H/T to Dave Slater.
A recent report in PC World illustrates the increasing sophistication of online phishing expeditions:
Panos Anastassiadis didn't click on the fake subpoena that popped into his inbox on Monday morning, but he runs a computer security company. Others were not so lucky.
In fact, security researchers say that thousands have fallen victim to an e-mail scam in which senior managers such as Anastassiadis are told that they have been sued in federal court and must click on a Web link to download court documents. Victims of the crime are taken to a phony Web site where they are told they need to install browser plug-in software to view the documents. That software gives the criminals access to the victim's computer.
This type of targeted e-mail attack, called "spear-phishing," is a variation on the more common "phishing" attack. Both attacks use fake e-mail messages to try to lure victims to malicious Web sites, but with spear-phishing the attackers try to make their messages more believable by including information tailored to the victim.
I guess the "Security update from your bank" scam has started to hit the point of diminishing returns. This newer scam promises to be more lucrative for a while, until spam filters start to catch on to them. It will take more time, as the personalization of the initial phishing message will tend to give that message plausible details that would deter spam software from tagging it.
As always, watch what you click on, especially if it seems alarming (court summonses, subpoenas, tax documents, etc.).
Victor sent me a link to this article about the proposed successor to the Internet . . . the Grid:
The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their "red button" day — the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.
Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs — enough to make a stack 40 miles high.
This meant that scientists at Cern — where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 — would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.
This is because the Internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.
By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.
Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: "We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries."
That network, in effect a parallel Internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.
As I related a while back, I'd been having intermittent problems with a new USB external hard drive. I thought I'd resolved the issue, as the drive was correctly identified by the operating system and backups had resumed successfully. I wrote too soon.
When we got back from vacation last week, the USB drive was dead again. This time, it wasn't even pretending to work. The computer didn't acknowledge it when I plugged it in to the USB port . . . it was now an electric-powered brick.
I'm starting to get superstitious about any hardware I get from Best Buy: this is the second piece of equipment I bought from them this winter that's gone south. I had nearly the same level of infant mortality with a batch of hardware I bought there the previous year (four items bought, two of which didn't last the week). And in each case, the returns have to go back to the manufacturer, not to the store. Victor is still waiting for a wireless card replacement that was supposed to be shipped back from the manufacturer over a month ago.
A brief excursion to the near future, when computer-generated artifacts can be considered alive (sorta). H/T to "JtMc" for the link.
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 ó even CFLs ó 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.
ďThis is an enormous amount of mercury thatís going to enter the waste stream at present with no preparation for it,Ē 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 didnít 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. Iíd lost to a Beemer and I was disappointed; I had never driven so slowly or carefully for so long in my life. Iím 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.
Update, 18 April: Cecil Adams isn't impressed with the media pile-on over the Prius and its supposed oversized environmental costs:
What about the Prius and its allegedly grim environmental impact? The cause of the controversy seems to be a report called "Dust to Dust" by Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research. The report claims a Prius has a higher lifetime energy cost than a Hummer, an assertion cited by George Will in 2007 in his syndicated newspaper column. But the report is ludicrous. It evidently was self-published, lists no authors, quotes no technical literature, never explains its methodology, and contains numerous unsupported and often bizarre assertions. (Sample: a Prius will have a life span of only 109,000 miles whereas an H1 will last for 379,000 miles, apparently the basis for the contention that the Hummerís per-mile costs are lower.) Only a fool or a commentator with an ax to grind would take such nonsense seriously.
[. . .]
To be clear, Iíve got no vested interest in electric vehicles. Notwithstanding the above, Iím willing to believe that once all the costs and benefits are totted up theyíre not much greener than conventional technology. But I also know this: the era of petroleum-fueled vehicles is drawing to a close. Either we find a substitute or we resign ourselves to a slightly updated version of the transportation options available in 1898. (Thanks to my assistant Una for technical consultation.)
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 ó two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game ó 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 wonít 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 SjŲberg 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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