Lore Sjoberg provides you with an easy checklist to discover how bad your addiction may be:
If the ancient Egyptians had the internet, there would have been 11 plagues in Exodus, with “unreliable DSL” tucked in between the frogs and the lice.
It’s a pain when your DSL goes down, but the bright side is that it gives you a chance to rate yourself on the Internet Dependency Scale. Just compare your actions to those listed below and you’ll know what sort of pathetic digital symbiont you really are.
Stage 1 Internet Dependency
Immediate reaction: Check the wires, see if you can steal a neighbor’s Wi-Fi, then get up and do something else.
What you do while waiting for the connection to come back: Read a book, watch a movie, go for a walk. Is this a trick question?
If it doesn’t come back in an hour: Call your service provider, then go back to whatever you were doing.
United Airlines has a public image problem, and they've made it worse by their less-than-scintillating performance in response to the Sons of Maxwell video "United Breaks Guitars":
Besides being genuinely funny, it's a great example of viral revenge, the flip side of viral marketing. The video accompanies a song by the band Sons of Maxwell that describes how United Air Lines' baggage handlers carelessly treated band members' checked instruments. A valuable guitar belonging to band leader Dave Carroll was broken. For over a year, United repeatedly declined his requests for compensation.
That's when the band turned to social media for revenge, posting its complaint on YouTube. United Breaks Guitars has a catchy tune, clever lyrics and memorable images. The video has gone viral and broken the band out of relative anonymity. After only three days, it had almost 1.5 million views and 10,000 comments, virtually all siding with the band. The story was picked up by CNN, NPR and CBS.
Faced with this social media juggernaut, United dropped the ball. It issued a single tweet stating, "This has struck a chord w/us and we've contacted him directly to make it right." So far, the company hasn't posted a response on YouTube or its own Web site. Dave Carroll knows how to take full advantage of the power of social media. United doesn't, and the cost is a PR nightmare.
Viral marketing was one of the innovations that corporations were initially well-positioned to take advantage of: they had the technology, the connections, and the money to push something into the public consciousness, yet leave a question in the public mind. Now that the tools are available to literally everyone with an internet connection, the corporate advantage has vaporized . . . in fact, the advantage is now clearly with the individuals or small groups, who don't need corporate approval to go ahead with their plans. A corporation, like United Airlines, is unable to move fast enough to keep up with guerilla marketing as conducted by people like the Sons of Maxwell.
Viral revenge is powerful. If your own organization faces a PR nightmare in social media, don't fall prey to a "Least said, soonest mended" mind-set. Not when profits are down and competition is high. Respond quickly and effectively, or be prepared to face the music. Over 3 million times, and counting.
Stepping out of the Matrix back-story and moving to replace the human soldier, the EATR:
A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies.
Robotic Technology Inc.'s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that's right, "EATR" — "can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable," reads the company's Web site.
That "biomass" and "other organically-based energy sources" wouldn't necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they'd be plentiful in a war zone.
Just a tad creepy . . .
H/T to Alex Haropulos for the link.
Rather a bold claim, but Aidan Malley makes some good points:
Analyst Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research likens the relationship between Apple and AT&T as that between the former and music labels dating as far back as 2001, when Apple first had to ingratiate itself with labels as it incorporated music CD ripping into iTunes. Apple at first won important concessions and praise from its partners, only for them to regret it later as the iPod maker's popularity left these companies at the supposedly smaller company's mercy.
[. . .]
The attack is such that Apple has all but taken control of the partnership, according to the analyst. Now, the Cupertino company has "radically tilted" the normal balance of power against AT&T and cellular networks as a whole. If Apple preferred another carrier, many iPhone owners would switch to preserve the experience they already have; an incentive that forces carriers to keep the handset maker happy. At times, though, it also has the caustic effect of suggesting an conspiracy at the carrier to limit useful services, such as voice over IP calls, when cost or technical reasons are the real motivators.
And while the US government may be close to investigating exclusivity deals as possibly anti-competitive, Moffett argues that Apple's presence in the marketplace has actually helped competition by forcing companies to keep reasonable service rates and let apps dictate business rather than network services. Government intervention could paradoxically hurt the industry by telling providers how much they could discount a phone and hardware developers which networks they would have to support.
I'd have to say he's absolutely correct with the point on user loyalty . . . if Rogers stopped supporting the iPhone, I'd be moving my business to whoever took it over from Rogers. I'm certain that this is true of the vast majority of iPhone users. I was Bell customer for a long time, but the iPhone was enough inducement for me to switch cell phone companies.
That's a pretty big club for Apple to use to get its own way in any negotiations with cell phone companies.
While I enjoyed my visit and tour of Monticello, back in 2006, I didn't get the full story. Wired tries to rectify that problem:
Thomas Jefferson loved new technology and modding his surroundings to his lifestyle. From food to comfort to efficiency, he was always looking for ways to improve his living space with inventions and hacks. If he were alive today, we like to think he’d be reading Wired.
Jefferson thought of his house, Monticello, as a machine for living. As such, it contains many insights into how a DIY gear-nut of today might have fared in the 18th Century.
“I would argue we are trying to debunk the madman-genius, nutty-professor image of Thomas Jefferson,” said Monticello curator Elizabeth Chew. “He is someone who was trying to adapt the latest technology in every realm of existence: science, how the house functions, in the garden. He is trying to put into use new ideas.”
Craig Zeni sent along this useful link, which allows you to check the results of a search sent to both Bing and Google (so far, in my tests, Google is the hands-down winner): http://www.bing-vs-google.com/.
With all the unending uproar about how Grand Gears of BioDoomShockWar encourages violence and anti-social behaviour among boys, games for girls have been travelling under the radar. No longer:
Ridiculous Life Lessons From New Girl Games
Some parents worry that videogames might cause their children to become violent and antisocial, but what if the opposite were true? What if games could make kids exceedingly likable and fashionable?
A wave of new games for tween girls seeks to do just that, serving up innocuous gameplay designed to let players become perfect little princesses. Aimed at that lucrative, Hannah Montana-fueled intersection of childhood and adolescence, these games might give 8- to 12-year-olds their first experiences with fashion, make-up, popularity . . . even boys.
The weird thing is that you can view these "wholesome" games as being just as bad for girls as Grand Theft Auto’s random bloodshed and rampant criminality is for young, impressionable boys. And while GTA's influence on boys has been dissected to death, what about the Nintendo DS’ upcoming avalanche of games for tween girls? What kinds of values do preteens learn from these titles? Valuable life lessons, or bad habits?
Just for the record, I think kids are far more resilient than either class of critic can imagine. Playing a violent video game does not, in my experience, turn youngsters into nihilistic killers, nor would I expect girls to turn into proto-Stepford Wives after playing one of these "girly" games. Kids who have pre-existing problems may find more than just entertainment value in games, but (as with so many other "problems"), depriving everyone of the opportunity just to keep some people away from it isn't the answer . . . nor — if our collective long experiences with prohibiting drugs, sex, alcohol, and risky behaviour of all kinds — will it be any more successful.
Ronald Bailey looks at some interesting ideas on possible similiarities between the D.C. Metro train collision in June and the recent Airbus crashes . . . lead-free solder:
Over at DC Metblogs, contributor TONIGM speculates about a possible source for the problem - tin whiskers. As he explains:
When people first started building electric circuits, they used tin metal to solder the interconnections between the copper bits. It wasn’t long before they noticed the tin would get “furry”, growing spiky whiskers as the part was used. These spikes could grow long enough to short out the circuits, and then were so weak that they would break off right after doing so. A smart metallurgist figured out that adding a small amount of lead to the tin alloy stopped this behavior.
[. . .]
So yesterday, I dropped a note to one of my expert friends, who agreed with me that the circuitry in the Metro replacement part, more likely than not, contained lead-free solder. And then, he pointed out the likelihood that the latest Airbus crashes had lead-free solder components in their flight controls.
Could the Metro crash have been causeed by yet another unintended consequence of zealous regulation? We'll see what the investigators determine.
That's a disturbing thought, as we've grown more and more dependent on (relatively speaking) flawless performance of our electronic gadgets . . . and the worst problems to try and diagnose are intermittant ones — where a temporary glitch only shows up now and again, not in a predictable pattern.
Chris Anderson looks at the paradigm shift that led to the embracing of "waste", and in turn, to our modern world:
Don't blame Honeywell — blame the computing world of the 1960s. In those days, computers were expensive mainframes. Because processing power was so scarce and valuable, it was reserved for use by IT professionals, mostly working for big companies and the government. Engineers both built the computers and decided how to use them — no wonder they couldn't think of nonengineering applications.
But as the Kitchen Computer hinted, computers would soon get smaller and cheaper. This would take them out of the glass boxes of the mainframe world — and away from the IT establishment — and put them in the hands of consumers. And the real transformation would come when those regular folks found new ways to use computers, revealing their true potential.
All this was possible because Alan Kay, an engineer at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s, understood what Moore's law was doing to the cost of computing. He decided to do what writer George Gilder calls "wasting transistors." Rather than reserve computing power for core information processing, Kay used outrageous amounts of it for frivolous stuff like drawing cartoons on the screen. Those cartoons — icons, windows, pointers, and animations — became the graphical user interface and eventually the Mac. By 1970s IT standards, Kay had "wasted" computing power. But in doing so he made computers simple enough for all of us to use. And then we changed the world by finding applications for them that the technologists had never dreamed of.
Once upon a time, programs would be praised for their 'elegance' . . . that is doing something in the least possible number of instructions. Programs were, by modern standards, incredibly tiny. And, as a direct result, restricted to the expert users who could put them together in ways that did useful things. To the early computer users, we are incredibly wasteful in our abundance . . . but, as Chris Anderson points out, it was the deliberate "waste" which has led to the abundance we now enjoy.
Image from the article
Emma Byrne has taken a 2007 essay by Cory Doctorow and illustrated it with photos of some of the disturbingly large number of CCTV installations in Britain today. Download the PDF here.
"Snitchtown: the photo essay" is a book of photographs of a (very small) subset of the 4.2 million CCTV in Britain. These have been put together with Cory Doctorow's essay on ubiquitous CCTV coverage, "Snitchtown" as part of the SoFoBoMo event, in which photographers work to put together a solo project in book form in one month.
I was inspired by some of the things that Cory said at an Open Rights Group debate. Not least of these was the fact that his daughter's pocket money was tied, in part, to her spotting the CCTV cameras on the way to school. This sounded so damned transgressive, and I realised how much we've been trained to pay no attention to the cameras that record our daily lives (I counted 21 on my exit from the tube station this evening alone.)
Cory's response: "This is, I believe, my absolute favorite CC adaptation of my work to date; in that it's the first adaptation that I prefer to my original. Great work, Emma! "
If being cloth-eared is a term of abuse for someone who's not listening to you, what's cloth-armoured? Better protected against RPG attacks:
Cunning new UK technology will see British troops' vehicles in Afghanistan protected from armour-piercing rocket warheads — by cloth.
The MoD was pleased yesterday to unveil its new TARIAN "textile based" vehicle protection system, which will see lightweight cloth attached to the sides of military vehicles in Afghan combat. TARIAN is expected to resist strikes from RPGs, shoulder-fired antitank rockets in common use among the Taliban.
That might seem to be impossible, as an RPG warhead can blast a hole through thick armour plate. But in fact TARIAN, already on trial in Afghanistan, apparently works well.
The first Walkman weighed in at a solid 390 grams (plus 50 grams for the headphones). With its strong square lines and metallic blue finish, it was almost as streamlined as today's surge protectors. To emphasize its portability, Morito reportedly had a shirt custom-tailored with an oversized chest pocket in which to carry the 3.5 x 5.5 x 1.25 inch device.
Now, of course, any high-tech gadget that's not tiny enough to pose as a choking hazard to small children is not truly sexy. In 1979, stuffing a high-fidelity stereo into a shirt pocket — even a deviously engineered shirt pocket — constituted a miracle of sorts. At a time when microcomputers still appealed mainly to hardcore spreadsheet fetishists, the Walkman was the sexiest piece of personal electronics ever devised. It was a piece of the future you could hold in your hand.
Indeed, all that an LED watch could do was help you see the time in movie theaters, while the pocket calculator only helped you get bored with math faster. In contrast, the Walkman wasn't just a machine, something you used pragmatically, intermittently. The Walkman gave you your own personal soundtrack with which to dramatize your life. It was your faithful companion, an anthropomorphized buddy/servant who motivated you, palliated you, and simply kept you company throughout the day. It was your cassette pet.
Greg Beato, "The Soundtrack to Your Life: Celebrating 30 years of the Sony Walkman", Reason Online, 2009-06-23Posted by Nicholas at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)
I'm not much of a TV watcher — in fact, I can't remember the last time I turned on the TV to watch a program. Part of that is time constraints: I read a lot, and I'm busy blogging, gaming, or working on the computer for time that otherwise might be TV time. But there's another reason for it — I never know what's on, and I never know which channel it'll be on even if I did know.
We don't subscribe to the Toronto newspaper that includes a weekly TV guide, and I find that it takes far too long to scroll through the cable company's own online guide. Even though they helpfully provide some filtering options (by theme, with a fair selection of broad theme categories), it doesn't filter by which channels I actually have access to . . . and there are lots of channels in that category.
Here's an application that must be possible: a dynamic, customized TV guide that only tracks the channels I currently subscribe to. Just using a model like Amazon's recommendation mechanism would be a huge step forward. I could tell it that I liked certain shows and that I disliked other kinds of shows. By indicating the cable provider (assuming the cable provider wasn't also doing the guide) and the specific package(s) to which I'm subscribed, it should be able to let me know — in real time — what is on that I might want to watch, and where to find it.
So, for example, I could provide a list of "likes", both current and older:
. . . and it should be able to tell me immediately if something I've specified is currently on, or will be soon, and if there's nothing on right now, provide both suggestions for things I might like and advance notice for upcoming shows.
Having described it, I'm certain it's technically easy (given access to the appropriate programming data, of course), but does it already exist? Everyone else might already be using something like this and I'd be none the wiser . . .
The din of frustrated iPhone users still hasn't died down, as new-phone lust overtakes common sense. Many people still don't seem to comprehend that they got their original iPhone 3G at a lower price because the phone company was subsidizing the hardware costs. This means that the phone company expects to get that subsidy back over the life of the contracts. No rational company is going to just give away money (shareholders have a very dim view of this, as you might expect). Just because there's a newer tech toy than the one in your pocket right now does not entitle you to walk away from a contract you signed only a year ago, without paying back the phone company's subsidy (plus profit).
Seth Weintraub tries to explain the situation again to folks who don't want to be told:
Let's get one thing straight before I defend AT&T. I think their service is poor and their voice plans are over-priced. Their telephone support is awful as well.
That being said, all of this pooh poohing about the iPhone 3GS upgrade pricing is just silly. AT&T is charging those who've had their contract less than a year (most iPhone 3G users) a $200 fee for upgrading to the new 3GS. That is on top of the iPhone 3GS's $199-$299 price tag.
The iPhone is a subsidy sale. AT&T's prices reflect the costs they have to pay Apple every month to sell the iPhone.
AT&T's price on an iPhone is probably close to $600 (Retail is $700-800, AT&T probably gets $100 off in bulk). Apple sells it to you for $200 and foots AT&T with the bill for the rest. That $400 is broken out over 24 months that you're obligated to pay for your iPhone. Without getting too fancy with interest and amortization tables, that's around $200/year of your bill going toward the purchase price of the iPhone. This is part of the contract you agree to when you buy an iPhone.
I find it amazing just how upset and hurt the folks on the various iPhone mailing lists seem to be that they can't just swap their phones for the newest model without paying the up-front costs. Entitlement mentality, writ very small.
And at that point I stopped thinking of One Second After as a movie-thriller narrative, and more in geopolitical terms. After all, the banks in America and western Europe are already metaphorically weed-choked, and may yet become literally so. In the Wall Street Journal a couple of months back, Peggy Noonan predicted that by next year the mayor of New York, "in a variation on broken-window theory, will quietly enact a bright-light theory, demanding that developers leave the lights on whether there are tenants in the buildings or not, lest the world stand on a rise in New Jersey and get the impression no one's here and nobody cares" — or, to put it another way, lest the world stand on a rise in New Jersey and get the impression Manhattan's already been hit by an EMP attack. A friend of mine saw his broker in February and asked him where he should be moving his money, expecting to be pointed in the direction of various under-publicized stocks or perhaps some artfully leveraged instrument novel enough to fly below the Obama radar. His broker, wearing a somewhat haunted look, advised him to look for a remote location and a property he could pay cash for and with enough cleared land and a long growing season. My friend's idea of rural wilderness is Martha's Vineyard, so this wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear.
And this is before EMP hits.
And North Korea would probably be quite happy to detonate a nice big nuclear weapon that would wipe out most of Japan's or North America's electronics . . .
A quick look back at Monsanto's House of the Future from 1957:
The kitchen and two bathrooms — one for the parents and one for the kids — occupied the center of the structure. Out on the wings were a living room, a family room, a master suite and two small bedrooms crammed side by side: one, according to the literature, for the boy of the future and the other for his equally futuristic sister. One thing about the interior that was decidedly contemporary was the color scheme: Counter tops, rugs and furniture were bright and ghastly in a way that just screamed NINETEEN FIFTIES!
[. . .]
The future lasted all of 10 years in the Magic Kingdom. The house was removed in 1967 to make way for another Tomorrowland attraction. Actually, “removed” is a bit of an understatement. The House of the Future proved a tough nut, so tough in fact that the demolition crew failed to knock it down with a wrecking ball. Instead, hacksaws and torches were needed to dismantle the structure, piece by piece, in a process that took two weeks.
You look at the stuff they’re slapping up these days and wonder if maybe the architects should go back and have a look at Monsanto’s blueprints.
Well, the suspense among the Apple faithful was palpable, and Apple delivered enough to keep their enthusiasm at a high pitch. Mostly. Some were not convinced:
Apple's dog and pony show this morning touted iPhone 3G S's fully-functional 3MP camera and voice dialing capabilities. Big whoop. These may seem like some amazing features for the Apple faithful, who have not been able to verbally instruct their iPhone to switch songs or call Jane Doe before the update, but to those of us who have been on other cellphone networks using other brands of mobile phones, voice dialing and a video recording are tricks we take for granted. Just another example of Apple masking their last-gen inadequacies as ZOMG SHINY NEW FEATURES.
Rogers has not yet announced their pricing and upgrade policies for the iPhone in Canada, but I think it'll be unlikely to be much better than AT&T's policies for their US customers (which have set off mass whining and complaining on all the iPhone mailing lists and blogs). On that basis, I doubt that I'll be getting a new iPhone so soon after getting the current one . . . not to mention that aside from the extra 16Gb of memory, I don't think any of the "big" new hardware features would really be that important to me. The software upgrades are being released on the 17th, most of which will be fine for the current 3G iPhone as well as the new one.
The good folks at The Green Room have compiled as many of the floating rumours on what new features the next iPhone release may have, and graded them by estimated likelihood:
Given all the hype, I'd have to admit I'm not super-excited about this release . . . it'd be nice to have some of these, but (absent a really generous trade-in plan from Rogers) I doubt that I'll be swapping my current iPhone for the new hardware.
A very long panel discussion, but well worth watching (or, given the relative lack of visual action, listening to). Charlie gives an excellent potted history of privacy in the first few minutes: this is an artifact of the modern age. That is, until the modern era, there was no privacy as we now understand it. The poor lived cheek-by-jowl in 20-to-a-hovel misery, while the rich lived with 24/7 presence of servants, hangers-on, and other humans. In the same sense that the "nuclear family" is a very recent sociological phenomenon, personal privacy is something we think of as "normal", but it's only become possible in the last hundred years or so.
P.J. O'Rourke bids a fond farewell to a different era:
The phrase "bankrupt General Motors," which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as "Mom's nude photos." And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.
Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn't a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It's a tragic romance — unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.
Well, actually, it is a story involving a lot of managerial loss of will, union short-sightedness, and inconceivably bad planning . . .
Of course, the automobile had a very important role in shaping modern North American life:
But cars didn't shape our existence; cars let us escape with our lives. We're way the heck out here in Valley Bottom Heights and Trout Antler Estates because we were at war with the cities. We fought rotten public schools, idiot municipal bureaucracies, corrupt political machines, rampant criminality and the pointy-headed busybodies. Cars gave us our dragoons and hussars, lent us speed and mobility, let us scout the terrain and probe the enemy's lines. And thanks to our cars, when we lost the cities we weren't forced to surrender, we were able to retreat.
More on the grim details for GM in this New York Times story.
Lester Haines notes that Google Maps has blanked out all the details of North Korea:
We're not quite sure what's going on down at Google Maps, but the search monolith's cartographical service has decided that the world would be a better place if North Korea were one big blank:
If you want to explore the great blank hermit, try North Korea Economy Watch instead.
Bill Boulware sent a link to this soon-to-be-notorious iPhone app:
Application Makes iPhone Disappear
[. . .] Fire up the app on your iPhone (this doesn’t work with the iPod Touch) and it overlays a transparent email window over a live view coming in from the camera. Effectively, this lets you look at the screen and compose your masterpiece while simultaneously watching the road ahead. Of course, it won’t work. Anyone who would write e-mail while walking is obviously too self-absorbed to pay attention the world around them. Let them walk under a bus.
Image from Wired Gadget Lab
If stats were being accurately compiled, Walkmen, iPods, and MP3 players in general would be contributing factors in a large percentage of pedestrian injuries and deaths over the last 10-15 years. This application, far from improving the situation, is likely to make things worse, because it will provide an illusion of making an unsafe combination of activities more safe. You can't save people from themselves, but letting them pretend that they're taking "adequate" precautions will make them more prone to doing stupid things.
Matthew Schechmeister shows more photos from the recovery of US Airways Flight 1549 from the Hudson River:
Earlier post, with links to photos of the floating plane here.
Steven Levy muses on the process by which "Awesome!" techno-toys become "Meh":
When Arthur C. Clarke went to the great geosynchronous orbit in the sky last year, he left behind a huge legacy, not least of which was a quote oft cited by Silicon Valley visionaries and wannabes. "Any sufficiently advanced technology," the sci-fi master wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic." [. . .]
But what happens when magic is an everyday occurrence? Consider that the Flip MinoHD — a once nearly unobtainable piece of technology — is now a 3-ounce knickknack. Better yet, it's rendered so elegantly that its coolness is baked in, not slapped on. Barely a minute after opening my review unit, I had the gizmo fired up and ready. My first experiment was to grab a long tracking shot through the rows of Wired's cubicles. I downloaded the footage and was impressed that all was captured as planned. However, the handheld image was a bit shaky . . . maybe too vérité. As a result, my first thought was not so much "What hath God wrought?" as "What? No image stabilization? Where's the built-in steadicam?"
An example of when the human mind's adaptability is not totally beneficial.
Bruce Schneier explains why it's already far to late to lament your loss of online privacy:
If your data is online, it is not private. Oh, maybe it seems private. Certainly, only you have access to your e-mail. Well, you and your ISP. And the sender's ISP. And any backbone provider who happens to route that mail from the sender to you. And, if you read your personal mail from work, your company. And, if they have taps at the correct points, the NSA and any other sufficiently well-funded government intelligence organization — domestic and international.
You could encrypt your mail, of course, but few of us do that. Most of us now use webmail. The general problem is that, for the most part, your online data is not under your control. Cloud computing and software as a service exacerbate this problem even more.
Your webmail is less under your control than it would be if you downloaded your mail to your computer. If you use Salesforce.com, you're relying on that company to keep your data private. If you use Google Docs, you're relying on Google. This is why the Electronic Privacy Information Center recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: many of us are relying on Google's security, but we don't know what it is.
This is new. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to look through your correspondence, he had to break into your house. Now, he can just break into your ISP. Ten years ago, your voicemail was on an answering machine in your office; now it's on a computer owned by a telephone company. Your financial accounts are on remote websites protected only by passwords; your credit history is collected, stored, and sold by companies you don't even know exist.
I used to be quite freaked out by this knowledge . . . I'm still not 100% comfortable with it, but I've (mostly) come to terms with it. There's still the illusion of privacy, but you need to understand that it is just an illusion. Your data is very easy to collect, even without needing to enlist 1337 |-|4><0r3r$ to assist, people can accumulate significant profiles on you legally and openly.
Evgeny Morozov makes some good points about Twitter not being well suited to certain kinds of communication:
Who knew that swine flu could also infect Twitter? Yet this is what appears to have happened in the last 24 hours, with thousands of Twitter users turning to their favorite service to query each other about this nascent and potentially lethal threat as well as to share news and latest developments from Mexico, Texas, Kansas and New York (you can check most recent Twitter updates on the subject by searching for "swine flu" and "#swineflu"). And despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform's unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter's role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu.
First of all, I should point out from the very outset that anyone trying to make sense of how Twitter's "global brain" has reacted to the prospect of the swine flu pandemic is likely to get disappointed. The "swine flu" meme has so far that misinformed and panicking people armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic.
