April 2004

New product idea…


If I were going to open a CafePress store, and I’m not, my first product would be a baseball cap with the following slogan printed in metallic silver:

Bush stole the election and
all I got was this tinfoil hat.

With mostly-sincere apologies to Teresa Nielsen Hayden and her nutbar t-shirt (which is being redesigned in a less-illegible form).

Gadget roundup


I’ve been using Hunter QuietFlo HEPA air purifiers around the house for a while. They’re really only quiet at the lowest of the three fan settings, but they work quite well on dust, pollen, and “unpleasant household odors,” and unlike some other brands, they sit flush against the wall. Replacement HEPA filters are in the $75-$90 range, which is a significant percentage of the cost of the unit, but they’re good for about a year of full-time service, and the activated carbon pre-filter that you replace every three months is much cheaper.

I’m not as convinced that the Hoover SilentAir 4000 is worthwhile as a replacement. There’s a suspicious lack of air-quality test results in their packaging and FAQs, and a quick smoke-test suggests that it’s not particularly efficient at quickly removing particulate matter and odors from a room. The lack of a fan is touted as an advantage, but if incense and cigar smoke produced two feet away can linger in the air for hours in a closed room, I don’t see how it’s purifying my air. [note that both of these odor sources are normally banned inside my home, and were introduced purely for test purposes]

I am enthusiastic about my Fellowes PowerShred DM15C. I can’t link directly to a product page, because there isn’t one. Apparently the only place in the world that sells it is Costco, and they don’t list it on their web site. It’s a medium-duty confetti-cut office shredder that can handle CDs/DVDs, credit cards, and up to 15 sheets of heavy paper at a time (with staples and paper clips). And it’s on wheels. About a third of my snail-mail goes into it unopened, neatly disposing of all those unsolicited mortgage and credit-card offers.

I have mixed feelings about my Olympus DS-330 digital voice recorder. I do my best thinking while walking or driving, and voice memos are definitely the way to capture that, but the people who design these things are emulating the standalone tape-recorder user interface, and PC integration is a check-box feature added as an afterthought. The only reason I bought this model is because they ship software for both Mac and PC.

It’s not great software, mind you, and their failure to make it a mass-storage compliant USB drive means Linux users are SoL until someone figures out its interface, but at least its not Windows-only like the new VN-240 PC. If you can live with that limitation, though, the VN-240 PC looks like a good deal: half the price of the DS-330, twice the capacity, and a better control layout.

I’d love to spend about an hour locked in a room with Olympus’ design team so that I could explain to them how a modern voice recorder should work, but I may have to settle for blogging it. I’m trying to resist the temptation to pass my ideas on to the folks up north; while we have the power to make a kick-ass recorder, I fear they’d miss the point and turn it into a full-fledged CE device with wireless MSN service and DRM.

Overture.com?


Spotted a bunch of referrer entries from this site, which appears to be a search engine. What made them stick out was their absurdity:

http://www.overture.com/d/search/p/nz/?xargs=02u3hs9yoazcuxLg0N81atTs8sSi%2B2Kcgtyi9IVipKy1TMSbdLzU0Hi2ZK5iTkpaWnJEWlFtsXGBoalRRnVlsn5jt6lxdnBFeFujkCOcitzy6JycxKLw2NKc70L0gKcvf0cXN0zCwsdHbWdlZ3AAMazz8l&Partner=netzero_yh_nzwebmail

A quick look at their web site told me all I’ll ever need to know about them:

Achieve superior monetization for your site with our customized solutions.

Best spam subject line I’ve seen yet


Found this one in my Junk folder today, and it’s a perfect example of how the increasingly-desperate attempt to evade spam filters is starting to backfire:

Secrets Of Real Estate Investing moron

I just don’t see a lot of people falling for that one. :-)

The Return of Santiago


It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel by Mike Resnick. After finishing The Return of Santiago, it looks like it will be a while before I read another one.

It’s competently executed, and sufficiently entertaining that I did finish it, but if the plot had been any more telegraphed, they’d have had to change the title to Western Union. Maybe it’s because I’ve read four and a half other books set in this universe (I bounced hard on Widowmaker), but absolutely nothing that happened in this novel surprised me, and I’m already having trouble remembering any distinguishing characteristics of the characters.

Two things stand out: the running gag about Virgil’s sex life, which has no impact whatsoever on the story, and the fact that after Danny stumbles across the biggest secret in the history of the Inner Frontier, he cheerfully blabs it to damn near anyone within earshot, swearing them all to absolute secrecy.

Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo?


Okay, I was originally just going to post a link to the story about The Naked Chef burning his penis while trying to cook naked, but then I read it, and discovered that he and his wife named their two daughters ‘Poppy Honey’ and ‘Daisy Boo’. And he’s getting ready to pack up the family and move to the US.

If those are indeed their legal names (and with a mother named ‘Jools’ it’s likely they are), I suspect they’re in for a fair amount of abuse in American schools. At the very least, I see them starting each school year with grim determination, desperate to keep the teacher from reading their names aloud while taking attendance. Much like my school friend Augustus MacLeod Freeman III, who managed to make it all the way to ninth grade with everyone convinced his name was actually ‘Sandy’.

