the file save style for Quattro Pro--go with the new Excel/Mac "overwrite" style or stick with the traditional "confirm overwrite" style of Lotus 1-2-3.)

Windows aspired to be like Mac only different. That led to several File Save issues. One of the benefits of a graphical OS is the ability to convey more information in the same space. For example, an application could show if File Save was necessary by graying out and disabling the File Save command when the version of the document in memory was the same as that stored on the hard drive. But that feature has never been implemented consistently. That's a pity because it is really handy to know if changes have been made. Consider the task of editing a large image where the File Save command can take a long time to execute; performing unnecessary file saves in this situation is a real waste of time. The Canvas graphics program is one application that conforms to the "gray=saved" convention.

The current "saved" status of a document is particularly important when you are dealing with files that exist in two places, such as a web site you are editing locally before uploading. Fittingly, Dreamweaver MX is another app that uses the "gray=saved" convention.

I like the "gray=saved" convention but like a lot of interface conventions one cannot rely on it being there across apps or platforms. Why is this a problem? Because better and more consistent interfaces improve productivity and safety. We're all familiar with steering wheels. They allow us to jump behind the wheel of any car and navigate through traffic with a high level of expectation of success. They are a convention that car makers mess with at their peril, however much they want to "out-innovate" or "one-up" the competition. And we don't teach our kids to drive cars by telling them clockwise for starboard, anti-clockwise for port, because those are not the conventions used in driving cars. Port and starboard are for boats, where steering is sometimes a matter of push the tiller right to go left and so on. But in the early days of automobiles, some used tillers. Most people agree the wheel thing was a step forward and it has been the automotive interface standard for navigation for nearly a century. Maybe computers could use a similar period of interface standardization and stability.
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