His quoted examples of individual Twitter updates illustrate quite nicely how quickly it can turn into a game of Telephone (or Chinese Whispers to the Brits).
He also makes the following somewhat ironic statement: "In moments like this, one is tempted to lament the death of broadcasting, for it seems that the information from expert sources — government, doctors, and the like — should probably be prioritized over everything else and have a higher chance of being seen". As illustrated in the last two posts, the mainstream media have been doing their level best to hype up the panic levels and make the situation seem even more scary than it already is. Given that, it's just as well that fewer and fewer people take their "authoritative" news from those sources!
The headline on a recent article in PC World includes an eye-catching statistic:
IT Pros Find Smut on 3 out of 4 Employee Laptops
My first response was "so few? Really?" (but I'm pretty cynical about things like that). After reading the first paragraph, it became clear that whoever wrote the headline didn't really read the article:
Nearly three-quarters of corporate security and IT professionals in the U.S. have found "inappropriate" pictures, videos or browser cache links on employee laptops, a survey released Wednesday shows.
A more accurate, but less sensational headline would not have confused the proportion of IT staff finding "smut" with the proportion of employee laptops containing "smut". So, it is not that three out of four employees have "smut" on their computers, but that three out of four IT staff members have, at one time or another, found "smut" on other employees' computers. Rather a significant statistical difference, no?
Now the statistic implies that one in four IT professionals aren't doing their jobs properly!
Wired's Tony Long recounts the story of how a misbehaving toilet caused the loss of U-1206 in 1945:
U-1206, sailing out of Kristiansand, Norway as part of the 11th Flotilla, was cruising at a depth of roughly 200 feet when the commander, Kapitänleutnant Karl-Adolf Schlitt, decided to answer the call of nature. The submarine was a late-war Type VIIC, commissioned in March 1944. It carried a new type of toilet designed for use at greater depths.
Like a lot of new technology, the toilet was just a little buggy. Schlitt had trouble operating it. When he called an engineer for help, the man opened the wrong valve, allowing seawater to enter the boat.
When the water reached the batteries located beneath the toilet, the boat began filling with chlorine gas, forcing Schlitt to order U-1206 surfaced. Unfortunately for the Germans, the boat was only 10 miles off the Scottish coast, and it was quickly spotted by the British.
The crew was still blowing clean air into their U-boat when an aircraft appeared and attacked, killing four men on deck and damaging the boat so badly that it was unable to dive. Schlitt, seeing the game was up, gave the order to abandon and scuttle.
PC World's Thomas Wailgum diagnoses the kind of webmail user you are by your choice of service:
An Apple Fanboy to the extreme, you have either an elegantly-designed tattoo of Steve Jobs on your body or an iPod pocket sewn into all of your clothing.
Typical user: Usually found in the hippest non-chain coffee shop, typing on a US$3,000-precision-aluminum-unibody-enclosed MacBook Pro, white earbuds in proper position and iPhone 3G at the ready. And if Apple invented a laptop with a cumbersome wheel instead of a keyboard, you'd buy it. Fact.
See some of the least successful efforts of automotive design at the Peterson Automotive Museum:
1974 Highway Aircraft Corp. Fascination
Paul M. Lewis founded Highway Aircraft in 1962 with the dream of building "the economical, safe, smog-free, modernistic, quiet, easy-to-handle, easy-to-park car millions of people want." He built five of these instead.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com
I liked the Fascination, but I was perhaps more impressed by the Amphicar 770, which somehow achieved the impossible: an amphibious car with Lucas electrical systems (Lucas was a British manufacturer with an enviable reputation):
- The Lucas motto: "Get home before dark."
- Lucas is the patent holder for the short circuit.
- Lucas - Inventor of the first intermittent wiper.
- Lucas - Inventor of the self-dimming headlamp.
- The three position Lucas switch - Dim, Flicker and Off.
- Q: Why do the British drink warm beer? A: Because Lucas makes their refrigerators
Tony Long rounds up the technological advances which made the American Civil War so different from preceding wars. In the process, he continues perpetrating a modern myth about a genuine military problem:
Although disease killed more men than actual fighting, technological advances in small-arms weaponry and artillery resulted in casualty figures disproportionately high for the numbers of troops engaged.
The introduction of the Henry and Spencer repeating rifles, which allowed sustained, rapid and accurate fire from much farther distances than before, reduced the classic infantry charge to a virtual suicide attack. Pickett's desperate charge at Gettysburg is probably the most memorable example, but the futility continued to the end of the war.
A few problems with this section: the Henry and Spencer rifles, innovative and deadly though they were, had little to do with the example given: they were primarily used by the Union cavalry, and Pickett's Charge was emphatically not a cavalry action. The horrific casualties in that action were inflicted by artillery and regular infantry rifles. The intended point is valid, however, that infantry weapons were becoming much more dependably deadly, yet infantry tactics were still quite similar to those used in the War of 1812 and earlier.
(It's telling of the hidebound nature of the military mindset that a half-century later, the major combatants in World War I were still hurling infantry across open fields into the teeth of even more devastating firepower.)
It's hard to deny that generals are often wedded to "the old way of fighting", but in this case, there's a damned good reason for it: They. Had. No. Alternative.
Wars from the Crimea to the Spanish Civil War generated mind-boggling casualty figures for an insurmountable technological reason: command and control deficiencies that were not (and could not be) addressed until 1939. Let's step back a few centuries and walk through how the problem developed.
Armies are unwieldy things to manoeuvre in the field, even without the presence of complicating factors like hills, valleys, streams, and woods. The limiting factor has always been the ability of the commander(s) to get their orders to the troops. In pre-gunpowder battles, the army commander would generally give his orders before battle was joined, face-to-face with his subordinate commanders, because issuing orders once battle had been joined was difficult-to-impossible. As soon as the armies came into contact, the only thing the army commander had to change the course of events was his reserve formation (if any).
Troops in close physical contact with the enemy are too busy trying to kill-and-not-be-killed to pay any attention to shouted orders from behind, and anyone close enough to be heard by the front line was also close enough to be killed himself (in fact, shouting orders was a time-honoured way of drawing the enemy's attention on to you personally). Even if you could communicate orders successfully, getting them obeyed was unlikely — the quickest way of starting a rout was for troops to start backing away from the point of contact. Human self-preservation instincts quickly overwhelm obedience to orders and panic is contagious. Most battle casualties were actually inflicted after the battle line broke . . . and most of the casualties would be trying to get away from the enemy (see Keegan's The Face of Battle or Hanson's The Western Way of War for examples).
Ancient and medieval battles tended to be head-on affairs because it was too difficult to arrange any sophisticated manoeuvering, except the reserve. It was a common adage that the commander who committed his reserve last would win the battle. Battles would follow a fairly standard timeline (please pardon the vast over-generalization here):
Exceptions to this general timeline were when one side had a disproportional number of troops, or where a detached formation entered the battle after it had begun. In almost all cases, the army commanders had little to do with the eventual outcome after the armies were engaged.
Gunpowder was a huge game-changer. Armies no longer needed to get into close physical contact with the enemy to cause casualties. This allowed subordinate commanders to actually exercise control of their troops during the battle. It was now possible — but risky — to move units even after they had engaged the enemy. But technological limitations still ruled what was possible: early firearms were inaccurate and very slow to load. You still needed masses of soldiers to provide enough firepower. The human voice is still the only way to convey orders, so unit size was practically bounded by the need to be large enough for maximum firepower, but small enough to be under command of a single leader.
As firearms improved, it became possible to get the same effective firepower from smaller groups of men, allowing finer control of the battle, but still limiting the range over which a unit of troops could be spread to the range of the human voice.
The arquebus was replaced by the musket, muskets by rifles, rifles by repeating rifles, but the range of the human voice hadn't changed at all. By the time of the American Civil War, a dozen men could be as militarily effective as a hundred men using older firearms . . . but the range of communication was still limited to the same as it had always been.
In the ACW, armies became larger and larger, but the ability to directly command soldiers remained limited, which meant that even though the weapons were becoming far more deadly, the number of soldiers in a given area remained high (higher density of soldiers means more targets for the enemy to hit). By WW1, armies were now hundreds of thousands of men, but command-and-control still had the same limits. Artillery had become orders of magnitude more effective and deadly . . . and the densely packed infantry paid the price. Machine guns, mortars, and grenades also gave greater benefit to the defender, so that every attack was guaranteed to be a bloodbath for the attacking troops — win or lose.
Until wireless communication became militarily practical, command and control of troops in the field had the same practical limit. Even in WW2, the physical properties of radio sets limited them to higher levels (in the French army of 1940, for example, only one radio was typically provided to a tank squadron, which seriously limited the ability of the squadron commander to use his tanks).
I've obviously skipped a lot of detail here, and there's probably lots of points that real historians would argue over, but I think the main point is valid. It's said not to attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity, but it's also true that one can easily attribute to stupidity what is really a historical limitation. This is one of those cases.
Update, 10 April: Darrell Markewitz commented:
One military aspect to the Civil War — fighting from semi-prepared field positions. With increased weapon accuracy, effective contact ranges had increased. Now simple positions like kneeling behind a rail fence (a situation unthinkable to commanders in the early 1800's) suddenly gave a huge advantage to the survival and effectiveness of those troops. Actually *aiming* your weapon was suddenly important, if not critical, and accuracy greatly increases in a crouch!
It would be interesting to have some idea how many of the individual soldiers were rural rather than urban — with the implication of increased skill in effective aiming.
Your point about command and control is well stated. If anything, I would almost expect REDUCED ability for the small unit commander as improvements in firearms created more and more raw noise — being generated by increased firing rates ('fire at will' over 'volley').
Is there a matching development of the 'squad' over the 'platoon' as the basic infantry unit?
I don't have any information directly addressing the development of smaller tactical units/sub-units. It seems to make sense that actual "command" duties would be delegated to non-coms as the relative firepower of individual soldiers increased, but I haven't seen anything directly stating that this is how it occurred.
Ross Catanzariti goes way out on a limb to predict that the upcoming Palm Pre will be an iPhone killer:
The Palm Pre Will Be an iPhone Killer
Palm's breakout touchscreen smartphone is worth getting excited about — why you should be waiting for it on pins and needles.
Although a collective sigh may be raised at comparing yet another touch-screen smartphone with Apple's iPhone 3G, Palm's Pre has been generating plenty of buzz since it was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.
After seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth while companies like Nokia and RIM released multiple phones, and while Apple's iPhone 3G has continued to enjoy immense popularity, Palm has finally hit back. The Pre is considered a make-or-break release for Palm — the smartphone is built on an entirely new Linux-based operating system called webOS.
Although we haven’t yet had a chance to get our hands on this hot new smartphone, the reports coming out of the US have been largely positive so far. In particular, the webOS operating system is reportedly intuitive, easy to use and visually appealing, and looks like the closest competitor to the iPhone yet.
I still have positive feelings towards Palm's products, even though I've been drinking serious amounts of Apple iPhone Kool-Aid lately (at least according to my virtual landlord). I gave up on Palm when my original Treo 600 started to get very long in the tooth, but there was no clear upgrade path that preserved my existing investment in software. At that point, I was free to consider other alternatives, as I'd have to buy new software (and input all the important data) regardless of which PDA or smart phone I chose.
That being said, if you're in the market for a new smart phone and don't want to join us brainwashed zombies of the iPhone world, the Palm Pre might be a worthwhile alternative for you.
Preston Gralla absolutely nails the question here:
What Was Encarta? Look It Up on Wikipedia
Read no further . . . there's no need. That is the answer.
Some people are starting to ask if Google has gone too far in trying to adjust its way of doing business in order to get access to the Chinese market. L. Neil Smith has this to say in the current issue of Libertarian Enterprise:
Somewhere on this page, you'll find an unusual logo for Google, created for us by the fabulous artist Scott Bieser. The pair of Os in the middle are handcuffs. This was inspired by two events.
The first, of course, is that company's continued willingness to "embed" itself with repressive governments like that of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese mistakenly believe that they can enjoy the benefits of economic freedom, while stifling personal and political freedom. Google is enabling them in this delusion by censoring what the Chinese people can connect to on the Internet. We thought it was shameful and disgusting when it first happened, a few years ago, and we still think it's shameful and disgusting.
Now we're told that Google is manufacturing "smart monitors" for the Obama regime, devices that will spy on you and your home and tattle on you when you're using more energy — energy that you paid for — than the God King and his flying monkeys think you should.
I'm not generally a fan of PowerPoint, but I have to admit that I haven't seen many presentations worse than these eyesores:
Sample from Alexei Kapterev's "Death by PowerPoint" presentation"
How can I keep the pretense that my iPhone is primarily a business tool with things like this starting to be available?
Search levels for hidden secrets that reveal stolen Nazi treasure, health packs, ammo and weapons or even short cuts.
Choose clever new touch controls or drive with the tilt controls to halt the diabolical Nazi schemes.
Wolfenstein 3D Classic makes use of an all new control system designed for the iPhone by technical visionary and id Software founder, John Carmack.
One of the worst aspects of our current way of handling high energy demand is that once the limit is reached, unilateral decisions on the part of the energy supplier are imposed on everyone. In a mid-July heat wave, as everyone in the midwest turns on their air conditioners, the supply gets severely stressed . . . and the closer to full capacity, the more likely that everyone will be inconvenienced by brown-outs or black-outs. Spencer Reiss looks at a co-operative solution: paying major users to cut back their demand until the supply/demand stabilizes:
Many utilities already do an ad-hoc version of this, an emergency practice known as demand response that has lately been promoted by Jon Wellinghoff, acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now there's an alternative: Call EnerNOC, a Boston-based company that gangs commercial users who are willing, for a quarterly payment, to trim back operations on 30 minutes' notice. EnerNOC micromanages consumption at 3,400-plus locations from Maine to California. Between dimming lights, adjusting thermostats, and suspending industrial activities, the potential cuts top the output of a large nuclear reactor. And the savings can be huge.
The advantages should be clear: real-time (or almost real-time) ability to shift large blocks of energy usage out of peak demand times, benefitting both consumers and industrial energy users. The ability to co-operatively manage the overall demand rather than unilaterally cutting off users (and reducing the need for additional peak-only generation facilities) is clearly a better solution.
There's been an ongoing discussion on the Apple-iPhone mailing list for a while. The two "sides" are, speaking very generally, debating these two simplified points:
Of course, any debate sounds simplistic when you try to boil it down too much. Marc Tassin, of Ilium Software, posted a full blog response to the discussion, which nicely rounds out the arguments:
$.99 Apps Make $500K!!!!!
Yep, and a kid playing guitar at his high school can become a rock star. These stories (like the Trism Tale) make fantastic press, but just like the music industry, professional sports, and Hollywood, those are the exceptions, not the rules. The majority of folks will never sell enough of their 99 cent app to even turn a profit, much less make it to the "big time."
Unfortunately, people start to think that these big money makers are how the store works, since these stories make better news for Wired and better commercials for Apple. There are tons of amazing apps that never sell well because they just didn’t have that lucky combo of good app/good timing/lucky placement in an Apple ad/etc. etc. So, yes. Some applications get lucky, but for the rest of them, a 99 cent price tag will put them out of business.
Lower Prices = More Profit
This just isn't true. Lower prices typically DO mean more sales, but it doesn't necessarily mean more profit. The math is pretty simple. You need to sell enough additional copies to make up for the lost revenue of the lower price. Sometimes this works — usually it doesn't. Often you make less than you did before, even though you are making a lot more sales. And this cost is multiplied by the fact that more customers = more overhead (support/sales database work/etc.), so now you’re making the same amount of money and have twice as many customers! When the final tally comes in, you've actually lost money! There is always a sweet spot but finding it is tough. Just going cheaper isn't the answer.
That last point is best summed up by the GM business model of recent years: "Sure, we lose $2,500 per car, but we make it up in volume!"
For those of you who don't care about the iPhone, you can skip reading this item. For those who do, here's an as-it-happened report from Jason Snell and Dan Moren:
10:15 PT - DM: Peer to Peer connectivity — especially good for peer-to-peer games. Now an API lets you find all the other iPhones/iPod touches in the area playing the same game, so now you can play games with your friends over the network locally. Automatic discovery, all over Bluetooth (not via Wi-Fi), and there's no pairing — completely seamless. It also uses Bonjour. Plus, it's not just for games — works for any peer-to-peer application.
10:16 PT - JS: Using Bluetooth is really smart, since it means you can play games or share information with anyone, regardless of whether or not there's a wi-fi network around. Makes it much easier. (But what does that mean about iPod touch?)
[. . .]
10:17 PT - DM: Next up, accessories. Thousands of developers are building thousands of accessories that work with iPods and iPhones. Here's a speaker, for example: plug your iPhone in and listen to your music. With iPhone 3.0 support is going to the next level: enable accessory developers to build custom applications that talk right to the accessories. Speaker manufacturer can build an equalizer app that can adjust settings of the speaker. Or an FM Transmitter; you can build an app to help find the optimal frequency and tunes it automatically.
[. . .]
10:20 PT - DM: Next up is Maps. Worked with Google to build incredible Maps application. Developers would like to embed map into application, but would like a CocoaTouch control that can wrap Maps and insert into applications, and that's what they're offering in iPhone 3.0. The heart of the Maps application is now an API that allows you to embed a map directly in your app. As an example, here's a Concierge application that embeds a map — supports satellite, hybrid, map views, adding own locations, pinch-and-zoom, GPS, and Wi-Fi/cell location. Can even reverse geocode your location.
[. . .]
10:57 PT - JS: It's rare that you get fluffy puppies and demos from Oracle within the same 15-minute span at any event.
[. . .]
11:03 PT - DM: But iPhone 3.0 isn't just new for developers; it's new for customers too. More than 100 new features, and let's take a walk through: CUT COPY and PASTE. There's a round of applause at the appearance of a scissors icon. They think they've nailed it and Scott's going to demo for us now.
11:04 PT - DM: Scott launches Mail, and here's a message from a colleague about a flight to Hawaii (Oceanic 815? Don't get on that plane Scott!). Double-tap onto text and it automatically selects text. Pops up a cut, copy, paste bubble above the selection, and little tiny bubbles on both sides of the text, indicating the selection points. Double tap to bring up paste bubble (there's also select and select all). Want to select block? Drag the second selection point, it pops up a magnifyer, and you can adjust the end-point. That's it. I'm going to copy and paste like a fool when I get 3.0. Just because I can.
Apparently, it's not just because it's a World of Warcraft expansion, but because it shows too much bone:
Stupendously popular online game World of Warcraft's second expansion, "Wrath of the Lich King" is being blocked by Chinese censors for showing too much bone.
According [to] JLM Pacific Epoch, China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has twice rejected applications from Blizzard Entertainment and its domestic operator, The9, because of the game's all-too-frequent depiction of skeletons.
The original release of WoW had required Blizzard to modify undead characters and enemies in the game to pass Chinese regulator muster. Among the changes were giving the walking dead extra meat and using graves to show where players have died rather than skeletons.
China had issued the usual People's Republic governmentspeak, stating this is it's way of promoting a healthy and harmonious online environment.
One of the biggest needs across a vast range of technological niches these days is better energy storage options — better batteries. Some recent work at MIT may provide a major step toward meeting that need:
A new battery material that recharges 100 times faster than the lithium-ion in your laptop has been revealed by researchers at MIT.
The discovery could lead to cellphone-sized batteries that could be charged in 10 seconds.
"The ability to charge and discharge batteries in a matter of seconds rather than hours may open up new technological applications and induce lifestyle changes," wrote materials scientists Gerbrand Ceder and Byoungwoo Kang Wednesday in the journal Nature.
In energy storage, there has always been a trade-off between the amount of energy a material could store and how quickly you could discharge it. Batteries were pretty good at storing energy (although not nearly as good as oil), but getting energy into and out of them was tough. Ultracapacitors, and their cousins, supercapacitors, can deliver a lot of charge really quickly, but it takes 20 times more of their materials to store the same energy as a comparable battery.
As with any such early announcement, it doesn't mean the technology will be available immediately: this is still the research phase of R&D. The information published in Nature only shows 50 charge/discharge/recharge cycles — although with little loss of capacity — and until it has been tested to many times that rate, it can't be said to be commercially viable yet.
H/T to John Scalzi.
Update: Of course, any time something sounds too good to be true, it's worth keeping your enthusiasm in check:
Still, fast-charging electric cars is big news, right?
Well, no actually — li-titanate batteries, offering electrocars which can top off in a few minutes, have been around for a while and such vehicles are nearing the market.
In any case, Ceder and Kang — while apparently happy to speak to journalists of fast-charging, unless that was made up by the scribes — don't yet claim fast charging for their kit among their scientific peers. They have only proven fast discharging, as one finds when looking at their actual letter [. . .] MIT Tech Review, one of the few publications to bother looking properly, merely says "the fast-discharging materials may also recharge quickly".
Google is branching out further, with today's introduction of Google Voice, which provides rough transcription of voicemail messages:
The new service is available as of today to customers of Grand Central (a company aquired by Google a couple of years ago) and will be rolled out to the general public later this month. More information here.
It's been an interesting footnote in the news for the last few months, but American gun sales have been up significantly in 2008 and into 2009. That may make the firearms industry the only one seeing double-digit increases across the entire U.S. economy.
In an article of more immediate use to my American readers than to my fellow Canadians, Ron Beatty offers some useful pointers to first-time buyers of automatic pistols:
So, you've finally chosen your weapon, bought it home, and taken it out of the box. Good for you!
Now, first and foremost, READ THE MANUAL!!!! I don't care how much experience you have, or that you might even have other pistols of the same basic model, READ THE DAMNED MANUAL! There is no way of telling what new "safety" features the pinheads in congress might have mandated, or that the gun manufacturer might have included in an effort to appease them before some new "feature" was legislated into existence. As an example, the Springfield XD45 has a new thumb safety. If you have older models of the same gun, you will need to train yourself to release that safety. Also, many manufacturers have included passive "safeties" which totally lock up the weapon until you use a key to release them. You need to know about these to be able to able to use the weapon.
READ THE DAMNED MANUAL!!!
He also addresses the tendency on the part of some folks who've grown up watching TV and movie gunfights, where incredibly dangerous "techniques" may appear to be normal:
You might think that now you're ready to head to the range, but there is one thing to consider first. If you are new to shooting, I would strongly recommend that you seek professional instruction. This is only your life we're talking about here!
What looks cool and effective on screen may get you and/or innocent bystanders wounded or killed: get some instruction from a real expert, not from TV or from some self-taught yahoo. Guns are dangerous — they're intended to be dangerous — but they should only be dangerous when you need them to be so. Even professionals who handle firearms daily sometimes have accidents . . . inexperienced newcomers who think they know what they're doing are far more likely to have accidents. Get properly trained!
Roger Henry sent a link to this historical footage of the Fordson Snow Crawler, asking "If it was as good as it appears to be why did it not thrive?"
A quick Google search doesn't turn up much about this machine . . . perhaps it was just a bit too specialized and a bit ahead of its time.
Dave Slater responded to Roger's post with a link to this:
Obviously there are still would-be inventors eager to break the land-water barrier . . . at a price.
The Register reports on mobile web access statistics:
The iPhone dominated the market for mobile web surfing last month, and there were relatively healthy showings from Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.
Net Applications found Apple's handheld status symbol accounted for 66.61 per cent of mobile traffic browsing the web during February.
The phone's nearest competitor was Microsoft's Windows Mobile, with 6.91 per cent of traffic.
Making a strong play was Google's Android, which tied with Symbian for third place with 6.15 per cent of traffic. While that's a long way behind the iPhone, it's not bad considering Android is just over a year old and Symbian has been in the market for longer.
I have found myself using my iPhone to access web sites frequently, although it certainly hasn't replaced my desktop computer . . . but it came in extremely handy during the period between my old computer going black and the new one becoming available.
Even though I have a data plan (which I didn't have on my old Treo), I still do most of my iPhone web surfing on wifi, not on 3G . . . old habits die hard, I guess. I don't want to receive one of those astronomical cell phone bills for going over my data limit.
Wil Wheaton has a conversion on the road to Damascus:
I recently wrote that years of listening to Pandora and using social news sites like Reddit had conditioned me to expect a greater amount of control over the information and entertainment that I consume. Being able to train a service to give me more of what I want and less of what I don't isn't a luxury; it's a requirement.
One afternoon last December, after hearing "Eyes Without A Face" for the third time in five hours on a station that used to play great New Wave music, I looked at my radio and I said, "I wish I could train you like Pandora, so you’d stop playing this crap I can't stand and play more of the music I like. What happened to you, man? You used to be cool!"
My iPod, sitting unused on the passenger seat, said, "hey, I'm right here, you know. I have all your favorite music, all ready to go."
"That's not the point, iPod," I said. "I want radio. I grew up with radio. I've listened to radio my whole life. Radio is important to me, and you, iPod, are no radio!"
"I also don't play a lot of music you don't like, tough guy," my iPod said, nonplussed.
"Touché," I said. "Now, let's stop talking before the people around me think I'm nuts."
"They already think you're nuts. You have a bumper sticker on your car that says 'There’s no place like 127.0.0.1'. You frighten and confuse them. They've probably called the police already. Hey, speaking of The Police..."
That’s when I put my iPod into the glove box, kids.
As fate would have it, there was a Woot Off that day, and one of the items offered was the Slacker portable media player. I'd heard of it before, but I hadn't paid especially close attention to it; after all, I had XM and my iPod. Why did I need something else? What did the Slacker portable media player offer that I didn't have already? Well, after a bit of research I determined that, distilled to its most fundamental essence, the Slacker is like Pandora-on-the-go. It combines a web-based music player with a portable music player where all your ratings and custom stations are synchronized. I decided to take a chance, and bought one for myself.
Gizmodo reports on the ultimate bling accessory (to date):
$2.5 million. Two. Point. Five. Million. Dollars. That's what some idiot is going to pay for what could be the most expensive iPhone mod ever, the iPhone 3G "Kings Button".
I've been using my iPhone for about six months now, and have pretty much settled on the applications I use regularly. Something new comes along every month or so, but most of the apps are the same as they were a couple of weeks after I started using the iPhone. PC World finds that most iPhone users resemble "an average night after the singles bar":
Listen up, iPhone lovers: You may to think twice before shelling out your cash for that next app. A new report compiled by iPhone analytics firm Pinch Media finds the majority of people stop using apps the very day after they download them. Where's the love?
You Promised You'd Call...
The data, presented at this week's New York iPhone Developers Meetup, is actually geared toward developers — but there are some interesting insights for average App Store users, too. Here are three fun facts for any smartphone fan:
• Fact #1: With free apps, a whopping 80 percent of people abandon their selections the day after their first interaction.
• Fact #2: When it comes to paid apps, less than a third of users go back for more the following day.
• Fact #3: Only 1 percent of people end up developing a long-term usage relationship with any given app. Instead, most tend to lose interest after only a few minutes.
Is it just me, or is this all starting to sound eerily like an average night after the singles bar?
Because Apple's App Store doesn't have a "try before you buy" option, lots of pay applications have cut-down "Lite" versions available for free downloading. Some of them are good enough to potentially take sales away from their full-feature siblings, while others really are just lobotomized clones (they look the same, but the functionality is seriously impaired). It's possible that potential buyers who try the Lite versions don't get persuaded because the functionality drop-off is too great, or they find that the Lite version works well enough for their needs.
A fellow blogger (and fellow former Treo user) sent me the following query the other day:
I would greatly appreciate it if you would be willing to share your unvarnished thoughts on the iPhone. I am thinking of replacing my loaner RAZR with something a little more familiar and smartphone-like, but I have some trepidation about the iPhone. As a fellow Treo user I am particularly interested in how you feel it stacks up against the standard smartphone form.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the iPhone. It's not perfect, but it's more than just a step-up from my old Treo. There's a bit of apples-and-oranges there, though, as I didn't have a data plan on the Treo (Bell's data rates when I got the Treo were obscene), while I do have a data plan on the iPhone. Some of the things I'm busy loving about the iPhone may not impress you as much as they do me on that basis. There's also the unfairness of comparing the Treo 600 directly to an iPhone 3G: they're from different generations of technology.
How would you rate it in terms of:
- Phone signal strength
About the same as the Treo, although I've not had the iPhone drop a call on me. The Treo was a bit more likely to drop calls if the signal attenuated too much. But I don't use either device primarily as a phone (I've had the iPhone since August and just last week went over an hour of talk time . . . in cumulative time, not per month).
- Voice clarity
The iPhone is better than the Treo on call clarity. I've also found the volume adjustments to be more sensitive on the iPhone: the Treo seemed to only have three "real" settings (Quiet-Normal-Loud), while the iPhone has a more adjustable range.
- ease of Bluetooth pairing
- Bluetooth clarity
- stereo Bluetooth headset use, for music etc (if any)
I can't address Bluetooth issues as I don't use that on the iPhone and didn't use it on the Treo. Hearsay is that it's good, but that's from folks like your other friends who've gone Apple-philic.
- Wired headset use (for phone or music)
The Apple earbuds were okay, but I replaced them with a set of Bose earbuds which are significantly more comfortable for me to wear (but also more expensive: I got them at the same time as the portable sound dock mentioned below). Sound quality is vastly better on the iPhone than on the Treo. In some ways, the Treo's music playing reminded me of my very first transistor radio (that'd be about 1969, for reference).
- Texting functionality (how's the touch keyboard?)
Better than I expected it would be. I thought I'd have problems getting used to the touchscreen keyboard, but I've found I'm happier using the touch keys than the physical keys on the Treo. A few minor limitations like only having the portrait-style keyboard available in the built-in email client (which I hope will be addressed in future firmware updates). The landscape-style keyboard is better for typing, but the portrait style works.
Minor beef: the frickin' angle brackets are buried on a tertiary keyboard, which makes writing HTML code even more of a pain than it usually is. Most people won't ever notice this.
Another minor beef: we're still waiting for cut-and-paste functionality between applications (a few apps support local c'n'p, but there's no support for it in the iPhone generally).
- GPS functionality
Adequate, but I don't use it enough to really say whether it'd be sufficient by itself if you're used to a stand-alone GPS unit. I don't think it'd be good enough if you need turn-by-turn directions, but it's fine for general GPS use. The Location Services eat battery power quickly, so I leave it turned off most of the time. Google Maps, BTW, is a brilliant app on the iPhone. I had a pay-per-map service on the Treo that didn't live up to my expectations, but Google Maps is a killer app on the iPhone. (Yeah, I'm sure it'll also be a killer app on Android, etc.) Being able to search for a business, see the location on the map, and save the contact information (address, telephone, URL, and email) directly to my address book is wonderful.
- Availability and functionality of add-ons/3rd party applications that you like
There's a mind-croggling number of applications available for the iPhone now. 90% of which are utter crap, of course, but there's a nice selection of gems in the remainder. I'm still using the base browser (Safari), email client, and some other tools. There are other browsers available, but I'm holding on for either Opera or Firefox.
I have my iPhone calendar synched with my Google calendar, I have my to-do list synched with my Gmail tasks list, and my contacts list similarly synched with my Gmail contacts list. This is a brand-new feature as of last week . It works very well, once you've got it set up, and I'm delighted with it. This addresses a weakness of the iPhone compared to the Treo: no desktop client for basic functions like this.
Specific apps I've paid for:
— SplashID. I also had this one on the Treo, and it has broadly the same functionality on both devices. It saves passwords, PINs, and other data you want to keep private. It's password-protected, and there is a desktop app available at extra cost. I haven't tried it (it's twice the cost of the handheld app).
— HanDBase. Replaces MobileDB which I used to use on the Treo. Pretty good, although there are things MobileDB did a bit better (searching for individual records was slightly easier on the Treo, IMO). I use it for pretty pedestrian things like my booklist, wine reviews, and model railroad information. It works well, could be improved in a few areas.
— Evernote. Another brilliant app. It requires that you set up an account on their website, with free and paid flavours. The free account limits the amount of data you can use each month. It's a synchronized notebook, allowing you to save information from your desktop or laptop and save it to your iPhone. For example, I have relevant chunks of the GO train and regional bus schedule saved on Evernote. You can capture web pages (including live links if you want), email messages, images, photos, audio clips, and probably other things I've not encountered yet. It also allows you to create text or "drawn" notes.
— Pocket Money. Another refugee from the Treo. I've been using PM as my financial tracking software for years: couldn't live without it. Works a bit differently on the iPhone than on the Treo, but still an essential for me.
Free stuff I've downloaded and found worth keeping:
— WeatherEye. The Weather Channel's replacement for the built-in Weather application. It may just be me, but the forecasts for my area seemed more accurate compared to the base app. I also preferred the UI.
— Wikipanion. Direct link to Wikipedia. I use this all the time.
— Google Apps. Quick access to all the Google mobile apps. Very useful. Google search results show up in the Safari browser.
— Stanza. Very nicely done ebook reader. The first reader I've tried that works for me. I've only read half-a-dozen books on it so far, of the three dozen I've downloaded (all public domain stuff so far: I'm both cheap and broke at the moment). Most of H. Beam Piper's science fiction works are available . . . as are some of Orwell's and Kipling's works.
— Air Sharing. Cool little app to allow you to use your $200+ iPhone like a $20 thumb drive. Okay, that's a bit harsh. It is a useful app, and if you need to carry documents on your iPhone/iPod, this is a good way to do it.
— Fring. I only use the Skype-connectivity in this app, but it supports a lot of other VOIP/IM style accounts.
— eBay. Fairly useful application if you use eBay at all. I haven't done a lot with it (once again, being broke at the moment).
— Facebook. One of the best apps I've found, in the sense that it gives you the key parts of the Facebook interface without all the clutter. I actually prefer accessing Facebook through this, rather than on the PC.
— Shazam. Very cool app, although I don't use it too often. It takes audio samples of music that is playing around you and tells you (with a great deal of accuracy) the song, artist, and album. It is limited to recorded music, however, and can't figure out what the bar band is attempting to play.
I'm not a big fan of gaming on the iPhone, but there are folks for whom it's the bomb. I've downloaded a few pay games (Bejewelled, Jewel Quest) and several freebies. I play now and again, but it's not essential to me.
Feel free to include any other stuff you want too, like "stuff I love about the Jesusphone" and "stuff I hate about this P.O.S".
I do love the device, although I think I'm still able to be rational about it. Battery power isn't what I'd hoped: unlike the Treo, I can't go several days between charges. Turning off things like Location Services (GPS) does make a difference, but I still need to charge the battery daily. It's less of a hassle, though, as I bought a Bose portable sound dock, which allows me to play music while I'm charging the battery. We barely ever turn on the stereo since I got the Bose . . . six CDs in a changer can't compete with 12 gigs of music.
I still feel like the unwashed barbarian any time I go near an Apple store, however. I just don't "get" that "There is no computer but Apple, and Steve Jobs is its prophet" thing they emanate.
Technovangelists can be scary.
I have some friends who had Treos and moved on to iPhones as well, but they are dedicated Mac-heads, and they'd love any Apple product even if Steve Jobs personally came to their house and murdered their families. It is useless to ask them because mentioning Apple immediately initiates an ode to the worthiness of The Phone and The Jobs.
Speaking of which, has the phone brought about any changes for you, personally? Notice the development of that San Fran "Apple can save the world" attitude?
I'm not quite able to say that the iPhone is the only device I need, but it's far closer than I thought it would be. I can do most of my basic online activity using the iPhone, even including blogging . . . but it's painful doing HTML markup that way.
I'm sure there's more I could say, both positive and negative, but I think I've hit the best of the highs and the worst of the lows (for me, anyway).
Ted Dziuba isn't showing Google the love that Google has come to expect:
Google's money-wasting skills aren't restricted to equity investments. They can spend it internally too. If there's one thing that Google's liberal-leaning workforce loves, it's a good entitlement. You suffered through more than a decade of collegiate education, partly out of fear of entering the real world, and partly because you'd never heard the word "overqualified" before, so when you landed that job as a Software Engineer in Mountain View, dammit, you were entitled to some free shit.
I want a big salary. I want a stock option grant that will get re-priced when it's underwater. I want free food every day. I want a shuttle bus to cart my fat ass from San Francisco to Mountain View, because I'm young and I deserve to live in the city even though it's an intractable commute for people who don't have chauffeurs.
I want all of this, and if you take any of it away, by golly, I'm going to whine about it on an internal mailing list. If my demands are not met, well, I guess I'll whine some more, but eventually shut up because my parents told me that I don't know how good I have it, and deep down, I'm too much of a chickenshit to go looking for a new job.
I see what Google's intention is: a well-cared-for workforce is a productive workforce. An employee who eats on campus doesn't take long lunches and can get back to work faster. When you work at Google, you call these things "perks." After you've quit Google, you call it "welfare." Google is quickly figuring out what the government already knows: Once you start with entitlement programs, the amount of money you need to spend on it never decreases. While Google doesn't publish this line item, probably out of shame, it's been estimated that they spend roughly $72 million per year on food alone.
According to The Register, Apple is unhappy with the marketing of the iPhone application "Wobble":
Apple has ordered the developer of the iPhone Wobble application to remove the words "boobs" and "booty" from his publicity, despite selling more than 20,000 copies of the epically pointless app.
Jon Atherton took a call from a "nice fellow in developer relations" at Apple who told him those two words are not acceptable promotional terms and must be removed. However, a quick search of iTunes reveals 161 titles with the word "boobs" and more than we could be bothered to count featuring the word "booty", though interestingly "Bulgarian airbags" doesn’t get a single hit.
When questioned about the disparity between music tracks and applications, the Apple rep told Jon that he was only calling to discuss the Appstore and couldn't comment on iTunes policy.
The video in question (safe for work, mostly):
Chris Anderson looks at the "Economics of Giving It Away", the move to free digital products:
Over the past decade, we have built a country-sized economy online where the default price is zero — nothing, nada, zip. Digital goods — from music and video to Wikipedia — can be produced and distributed at virtually no marginal cost, and so, by the laws of economics, price has gone the same way, to $0.00. For the Google Generation, the Internet is the land of the free.
Which is not to say companies can't make money from nothing. Gratis can be a good business. How? Pretty simple: The minority of customers who pay subsidize the majority who do not. Sometimes that's two different sets of customers, as in the traditional media model: A few advertisers pay for content so lots of consumers can get it cheap or free. The concept isn't new, but now that same model is powering everything from photo sharing to online bingo. The last decade has seen the extension of this "two-sided market" model far beyond media, and today it is the revenue engine for all of the biggest Web companies, from Facebook and MySpace to Google itself.
Economies of scale still apply — in fact, they may apply more in a digital sense — the minimum numbers are still not trivial. For example, this site is not ad-supported, largely because the traffic is not high enough to make it worthwhile for advertisers to place ads here: the tiny proportion of visitors who might click on an ad make the potential revenue smaller than the (admittedly tiny) administration cost to track and account for.
In other cases, the same digital economics have spurred entirely new business models, such as "Freemium," a free version supported by a paid premium version. This model uses free as a form of marketing to put the product in the hands of the maximum number of people, converting just a small fraction to paying customers. It's an inversion of the old free sample promotion: Rather than giving away one brownie to sell 99 others, you give away 99 virtual penguins to sell one virtual igloo. (Confused? Ask a child: This is the business model for the phenomenally successful Club Penguin.)
Variants of this model have been in use for quite some time. One of the very first software packages I used was a word processor called PC Write by Quicksoft, which was a very early version of the "Freemium" model: there was no charge to use the product1, but by paying extra you got additional features, a printed manual, and free technical support. For the early 1980s, it was a radical business model (and an excellent quality product for the time).
Many iPhone applications have both a free "light" version and a paid "full" version: the installed base is now large enough that it is a very successful model for the producers.
1 Actually, not quite true: in those far distant pre-broadband days, most people got their copies of PC Write by paying a nominal sum to have a diskette mailed to them directly. The past really is a foreign country.
Chris Mellor relives those oh-so-not-glorious days of backing up your computer:
Ever tried backing up your PC to Travan tape? I made that mistake and it was a great introduction to the concept of geological time; the bloody thing stopped and started like a kangaroo tied to the spot with a bungee cord. It took so long to back up files that I went bald waiting.
The backup software was a dog and perfectly matched the awful Travan hardware. I tried restoring a file because I thought it a good idea to practise, but it would have been less painful burning my ear with a blowtorch. Finding the file in the backup software's catalogue, mounting the tape and then paring down my nails, my fingers, my thumbs, my hands and most of my arms while the backup software found the file on the tape and then restored it was an exercise in self-inflicted torture.
Just when you thought the glacial backup flow had completed, the software would proudly announce a verification run to make sure that the data really was backed up, and the Friday evening dinner date had better be put back another two hours while it laboriously and tediously examined every dratted bit of data on the tape that went through the drive as fast as a nervous nanny driving a Nissan Micra with newborn puppies on the front seat.
Of course, things aren't as bad nowadays, but we're still waiting for the ideal solution . . . I'd bet that half the folks reading this have no idea how recently they've backed up their data or (if they have) whether the backup is viable.
I'd had more than my fair share of tedious backup experiences (starting back in the dark ages, when I'd have to set aside an entire day — and a large stack of floppy discs — to run a backup). CD backup was certainly better, but it still was a largely manual operation and you had to babysit the process. DVD backup was another improvement, but you needed to be there during the task.
I tried using an external drive. That didn't go so well. It started nicely, but then faded badly. A replacement drive wasn't the solution, so I'm now backing up to a secondary internal drive, and still going through the DVD shuffle to make offline backups. There's got to be a better way.
Tugster has a series of photos showing the recovery of the aircraft from the Hudson River.
Related: the photo used on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, taken from a rescue craft on an iPhone.
Update: More details about the incident from the Boston Globe:
The blow had come out of nowhere. The NTSB said radar data confirmed that the aircraft intersected a group of "primary targets," almost certainly birds, as the jet climbed over the Bronx. Those targets had not been on the radar screen of the air traffic controller who approved the departure, Higgins said.
After the bird impact, Sullenberger told investigators he immediately took over flying from his co-pilot and made a series of command decisions.
Returning to LaGuardia, he quickly realized, was out. So was nearby Teterboro Airport, where he had never flown before, and which would require him to take the jet over densely populated northern New Jersey.
"We can't do it," he told air traffic controllers. "We're gonna be in the Hudson."
The co-pilot kept trying to restart the engines, while checking off emergency landing procedures on a three-page list that the crew normally begins at 35,000 feet.
Sullenberger guided the gliding jet over the George Washington Bridge and looked for a place to land.
Jon, my virtual landlord, had to troubleshoot some problems with Firefox the other day. This is the non-confidential part of the summary:
Just a note to let you know that I have installed the latest version of WebWorks Publisher and have created some test output. The Firefox problem with the "initial" links in the Index is still present — clicking on a letter at the top of the Index pane does not jump to the corresponding section in the Index.
It works in IE 7.0.5730.13, Chrome 220.127.116.11, Opera 9.25, and Opera 9.63 (but with some display issues due to how Opera interprets table cell backgrounds). I also tried it on Linux (Knoppix) and found that it works on Konqueror 3.5.5 and Iceweasel 18.104.22.168.
My analysis: IE, Chrome, Opera, Konqueror, and Iceweasel are fine browsers, crafted with care and an impressive commitment to professionlism and compatibility. Firefox is a fetid swamp of bugginess, plagued with poor code written by guys who probably have trouble finding their way home at the end of the day. Actually, that last part most likely is not true; they have no problem finding their way home at night because they have never left home; they still live in their mother's basement, where they spend their time writing sloppy code. One can imagine their pathetic simpering as they chortle to themselves with every release: "Ha ha ha! Look what I am going to do to thothe WebWorkth Publisther utherths!"
If he'd included a reference to shit waffles, he'd be getting a call from Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw about intellectual property infringement.
You think you dislike Microsoft Excel or some other spreadsheet package? You probably still think more highly of it than noted curmudgeon John Dvorak does:
2009 marks the 30-year anniversary of the now-ubiquitous spreadsheet program. And society as a whole has deteriorated ever since its invention. It was the spreadsheet that triggered the PC revolution, with VisiCalc the original culprit. Can anyone say that we've actually benefited from its invention? Look around: I think we've suffered.
For one thing, the spreadsheet created the "what if" society. Instead of moving forward and progressing normally, the what-if society questions each and every move we make. It second-guesses everything. Because of the spreadsheet we've been forced to "do the numbers" whenever possible; once the numbers are in the spreadsheet, the what-if process can begin.
In fact, the spreadsheet has resulted in the rise of the once-lowly accountant/bean counter to a position of influence — and often the executive suite. How often in years past — the pre-spreadsheet era, that is — did an accountant take over a company? When and why did the CFO become a title? These people, at best, were once known as comptrollers.
The spreadsheet became a sword, and the accountants knew how to wield it.
Ronald Bailey links to a column by Pete Geddes of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE):
U.S. energy policy is best described as "keep it cheap." It's ironic that our political class is berating the Big Three for building the vehicles Americans bought in response. Congress is now poised to mandate that Detroit manufacture electric and hybrid vehicles. This approach is bound to fail, for these are cars consumers (a) don't want and (b) even if they did, can't afford. The recent plunge in the price of gas at the pump has not helped. November sales of hybrid cars fell 50 percent. U.S. hybrid sales are now back where they were in 2005. (Ford's best selling product in November was the F-150 pickup.) Only when electric and hybrid vehicles really do provide more value to consumers than the alternatives will they succeed.
[. . .]
In a masterstroke of special-interest politics, the UAW used CAFE's "two fleet" rule to forbid Detroit from importing smaller cars from its foreign operations. Forced to build small cars in domestic plants, with above market labor costs, Detroit could not make a profit. (In 2007, Toyota made 9.37 million vehicles and GM about the same. Toyota made a profit of about $1,874 per car, while GM lost $4,055.) Even Japanese and European carmakers rely on sedans with moderate fuel economy for profits. Small, super-efficient cars remain a niche product. Here's an inconvenient truth: forcing Detroit to build fuel-efficient cars in UAW factories is inconsistent with viable, sustainable manufacturing.
Critics often portray the Detroit automakers as "greedy, short-sighted profit seekers." To claim Detroit is refusing to sell cars consumers "really" want, compared with the cars they actually purchase, is a stretch. Is there a simpler explanation? Perhaps alternative cars are simply not ready for prime time?
Read the whole thing.
Slashdot has a thread on the recent lawsuit filed by Worlds.com against NCSoft (producers of, among other multiplayer online games, Guild Wars).
The patent, granted early in 2008, was applied for in 2000.
As reported at The Register, iPhone and iPod users will have to struggle on without this little application:
An application that allows iPhone users to wobble a pair of breasts has been rejected by Apple's application store, denying iPhone geeks the nearest thing to sex they'll get this holiday season.
The application was rejected on the grounds of "objectionable content", though with the caveat: "If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that iBoobs does not violate the iPhone SDK Agreement we encourage you to do so." Though it's hard to see how that wouldn't detract from the core proposition:
The app was developed by Mystic Game Development, and we have to accept the possibility that it was done just to demonstrate their character animation middleware - in which case we can only congratulate them on a job well done.
Remember the Julie Amero case? In brief, she was a victim of both her own computer illiteracy and the witch hunting mentality (see here and here for background). The good news is that common sense has, if not prevailed, at least greatly moderated the situation:
Julie Amero is free at last.
If this were the 1970s, Bob Dylan might have written a song about her. Today it's geeks who came to her rescue.
Amero's "crime": In October 2004, the substitute teacher from Norwich, Conn., was surfing the Net on a computer inside a middle school classroom when porn ads began popping up all over the screen. She didn't turn the computer off, because school officials expressly told her not to. Someone reported the incident, and Amero was charged with four counts of endangering minors. In January 2007, a jury convicted Amero of surfing XXX sites in the classroom.
Amero was looking at 40 years in the slammer when geeks around the country — most notably Sunbelt Software CEO Alex Eckelberry — read of her verdict and immediately recognized the telltale signs of a spyware infection. They went to work on Amero's behalf, urging the judge for a retrial (which was granted in June 2007).
As I predicted in the earlier posts, even though the worst hasn't happened (the prison time), Amero's life is still shattered:
Amero isn't totally exonerated. She agreed to plead guilty to "disorderly conduct" (a misdemeanor), pay US$100, and have her teaching credentials revoked. The state still refuses to acknowledge it was mistaken. Lord only knows if the school ever cleaned up its computers.
Somebody needs to revoke the credentials of Norwich school administrators and prosecutors — or at least make them stay after school and learn something about the machines they put inside their classrooms.
The larger, uglier verdict in this case is the terminal cluelessness of everyone involved — from administrators who allowed spyware-infested computers into schools, to the DA's office, to the "expert witness" who wasn't actually an expert, to the first judge who refused to let the defense present forensic evidence on Amero's behalf, to the jury, and finally to Amero herself. All of them get an F in 21st-century survival skills.
So, no jail time, but a trivial fine, a criminal record, and no possibility of her ever being allowed to teach again. But it was all for the children, so it must be okay, right?
Jon sent me a link to Iowahawk's latest car ad:
All new for 2012, the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the mandatory American car so advanced it took $100 billion and an entire Congress to design it. We started with same reliable 7-way hybrid ethanol-biodeisel-electric-clean coal-wind-solar-pedal power plant behind the base model Pelosi, but packed it with extra oomph and the sassy styling pizazz that tells the world that 1974 Detroit is back again — with a vengeance.
We've subsidized the features you want and taxed away the rest. With its advanced Al Gore-designed V-3 under the hood pumping out 22.5 thumping, carbon-neutral ponies of Detroit muscle, you'll never be late for the Disco or the Day Labor Shelter. Engage the pedal drive or strap on the optional jumbo mizzenmast, and the GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition easily exceeds 2016 CAFE mileage standards. At an estimated 268 MPG, that's a savings of nearly $1800 per week in fuel cost over the 2011 Pelosi.
Even with increased performance we didn't skimp on safety. With 11-point passenger racing harnesses, 15-way airbags, and mandatory hockey helmet, you'll have the security knowing that you could survive a 45 MPH collision even if the GTxi SS/Rt were capable of that kind of illegal speed.
Which reminded me of Chip Bok's comic from last week:
I added an update to the original post, but if you're just looking at new postings, you might not see it:
You can reduce the sucktastic all-ads-in-your-face, all-the-time by switching back to what Rogers amusingly calls Mail Classic. Ads, but in a much less obtrusive, less aggravating way.
Of course, there's no guarantee that they won't pull Mail Classic without warning . . .
Instead of the obnoxious auto-opening panel on the right side of the page (which you can't turn off for more than one message at a time), the top 25% of the page now has an ad (yes, some of which are still fricking animated). I've found that much less irritating, so I've switched back to the older interface.
If that doesn't work for you, Wired's "How-To Wiki" has advice on how to Ditch Your Old E-mail Addresses.
Update: Comments are open, temporarily.
A few interesting links on the Big(?)
From the Wall Street Journal, some home truths about GM's forlorn hope, the Volt:
We're talking about a headache of a car that will have to be recharged for six hours to give 40 miles of gasoline-free driving. What if you park on the street or in a public garage? Tough luck. The Volt also will have a small gas engine onboard to recharge the battery for trips of more than 40 miles. Don't believe press blather that it will get 50 mpg in this mode. Submarines and locomotives have operated on the same principle for a century. If it were so efficient in cars, they'd clog the roads by now. (That GM allows the 50 mpg myth to persist in the press, and even abets it, only testifies to the company's desperation.)
Hardly mentioned is the fact that gasoline goes bad after a few months. If the Volt is used as intended, for daily trips of 40 miles or less, the car's tank will have to be drained periodically and the gas disposed of.
On the plight GM is in, and how long ago it started to drop into the abyss:
GM's operations are not otherwise sound. They have been headed for this moment since 1973. Conservatives blame legacy costs, and liberals blame management. They're both right. GM's legacy costs are crazy. So is the UAW leadership, which, goaded by the retirees, is knowingly driving the company into bankruptcy rather than negotiate clearly unsustainable deals. Those legacy costs would probably not be supportable by any company in a competitive environment; the UAW's expectations were created in an era of comfortable oligopoly, when all costs could be directly passed on to the consumer. And the poor quality control on American cars is, from all reports, the responsibility of the union, which maintains downright silly work rules that not even the most ardent liberal could defend in both the Big Three and their various parts suppliers. My favorite was the supplier plant that was forced to work in english measurement even though they had to sell parts in metric. But the examples are legion.
But too, management doesn't seem to be trying much harder to keep themselves out of bankruptcy court. The company could have limped on for longer if it had, y'know, made cars anyone wanted to buy. That's not the UAW's fault. GM's management seems to have a positive genius for making horrible cars, as if they'd deliberately sat down and asked themselves how they could best combine ugly, inconvenient, and unreliable into one expensive package.
And another post from Megan McArdle on why bankruptcy is the only sensible way to solve the problem:
The entire thing is a toxic mess, left over from the days when interlocking oligopolies contentedly conspired to suck every last dollar out of captive consumers to whom Detroit would happily have given Flintstones cars if they could have figured out how to do them in two-tone vinyl. But things that look like lunatic mistakes on the part of management were often quite rational responses to intolerable pressures. I'm still not clear on why the cars had to be ugly, and all of the indicators cunningly hidden behind the wheel where they wouldn't distract the driver, of course. Management did many stupid and inexplicable things.
Having driven the companies right up to the verge of bankruptcy, the conceded literally only when it became clear that the union members were about to get their contracts unilaterally rewritten by a judge, lose their health benefits, and possibly get their pensions crammed down by the PBGC, which maxes out somewhere slightly north of $40K per annum. Then the unions ever so generously agreed to cut health care costs by 30% in exchange for job security guarantees. And now that their game of collective bargaining chicken has resulted in the obvious disaster, they want us to pay to save their jobs, at a cost of over $300,000 per.
Unfortunately, it's not a production model, but the first of 200 Scorpions made an appearance at the SEMA show:
The Scorpion gets its sting from a hydrogen delivery system the company calls H2GO. While cars like the Honda FCX Clarity and Chevrolet Equinox use hydrogen fuel cells to drive electric motors, the Scorpion uses electrolysis to convert water into gaseous hydrogen. The hydrogen is mixed with 91-octane gasoline to improve the fuel economy and reduce the emissions of the car's 3.5-liter internal combustion engine.
Maxwell, a 40-year auto industry vet and lifelong gearhead who holds several patents, is using the limited production — just 200 will be built — Scorpion to prove the technology works and legitimize the H2GO system the company will begin selling for $1,000 early next year. The way he sees it, if H2GO works on the Scorpion, it'll work on your Civic.
Maxwell didn't offer much in the way of specifics, saying the publicly traded company is still dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the venture. But he says H2GO is good for a 15 percent to 33 percent improvement in mileage, a noticeable increase in power and a significant reduction in overall emissions. The company is pursuing EPA certification of the Scorpion so people can get a better idea of what the system is capable of. Maxwell insists the 40-mpg figure is the real deal.
This is a better approach to popularizing alternative fuels . . . for the non-city-core car-buying public. If their next trial model is an SUV or a pickup truck, they'll have to hire a whole bunch of order-takers for middle America.
As if the ethanol movement didn't have enough problems, now comes a report that diesel fuel can be produced by naturally occurring fungus:
A fungus that lives inside trees in the Patagonian rain forest naturally makes a mix of hydrocarbons that bears a striking resemblance to diesel, biologists announced today. And the fungus can grow on cellulose, a major component of tree trunks, blades of grass and stalks that is the most abundant carbon-based plant material on Earth.
"When we looked at the gas analysis, I was flabbergasted," said Gary Strobel, a plant scientist at Montana State University, and the lead author of a paper in Microbiology describing the find. "We were looking at the essence of diesel fuel."
While genetic engineers have been trying a variety of techniques and genes to get microbes to create fuel out of sugars and starches, almost all commercial biofuel production uses the century-old dry mill grain process. Ethanol plants ferment corn ears into alcohol, which is simple, but wastes the vast majority of the biomatter of the corn plant.
What's even more interesting is this thought: "because the fungus can manufacture what we would normally think of as components of crude oil, it casts some doubt on the idea that crude oil is a fossil fuel."
What I'm trying to say here is that, yes, bikes and cars are both forms of transport, but they have nothing in common. Imagining that you can ride a bike because you can drive a car is like imagining you can swallow-dive off a 90ft cliff because you can play table tennis.
However, many people are making the switch because they imagine that having a small motorcycle will be cheap. It isn't. Sure, the 125cc Vespa I tried can be bought for £3,499, but then you will need a helmet (£300), a jacket (£500), some Freddie Mercury trousers (£100), shoes (£130), a pair of Kevlar gloves (£90), a coffin (£1,000), a headstone (£750), a cremation (£380) and flowers in the church (£200).
In other words, your small 125cc motorcycle, which has no boot, no electric windows, no stereo and no bloody heater even, will end up costing more than a Volkswagen Golf. That said, a bike is much cheaper to run than a car. In fact, it takes only half a litre of fuel to get from your house to the scene of your first fatal accident. Which means that the lifetime cost of running your new bike is just 50p.
Jeremy Clarkson, "Vespa GTV Navy 125", TimesOnline, 2008-10-19
Roger Henry sent a link to this visual representation of worldwide air traffic:
Note the time-lapse as traffic chases the dawn and dusk lines (it's not immediately obvious on first viewing, but it helps to explain why the traffic rises and falls).
I've had access to Usenet for nearly 25 years, and even now, although I don't spend a lot of time there, I'd miss it if it went away. Dave DeJean looks at the long, convoluted history of Usenet:
Usenet was once big — as big, in its day, as blogging is today. In the 1980s, before the Web made the Internet the focus of everyone's attention, Usenet tied the messaging and communications of local BBS systems into the distributed networking of the Internet. The result was a mass of user communities (called newsgroups) devoted to almost every conceivable topic, from software support to alien spacecraft.
But as Usenet nears 30, it has become, instead, the conduit for a rising tide of binary-file traffic that threatens to swamp the Internet. While it's not easy to upload and download files from via the Usenet binary groups (large media files must be transferred in chunks and then stitched together again), savvy file exchangers with little respect for copyright law have found it a relatively safe place to operate.
All this activity isn't only a copyright issue for ISPs. The resources taken up by large numbers of people uploading large numbers of files is significant — and one that many ISPs may no longer be able to ignore. In fact, in recent weeks, major ISPs have stopped providing open access to the hundreds of thousands of newsgroups distributed via Usenet. These actions have been driven by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's crusade against child pornography on the Internet. Cuomo's actions, in turn, may have given ISPs an excuse to cut back on their increasingly costly support for Usenet.
[. . .]
Usenet's technological underpinnings predate its association with the Internet, resting on dial-up-based store-and-forward e-mail BBS systems and UUCP protocols and programs. Although its name makes it sound monolithic, Usenet is perhaps best described as a huge, loose collection of informal information-exchange communities that have little in common beyond their naming convention and their reliance on the Network News Transfer Protocol used to manage Usenet messages.
The basic unit is the newsgroup, a threaded discussion devoted to a topic. Newsgroups are organized by topic into hierarchies.
[. . .]
The Big 8 (originally the Big 7; humanities.* was added later) were created in 1987, when the explosive growth of Usenet and the proliferation of newsgroups forced a reorganization that came to be called the Great Renaming. It systematized the names and structures of the newsgroups to make it easier for system administrators to manage the groups they carried.
The ninth major hierarchy, alt.*, was created as a protest to the Great Renaming, and was specifically intended to provide a less controlled alternative to the Big 8. Fittingly, Internet folklore says the first three newsgroups created in alt.* were alt.sex, alt.drugs and alt.rockandroll.
Of course, it's not all roses, even in the internet backwaters of Usenet. Several major ISPs have dropped Usenet access recently (in Canada, Rogers dropped access several years ago). It may be only a matter of time.
Google has released a new feature to help you to avoid the dreaded "sending email while baked" problem: Mail Goggles.
Sometimes I send messages I shouldn't send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together. Gmail can't always prevent you from sending messages you might later regret, but today we're launching a new Labs feature I wrote called Mail Goggles which may help.
When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?
Sounds fine, provided that you are basically math-literate. For those of us who have careers carefully structured around the need to avoid math, this may not be as helpful.
According to this report, Apple may be considering shutting down the iTunes store:
Apple could shut down iTunes, the world's biggest online music store, if a ruling expected tomorrow forces the company to pay more to music makers for each downloaded track.
The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) in Washington DC will decide whether to grant the request of American music publishers to increase royalty rates on songs bought from online music stores such as iTunes.
The National Music Publishers' Association, which represents the interests of music makers and songwriters in the US, want rates to be increased 9 cents to 15 cents, which represents a 66 per cent rise.
Folks on the iPhone mailing list are recommending that anyone who has bought music from the iTunes store ensure that they have the files backed up, just in case. I can't imagine any mechanism that would allow Apple to rescind previous sales, no matter what the situation may be with future sales of media through the iTunes store.
It is an elaborately crafted photographic film, extolled for its sharpness, vivid colors and archival durability. Yet die-hard fan Alex Webb is convinced the digital age soon will take his Kodachrome away.
"Part of me feels like, boy, if only I'd been born 20 years earlier," says the 56-year-old photographer, whose work has appeared in National Geographic magazine. "I wish they would keep making it forever. I still have a lot of pictures to take in my life."
Only one commercial lab in the world, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan., still develops Kodachrome, a once ubiquitous brand that has freeze-framed the world in rich but authentic hues since it was introduced in the Great Depression.
Eastman Kodak Co. now makes the slide and motion-picture film in just one 35mm format, and production runs - in which a master sheet nearly a mile long is cut up into more than 20,000 rolls - fall at least a year apart.
You think the tax folks are scary? This is scarier:
The US Internal Revenue Service is putting tax payers at risk by operating thousands of web servers that contain security vulnerabilities or have not received proper authorization, a new report has concluded.
According to the Treasury Inspector for the Tax Administration — a Treasury Department watchdog — the IRS operates 2,093 web servers with at least one vulnerability. It said 540 of those servers contained one or more vulnerabilities rated high risk. The report identified 1,811 internal servers that had not been approved to connect to the network. Some 1,150 of those were being used for non-business purposes.
Last week, Google released a web browser called Chrome, and the online tech media had a powerful Googasm. We were long overdue for another climax like this, having been lightly stimulated with half-baked Google web products in the four years since GMail was released.
Every time the media fires off its gravy so violently, it highlights how little some of the supposed "experts" actually know about computers. Case in point: People saying that Google Chrome is an operating system designed to compete head-to-head with Microsoft Windows. [. . .]
Users aren't going to decide which computer to buy based on which browser comes pre-installed, and even if they do, I'm going to guess that they will choose Internet Explorer (or - as it is known commonly in user parlance - "the blue internet that opens my web sites").
Ted Dziuba, "Chrome-fed Googasm bares tech pundit futility: It's a f***ing web browser", The Register, 2008-09-08
According to this PC World article, "nearly 30 percent of Internet users confessed to purchasing something from spam e-mail."
If that is true, it's no wonder that we're being deluged with more and more spam . . . it clearly works.
This was one of the best quotes on the topic I've found:
"At its peak, IPv6 represented less than one hundredth of 1 percent of Internet traffic" over the past year, Arbor Networks' Craig Labovitz wrote in a summary of the findings, adding wryly: "This is somewhat equivalent to the allowed parts of contaminants in drinking water."
Whole article here.
Nine aircraft grounded as a TSA employee finds a whole new level of "incompetent" to lodge in:
Citing sources within the aviation industry, ABC News reports an overzealous TSA employee attempted to gain access to the parked aircraft by climbing up the fuselage . . . reportedly using the Total Air Temperature (TAT) probes mounted to the planes' noses as handholds.
"The brilliant employees used an instrument located just below the cockpit window that is critical to the operation of the onboard computers," one pilot wrote on an American Eagle internet forum. "They decided this instrument, the TAT probe, would be adequate to use as a ladder."
I can't say it any better than the E-I-C in a note on the original article:
This was an extraordinarily dangerous incident, folks. The TSA has neither the mandate nor the knowledge to inspect any aircraft for any reason. The stupidity of this matter is nearly unbelievable . . . until you hear that the TSA is involved . . . then it becomes understandable, though still tragic. And I can not tell you how frustrating it is, to see them continue to hurt an industry that they were created to protect.
The TSA has NO BUSINESS putting untrained personnel in a position to damage aircraft. Their bizarre games, in the name of security, do NOTHING to enhance security and do much to inhibit safety. Aviation personnel — pilots, A&P's, ground personnel — are all either licensed or supervised by licensed personnel and this kind of tampering, had it been accomplished by anyone else, would have subjected that person to criminal charges.
H/T to Jacob Grier for the link.
I finally broke down and bought an iPhone 3G last night. It's actually only an "i" until my cell number is transferred over from Bell to Rogers (which can take "from two hours to five days").
So far, aside from the ironic response of "Oooh! Ah!" from co-workers, it hasn't changed my life . . . aren't I supposed to be all hip and cool now that I've got a JesusPhone?
The user interface is, as so many gushing reviews indicated, very well thought-out and easy to figure out. Switching from a button keyboard (on the Treo) to an onscreen keyboard is still taking me a bit of adaptation time — I was never a fast typist on the Treo, but I'm about half as fast on the iPhone so far.
One of the big reasons for me looking at an iPhone was that some of the applications I depend on are also available for the iPhone . . . except that it's still early days, and in at least one case I'll have to wait for the next revision so that I can transfer my data cleanly without needing to mess around with not-quite-approved methods.
I nearly got an iPhone 3G yesterday, but the local Rogers store was out of stock on the model I was interested in, so I can still mock and sneer at those poseurs who already have JesusPhones.
Of course, once I've got one of my own, my attitude will completely change, and I'll probably swing 180 degrees to jeer at those doubters and late adopters who haven't yet drunk the iPhone Kool-Aid.
Much consternation in the iPhone developer community over the revelation of a "kill switch" buried in the operating system:
Issues surrounding Apple's supposed Orwellian-control over your iPhone have been popping up as iTunes applications have surfaced, disappeared, and resurfaced in recent weeks. The iPhone "Kill Switch" is a separate matter. It is theorized to be a mechanism that can be updated remotely (no syncing required) by Apple and can disable any application running on an iPhone at any time. [. . .]
But to be clear, these applications have not been murdered by a mysterious Apple "kill switch." The so-called "kill switch" remains more mystery than anything else. Zdziarski confesses on research notes posted to his site he knows little about what the code he found does: "We do not know whether this mechanism is active, or what exactly it does."
Nevertheless iPhone developers are beginning to say "hey, wait a minute" as they ponder developing software under the influence of Apple's apparent fickle whims. Many are now asking questions about this "kill switch" wondering could their hard work vanish from iPhones at the flip of a switch?
As more people become dependent upon their iPhones, it becomes a much wider concern over just how much control users have over their own equipment . . . and Apple's famous need to control the users' experience will become a potentially explosive issue. Apple has a huge store of user goodwill, which they've miraculously maintained even as other companies have been pilloried for lesser sins.
It's a huge risk that Apple seems to be blithely running here . . . if the public stopped believing the hype about Apple, they'd become a very ordinary technology firm. Apple's ability to charge a premium is directly proportional to the power of their image with the general public.
According to Geekdad’s Chris Radcliff, iPhone geeks are very enthusiastic about developing applications for the platform:
Wow. If there was any doubt that the iPhone is a hot platform, iPhoneDevCamp 2 just squashed it like a tank tread over a pile of Zunes.
Hundreds of attendees got together for a weekend of iPhone application hacking, discussion and beer. Buckets of beer and piles of pizza, all supplied by sponsors eager to find out who might have the next killer app. And apps there were aplenty; 44 teams submitted them for the hackathon, including 3 top apps from satellite camps.
I didn't mention sleep, because there was none. This was my very first time developing for the iPhone (or in Objective-C at all), so I coded into the wee hours of the morning just to get things to compile. My team got a lot of help from Objective-C gurus on site, too.
On the enterprise front, Bill Ray notes some remaining barriers to acceptance:
Analysts have decreed that the new iPhone's lack of security and poor battery life make it unsuitable for all but the lightest enterprise use.
The conclusions come in a nine-page research note from Gartner, as reported by Computerword. Entitled iPhone 2.0 Is Ready for the Enterprise, but Caveats Apply, it is based on analysis of the new iPhone version 2.0 software and 3G handset.
According to Ken Dulaney, author of the report, the lack of battery life on the 3G iPhone makes it impossible to maintain synchronisation with an Exchange server for a full day even if no calls are made. That's a serious issue, but the lack of security is the biggest impediment to enterprise adoption.
And finally, unsubstantiated rumours about an "iPhone nano" being available for Christmas this year.
I'm almost starting to feel sorry for the folks at Cuil. First it was the less-than-stellar grand opening, then the snarky commentary from folks who tried the service but were unimpressed, and now it turns out that their name is uncool:
Seeing as how new search engine Cuil.com is, well, a search engine, its founders might have known that people could easily check online the company's claim that the word "cuil" means "knowledge" in Irish. Because, in fact, it doesn't.
Members of an online Irish language forum have been discussing the word and the company's claims of its definition. They say the word is most often translated to mean "corner" or "nook," but has sometimes been used for "hazel," as in the nut.
An online Irish language dictionary defines cúil as "rear." Another uses cuil to describe various kinds of flies. So while the word, or versions of it with and without accent marks, can mean a few different things, most Irish language enthusiasts say it doesn't mean anything like knowledge, despite Cuil.com's claims.
The only Canadian distributor for Apple's iPhone says that they're still selling very well:
Sales of the iPhone in Canada are still outpacing supply, but the device's exclusive carrier Rogers Wireless (TMX:RCI.B) says it's getting weekly shipments from manufacturer Apple Inc. to help meet the demand.
The much-hyped iPhone went on sale across the country July 11 amid hoopla and buzz similar to the launch of a sought-after video game. Hundreds of Canadians lined up to buy the iPhone at Rogers stores across the country — albeit a year after the device was available to U.S. consumers.
What consumers waited hours for is a next-generation version of the smartphone that lets users surf the Internet and check their email with the added bonus that it works just like an iPod, storing and playing music and video.
"Sales continue to exceed supply and we continue to receive weekly incoming shipments from Apple thanks to pre-ordered inventory," Rogers Wireless spokeswoman Odette Coleman said Wednesday.
There's only one person in my immediate circle who's flaunting a JesusPhone around, but several have mentioned they're considering getting one. I'm still thinking about it myself, for that matter. We'll all be keeping an eye on the end of August, as that is when Rogers' temporary data plan price break ends ($30 per month for up to 6Gb).
Ronald Bailey pulls out the calculator to do some rough calculations on Al Gore's proposal to produce 100% of America's electricity from renewable energy:
Of course, great-souled visionaries such as Gore do not concern themselves with piddling and mundane issues such as who will pay for this marvelous no-carbon energy future and how much it will cost. Not being burdened with a great soul, I decided to don my green eyeshade and make a preliminary stab at figuring out how much Gore's scheme might cost us.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the existing capacity of U.S. coal, gas, and oil generating plants totals around 850,000 megawatts. So how much would it cost to replace those facilities with solar electric power? Let's use the recent announcement of a 280-megawatt thermal solar power plant in Arizona for $1 billion as the starting point for an admittedly rough calculation. Combined with a molten salt heat storage systems, solar thermal might be able to provide base load power. Crunching the numbers (850,000 megawatts/280 megawatts x $1 billion) produces a total capital cost of just over $3 trillion over the next ten years.
What about wind power? Oilman T. Boone Pickens is building the world's biggest wind energy project with an installed capacity of 4,000 megawatts at a cost of $10 billion, or about $2.5 billion per 1,000 megawatts. For purposes of illustration, this implies a total cost of around $2.1 trillion over the next ten years to replace current carbon-emitting electricity generation capacity with wind power. That's assuming that the wind projects generate electricity at their rated capacity at or near 100 percent of the time. Making the heroic assumption that in fact wind projects will generate power at about one-third of their rated capacity (due to wind variability), this would imply tripling the number of wind power generators. This boosts the total overall cost to more than $6 trillion over the next ten years.
So how does it all compare to current expenditure plans for energy generation?
As a very rough low estimate, Gore's 10-year no-carbon energy plan would cost about $300 billion per year for the next ten years. According to the Brattle Group consultancy, "new and replacement generating plants will cost about $560 billon through 2030, absent a significant expansion of energy efficiency programs or new climate initiatives." That comes to an average of about $25 billion per year over the next 22 years. Gore's proposal is a "new climate initiative" that aims to spend twelve times more than the utility industry would otherwise annually invest in new and replacement generating capacity.
An unusually breathless report at Webmonkey is headlined "Blind Taste Test Shows XP Users Love Vista":
Microsoft took a play from beverage marketing this month with a blind taste taste of Windows Vista. Company researchers rounded up XP-loving Vista skeptics in San Francisco to try out what they claimed was a new operating system, which they code-named Mojave. After taking the OS for a spin, the guinea pigs were let in on the secret: they were drinking straight-off-the-shelf Windows Vista.
The taste-testers were overwhelmingly positive. Earlier this month Microsoft announced a plan to tell the "real Windows Vista story." Expect the footage from the not-so-hidden cameras to make its way into an ad campaign soon. No word on whether there were any Chris Farley-esque outtakes.
And why should this be a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention? The new Vista UI got pretty high marks from reviewers, and it apparently cleans up some less-than-great UI quirks from XP. Run on new (high-powered) equipment, there's no reason it shouldn't wow a sample audience who were brought in to test-drive a new Windows OS.
Well . . . of course!
This is not why people have been staying away from Vista — it's not the look and feel of the UI — it's that it'll almost certainly run like a constipated hippo on most people's existing machines! Few of us want to buy all-new equipment just to run a new OS. Especially if we'll need to buy faster/more capable machines just to get something like the same perceived performance as we currently get from our old XP-powered clunkers.
For the last several years, Vint Cerf, co-creator of TCP/IP and now a VP at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), has worked with colleagues from NASA and elsewhere to extend Internet connectivity to deep space.
If their work succeeds, astronauts on manned missions to Mars and other distant locations could keep in touch with researchers worldwide (while maintaining their Twitter links). (Notably, Cerf's work began prior to his start at Google and continues independently of that company.)
Deep space presents daunting challenges to Internet communications. These include distance; line-of-sight obstructions (like meteors); weight issues (high-powered antennas are often too heavy to send on a space mission); and the need for specialized "hardened" equipment that can automatically heal itself or be fixed via remote (very remote) network management.
Cerf and others are engaged in several efforts to address these challenges. One approach is to modify the satellite payload design now used to link IP routers with Ka-band satellites in government and business networks. Some researchers think an adjusted satellite-based IP would work fine, as long as links were made to planets or highly concentrated communities in space, mimicking the successful one-to-many transmission patterns of today's high-powered Ka-band gear.
Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of one of the stranger episodes in Canadian flight history, the "Gimli Glider":
Air Canada Flight 143, with 61 passengers and eight crew members, was headed from Montreal to Edmonton.
Due to a miscalculation of the recently adopted metric system, the Boeing 767 ran out of fuel 12 km from the Ontario-Manitoba border at an altitude of 41,000 feet.
Plummeting fast with no engine power and no chance of making the Winnipeg airport, Captain Robert Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal made the decision to turn the plane into a giant glider and landed it at an abandoned air force strip at Gimli, Man.
No one was hurt except for some minor scrapes from exiting the plane.
I found this Wired post about the possibile threats posed by increasing use of IPv6 to be quite interesting. IPv6, for those of you not elbow-deep in internet protocol, is the replacement for the current internet address model (the way that human-readable names like "wired.com" are mapped to numerical addresses like 255.128.32.16). The limitation to the existing model (IPv4) is that we're literally running out of address space: IPv6 will vastly increase the number of discrete addresses available for use, but it will take a few years for the necessary equipment and software to be deployed.
Something I hadn't thought about was that this roll-out of IPv6-capable equipment might create some new opportunities for hackers:
Joe Klein, a security researcher with Command Information, says many organizations and home users have IPv6 enabled on their systems by default but don't know it. They also don't have protection in place to block malicious traffic, since some intrusion detection systems and firewalls aren't set up to monitor IPv6 traffic, presenting an appealing vector through which outsiders can attack their networks undetected.
"Essentially, we have systems that are wide open to a network," says Klein, who is a member of an IPv6 task force and will be speaking about the issue tonight at the HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) conference in New York. "It's like having wireless on your network without knowing it."
The internet is moving to IPv6 because IPv4 is running out of addresses. Estimates of when IPv4 addresses will be exhausted have varied. Command Information has a widget on its web site counting down the number of IPv4 addresses still available each time the American Registry for Internet Numbers assigns an address or block of addresses. By the widget's count, the supply of IPv4 addresses – currently at around 620 million -- will run out in about 917 days, or about two and a half years.
Since Reihan already had an iPhone, and I don't, he's choosing between the marginal upgrades — mostly the GPS and the 3G network, and his old phone. I, however didn't have one before, so I get to be all gee-whiz about features the rest of you have had for a year. Which are, as I have repeatedly been told, pretty great. The phone interface is unbelievably easy to use — so easy that my technophobe mother and luddite crank sister want to join me on an AT&T family plan with iPhones of their very own. Unlike Reihan, I've had absolutely no trouble with call quality — indeed, it seems quite a bit better than the reception on my old Razr. And the iPod sounds great.
On the new side, there are a host of new apps that take advantage of the GPS feature, and I've installed most of them. The killer app is, obviously, using Google maps to get you un-lost. But people have also coded a bunch of social networking applications that let you, for example, see where all your friends are. The ones with iPhones, anyway. And if they don't have iPhones, they should be dead to you.
Just kidding. Since I'm the early adopter on a lot of these applications, it remains to be seen how useful they will be. But things like Twitterific, AIM, and Facebook are already pretty key.
Megan McArdle, "Pondering the iPhone", TheAtlantic.com, 2008-07-15
The Canadian launch of the Apple iPhone 3G wasn't quite the run-away success that Rogers may have hoped for, especially as they appeared to have remarkably small quantities of product on hand: 100 iPhones per store!
Apple's new iPhone was launched across the country Friday after a publicity buildup more suited to a mega-popular video game, but the lineups for the new high-tech toy weren't quite on the same scale.
The hundreds of Canadians who did spend hours in line Friday were among the first in the country to buy the highly-hyped iPhone - a year after U.S. consumers were first to buy it.
I'm not sure I get how this was supposed to work: Rogers expected "record first-day sales", yet they don't even have enough iPhones available to cover the line-up outside the Toronto store on opening day? And, in a brilliant display of sensitivity to their eager customers . . . nobody goes out to tell the folks waiting all those hours in line that only 100 of them are going to be served?
Customers were being admitted to the Toronto location at a blistering pace of "one customer roughly every 10 or 15 minutes". It's rather amazing that there were not more altercations in the queue, as there had been in a reported case in Florida.
Worse, both for Rogers and other suppliers, servers were unable to handle the sudden load as new customers tried to get their iPhones activated and existing customers tried to update their firmware to take advantage of the new operating system features.
Liz Hamilton, a spokesperson for Rogers, confirmed that the cable and wireless giant had run into some computer-system issues because of the "unprecedented consumer demand" for the latest version of the device, which went on sale around the world yesterday.
"Systems are slow and there were periods where they were down but at last check, they are up and running," she said in the early afternoon. "Our customers are experiencing some wait times for our customer activation and even the process of 'unbricking' (unlocking) as iTunes was experiencing unprecedented demand worldwide."
Out in the RuinedIphone.com zone, where over 64,000 have signed the petition, they're trying to put together a group to approach Rogers in hopes of getting a better deal:
Ok. The only way to make a difference is to get a petition together and force a deal. We are trying to get as many people as possible together in order for us to negotiate a great deal on celluar data and voice plans to our visitors. Once this list hits 10,000 people we will approach Rogers, Bell, Telus and other alternatives to offer people a plan that will rival any plan in the states. The more people the better. Please enter your name only if you are serious.
We are going to negotiate a deal that will hopefully take care of cancellation fees from your current provider. The more numbers we get the more power we will have.
Well, today's the day . . . for the usual sort of breathless enthusiasm:
The mobile phone that lets users play music, watch video, surf the Internet and check email rolls out across Canada on Friday after a lot of hype and a controversy over price.
Apparently this reporter had never heard of the Blackberry or the Treo, as they've offered some or all of the noteworthy features (music, email, web browsing) for some time now.
But though the Apple iPhone may be the smartphone consumers long to have, analysts say spending on the phone may not live up to its buzz. Exclusive Canadian carrier Rogers Wireless hasn't said how many iPhones it has received to sell in Canada or would like to sell here, but has said it has sufficient inventory.
The price is still controversial, even after the bone Rogers threw to potential customers earlier this week. I have to agree with this:
Analysts said that while there's pent-up demand for the high-end, touch-screen phone, only a small segment of consumers will buy it because of the costs associated with running it.
"The average person is going to look at this thing and say 'Very cool, very nice phone,' but am I willing to spend the money for a three-year contract at probably $70 to $80 a month minimum when you talk about voice and data," said U.S. telecom analyst Jack Gold.
You'll notice, for example, that I'm not busy lining up in front of the Toronto location for iPhone sales, unlike several dozen people gathered outside a Halifax store:
A crowd of several dozen people gathered outside a Halifax store Friday morning waiting to buy the first Apple iPhones to be sold in Canada.
The East Coast city is the first of six cities where select Rogers Wireless stores will be opening their doors at 8 a.m. local time to sell the much-hyped smart phones Friday. Other stores are located in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary.
About 30 people waited outside a store in a Halifax mall early Friday morning, while in Toronto a string of people sat in lawn chairs outside a downtown store near the Eaton Centre.
Only in the media does a crowd of "several dozen" become the equivalent of "about 30".
Some in Halifax said they'd arrived as early as 2 a.m. to beat an expected rush.
Store officials, who were handing out numbered tickets, said they expect crowds to grow throughout the day.
You can bet that the store officials are praying that the crowds will materialize, never mind grow. If this doesn't turn into the anticipated feeding frenzy, Rogers will be quite embarassed (especially after their widely reported "climbdown"):
But when Canadians open their wallets to buy the popular device, they will be paying almost the highest overall price of all countries.
Canadians who buy the device before the end of August will fork out $2,176 US over the course of the three-year contract they must sign with Rogers Communications Inc., the sole provider in the country. That amount includes the up-front fee for the phone, plus monthly service charge.
Italy comes in first with $2,554 for a two-year service agreement. The amounts are in American dollars for the purpose of comparison.
Colour me astounded: Rogers is offering a better deal:
Rogers Communications Inc. has thrown a bone to potential iPhone customers by offering a limited-time promotional data rate plan that should silence complaints about Canadian pricing for the eagerly-anticipated device.
The wireless giant said today it would give iPhone subscribers who sign up before Aug. 31 the option of purchasing a 6-gigabyte data plan for $30 per month in addition to any voice plan.
While that still doesn’t match the unlimited data plans offered in the United States by AT&T Inc., the promotion offers significantly better value than the rate plans Rogers unveiled earlier this month.
Under that pricing model, the cheapest plan offered just 400 megabytes of data, 150 minutes of weekday talk time and unlimited evenings and weekends for $60 per month plus fees and taxes.
Interestingly, $60 per month was about as much as I'd be willing to pay.
So, I take back some of my pessimism that the public outcry from potential Rogers iPhone customers wouldn't force the company to make any change to their offerings. It's still not as good a deal as many other countries' iPhone offerings, but it's much better than the original offer.
H/T to Jon for the link.
According to The Register's Cade Metz, Apple's Steve Jobs isn't too happy with the deal they've struck with Rogers — unhappy enough to prevent Apple's own stores in Canada from selling the iPhone 3G:
On Friday, the 3G Jesus Phone makes its debut in 22 countries across the globe, including Canada. But you can't buy one from a Canadian Apple Store.
"[The 3G iPhone] will not be sold in [Canadian] Apple retail stores, but we will have the product to demo, and all our specialists will be trained on the 3G iPhone as well," is the word from an Apple automaton at the Eaton Centre Apple Store in Toronto.
According to AppleInsider, Steve Jobs has barred 3G iPhone sales from Canada's six Apple Stores because he's "disgusted" with the service plans laid down by cell provider Rogers Wireless. Rogers' monthly service plans for the reborn Jesus Phone start at $60 Canadian a month for just 150 calling minutes, 75 outgoing text messages, and 400 megabytes of net data. And each requires a three-year commitment.
Jobs is loath to sell these plans, so he's forcing Rogers and partner Fido to sell them on their own.
Interesting indeed, if true. Also "3G Jesus Phone" . . . heh!
Wired is first out of the gates with a look at the iPhone operating system:
I can't tell you how we got ahold of a first-generation iPhone loaded with version 2.0 of the iPhone operating system. What I can tell you is that if I do reveal this information, homicidal ninjas will come to my house and kill my family. Nevertheless, we do have one — and we were able to take a look inside and find a few minute yet interesting changes. Here's a preview of some of the ways in which iPhone 2.0 differs from iPhone 1.0.
iPhone 2.0, of course, is the operating system that will come preinstalled on iPhone 3G models when those start shipping on Friday, July 11. iPhone 2.0 will also be available as a free software upgrade to people who have first-generation iPhones.
[. . .]
The Contacts application now features a long-awaited search function. No more scrolling through endless menus: You can just type the first few letters of a name and the list narrows down to matching entries as you enter each letter. The search applies to fields that aren't visible, too, so you can search on company names, for instance.
Here, we entered the search term "Wired" and Chris Anderson, the magazine's editor in chief, popped up in the search results. Amy Winehouse popped up when we typed in "trainwreck."
The nutbars are apparently also iPhone 3G fans:
iPhones and sustainable agriculture don't have a lot in common, but a bedraggled group of publicity-seekers and iPhone enthusiasts who want the next U.S. president to plant an organic farm on the White House lawn have connected the two as a reason to line up for Friday's iPhone 3G launch.
Led by a fresh-faced sprite called Daniel Bowman Simon — who looks more likely to be driving his father's SUV than getting his hands dirty hoeing a row of seeds — Waiting for Apples' mission is to encourage people to grow their own food while setting a Guinness World Record for the most time spent waiting in line to buy something.
The group also wants to promote The White House Organic Farm Project, which is taking names for a petition to inspire the next president to plant an organic farm at the White House, the official residence of the U.S. president.
A few members of Waiting for Apples have been camped out in front of New York City's flagship Apple Store on Fifth Avenue since Friday morning, fortified by stacks of organic produce that a friend is delivering to them via bicycle from the Union Square Greenmarket.
An uncharitable person (like, well, me) might say something like "These folks probably don't bathe regularly anyway, so a week of camping out isn't likely to make them smell any worse than they normally would."
And no iPhone round-up would be complete without at least one of my fellow Canadian malcontents whining on about how Rogers is overcharging for iPhone service:
I'm Canadian and proud of it. Despite the fact that Macworld operates out of San Francisco, I still live in Halifax, Nova Scotia with my wife, two kids and our dog. It's a wonderful place to live and bring up a family. However, not everything is peachy up here, north of the border.
Specifically, for the past couple of weeks, I've had an uneasy feeling--the kind of feeling you get when you are walking in a strange city late at night and you notice a gang of thugs behind you. The difference is, these thugs wear suits and work for Rogers. Don't let the suits fool you, they are trying to rob me blind.
I'm referring, of course, to the iPhone plans announced by Rogers Wireless, which is Apple's iPhone partner here in Canada. The plans (all priced in Canadian dollars) are $60 a month for 150 weekday minutes, 400MB of data, and 75 text messages; $75 for 300 weekday minutes, 750MB of data, and 100 text messages; $100 for 600 weekday minutes, 1GB of data, and 200 text messages; and $115 for 800 weekday minutes, 2GB of data, and 300 text messages. Each plan also includes unlimited evening and weekend minutes (9 p.m. to 7 a.m.), visual voicemail, and access to Rogers Wireless and Fido Hotspots. Sending additional text messages will cost 15 cents per message, and additional data is billed at a rate of 50 cents per megabyte for the first 60MB, and then an additional 3 cents per megabyte. The price for extra weekday minutes varies depending on the plan, ranging from 35 cents to 15 cents.
No word on whether Rogers also wants one of my kids and an extra limb or two as well.
Parenthetically, RuinediPhone.com is up to 54 thousand petitioners who may well be upset but a significant proportion of whom are likely to be lined up outside a Rogers outlet at 10 am on Friday morning. I almost wish Rogers was evil enough to note who'd signed and then refuse to sell 'em an iPhone on Friday morning . . .
To restate: Rogers is a corporate entity. Corporations exist to make money. The only way Rogers will be prompted to change their current iPhone offerings is if it becomes clear that their current plans will not yield as much profit as a revised plan. The only way this might happen is if enough people choose not to purchase an iPhone 3G when they become available on Friday. Signatures on a petition are just a moral gesture . . . not an economic one.
Of course, it would help in so many other ways if the Canadian wireless market wasn't a duopoly of Rogers and Bell . . .
In a sure sign that the summer doldrums are upon us, Wired presents their selections for the worst 10 aircraft:
Tupolev TU- 144
The Concorde gets all the love, but Russia's Tupolev TU-144 was the first supersonic transport and the only commercial plane to exceed Mach 2. The "Concordski" was fast but plagued by bad luck. Three crashes -- including a dramatic mid-air breakup during the 1973 Paris Air Show -- relegated it largely to a lifetime delivering mail. It was mothballed in 1985 but briefly brought back a few years later as a research plane.
B.O.A.C de Havilland Comet
The Comet was the premiere commercial jet airliner and a landmark in British aeronautics when it first flew in 1949. Today it's better known for its atrocious safety record. Of the 114 Comets built, 13 were involved in fatal accidents, most of them attributed to design flaws and metal fatigue.
Hughes H-4 Hercules
The "Spruce Goose" was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived — its wingspan was 319 feet — the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane. But it wasn't finished until well after World War II ended, rendering it both obsolete and irrelevant. It only flew once.
Lists like these are useful for media outlets: they interest people, they're relatively easy to pull together, and they spark controversy (because no two people will ever agree about the ten best or ten worst anything). There were some rather less successful models than the ones selected for this list, but I'll leave that for the aviation fans to hash out.
It's starting to seem like piling on when even the Mac-heads at Macworld are asking impertinent questions about the iPhone 3G service costs:
Nothing stirs the imagination like an major Apple product update such as the iPhone 3G. Weeks before its July 11 release date, people will talk excitedly about its new features, thrill to its touted benefits, and dream of the day they can finally hold one in their hands. Very little, it seems, can dim people's enthusiasm.
Until the pricing information gets released, and the cold, hard sting of dollars and cents sets in.
AT&T released its rate plans for the iPhone 3G this week. The plans are essentially US$10 higher than existing iPhone plans, and text messaging is no longer included. Messaging rates start at $5 per month for 200 messages and go up to $20 a month for unlimited texting. Or you can pay as you go, at a rate of 20 cents for each text message. The end result — even though the iPhone 3G costs less than its predecessor, you'll wind up paying more in service charges over the life of your two-year contract with AT&T.
Those figures caused a few of us around the Macworld offices to pause from our anticipatory iPhone 3G yearnings and take stock: Are the changes promised by the latest iPhone worth the higher service plan rates. Below, you'll find two arguments — one from an editor who's had second thoughts and another from one who's as gung-ho about the iPhone 3G as ever.
Fascinating. Even the most die-hard Apple fans are balking at paying the anticipated higher costs for the newest, coolest iPhone. Could it possibly be that Apple and their various partners are over-estimating the traction that "cool new toy" can get against "hard economic reality"?
To recap: I'm following this story because I was toying with the idea of buying an iPhone 3G, but the announced costs from Rogers (the only Canadian firm handling the iPhone) are making me reconsider whether I'd be better off sticking with my Treo 600 . . . especially as Bell Mobility has improved their own data offerings since I last checked them out. Because I lost my cell phone soon after renewing my Bell contract, I ended up paying a lot for my current Treo, so if I can keep it going for a few more years, it'd probably be the wiser economic choice.
I've never actually bought an Apple product before, although I've occasionally used them at work. In no way was I looking at the iPhone as a "have-to-have" purchase . . . perhaps I'm not alone in this.
For a high-profile tech toy, the iPhone 3G isn't getting quite the happy welcome Apple may have anticipated. Take, for example, this Canadian Press headline:
Apple's iPhone may have poisonous bite for consumers with its high rate plans
Apple's iPhone may have a poisonous bite for Canadian consumers who want the much-desired touchscreen phone when it finally goes on sale later this month.
Analysts said Wednesday that consumers will have to pay the voice and data rates set by Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) if they want the high-end device unless early sales are slow.
Rogers is the only Canadian carrier that has a network capable of running the iPhone, which goes on sale on July 11.
"Right now Rogers thinks that the iPhone is such a compelling device that people will essentially pay anything to get one," said PC Magazine's Sascha Segan.
"They they'll sign away their lives for three years, they'll pay higher data rates than are charged on other devices because the iPhone is so incredibly sexy and so incredibly desired."
As I said a couple of days ago, no matter how loud the screaming is from the peanut gallery, unless sales are significantly lower than they expect, Rogers is not likely to do much to make their offerings more consumer-friendly. From their point of view, there's not much reason to do so: the product is so eagerly anticipated that they will probably run out within the first few days of availability. If that doesn't happen, perhaps Rogers will reconsider, but the smart money is betting against it.
Bottom line: if you really want an iPhone 3G, but don't want to pay as much as Rogers wants, you have to restrain yourself from lining up next Friday. That's it. If enough of you do it, so that Rogers is left with lots of unsold iPhones after a few days (or weeks), they'll have to reconsider their situation. I don't expect it will happen: the feeding frenzy will occur exactly on schedule at your local Rogers storefront.
But I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.
I doubt it'll do much to influence the decision-makers at Rogers, but there is an online petition being put together against the high rates for Canadian iPhone users:
A Canadian online petition has been launched to protest the rate plans offered by Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) and its Fido subsidiary for Apple's iPhone when it goes on sale next week.
On Friday, Rogers and Fido released the pricing for iPhone calling plans, listing them as starting at $60 a month and requiring three-year contracts.
Nearly 22,000 had signed the online petition posted on the website RuinediPhone.com by 7 p.m. on Monday.
Oddly, when I tried to visit that site this morning, I got a 403 error. According to a post at the group page on Facebook, Rogers has blocked access to the site for Rogers customers, and they're recommending using a proxy to get access instead.
Elizabeth sent me this link to a Financial Post story:
The petition, found on the Web site ruinediphone.com, was launched shortly after Rogers unveiled its pricing scheme last Friday for the iPhone, scheduled for sale in Canada July 11.
The Web site, titled "Screwing Canadian iPhone consumers since ‘08", also includes an open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Signed by James Hallen, the letter calls on Mr. Jobs to intervene and pressure Rogers into cheapening up their iPhone rates.
"I was going to buy an iPhone for me, my girlfriend and my family. Now, sadly, I cannot afford the plan," writes Mr. Hallen. "I hope you can do something Steve; we are loyal customers and trust that you will. We don't want to lose faith in Apple."
While I'd like to think that this online effort would have some effect, the only real way Rogers will be forced to reconsider their pricing model is if potential buyers stay away in droves on July 11th. Lower-than-expected sales would be a strong indication to Rogers that they've overpriced the iPhone.
I don't expect that to happen: there are too many people eager to get their hands on an iPhone . . .
I mentioned a little while back that I'm considering buying an iPhone 3G when they become available in Canada next month. My current cell phone provider is no longer bringing in Treo PDA/phones using the Palm OS, so I'm not tied to that operating system for my next phone (as I'll have to purchase new software anyway). The iPhone 3G sounds like an excellent alternative, based on the initial announcement and the fact that it'll finally be made available in Canada in July.
This, however, will act as a partial deterrent:
Rogers Communications Inc. yesterday unveiled the monthly plans that will accompany Apple Inc.'s second-generation iPhone when it goes on sale July 11 for $199 or $299 with a three-year contract.
The cheapest monthly plan from Rogers is $60 for 400 megabytes of data, 150 weekday minutes and unlimited evenings and weekends. There are also $75, $100 and $115 monthly plans that offer more talk time and 750 megabytes, 1 gigabyte and 2 gigabytes of data respectively. All include unlimited access to Rogers and Fido Wi-Fi hot spots.
Users who are about to exceed their plans' caps will be sent messages to alert them of pending overage charges for voice and data, a Rogers spokesperson said.
The data rates are better than what Bell Mobility currently charges (the Bell rates are so high that I've used the web-browsing capabilities of my Treo exactly once in the more than three years I've had the phone). That being said, they're vastly more expensive than American iPhone users face:
In the United States, consumers can buy the second-generation iPhone from AT&T Inc. with a $30 (U.S.) unlimited data plan with any voice package, the cheapest being a $39.99 option that offers 450 minutes of talk time and free U.S. long distance. There is a $36 activation fee.
I'd pay $60 for an unlimited data plan with maybe 100 minutes of talk time . . . I don't use the phone that much, but I spend a lot of time on the web.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols pens a thank-you note to Microsoft on behalf of Linux and Mac communities:
You gotta love it. Microsoft has decided that it will go ahead and kill off easy access to XP on June 30th. On behalf of desktop Linux users everywhere, and our first cousins, the Mac fans, thanks. You've given us the best shot we'll ever have of taking the desktop.
But it gets even better! Microsoft has also announced that it will be releasing Windows 7 on January 2010. They'll blow that ship date. Microsoft has never set a shipping date it could meet. But, who in their right mind would now buy Vista?
I mean, come on, I don't think anyone with their wits about them would buy Vista anyway. Vista is to operating systems what the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are to the National Football League, the worse of all time. Vista was trash; Vista is trash; and now Microsoft, as expected, is throwing Vista on the trash dump.
It also helps that Microsoft has decided to go ahead and dump XP, the operating system its customers want, no matter how loudly they say they want to keep buying XP. Now that's showing your customers how much you really care about what they want.
It's a perfect example of disrespecting your customer base: literally millions of people have been avoiding switching to Vista from XP, and Microsoft's deliberate attempt to force them to switch will rebound back on them. People will remember for a very long time that they're being harassed and bullied for no good reason at all, and once they feel it's gone too far, the game is over.
I'm not even in the market for a new computer at the moment, but I'm already considering whether to switch to a Mac or go to one of the Linux distributions. I have exactly two applications that I still need Windows to run. If I can get Mac or Linux versions of them, there'll be little chance that my next machine will have a Microsoft operating system.
Update: Make that just one application that needs Windows, after all:
Applications? You can't live without your favorite Windows application and the mere thought of virtualization to get them gives you hives or switching to OpenOffice from Microsoft Office makes you sick to the tummy? The 15-years in the making WINE 1.0 project just came out, and with it you can run Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Quicken, and many other program like, ahem, Guild Wars my Windows-based online game of choice, on Linux. WINE, and its commercial big-brother, CodeWeavers' Crossover Linux, lets me run pretty much any Windows application I want on Linux without any hassles.
If I can run Guild Wars on Linux now, there's only Adobe FrameMaker left standing as an essential Windows application . . .
Bruce Schneier looks at the innocuous-sounding "Digital Manners Policy" that Microsoft is attempting to patent:
According to its patent application, DMP-enabled devices would accept broadcast "orders" limiting capabilities. Cellphones could be remotely set to vibrate mode in restaurants and concert halls, and be turned off on airplanes and in hospitals. Cameras could be prohibited from taking pictures in locker rooms and museums, and recording equipment could be disabled in theaters. Professors finally could prevent students from texting one another during class.
The possibilities are endless, and very dangerous. Making this work involves building a nearly flawless hierarchical system of authority. That's a difficult security problem even in its simplest form. Distributing that system among a variety of different devices — computers, phones, PDAs, cameras, recorders — with different firmware and manufacturers, is even more difficult. Not to mention delegating different levels of authority to various agencies, enterprises, industries and individuals, and then enforcing the necessary safeguards.
Once we go down this path — giving one device authority over other devices — the security problems start piling up. Who has the authority to limit functionality of my devices, and how do they get that authority? What prevents them from abusing that power? Do I get the ability to override their limitations? In what circumstances, and how? Can they override my override?
It can be remarkably irritating to have some idiot's high-decibel custom ring go off at the theatre, or to be constantly interrupted by ignorami who can't turn off their Blackberries for half an hour during a meeting, but this proposed policy is overkill. Giving anyone the power to disable your cell phone would be troubling enough, and as Schneier points out in this article, the opportunities for abuse would be very tempting.
This, like over-enthusiastic copy protection schemes, should be fought as hard as possible.
Katherine Mangu-Ward reports on a cool way of discovering what a given "community" might really be willing to allow, instead of what they say they believe . . . technology to the rescue:
A lawyer in a current obscenity case in Florida has adopted an unusual approach to finding out what the community is really up to — checking out what they're googling. The findings:
Except for brief periods near Thanksgiving, searches for "orgy" consistently outrank attempts to find information about "apple pie" in Florida . The rest of the year, orgy searches are closer in frequency to what might be expected to be a common activity in Florida, "surfing."
We always suspected the much-ballyhooed "community" wasn't quite as wholesome as its reputation suggests. Looks like we were right — our neighbors have been googling orgies all along.
As H.L. Mencken once wrote, "Evil is that which one believes of others. It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake."
Lore Sjöberg takes it upon himself to grade the various attempts to communicate with extra-terrestrial intelligences:
The Pioneer Plaques
These are identical, gold-plated plaques attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. They feature a picture of the solar system, a picture of the probes and a pictorial representation of the hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen. Ring any bells? No? Well, it also has a picture of a naked man and woman on it. Ah, yes. Now you remember.
Many people considered this nothing more than interstellar porn. Others objected to the fact that the man is the one waving his hand, presumably to give the woman time to bake the aliens a nice batch of muffins. My objection is that the people depicted have no body hair at all. Aliens are gonna come down and think we're living in symbiosis with our pubes.
The Voyager Record
I love that we sent an LP. It's so delightfully retro! I expect alien life forms to discover it and say, "Clearly, this is the work of a truly groovy civilization. We do not know what to expect when we visit their planet, but we should prepare ourselves for an extremely mellow experience." In actuality, the funkiest track on the album is "Johnny B. Goode," which I think is a poor choice. I mean, I'm not sure how one carries a guitar in a gunnysack, and I was born on this planet.
Victor was having some connectivity issues between his computer and our wireless router the other night. He looked up the Linksys tech support website and it said that the fix to his particular problem was to update the firmware on the router. He downloaded the file from the support website and followed the instructions to perform the update.
Near the end of the process, the router stopped responding. It's now caught in a half-way state between being a wireless router and being a brick, with its preference given to being a brick. Of course, because the router isn't working, we can't get out to the internet . . . which is a mild inconvenience at first, proceeding quickly to becoming the same level of irritation experienced by heroin addicts deprived of a fix.
Externally, from the status lights on the box, the router is pretending to work, but it's not providing connectivity to the two computers linked using ethernet cables, nor is it allowing access to the administration panel when we try to access it using the default address. It might actually be working, as there's a new unsecured wireless router showing up in our area, but we can't be sure whether that's ours or someone else's.
Talking to the folks at Linksys technical support hasn't been fruitful between the accents of the tech support folks and the attempts to pass off the problem as being our internet connection rather than the wireless router. No matter how many times we say that the cable modem is still working fine and that the problem occurred when we were updating the firmware on the router, it's still clearly assumed that our problem is of the "is your router plugged in?" category. Frustrating.
We still have our old router, but if we re-install that, Victor will be out of luck for wireless connectivity. This is one of those times when technology seems to be more in the theory than in the practice.
I'm toying with the notion of getting an iPhone 3G when they become available next month to replace my Treo 600. That'll mean some disruption, as I'm used to having a lot of my data available on the handheld, so I'm looking to see what is already available for the iPhone to replace equivalent applications on the Treo.
It's not a particularly intensive search . . . every now and again, I run a Google search or look at recent columns on various technology sites. This article, for example, had me laughing out loud:
Urbanspoon is a Web site that features restaurant reviews from critics, food bloggers and the general public. They'll be releasing an iPhone application on the App Store in July for free that will tie in to the Web site.
"We wanted to take advantage of the physicality of the iPhone, so we're using the accelerometer," said Urbanspoon co-founder Ethan Lowry. "So we've developed an application for the iPhone that's part slot machine, part Magic 8-Ball."
Urbanspoon lets you get a random restaurant listing by shaking your iPhone like a Magic 8-Ball.The Magic 8-Ball is a fortune-telling toy manufactured by Mattel that looks like a giant black and white 8-Ball. The underside of the device contains a window; floating in dark blue liquid is an 20-sided die that has one of several yes, no or maybe statements. Urbanspoon's iPhone implementation lets users shake the iPhone for a random restaurant pick. The software relies on the iPhone's location finding — including GPS on Apple's newly introduced iPhone model — to find a restaurant in your area.
I somehow never imagined that the advance of technology would take us all the way back to consulting the Magic 8-Ball for answers to perplexing questions . . .
Bob Kopman sent me another link decrying the recently proposed bill C-61:
Canada, one of the shining lights in the copyright and intellectual property world, has a shadow approaching that may dim that for all. The name of that shadow? Bill c-61, which was formally introduced by Industry minister Jim Prentice an hour or two ago. One of the 'highlights' is the abolition of court's flexibility in statutory damages, fixing it at $500 (CAD)
The bill, dubbed the 'Canadian DMCA' has not been popular with many of those it will effect. Over 40,000 have joined a facebook group, run by Michael Geist opposing it. Geist, a law professor at University of Ottawa, has been fighting to oppose these laws for some time now. On the tabling of the bill, he writes "The government plans for second reading at the next sitting of the house, effectively removing the ability to send it to committee after first reading (and therefore be more open to change)"
The bill is controversial in many ways. Whilst supporters of the bill will point to the allowances for time shifting, format shifting, and the ability to 'private copy' (moving a song from CD to an mp3 player for instance). It will, however, prevent that activity, though criminalization, if there is any sort of technological restriction on it. Anti-copy flags on TV shows, DRM on music, or rootkits on CDs would mean that any attempt to make a fair use, would be subject to prosecution and heavy fines.
I guess it's time to lobby the MP . . . before we get to third reading.
Jesse Walker illustrates some of the worst problems with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) :
The commission is corrupt. I don't just mean the sort of corruption where the chairman loosens his tie, puts his feet up on his desk, and doles out favors to the companies that scratched the right backs —p though you'll find plenty of that in the commission's history. Even when the body is being relatively transparent and above-board, it is beholden to politically connected lobbies. The FCC controls an important economic resource. Naturally, important economic interests try their best to influence its decisions.
The most flagrant example of this might be the welcome the commission gave to FM radio. The technology was an enormous leap forward: It allowed stations to broadcast without static, and it allowed more signals to coexist on the spectrum. It also worried RCA, which was investing heavily in the development of television; the company fretted that consumers might not pay for both a new FM radio and a new TV set. RCA didn't control the patent on FM, so it pressured the FCC to favor the other technology. The regulators obliged, and a series of roadblocks appeared in FM's path. The most destructive decision came in 1944, when the commissioners suddenly reassigned the FM broadcasters' portion of the ether to television, instantly rendering every FM receiver obsolete.
[. . .]
The commission is sanctimonious. For seven decades, the nation's scolds and censors have used the FCC as a tool to shape the sounds and images allowed on the airwaves. In 1952, for example, then-commissioner Paul Walker announced with satisfaction that his agency had "surveyed the programming of some of the television stations in operation, and found that some of them had reported no time devoted to broadcasts of a religious nature. We felt in view of this fact that regular renewal of their licenses would not be in the public interest." The stations quickly revised their schedules, and the commission agreed to renew their licenses after all.
[. . .]
The commission is technocratic. The next time someone tells you central planning is dead, remind him that there is an arm of the federal government that decides in advance how different chunks of the electromagnetic spectrum will be used, and that it also reserves the right to determine which entities will be allowed to use it. It's true the commission has adopted several market "mechanisms" in the last few decades: FCC-approved broadcasters now have the right to sell their licenses to other FCC-approved broadcasters, and spectrum is usually distributed by auction rather than pure fiat. But even an auction can be bent to the planners' will.
The federal government is secretly negotiating an agreement to revamp international copyright laws which could make the information on Canadian iPods, laptop computers or other personal electronic devices illegal and greatly increase the difficulty of travelling with such devices.
The deal could also impose strict regulations on Internet service providers, forcing those companies to hand over customer information without a court order.
Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement. [. . .]
The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.
The guards would also be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not.
The agreement proposes any content that may have been copied from a DVD or digital video recorder would be open for scrutiny by officials - even if the content was copied legally.
John Staddon examines the contrast between American and British road sign policies:
Economists and ecologists sometimes speak of the "tragedy of the commons" — the way rational individual actions can collectively reduce the common good when resources are limited. How this applies to traffic safety may not be obvious. It's easy to understand that although it pays the selfish herdsman to add one more sheep to common grazing land, the result may be overgrazing, and less for everyone. But what is the limited resource, the commons, in the case of driving? It's attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road. The more you look for signs, for police, and at your speedometer, the less attentive you will be to traffic conditions. The limits on attention are much more severe than most people imagine. And it takes only a momentary lapse, at the wrong time, to cause a serious accident.
The reductio, of course, is to eliminate road signs altogether . . . except it does not end ad absurdio:
So what am I suggesting — abolishing signs and rules? A traffic free-for-all? Actually, I wouldn't be the first to suggest that. A few European towns and neighborhoods — Drachten in Holland, fashionable Kensington High Street in London, Prince Charles's village of Poundbury, and a few others — have even gone ahead and tried it. They've taken the apparently drastic step of eliminating traffic control more or less completely in a few high-traffic and pedestrian-dense areas. The intention is to create environments in which everyone is more focused, more cautious, and more considerate. Stop signs, stoplights, even sidewalks are mostly gone. The results, by all accounts, have been excellent: pedestrian accidents have been reduced by 40 percent or more in some places, and traffic flows no more slowly than before.
Bruce Schneier links to an interesting site which promises to provide notification (and financial information) to the "unsaved" who are to be "left behind" after the "rapture":
It's easy to laugh at the You've Been Left Behind site, which purports to send automatic e-mails to your friends after the Rapture:
The unsaved will be 'left behind' on earth to go through the "tribulation period" after the "Rapture". . . We have made it possible for you to send them a letter of love and a plea to receive Christ one last time. You will also be able to give them some help in living out their remaining time. In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys' (you won't be needing them any more, and the gift will drive home the message of love). There won't be any bodies, so probate court will take 7 years to clear your assets to your next of Kin. 7 years of course is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the AntiChrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way.
But what if the creator of this site isn't as scrupulous as he implies he is? What if he uses all of that account information, passwords, safe combinations, and whatever before any rapture? And even if he is an honest true believer, this seems like a mighty juicy target for any would-be identity thief.
If you're convinced that you'll be among the "saved", then this may strike you as a good idea. If you're not the believing sort, this will probably strike you as a scam-of-scams. Even if the owners are, as Bruce writes, "honest true believers", the idea of all that potentially useful financial information being stored at one known site must be tempting to certain folks.
Katharine Wroth has a common experience:
When my fella and I bought our house last year, we tried to make thoughtful decisions as we accessorized our new lives — years of editing Umbra have left me with little choice. So we bought a reel mower — completely manual, no gas, no cord, just a few blades and some sweat.
And I'm here to report: Our mower sucks. It rattles. It doesn't cut all that well. It completely misses the tall, thin weeds that have populated our lawn this spring, so that even after a fresh cut it looks like we haven't touched the thing for weeks. Honestly, I don't want to care that I have a scraggly lawn — but I've started to feel self-conscious.
I half expect a formerly-kindly neighbor to wander over at any moment and chastise us for lawn neglect. We already had one wonder if we "couldn't afford a real mower" and confess that she had considered loaning us her gas mower out of pity.
Back in the dark ages, when we bought our first house, the seller left behind a real antique . . . an American Lawnmower Co. reel mower that had probably been new in 1950. It seemed to have been carved out of a single piece of cast iron: it was heavy. After we had the blades sharpened, it was excellent — even on the uneven ground around the base of the mature maple trees, it did a heck of a job. It wasn't an easy job, but it worked well and we got some exercise into the bargain.
Every year, we'd get the blades sharpened and the mower was good to go . . . until we ran out of places to get it sharpened. The last place we tried did such a terrible job that the mower was effectively ruined.
We switched to a new reel mower. It was light, easy to handle, and comfortable to use . . . everything you'd want in a mower, except for the fact that it did a piss-poor job of cutting the damned grass. Eventually, we gave up and switched to an electric mower.
At our next house, we tried again, buying a new reel mower from Lee Valley Tools (my favourite woodworking tool store, but who also have a sideline in gardening tools). It was a bit better than the other one, but still not even close to the quality of the old mower. It lasted several years, but eventually we mucked up the sharpening and had to buy a new mower.
This is a battery-powered mower. We've only had it a few weeks, so we'll see how it works over the season. It's got one distinct similarity to the original reel mower: it's heavy and awkward to use.
At last . . . Sensible Units!
H/T to Craig Zeni.
. . . at least, it will be if a Singapore-based company wins this patent infringement case:
"A Singapore firm, VueStar has threatened to sue websites that use pictures or graphics to link to another page, claiming it owns the patent for a technology used by millions around the world. The company is also planning to take on giants like Microsoft and Google. It is a battle that could, at least in theory, upend the Internet. The firm has been sending out invoices to Singapore companies since last week asking them to pay up."
File this one under "good luck with that" and "it'll be a cold day in hell".
Ronald Bailey looks at a new book by Terence Kealey:
Kealey traces the fits and starts of technological progress through stagnant Bronze Age empires like Egypt and Assyria to the technologically innovative small merchant cultures such as the Phoenicians, Philistines, and Lydians that made crucial advances like the alphabet, ironworking, and coins. Technology stagnated under the Romans and surprisingly made headway during the Dark Ages which saw the invention of three-field crop rotation, the heavy plow and the horse collar which lifted food production by more than 40 percent. These inventions arose in areas of northern Europe where farmers sold food to city markets. This meant that they could specialize in growing food and obtain other goods they needed in trade from city dwellers. In the deep countryside where feudalism held sway, crop yields did not markedly improve for centuries. The period also saw the invention of windmills, trousers, butter, barrels, and buttons.
Then came the Renaissance in Italian merchant cities which invented double entry bookkeeping. This advance in accounting enabled enterprises to accumulate debts and credits in their own rights, making them entities separate from any individual. Italians also invented insurance to cover the risks of trading. The first stock exchange opened in Antwerp in 1460. Kealey then takes us to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution which again took off in small trading countries, especially the Netherlands and England. The common thread that he identifies is that technology takes off when individual and property rights are recognized.
Kealey shows in nearly every case the crucial inventions of the past two and half centuries were called forth by markets, not invented by scientists working from ivory towers. These include the steam engine, cotton gin, textile mills, railroad engines, the revolver, the electric motor, telegraph, telephone, incandescent light bulb, radio, the airplane — the list is nearly endless.
All of this is undeniably true, but it doesn't address the constant refrain from the institutional scientific world: that these are all merely "technological" inventions, not pure science. The usual claim is that private enterprise can't or won't fund basic scientific research because there will be no obvious way to profit from the research — and it won't provide the investigator with a temporary monopoly from which to derive the profits to pay for the research in the first place.
There are lots of data points which indicate that government funding in R&D will actually slow down private investment in that area: for the obvious reason that the government has deeper pockets than most private organizations and is not directly influenced by the profit motive . . . if someone else is already working in that area (and you'll eventually get access to whatever they come up with anyway), you're better off to devote your resources to something else.
Elizabeth got a very confusing message from Rogers (our ISP) yesterday, saying that "to improve our service" they'd be eliminating all but one email account from each customer account. That is, of the _five_ free user accounts we were previously entitled to, we'd only be able to keep one. Since Elizabeth and I both use our Rogers accounts for primary personal email, you can understand that we'd be a bit freaked out by the notice. I was even more worried, as I didn't get the notice, indicating that my account was going to be disconnected (only the "primary" email address was to receive this information).
I'm not sure how Rogers figures that reducing our service by up to 80% is an improvement. Perhaps it's some weird form of new math. It goes without saying that there would be no price decrease for this "improvement", right?
Elizabeth called to try to get to the bottom of the issue. Supposedly, the email accounts aren't actually going away . . . they just won't have access to the Rogers portal. It's not clear whether this means only one email address per account will be able to use the Rogers webmail (since that's accessed through their portal) or if they'll still allow webmail access for each email account.
Update: I originally posted a version of this on my Facebook page, to which Brendan responded:
"New math you say — it's nice to see a creative side coming through on their end . . . INNOVATION!!! It might be a new take on the 80-20 rule — perhaps they've been taking notes from the master-crafted Customer Satisfaction attack plan over at Bell? You see — as a Sympatico customer, leaving me only 20% of my services would mean that they have, in fact, freed me of 80% of my hassles and irritations. Perhaps they'll only be interested in collecting 20% of your payments?"
Great. My backup plan was to switch to Sympatico. That doesn't sound like it'd be much of an improvement after all.
Would you find it odd to walk into a place that billed itself variously as an "internet café" and a "cybercafé" in the year 2008, only to be told "Sorry, [we] don't have wireless [internet]?" This happened to me on Sunday and I am still trying to figure out whether I am the crazy one.
Colby Cosh, "This is a sincere question", ColbyCosh.com, 2008-05-13
I am, sadly, old enough to have been assistant manager at an A&A Records and Tapes and to remember the excitement and trepidation that came with the introduction of the CD. It was not just the new colder sound of these things but a sense of loss at all that acreage of cover art reduced to the CD's smaller footprint. They were so compact we used to shelve each CD in a cumbersome plastic box three times its length; the new digital format seemed all too easy to steal. Little did any of us see where that logic would lead.
Nick Packwood, "The return of the repressed", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-02-14
Ronald Bailey posted a link to a Techno Tolerance test. "Among the questions asked are would you upload your consciousness or take treatments that would completely stop aging? The test is modelled on the World's Smallest Political Quiz." Here's my result:
You Score as a Transhumanist-Biotech
Transhumanists believe that humanity can and should strive to attain higher levels of physical, mental, and social achievement through the use of technology. They seek to extend human capabilities and improve the human condition through technology- supporting the quest for immortality, the conquering of death and disease, the amplification of human intelligence, and the capabilities of the human body.
Transhumanists recognize that over time and with technological advancements, man will realize new possibilities for society and human nature and achieve a posthuman condition (becoming more than human). Societal change is an important consequence of technological progress.
Because of this passionate trust in technological advancement, transhumanists generally see all technologies, as long as they don't jeopardize the non-corporeal consciousness of a person, as being beneficial both to society and to the happiness and advancement of the person. Transhumanists see benefit not only in technologies that address medical necessities, but also aesthetic or recreational demands. They support advances in cybernetics, genetic engineering in clinical settings, embryo design, and other technologies that allow individuals to take control of their biology, and the human species to take control of evolution.
Transhumanists can be either hard-technology oriented--more inclined to add microchips and machines to their lifestyle--or bio-technology oriented--preferring the softer, more natural advancements and modifications that are made available.
Take the test here.
I bought an external FreeAgent USB drive last month to use as a backup disk for our various computers here at home. The setup was easy . . . the instruction booklet said "This won't take long." on the front cover, and it was right. It worked very well . . . until Thursday.
The previous night, I noticed a pop-up error message saying that Windows couldn't write to the F:\ drive. I didn't think it was serious . . . probably just a transient issue that'd go away after a reboot. I rebooted the machine, and the FreeAgent drive was accessible again. Our backup schedule has each machine dumping files to the FreeAgent drive in the middle of the night, so as long as the drive was online, there'd be no problem.
So, after rebooting, the errors started up again about 12 hours later. Drat.
Off to the Seagate tech support website. Unlike a lot of tech support sites I've had to visit (I'm looking at you, Symantec), this one actually had good information and pretty easy navigation. Kudos to Seagate's web team and customer support folks. That's the good part. The bad part? The errors I was seeing could be the sign of a dying drive.
The options included reformatting the drive (therefore losing all our backup files), installing their Seagate Disk Tool utility and running diagnostics, or getting an RMA number and shipping the drive off for repairs. Of the three, the downloading tools option seemed the easiest, so I did. After running the disk tests which applied to a USB drive, the FreeAgent reported itself to be functioning properly.
I looked through the various cases on the website for any further clues . . . and realized I'd missed the obvious one: my FreeAgent drive was attached to the machine via an external USB hub. They recommended attaching it directly to the machine (which, in hindsight, is a pretty good idea anyway). Quick dismount (Windows couldn't successfully dismount . . . I might lose data . . . but I was already expecting to lose the entire drive's worth of data anyway). Plug the drive into a spare USB port . . . and everything seems to be working normally.
Last night's backup runs all appear to have completed successfully, and the backup ZIP files open cleanly. I now entertain some hopes that the problem has been resolved.
I'd wondered about this . . . getting rid of broken compact fluorescent bulbs:
As long as the mercury is contained in the bulb, CFLs are perfectly safe. But eventually, any bulbs — even CFLs — break or burn out, and most consumers simply throw them out in the trash, said Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University and editor of the journal Environmental Research.
“This is an enormous amount of mercury that’s going to enter the waste stream at present with no preparation for it,” she said.
Manufacturers and the EPA say broken CFLs should be handled carefully and recycled to limit dangerous vapors and the spread of mercury dust. But guidelines for how to do that can be difficult to find, as Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, discovered.
"It was just a wiggly bulb that I reached up to change," Bridges said. "When the bulb hit the floor, it shattered."
When Bridges began calling around to local government agencies to find out what to do, "I was shocked to see how uninformed literally everyone I spoke to was," she said. "Even our own poison control operator didn’t know what to tell me."
The sidebar to the article includes an 11-step process to clean up a broken CFL bulb.
H/T to Jon, my virtual landlord, for the link.
The automotive chaps at The Times take a Prius out for a real-world driving test against a BMW sedan. The results weren't as clear-cut as you'd imagine:
The next day it became clear my Prius did not like motorways, at least not at 75mph into a headwind. My trip meter informed me I was now averaging about 45mpg; the Prius was not going to make it to Geneva on just one tank.
I took the precaution of buying a 10-litre can and filling it with petrol. Sure enough, the dashboard soon informed me the fuel tank was empty, the petrol engine stopped and for two surreal miles I coasted along on battery power. Only when I approached a long steep uphill stretch did I finally drift to a halt. As I filled the tank I consoled myself with my last chocolate bar.
Coasting down the mountain into Geneva my Prius averaged 99.9mpg for a full 10 minutes. It was the highlight of my journey and improved my overall average fuel economy by a full 2mpg. But it was not enough. For all my defensive driving, slippery bodywork and hybrid technology, my average fuel consumption was 48.1mpg. I’d lost to a Beemer and I was disappointed; I had never driven so slowly or carefully for so long in my life. I’m considering buying a V8 Range Rover and opening my own oil well in protest.
Lest it be said that the Prius is not intended to be used for long-distance travel, the writers arranged for a portion of the trip to be conducted in urban areas — where the Prius should shine on the fuel economy front — so that the test was more like a real-world trip than something concocted by advocates either for or against the Prius.
H/T to Mark Allums.
Wired has a brief introduction to ways to improve your YouTube experience:
Run a well-encoded video through YouTube's backend compression engine and it's going to turn out looking worse for the wear. It's a well-known critique of the site among videophiles, and to its credit, the video-sharing site has been promising it would start encoding videos at higher resolutions. Thankfully, YouTube is finally making good on that promise.
Select videos on the site are already available in 480x360 resolution — it's not HD, but it is a step up from the old 320x240 format. For the most part, this change only affects newer videos and YouTube is rolling it out in a somewhat haphazard manner. Some the videos are identified on the site with a little link offering to take you to a higher res version, but if you want to see the high quality version by default here are a few ways to pull that off.
Brian Reid sent me this link with the following comment: "Fascinating diatribe, interesting viewpoint, pretty funny diagram... What more could you want from the NY Times?".
Yes, I played a little. In junior high and even later. Lawful good paladin. Had a flaming sword. It did not make me popular with the ladies, or indeed with anyone. Neither did my affinity for geometry, nor my ability to recite all of "Star Wars" from memory.
Yet on the strength of those skills and others like them, I now find myself on top of the world. Not wealthy or in charge or even particularly popular, but in instead of out. The stuff I know, the geeky stuff, is the stuff you and everyone else has to know now, too.
We live in Gary Gygax's world. The most popular books on earth are fantasy novels about wizards and magic swords. The most popular movies are about characters from superhero comic books. The most popular TV shows look like elaborate role-playing games: intricate, hidden-clue-laden science fiction stories connected to impossibly mathematical games that live both online and in the real world. And you, the viewer, can play only if you've sufficiently mastered your home-entertainment command center so that it can download a snippet of audio to your iPhone, process it backward with beluga whale harmonic sequences and then podcast the results to the members of your Yahoo group.
Even in the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons, when his company was selling millions of copies and parents feared that the game was somehow related to Satan worship, Mr. Gygax's creation seemed like a niche product. Kids played it in basements instead of socializing. (To be fair, you needed at least three people to play — two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game — so Dungeons & Dragons was social. Demented and sad, but social.) Nevertheless, the game taught the right lessons to the right people.
Declan McCullagh interviews Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers:
Why the antipathy toward McCain?
There's an article in Reason magazine about McCain. He's anti-free speech. He's a war guy. Those are about as bad as you can get from a libertarian perspective.
I got turned off by him in a personal meeting. I made a presentation to him that the government is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in (technology-related) pork barrel spending. I showed that the pork barrel spending is not only fundamentally bad, but also harmful to the people getting the money, the semiconductor industry. When I got done with the presentation, he labeled the pork barrel spending "peanuts." He poked his finger in my chest and said that he's "going to get rid of your big fat stock options."
He's in favor of stifling free speech. He's in favor of the war. He doesn't truly care about lean government. You'd have difficulty picking between him and George W. Bush.
[. . .]
You're making libertarian points. Why aren't there more libertarians, or at least out-of-the-closet libertarians, in Silicon Valley?
First of all, I think Silicon Valley people, if you gave them the world's smallest quiz, my belief is you'd find that people in Silicon Valley are highly libertarian but they don't even know what that phrase means. It's not part of their vernacular. Silicon Valley people are highly apolitical. They're worried about their businesses, they're worried about growth, they're worried about technology. Sometimes they get involved in politics. They get involved on both sides of the fence...
If you would look at the people in Silicon Valley who identify themselves as Republicans, you'll find that they're free-market Republicans. What I think you'd find is that Silicon Valley Democrats have an economic free market base to them, and therefore look a lot like libertarians. Silicon Valley Republicans... aren't restrictive on social issues. You're not going to find any anti-gay, redneck Republicans in Silicon Valley.
Because they don't care that much about politics, they don't get beyond the nuances. But if you took the next layer of detail, you'll find that regardless of how they identified themselves, both sides are libertarian-ish in their leanings.
Email is the granddaddy of seemingly frivolous Internet applications. "It was an afterthought on the original internet. It was not part of what they sold to ARPA," says [Internet guru Clay] Shirky, an adjunct professor at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program and an Internet consultant for Nokia, BBC, Lego, and the U.S. Navy. Email was just a simplified file-sharing program. But within 3 months, email was 70 percent of traffic on the fledgling Internet.
It wasn't because email was a fast way to send a message to someone, or even that it was a fast way to send a message to a lot of people-there were already ways to do both those things pretty efficiently. What really made email take off, says Shirky, was the Reply All button.
Of course, everyone professes to hate the Reply All button and periodically swears bloody vengeance on its abusers. But the Reply All button offer us the power to turn a communication into a conversation (and sometimes even a community) with virtually no effort at all. No coordinating meetings or teleconferences, no need for synchronicity (anyone can read their email at any time and still be a part of the group), and no duplication.
"For the first time in human history," says Shirky, "our communications tools support group conversation and group action." Governments, enormous, ancient institutions like the Catholic Church, and massive corporations used to thorough dominate the landscape because only they could afford the high costs of coordination or large numbers of people. But now, for the first time, coordination (like talk) is cheap.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, "From Ridiculous to Revolutionary: Will girly blogs, flashmobs, Twitter, and other trivial annoyances save us all?", Reason Online, 2008-03-04
A report at The Sydney Morning Herald details some individuals' struggles to get their Vista installations working:
Early adopters of the operating system, which launched last year, battled with widespread hardware and software compatibility issues. Many PCs initially sold as "Vista Capable" were unable to run some of Vista's core features, sparking a class action lawsuit against Microsoft.
Many computer components and peripherals required updated drivers in order to work with Vista. In numerous cases these were not available until long after the operating system launched.
[. . .] Mike Nash, complained he was "burned" so badly by compatibility issues he was left with "a $2100 email machine".
Steven Sinofsky [. . .] struggled to even get his home printer working with Vista. In an email [. . .] in February last year, Sinofsky outlined reasons why Vista struggled at launch.
He said hardware and software vendors never "really believed [Vista] would ever ship so they didn't start the work [on updated drivers] until very late in 2006".
"People who rely on using all the features of their hardware [. . .] will not see availability for some time, if ever, depending on the [manufacturer]," Sinofsky wrote.
Pretty typical stuff, right? You've probably read things broadly comparable all sorts of places before. The difference is . . . these guys are Microsoft executives.
H/T to Tom Vinson.
Jon, my virtual landlord, sent along this BOFH link:
"So we'll end up with machines which'll slow themselves down at weird and inconvenient times and lose processing power while they ramp up in response to need?"
"No, I'm sure the bloke said you can tune them to only reduce to a certain point and to speed up recovery time. And with virtualisation you can tune them to consolidate virtual servers onto the least number of machines and shut the rest down till they're needed."
"Still sounds like Nancy-Boy boxes," I concur.
"A REAL computer has ONE speed and the only powersaving it permits is when you pull the power leads out of the back!" I blurt. "In fact, a REAL computer would have a hole in the front to push trees into and an exhaust pipe out the back for the black smoke to come out of."
"AND," the PFY adds. "they run so hot - even on screensaver - that they keep the room nice and toasty when you're not there - saves on heating."
"All that is a thing of the past though." the boss burbles. "The bloke was telling me that using mobile processor technology the..."
"What bloke?" I ask.
"Mmm?" the PFY says.
"Bloke... from... uh..."
"...the... green consultancy..."
"So you and the IT Director talk to some yoghurt-eating fruitcake in a hemp suit and sandals and the next thing we know you're planning to replace our high power server environment with a poor imitation of it?"
This article at PC World takes us back to those glorious days before the dot-bomb era . . . when cool technology really did cost you an arm and a leg:
Think the iPhone is pricey? The cool cell phone of 1988 cost $4382 in today's dollars. A 150MB hard drive? $8755. Take a trip with us down memory lane, and you'll never whine about the price of a gadget again.
It does help to look back a bit . . . I still remember thinking that the under-$500 I paid for my very first hard drive (a gargantuan 40 Mb monster) was a very good price at that time. Clive was briefly the techno-god because he scored a very early 120 Mb drive not too long afterwards. A Gigabyte was something you only found in IBM datacentres, spread over half-a-dozen washing-machine-sized objects.
Those indeed were the days . . .
H/T to Nelson Kennedy.
In a post about shilling for environmentally friendly energy subsidies, Radley Balko touches on one of the biggest boondoggles of the 19th century, the building of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads:
In 1862, Congress justified passing the Pacific Railroad Act as a way to forestall a secessionist movement in California during the Civil War. The government subsidized the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at $16,000 per mile over an easy grade and up to $48,000 in the mountains. In addition, the government offered substantial land grants along the right-of-way. Despite these government subsidies, both companies were bankrupt in the early 1870s.
As an example of how government subsidies distort incentives, both railroad construction crews worked past each other building an extra 200 miles of parallel rail
linesgrades (and some parallel tracks) instead of linking up so their companies could earn more subsidy payments and land grants. The fact that government subsidies were not necessary for building a transcontinental railroad was proved when James J. Hill built the highly profitable Great Northern Railway from Minnesota to Seattle completely without them or land grants.
The UP/CP are an excellent example of how injecting government money into what should be a private endeavour will seriously distort the market, creating a huge incentive to "game the system" to maximize the unearned profits from the government, rather than by serving the public by actually running a business.
If you've read any of the histories of the Union Pacific1, you'll very quickly discover that the company spent far more time and effort lobbying for subsidy, manoevering against potential competitors (by legislation, bribery, and political obstruction, not by actually serving their customers), and hiding the mind-boggling levels of waste, corruption, and incompetence of their day-to-day operations.
That's not to minimize the difficulties of actually building and running the railroad, which cost the lives of many men (disproportionally immigrant Irish and Chinese labourers), but the fact is that the railroad itself was a very distant second to the government largess to be diverted for private profit by the executives of the two corporations. The excesses and criminality of the various officers of the company had an even more important legacy: after the scandal broke, leaving both companies bankrupt, successive governments felt totally justified in heavily regulating all railroads, introducing economic burdens which would cripple most of them for nearly a hundred years (some of the worst regulatory burdens weren't lifted until the 1980's2).
1. Except for the sanitized versions produced for children, which only cover the engineering achievements, not the grubby reality of the UP & CP in their early years.
2. See the Staggers Act for information on the deregulation which belatedly allowed the revitalization of the American railroad industry.
Studies of the rail industry showed dramatic benefits for both railroads and their users from this alteration in the regulatory system. According to the Department of Transportation's Freight Management and Operations section's studies, railroad industry costs and prices were halved over a ten year period, the railroads reversed their historic loss of traffic (as measured by ton-miles) to the trucking industry, and railroad industry profits began to recover after decades of low profits and widespread railroad insolvencies.
I had no idea there had been so many attempts to market micro cars. Some of them are remarkably ugly, some of them could easily appear in the dictionary as illustrations for the term "death trap", while others look kinda cool. H/T to Robert Netzlof.
Also on the topic of cars, I had no idea just how time-consuming it was to start a Stanley Steamer. (H/T to Ken Olsen for that link.)
And to think that I used to consider Ralph Nader's crusade against the Corvair to be a joke . . . Maarten Vis tells of his own Corvair experiences:
Around that time (1960), GM decided to market the Chevrolet Corvair in The Netherlands. The cars arrived by boat in Rotterdam where I studied at the time. So they needed drivers to get the cars to the selling dealers. There was good money in doing just that as a student.
Of course, the quality of the Corvairs was almost atrocious. So we always drove 4 - 6 cars in a convoy, and had a cable on board in case one needed to be pulled!! During months that I did this we had:
2 cars that burned out
about 10 cars that simply quit functioning
I had one once that lost 2 doors while going straight, they just fell off.
Numerous cars were pulled to their destination.
One ended in a canal, due to loss of the right front wheel...
Jeremy Clarkson goes to town on the anti-nuclear power agitators:
The fact of the matter is this. The decision to go nuclear has exposed the whole environmental cause for what it is: not a well intentioned drive for clean power but a spiteful, mean-spirited drive for less power. Because less power hits richer countries and richer people the hardest.
I've argued time and again that the old trade unionists and CND lesbians didn't go away. They just morphed into environmentalists. The reds become green but the goals remain the same. And there's no better way of achieving those goals than turning the lights out and therefore winding the clock back to the Stone Age. Only when we're all eating leaves under a hammer and sickle will they be happy.
I'm serious. All the harebrained schemes for renewable energy are popular among Britain's beardies only because they don't work. I heard one of them on the radio last week explaining that if he were allowed to build 58,000 islands in the Caribbean he could use steam coming off the sea to make enough power for everyone.
Yeah, right. And then you have their constant claims that the tide can be used to make electricity. Really? If that's so, why am I not writing this on a computer powered by the Severn Bore?
Sure, this summer work will begin on a tidal plant off the coast of Wales. Eight turbines, each 78ft long and 50ft tall, will harness the moon's gravitational pull, and if all goes well it won’t even provide enough electricity to run Chipping Norton. You'd be better off burning tenners.
If you're unfamiliar with Clarkson's, er, energetic style, you might enjoy reading his "election manifesto".
Frequent commenter "Da Wife" sent along this link, which explains why sales of GPS units to sex offenders has skyrocketed in Providence:
A tech company with ties to a school district plans to test a tracking system by putting computer chips on grade-schoolers' backpacks, an experiment the ACLU ripped Monday as invasive and unnecessary.
The pilot program set to start next week in the Middletown school district would have about 80 children put tags containing radio frequency identification chips, or RFID chips, on their schoolbags. It would also equip two buses with global positioning systems, or GPS devices.
The school and parents will be able to track students on the bus, and the district hopes the program will improve busing efficiency, Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger said. The devices are intended to record only when students enter and exit the bus, and the GPS would show where the bus was on it's route.
Because, of course, it's far too difficult to attach an RFID to a schoolbus . . . putting them on the kids is the obvious solution. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
To no great surprise, given the sordid history of the entire saga of the Sea King replacement helicopters, there's another hitch in delivery:
The delivery of new military helicopters to replace Canada's aging fleet of Sea Kings will likely be delayed by 30 months and Ottawa is threatening to deeply penalize the U.S. contractor "thousands of dollars" for each day the choppers are late, The Canadian Press has learned.
A senior government source, speaking on background, said late Wednesday that department officials told Public Works Minister Michael Fortier on Monday that Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. would be late with the long-awaited delivery of new CH-148 Cyclones.
The Cyclones were scheduled for delivery later this year, and the delay means the breakdown-prone Sea King fleet will have to be maintained until the new helicopters arrive.
For Canadian air crew, it's not at all surprising to find that the senior member of the crew is younger than the airframe of the chopper they're flying, but at this rate, it'll become common for the airframe to be older than the crew's parents, too.
For all the great technology that went into the helicopters (and they were top-of-the-line birds when we first go them), there is a definite limit to how long they can be safely kept operational. Most other nations flying Sea Kings decided that they'd passed that point about a decade ago. Our military flight crews deserve far better than that from Canada.
Shikha Dalmia explains why mandating higher miles-per-gallon on car makers isn't the panacea everyone seems to assume:
This is an impossible task. The federal standards will be tough enough for automakers to deliver without compromising on space, safety, power and (above all) low prices — all things that consumers value more than gas mileage. There is simply no technology now available that can combine everything that consumers want with the stipulated gas mileage. If there was, automakers wouldn't need a mandate — they'd run, not walk, to put it on the market.
But why are California's goals so much tougher, even though the federal rules allow just four more years to another 1.2 mpg? Because cars have a long production cycle — models now in the planning stage won't be available until 2014.
So there's simply no time to come up with new designs that will do the job. That means the only way automakers could comply with California's deadline is by withholding from consumers the higher-emission vehicles they want in states that insist on it.
In other words, they'd have to pull the vast majority of their vehicles from those markets, not only SUVs and light trucks, but even most sedans.
Consider Toyota, the darling of the greens: It now makes maybe two vehicles — manual-transmission Yaris and hybrid Prius — that meet California's standards. Toyota's Camry, the top-selling car in America, gets only 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
Indeed, the net effect of the California standard would be to impose either small compacts or hybrids on all new-car buyers — even though hybrids costs $3,000 to $5,000 more than their non-hybridized versions and have a much shorter lifespan.
Even if you carefully follow the directions of your GPS unit, you still have to pay attention to the real world through which you are driving:
A Global Positioning System can tell a driver a lot of things - but not when a train is coming.
A computer consultant driving a rental car drove onto train tracks Wednesday using the instructions his GPS unit gave him.
A train was barrelling toward him, but he escaped in time and no one was injured.
The driver had turned right, as the system advised, and the car somehow got stuck on the tracks at the crossing.
Based on the skimpy information in the news report, at least this isn't a candidate for the Darwin Awards: the driver did get out of the vehicle before the train struck it . . .
For those of you unfortunate enough to have moved to Windows Vista, it's not just your imagination that your computer is actually slower than it was under Windows XP:
Analysis: Moving from Office 2007 to Office 2003 definitely improved Vista's showing. Instead of being over 2x slower than XP on the same OfficeBench workload, Vista is now "only" 1.8x slower.
To quote Darth Vader: "Impressive...most impressive."
H/T to Mathew Foscarini for the link.
Update: Steve Udovenko sent along a link to this report, which includes a QotD-quality summary:
Executive Executive Summary
The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history
A certain amount of the award will go toward significantly improving the Crusher, a 6.5-ton unmanned support vehicle Carnegie engineers developed in 2006 in conjunction with DARPA. Since its introduction, the Crusher has demonstrated unparalleled toughness and mobility during extensive field trials in extremely rugged terrain, according to Carnegie Mellon.
The next generation Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD) ill make use of the latest suspension, vehicle frame, and hybrid-electric drive technologies to improve upon its predecessor's performance. Enhanced mobility capabilities will push the envelope for autonomous and semi-autonomous operation, the engineers said. The engineers will develop a comprehensive control architecture that makes use of hardware and software components as well.
Ultimately unmanned ground vehicles would be outfitted with anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles and anti-personnel weapons to make them lethal. Part of the new award budget is also slated to help the university prove that autonomous ground vehicles are feasible in future combat situations.
Of course, there are always concerns about putting the decision-making power into the "hands" of self-directed machines. The worry is well founded: just think about how you have to struggle with Microsoft Word sometimes . . .
On the other hand, if they develop a model armed with Tasers, the RCMP may need to start worrying about their long-term future.
I've been using Facebook for a couple of months, and I've generally found it a pretty useful site. I'd say I had pretty positive feelings toward the site . . . until now. Now, I'm reconsidering whether I should ever log in to that site again. Why? Because Facebook's Beacon ad system may be telling them a lot about my online browsing habits, whether I'm logged in to their site or not:
If you think that just because you have never signed up for Facebook you're immune to the tracking and collecting of user activities surrounding the popular social networking site, think again.
Facebook's controversial Beacon ad system tracks the activities of all users of its third-party partner sites, including people who have never signed up with Facebook or who have deactivated their accounts, CA (Computer Associates) has found.
Beacon captures detailed data on what users do on the external partner sites and sends it back to Facebook along with users' IP addresses, Stefan Berteau, senior research engineer at CA's Threat Research Group, said today in an interview.
The CA Security Advisor Research Blog offers the following advice:
For me, the Ad system is a real privacy concern. It connects my online actions to my Facebook account — collecting and aggregating an even broader array of data in one database. Yikes. Once I found out about this ad system and realized I didn't like it, I looked at my options.
Here are some of them:
1. Cancel my Facebook account.
2. Continually opt-out of News Feed from external sites.
3. Do nothing.
4. Block facebook.com/beacon*, hence block data transmission.
5. Petition Beacon partner sites.
Option 1. This isn't a good option for me at this time. I use Facebook to connect with people and have invested time and other resources building my Facebook presence. Quitting is not as easy as simply going into my account settings and selecting 'deactivate.' In the field of economics the term "elasticity of demand" is used to describe consumer receptivity to changes in price (e.g.: if the price goes up will they still buy?). I think I will create a new term "retractability of investment". In other words, I invested emotion, time, and other resources in Facebook — what would it take for me to retract my investment by deactivating my account? As of now, my investment is too high and I don't consider retraction a viable option, but if the privacy violations continue, my internal scale may tip.
If you use Firefox, you can follow CA's advice for blocking that particular site from receiving information from your browser (but only if Facebook doesn't change the site or add others to it):
Option 4 is the only option I can think of that allows me to use Facebook, but control my privacy. As long as facebook.com/beacon is the folder used for external sites to send requests, this option will work. You will need a tool for blocking access to this folder. I tried out Firefox's BlockSite Plugin and it works great (if you use Firefox). Just download the plugin and add http://www.facebook.com/beacon/* and facebook.com/beacon/* under 'options' to the 'add' section and restart your browser. Note: Adding facebook.com/beacon to Internet Explorer's restricted sites, is not an option, this will block the entire domain (facebook.com). Also, the hosts file is not an option for the same reason.
I just followed their advice, downloaded BlockSite, and added those two sites to the blocking list. If you're not using Firefox, you may have to consider another solution, though. More information on this issue here.
This is an actual support article at the Microsoft web site:
During normal operation or in Safe mode, your computer may play "Fur Elise" or "It's a Small, Small World" seemingly at random. This is an indication sent to the PC speaker from the computer's BIOS that the CPU fan is failing or has failed, or that the power supply voltages have drifted out of tolerance. This is a design feature of a detection circuit and system BIOSes developed by Award/Unicore from 1997 on.
H/T to Marilyn Traber for the link.
God did not give us the Internet for porn, political fundraising, or pissing off the RIAA. (*)
[. . .]
* Those were Al Gore's contributions. Thank you, Al!
Jesse Walker, "The Rave Museum", Hit and Run, 2007-11-29
A story came out earlier this week, heralded with scare headlines like "Internet Facing Meltdown" and "Internet Blackouts Predicted by 2010". I thought it was bullshit when I saw the headlines, but I was too busy to look at the report the articles were referencing to see how much the media was twisting the original information. Apparently the original authors were similarly impressed by the efforts of the spin-meisters:
When a small Illinois IT research firm published a study on the future of the Internet last week, it didn't expect to create an international furor.
"I had no idea it would get spun this way, twisted this way," report co-author Johna Till Johnson, president and a senior founding partner of Nemertes Research, said Wednesday.
"I've read all sorts of interesting stuff that bears little relation to the truth, but people seem to be basing it on the study."
All the study concluded, she says, is that a mismatch between demand and access capacity will be reached in three to five years that will have to be met by billions of dollars in spending by carriers. Otherwise, the next YouTube may be throttled because the Internet will be hard to access.
[. . .]
"We explicitly are not saying the Internet's going to break," she says.
In hindsight, she adds, the firm should have foreseen the reaction from Internet lobby groups who she says put their own negative spin on the report. "They really failed to see that it's entirely straightforward to build their case [for supporting the Internet] around the findings, which were intentionally policy-neutral."
"It surprised me there was this bipolar response that had nothing to do with the findings."
Of course, you might want to always filter any media scaremongering to do with the internet . . . the normal bias of news organizations to emphasize the dramatic is reinforced by the fact that the internet is, in effect, eating their lunch. Not to say that there aren't news items that deserve to be covered, but that you need to keep in mind the agenda not only of the originator but also that of the publicist.
Jon, my virtual landlord, sent me this item with the comment "With a review like this, you've got to get one":
The Squircle could pretentiously be called a convergence device, but it's really just a glorified card reader. Zero internal memory, no screen, a rubbery shell and a peculiar shape aren't the best starting points for an MP3 player.
But play MP3s it does, and to boot it'll jack into your nearest USB cable for all the card reading fun you can wave a stick and an SD card at. For just £15, we felt we should give this little guy a chance.
Find yourself a large lump of black Plasticine and squish it into a flat square shape. Then round off two opposite corners and leave it to go stagnant. The result is a lump of rubbery gunk that resembles half a square, half a circle — hence the name. There are also five large rubbery buttons that require significant pushing and endless patience. It's about as pleasant to use as putting your hand in a trouser press.
[. . .]
This truly is the most horrible excuse for an MP3 player we've ever heard. Don't be surprised if your toddler's first words are, 'Daddy, why does Noddy sound like he hates me?' As an emergency card reader it's not too bad. But perhaps the most redeeming feature is that it'll skim across a lake like no pebble you'll ever find on a beach. Expect even the most woebegone and wretched five-year old to think you're cool as a result.
A suitable alternative would be any MP3 player on CNET.co.uk, along with the cheapest card reader you can find in Argos. You may pay a little more but we guarantee your karma will benefit as a result. The fact that some dog toys cost more should push you in the right direction.
At least now I know what I'll be getting Jon for Christmas this year . . .
Because the ship no longer operates with a dedicated air wing — Britain’s joint Royal-Navy-Royal Air Force Harrier force has shrunk, and four squadrons are fully committed to operations in Afghanistan — the head of the Royal Navy asked the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps for help.
After months of elaborate planning and a few days of high-tempo carrier-qualification ops, 16 U.S. Marine AV-8B Harriers and 200 support Marines settled aboard Illustrious, the largest Marine-aviation detachment ever to fly from a foreign warship.
The Harriers joined two Navy search-and-rescue and two airborne surveillance and control Sea King helicopters, and together the two-nation air wing set off on high-tempo air operations to test men and procedures at a record-setting pace.
Illustrious also became the first foreign warship to welcome aboard the Marines' newest aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. The landings demonstrated the feasibility of operating the 23-ton tiltrotor, but also pointed up the difficulty of flying an aircraft with an 84-foot rotorspan from a small deck. That shouldn't be a problem on the new carriers, whose 4-acre flight decks are more than twice the size of Illustrious' and only half an acre smaller than those on America's Nimitz-class supercarriers.
The sad note in the article is the information that the RN no longer has enough Harriers of its own to fully arm the two remaining carriers in the fleet (although at least in part because of operational demands), but the inter-operability aspects are quite interesting.
Update: Links are working now. Thanks to Jon for pointing out that I'd been an idiot and neglected to insert them properly the first time around.
The administrator for one of the mailing lists I'm subscribed to has had a recurring problem:
If you are an AOL user, and want to get off the list, I would appreciate it if you would do one of the following: either
(a) use the instructions that were mailed to you when you subscribed to the list,
(b) go to [list subscription management site] and use the links there, or
(c) ask someone for help.
Please do _NOT_ mark the list email as spam, as you run the risk of killing our AOL whitelisting and thus affecting our ability to get mail to other list members (not to mention some of my clients) who use AOL.
It hadn't honestly occurred to me that some people were not only so lazy, but so thoughtless as to do something like this. I can understand the decision to leave a mailing list, but to do so in a way that actively harms both the list and a potentially high number of subscribers? That's low.
One of the most interesting railroad promotional films ever made: This Is My Railroad, Part 1 and Part2. It's portentious, hokey, and triumphal, yet tells more about both the Southern Pacific and the regions it served than anything I've ever seen. If you want to know why the 1940's and 50's were the golden age of railroads, this film will give you a bunch of clues.
One of thousands of public domain short films now available from the Prelinger collection at the National Archive.
H/T to Jeff Scarbrough.
It's not the technological wonderland described in numerous 1940's SF short stories or 1950's TV shows and movies, but it's still pretty cool:
If this is the future, someone forgot to stock it properly. Where are the personal service robots, the moon vacations, the self-contained cities rising out of the smog? What happened to all those sci-fi prophecies? In Where's My Jetpack? (Bloomsbury), Popular Mechanics columnist Daniel Wilson moans that "it's the twenty-first century, and things are a little disappointing." Wilson, the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, begs "all the scientists, inventors, and tinkerers out there" to "please hurry up" (emphasis in original).
Wilson shouldn't be so moony. Fanciful futurist visions can obscure all the neat stuff we’ve accumulated, once-wild innovations that are far cooler and more functional than jetpacks. (Microwave ovens, anyone?) They also make it easy to forget that the ultimate responsibility for choosing which technologies fill our lives lies with us, the ordinary consumers, more than any rocket scientists. Take the titular jetpack. It exists — but no one really wants it. It's a 125-pound monster with a flight time of 30 seconds, powered by expensive fuel. The dream of individual human flight was realized in 1961, and we haven't been able to find any use for it outside of Bond movies, the first Super Bowl halftime show, and Ovaltine commercials.
[. . .]
In another recent book, The Shock of the Old (Oxford University Press), the British historian David Edgerton posits that technological innovations don't matter as much as we think they do. We tend to consider scientific and engineering breakthroughs themselves as the important thing, he says, when what really matters is how we fit them into our lives. Edgerton disparages our high hopes for each new innovation as "futurism," a disease that led us to believe in a new world birthed by engineers, where electricity would be "too cheap to meter," Segways would be ubiquitous, and voice recognition software would replace keyboards. Moving sidewalks exist, after all. Even now they creep through many of our airports. Heinlein's future isn’t upon us for the same reason we don't all have jetpacks: We haven't wanted to make the technology our own.
If Wilson is disappointed with the future, it's because he approaches it the wrong way. He — and we — shouldn't read science fiction to get a sneak peak at as-yet-unseen innovative technologies. Rather than as a blueprint for what should happen, we should read it to imagine the ways humanity will figure out how to use whatever shows up, or to tweak the impressive tech that's already lying around.
All quite true, and yet, not enough to displace those memories of being a 10-year-old SF reader and expecting to have my winter vacations on the moon or on Mars by now. Damn it, I do feel ripped off on that score!
Arroxane Ullman sent this link to the Techwr-L mailing list:
A new company called Cognitive Code has built software that it believes will let everyday gadgets talk with humans. At the Techcrunch40 conference in San Francisco on Monday, the startup unveiled a developer's studio with a set of algorithms that convert strings of words into concepts and formulate a wordy response. The developer's studio could let businesses, such as cell-phone manufacturers and toy makers, use the technology to add conversational abilities to a product.
Instead of composing an e-mail on a PDA, says Leslie Spring, the company's chief technology officer, imagine instructing a handheld to "send an e-mail to Tom and tell him 'I'll be there in 10 minutes.'" Spring says that such a feature could be possible with the algorithms--based on 15 patents--that Cognitive Code has developed.
Geoff Hart, the list's resident
pessimistic realistic futurist almost immediately posted this response:
A scene from 10 years in our future:Device: "Dave, I'm sorry, but I seem to have experienced an unrecoverable application error. Abort, retry, fail?" Dave: "Huh? WTF? Speak English!" Device: "Reinitiating speech mode. Dave, I'm sorry, but I seem to have experienced an unrecoverable application error. Abort, retry, fail?" Dave: "Could you possibly elaborate?" Device: "Unrecognized user input: Elaborate: No such command. Initiating debugger mode." Dave: "Hello? Hello?" Device: "Debugger mode shows error lies between keyboard and chair. Initiating ejection mechanism." Dave: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Device: "Anyone for a nice game of minesweeper?" [Distant THUD! in the background] "Unrecognized user input: Thud: No such command. Initiating debugger mode..."
Which, of course, reminded me of that brilliant Dave Allen bit on talking cars:
In my morning commute into Toronto, there's a definite difference in both traffic density and convenience between the private toll highway I use to get most of the way west, and the public highways I use to get the rest of the way into town. The distance travelled is about the same, but the time factor is very disproportional: the toll route is about ten minutes of travel, while the public highways take between 20 and 60 minutes to go a similar distance.
It could, however, be much worse . . . I could be trying to drive in L.A.:
As readers of reason know, "Traffic Jams Are Made In City Hall," and they can be solved, or at least greatly reduced through a series of five improvements ranging from creative construction, smarter management, market pricing for roads, market pricing for parking, and privatization. Read all about it — while you're stuck in traffic wasting as much as an extra 72 hours a year — hey, watch out for that stopped car! — here.
The 407 isn't perfect: it only has two different rates for travel at different times of the day, and they don't refund you any of that electronically collected toll if you're delayed, but it's a vast improvement over the parallel public highway 401 (the MacDonald-Cartier Freeway).
. . . imagine coming in to a job like this every morning:
Frankly, I have to admit in general that push systems are to working steam railways what pornography is to real sex, both are great in moderation but neither is quite as good as the 'real thing'. The 300mm (!) gauge colliery railway at the top end of Sichuan's Shibanxi railway is, however, a little bit special. I make no claim to originality, others like Hiromi Masaki have been here before. Being extremely committed in other directions, I had not bothered to check their sites before I came, I just noted some advice from John Raby to check it out during my visit. Thanks are due to all concerned for pointing me in the right direction.
Makes the old 9-to-5 seem positively sybaritic, doesn't it?
. . . not that long ago, all the investment articles in the business section of the newspaper, saying that we'd overbuilt our telecommunications infrastructure, and that there was not enough demand to pay for all the bandwidth that was becoming available? That coin has now flipped:
The Internet needs a massive investment to keep up with the demands of YouTube fans, billions of e-mails and wireless access, a university study states.
If the network that carries Internet traffic were a highway, it would be as if every car owner, "rushed out and traded in their cars for massive 20-wheel trucks," stated the report from University of California-San Diego Professor Michael Kleeman, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication.
In the report, titled "Point of Disconnect," Kleeman writes that there needs to be a massive expansion of network capacity in the United States, and even though network operators are making those investments, it still may not be enough to keep up with demand.
Of course, everyone who followed the advice to dump telecommunications stocks took a bath on the transaction, but that's one of the risks of any kind of investing: if you don't know what you're investing in, you'll end up lining the pockets of those who do know.
In part two of the saga of transferring my son's layout to Burlington, I discover that gremlins are real . . .
To recap (or you can read the original post): I took the original 4'x6' section of Victor's HO scale model train layout down to Burlington to install in my sister's basement. Part one went very well, the layout (aside from some scenery) arrived and co-operated when set up in the new space. Nephew's state: very happy. Some time passed, during which I was going to check that the second section, a 2'x4' module containing the turntable, was still operable.
That was delayed an extra couple of weeks, as I couldn't find my multimeter, and there clearly was an electrical issue with the section: no power appeared at track level when applied to the under-table wiring. This is where it got complicated: my nephew had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the turntable section and was very disappointed when it failed to show up on schedule. And I couldn't even diagnose what the problem was without having a meter to find out where the power was going (I had a brief urge to tell him that there was now a puddle of electrons on the floor underneath the layout, but common sense prevailed).
My meter has gone into hiding, and has not yet turned up, so I borrowed a meter from Jon (my virtual landlord, who, by happenstance, had just bought a new one . . . because his original multimeter had gone into hiding a few weeks earlier). Using Jon's new meter, I discovered the following:
The turntable is one of the Atlas 9" models, and the switches controlling power to the stub tracks are all Atlas slide switches. In spite of the abuse they'd received during multiple moves, the turntable still works (manual, not powered), and the slide switches all still work fine. What doesn't add up is that tracks 2, 4, and 6 (counting clockwise) don't run. That is, the multimeter reads the same voltage on tracks 1 through 6, but a locomotive is only able to actually move if it's sitting on the turntable itself or on tracks 1, 3, or 5. There are no breaks in either the wiring or the actual physical rail to account for this. It's the same locomotive (a Kato NW2 — Kato has a very good reputation for product quality), yet it runs happily on 8 volts DC on one track, but refuses to acknowledge the same voltage on the adjacent track.
Gremlins are the only possible explanation.
Still, when my sister's family arrives later today, I'll at least be able to give my nephew a partially working turntable section, which is better than nothing. :-/
Update, two hours later: Apparently, Gremlins have nationality. . .
In first part of this post, I mentioned my frustrations with trying to troubleshoot the wiring. What I forgot to mention, because I'd completely forgotten about it, was that not all the track was Atlas. Some of the track was from one or another of my son's various train sets . . . no brass, but some steel and some nickel silver. It's all been painted and given the beginnings of weathering (but no ballast), so it wasn't immediately obvious which sections were Atlas code 100 (made with nickel silver) and which were Brand X code 96.733333 (made from the bones of imprisoned dissidents).
When I belatedly recalled that, it was a simple matter to swap out the (Japanese-made) Kato locomotive for a (Chinese-made) Bachmann. The original run of the Spectrum GE 44 ton diesel, to be precise. It had no problem running on any of the track . . . in other words the problem wasn't the track or the wiring: it was the frickin' locomotive. Kato NW2's don't condescend to run on mere "trainset quality" track. It has to be brand name or better before the Kato will stop sulking and actually run.
So, in addition to the turntable module, my nephew is also getting an old, noisy, but still serviceable GN 44-tonner. At least I know _that_ will run on the "new" section.
So much for getting anything useful done this weekend:
72 Hours of Early Access!
Immerse yourself in three whole days of exclusive action-packed early access to the entire Far Shiverpeaks region. North of the so-called civilized lands lies a region blanketed in snow and ice, rife with adventure. Home to the legendary Eye of the North and the fiercely independent Norn, this mountainous tract hosts untold challenges and riches.
Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual.
Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption — yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. And the increasing acreage devoted to corn for ethanol means less land for other staple crops, giving farmers in South America an incentive to carve fields out of tropical forests that help to cool the planet and stave off global warming.
So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 — twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon — about half of ethanol's wholesale market price.
I am reminded of the late Frank Lloyd Wright. I have been in several of his buildings, and known several people who've owned homes he designed. He was NOTORIOUS for specifying shoddy materials that couldn't do the job they were expected to do. The Greek Orthodox Church here in Milwaukee (one of his last projects) spent huge amounts of money to keep the roof from collapsing. A friend had a house in Jefferson that had a tree growing up through the living room (designed that way). He never came up with a way to seal the roof around the trunk of the tree and still allow it to grow, every time it rained their living room flooded. His private homes were almost all built without any closets, I know one family who can't even use any of the rooms on the second floor because they can't get any furniture up the narrow winding stairways.
Don Dellmann, posting to "Railroad_Modeling_Still_Makes_Me_Grumpy" at Yahoo Groups, 2007-07-30
. . . can be a very dangerous thing indeed.
But Sony seems to think that muttering "sorry", under duress, is really as much as I have a right to expect. The studied indifference with which their customer service representatives treat my complaints is downright appalling. When I point out just how long I've waited, they don't offer me anything to make up for my inconvenience, not even a $5 gift certificate to the Sony store. Indeed, they don't even acknowlege that I am complaining. They wait for me to finish, and continue with whatever they were saying as if I had not spoken. Before I went to business school, I spent five years as a network engineer. As you can imagine, that entailed a lot of time spent on hold to tech support, including to places in Taiwan where the English was at best shaky. Sony has now commanded the award for worst technical support ever. At least the Chinese guys seemed to be aware that I was talking, even if they didn't understand what I had said.
Jane Galt, "You knew this was coming, didn't you?", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-07-06
The recording industry as we know it is as good as dead, having overdosed on a toxic cocktail of arrogance and stupidity. Its failure to embrace downloadable music at a critical juncture — ca. 2001, when a mutually beneficial deal with Napster was the only option that made sense economically — will go down in history as the business equivalent of Napoleon sending his armies into Russia.
In the market, the quickest way to commit suicide is by badgering your clients, rather than listen to their needs; by willfully crippling your products, rather than enhance them; by stubbornly defaulting to litigation, rather than innovation.
So sue me (ha!): I no more shed a tear over the industry's last gasps than I would over the demise of coal-fired trains. Truthfully, I'm rather entertained by the spectacle of seeing formerly high-flying record executives twisting in the wind.
Rogier van Bakel, "The Music Industry: Tonedeaf and Near Death", Nobody's Business, 2007-07-02
H/T to "John the Mc".
As manual transmission vehicles become less common on the roads in North America, they become less likely to be stolen:
Two U.S. car thieves failed to make their getaway in a car they had just stolen because they couldn't figure out how to use its manual transmission, a witness said on Wednesday.
There's an interesting thread over at Slashdot, discussing the shady practices of inkjet manufacturers:
InkJet Printers Lying, Or Just Wrong?
akkarin writes in about a study reported at Ars Technica on how accurate ink-jet printers are when they report that cartridges are empty. Not very, it turns out. Epson came out on top of the study (and Ars rightly questions how objective it was, given that Epson paid for it), but even they waste 20% of the ink if users take the printers' word for when to get a new cartridge. On average, the printers in the study wasted more than half the ink that users bought.
Elizabeth uses an inkjet printer, and it always seems to be running out of ink . . . yet we don't print that much (certainly less than the advertised number of pages) between
needing being told we need new ink cartridges.
Lore Sjöberg discusses some of the obvious follow-on additions to the DSM IV:
Narcissistic Blog Disorder
This disorder is characterized by the creation of a blog in which the individual consistently denigrates not only the opinions of others, but the very fact that others have opinions, saying things like "nobody cares what some overpaid starlet has to say about global warming" and "nobody cares what some crusty career politician thinks is wrong with society today." Simultaneously, the individual assumes that people do care about what he or she has to say, in spite of the individual's only political or activist experience being watching the movie Dave twice.
Bookmark Loop Disorder
Web bookmarks remain a popular way to waste time when one should be working. You check a site or two, get something done for a little while, then check your bookmarks again. Careful research, however, has shown that at a certain point the list of bookmarks grows, the "get something done" period shrinks, until the reader goes directly from the end of the list back to the top, just in case there are new updates. Once entered, this "bookmark loop state" often cannot be broken until a couple hours after a sane bedtime.
Guilty as charged, M'Lud, but society is to blame.
H/T to Craig Zeni.
I used to work in the Document Management software field, so this little cautionary story rings just so true:
"You destroyed the originals didn't you?" I sigh.
"Of course. What's the point in scanning them if you're going to keep the documents?"
"What was the point in scanning them in the first place?"
"We needed space in the document vault for some new contracts."
"So you destroyed licence documents — some of which are proof-of-purchase, some of which are one-time licences and will not be reissued by the vendor."
"But as you say, they're still in the content management system somewhere. Can't you just do a search on the content management server and find them?"
"Don't be silly — no content management server allows that — or you'd be able to change systems to some cheaper vendor. No, a proper content management system makes it next to impossible to extract your content in any automated manner so that you're forced to use their product and pay their licence fees no matter how crap it is."
Jane Galt foresees some technologically driven changes in the political arena:
There has been talk about this problem for a while among television personalities and . . . er . . . adult entertainers. Today, though, it suddenly occurred to me that this might have an impact on the 2008 election. Just as the introduction of television famously altered voter perceptions of the candidates in the 1960 election (those who listened to the debate thought that Nixon had won, but those who saw it on television overwhelmingly favoured the more telegenic Kennedy), HDTV could skew who we nominate and/or elect.
For example, though I've never met him, my understanding from those who have is that McCain's image of vitality is very carefully projected, and that when you actually meet him up close, he looks pretty frail. Will that come out on HDTV? How about Hilary? HDTV is least kind to older women; I'd bet it puts at least ten years on her. I suspect that Obama is the only candidate who will actually look good on HDTV; he's younger, and even light black skin ages better than caucasian.
The adoption rate of HDTV may be critical to Obama's hopes for winning the Democratic primaries . . . the sooner people replace older TV sets with HDTV, the better he's going to look (in the purely visual sense, of course). Politics has been described as "show business for ugly people", but this may no longer be true — does this presage a take-over of public political discourse by only the physically attractive?
The ads are adapted from a near-identical American campaign — the only difference is the use of Mitchell and Webb. They are a logical choice in one sense (everyone likes them), but a curious choice in another, since they are best known for the television series Peep Show — probably the best sitcom of the past five years — in which Mitchell plays a repressed, neurotic underdog, and Webb plays a selfish, self-regarding poseur. So when you see the ads, you think, "PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers." In other words, it is a devastatingly accurate campaign.
I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don't use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui. [. . .]
Mac owners often sneer that kind of defence back at you when you mock their silly, posturing contraptions, because in doing so, you have inadvertently put your finger on the dark fear haunting their feeble, quivering soul — that in some sense, they are a superficial semi-person assembled from packaging; an infinitely sad, second-rate replicant who doesn't really know what they are doing here, but feels vaguely significant and creative each time they gaze at their sleek designer machine. And the more deftly constructed and wittily argued their defence, the more terrified and wounded they secretly are.
"Da Wife" sent along a link to a new product at Lee Valley Tools: something which no Canadian coffee-drinker can be without.
This is a product that really needs a lot of explanation, not because it's mysterious in function or even difficult to use (quite the opposite), but to explain what it's doing in our stores!
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Unfortunately, Ralph apparently wasn't writing from personal experience when he penned that quote, as one of the most difficult challenges an inventor can face is bringing a finished design to market.
When we were first shown the Rimroller many months ago, we recognized immediately that this was an elegant, well-designed, and well-manufactured product at a very reasonable price. It was one of those products that just delighted people when they used it. We also recognized that the inventor, Paul Kind, had plowed a ton of time and capital into bringing the product to the point where it was ready to market. So, while Lee Valley is clearly not the most appropriate retailer of this product, we could only stand by for so long watching Mr. Kind work hard to sell this product without success.
This is the sort of product that I'd normally expect to appear in the April update to their website, but perhaps because I rarely drink take-out coffee, I underestimate the huge demand for this sort of product.
Within the last decade, technology advances have made it possible to unlock more oil from old fields, and, at the same time, higher oil prices have made it economical for companies to go after reserves that are harder to reach. With plenty of oil still left in familiar locations, forecasts that the world's reserves are drying out have given way to predictions that more oil can be found than ever before.
In a wide-ranging study published in 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that ultimately recoverable resources of conventional oil totaled about 3.3 trillion barrels, of which a third has already been produced. More recently, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy consultant, estimated that the total base of recoverable oil was 4.8 trillion barrels. That higher estimate — which Cambridge Energy says is likely to grow — reflects how new technology can tap into more resources.
"It's the fifth time to my count that we've gone through a period when it seemed the end of oil was near and people were talking about the exhaustion of resources," said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of Cambridge Energy and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of oil, who cited similar concerns in the 1880s, after both world wars and in the 1970s. "Back then we were going to fly off the oil mountain. Instead we had a boom and oil went to $10 instead of $100."
Jad Mouawad, "Oil Innovations Pump New Life Into Old Wells", New York Times, 2007-03-05
Wow. A Bugatti Veyron, taken to top speed. H/T to Dave Slater for the URL.
Having spent £13,000 on installing a wind turbine at his home, John Large is disappointed at the return on his investment, which amounts to 9p a week.
At this rate, it is calculated, it will take 2,768 years for the electricity generated by the turbine to pay for itself, by which time he will be past caring about global warming.
The wind turbine was installed at the engineer’s home in Woolwich, southeast London, four weeks ago and has so far generated four kilowatts of electricity. An average household needs 23kw every day to power its lights and appliances.
Mr Large said that his difficulties highlighted the problems faced by consumers who wanted to buy wind turbines to save money and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This report claims that the first private submarines for individual use are now for sale. That can't be true: I remember reading the ads in the back of comic books when I was 8 offering one-man submarines for sale. If I continue this line of thought, this could turn into a James Lileks-like reminiscence thread . . . and none of you would want to read that . . .
Of course, I don't remember hearing about anyone actually sending away for one of those "subs". But they must have been real, right?
As a futurist, I've often licked my chops over rather grim possibilities. But my lasting fondness for the dark side is a personal taste, not an analysis. I'm frequently surprised, and when I consider the biggest surprises, I'm heartened that they were mostly positive. The Internet, for instance, crawled out of a dank atomic fallout shelter to become the Mardi Gras parade of my generation. It was not a bolt of destructive lightning; it was the sun breaking through the clouds.
Everything we do has unpredicted consequences. It's good to keep in mind that some outcomes are just fabulous, dumb luck. So mark my last little act of prediction in this space: I don't have a poll or a single shred of evidence to back it up, but I believe more good things are in store, and some are bound to come from the tangled, ubiquitous, personal, and possibly unpredictable Net.
Bruce Sterling, "My Final Prediction", Wired, 2006-12
I find it hard to believe that folks got this wound up about a piece of railway history:
I'm as much of a nutbar about preserving railway history as the next person (after all, I founded a railway historical society), but this just took me aback.
H/T to "JtMc".
For the geek that already has everything, a Personal RFID Firewall might be just the ticket:
JanMark writes: "Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum and his student Melanie Rieback (who published the RFID virus paper in March) and 3 coauthors have now published a paper on a personal RFID firewall called the RFID Guardian. This device protects its owner from hostile RFID tags and scans in his or her vicinity, while letting friendly ones through.
morgan_greywolf writes: "Oh, great. I can just imagine walking through the mall and then being bombarded by all these popups. "Would you like Macy's to be able to access your RFID tags? [Ok] [Cancel] [X] Always Allow"
Identity theft is a real danger, but it can apparently get much worse than that. Stories like this one are almost always apocryphal, but you never can tell . . .
Bruce Schneier has a swing at defining the word "hacker":
Hacking is cheating, and it's how we get better at security. It's only after someone invents a new attack that the rest of us can figure out how to defend against it.
For years I have refused to play the semantic "hacker" vs. "cracker" game. There are good hackers and bad hackers, just as there are good electricians and bad electricians. "Hacker" is a mindset and a skill set; what you do with it is a different issue.
And I believe the best computer security experts have the hacker mindset. When I look to hire people, I look for someone who can't walk into a store without figuring out how to shoplift. I look for someone who can't test a computer security program without trying to get around it. I look for someone who, when told that things work in a particular way, immediately asks how things stop working if you do something else.
The Register rounds up the current state of things on the "Windows Genuine [Dis]Advantage" scene:
What would you call a computer program that surreptitiously installed itself onto your computer, collected personal information about you without your knowledge or effective consent, was difficult or impossible to remove, installed pop-up banners that constantly harassed you, and presented significant security vulnerabilities?
If you were Los Angeles resident Brian Johnson, the answer would be simple. You'd call it Windows. Or more specifically, it's the anti-piracy software download known as Windows Genuine Advantage.
His class action lawsuit (PDF court documents available in linked article), filed in US federal District Court in Seattle, Washington on June 26, 2006, alleges that the Microsoft software violates California and Washington State privacy laws, consumer protection laws, and anti-spyware laws.
Go read the whole thing. It's worth the time.
Jon sent a link to this post which takes aim at Sony's latest race-baiting ad:
It seems to me pretty stupidly racist, frankly, and I'm certainly not one who is keen to toss that term around lightly. I think that the latex gloves that the White Beast is wearing so she doesn't even come in contact with the black girl/boy (I honestly can't tell) is an especially nice touch, as is the way the necktie thingy forms a Madonna-esque cross with WB's bra support. Yech.
Nice to see that Sony is willing to be "edgy".
For the slow-of-comprehension, that last sentence was intended to be read sarcastically.
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