“When I grow up…”


big-strong-hard boy

“​…I’m going to vote Republican!”

[picture courtesy of the indispensable Lileks]

Solutions in search of problems


Actually, in this case, even the people responsible for installing this speeder-detecting traffic light seem to find it easier to come up with problems that it will create than any that it could possibly solve.

Dungeons and Dragons 2?!?


I refuse to believe that the original turkey made enough money to justify a sequel.

Best handgun storage


Franzen Armloc II Pistol Case

I’ve had one of these for years, and I don’t think there’s a better product on the market. It’s made of a Kevlar-reinforced composite, has separate combination and key locks, and includes a pair of sturdy mounting plates that let you attach it to a wall or bed frame. I doubt that even highly motivated kids could get the gun out without power tools, and a burglar who didn’t bring a sledgehammer would have a hard time stealing it.

It also makes a great range case, particularly when you’re training new shooters who may be concerned about the (wildly exaggerated) risks of keeping a gun in the house.

Trigger locks are a foolish and dangerous choice, mandated by bureaucrats who either don’t know better or simply don’t care. This is safe gun storage.

Update: Went looking for the manufacturer’s web site, and found an undated press release claiming that Armloc cases are being issued to every US Customs agent. The site looks a bit stale, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s still true.

iTunes Music Recommendation service


This is a new “if you like X, try Y” service set up as a student project at University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). Does it work better than Goombah? Dunno yet; so far I haven’t been able to get it to work. I can upload my iTunes database, but it fails trying to download recommendations (probably due to being Farked, Slashdotted, BoingBoinged, Lileksed, Instapunted, or some other combination of high-profile links).

I can think of two reasons why it’s a better bet, though: first, it looks like they’re doing the work on the server side, rather than chewing up hours of CPU time on your computer, and second, Goombah hasn’t updated their client or database in months.

Ah, just got through, and discovered one disadvantage to server-side processing:

Your music database is being processed. This window will show your recommendations once they've been computed.
Notice: The server is a little backed up, hence the long wait. Once the server gets caught up the wait will be ALOT shorter, until then I would recommend that you don't hit the resend button.
Your estimated wait for results is 8 hours, 44 minutes, 40 seconds. You may quit and log back in at anytime to check on the status of your recommendations.

more...

Return of the Keyboard


A company in Canada has decided that the time is right to bring back the tank-like keyboard that old Mac users loved and hated, in an up-to-date USB version.

It’s already sold out through the end of April.

Trojan horse or false advertising?


This claim from Intego doesn’t pass the sniff test. If it actually worked the way they claim, the correct response would be a trivial security patch from Apple, not the mass purchase of a third-party “protection” package. I smell marketing, not security.

Update: the story finally hit Slashdot, and, sure enough, their explanation of the “security hole” was nonsense. The proof-of-concept “trojan” has to be distributed in a StuffIt archive, because the actual problem is the presence of code in the resource fork, which will not survive standard Internet distribution methods. It has nothing to do with embedding executable content into an MP3 file; it’s just an old-style Mac application with a funny name.

Update: here’s a free tool to check downloads for any attempt to make use of Intego’s mob-marketing gimmick. Much better than paying $60 for a week’s worth of “insurance”.

Update: here’s a free folder action you can attach to your download folder to automatically catch any attempts to exploit this vendor publicity scheme. See, aren’t you glad you didn’t send Intego any money? :-)

Dreams


I usually don’t remember my dreams, but Thursday morning I woke up with an incredibly vivid recollection of my old apartment, including the landlord, the odd arrangement of parking spaces, little details about my old motorcycle, a visit from my parents, even how much I was paying for rent.

When I woke up, it was a good ten minutes before I was confident that none of it was true. I had to actually review the length of time that I know I lived at each apartment in California and Ohio to make sure that I wasn’t missing one, and it took almost as long to convince myself that I have in fact never owned a motorcycle.

The whole experience makes me a touch more sympathetic to people who become convinced of past-life regressions, suppressed childhood abuse, alien abductions, divine revelations, and other false memories. It was so real that even now, listening to the recording I made while the dream was fresh, I feel the urge to dig through my financial records looking for rent receipts and motorcycle-maintenance bills.

And the winners are…


4 days, 19 hours, and 45 minutes after submitting my music database to the in-development iTunes Music Recommendation service, here’s what it came back with:

more...

Another stupid “smart gun”


Implanted RFID tags to make sure that nobody can use a handgun, including the owner.

Truth in advertising?


Apparently these came out a few years ago, but I just saw them for the first time in a local Safeway:

Homemade cookies for Dummies

I guess the instructions on all of those other cookie mixes were too complicated for some people…

Survey spam: nice try, Satmetrix


Found this one in my Quarantine folder (“things that make it past my spam filters but come from people I’ve never corresponded with”). It claims to be a survey conducted for Yahoo! over a recent Customer Care case, and even includes a case number.

The tip-off? It was sent to the phony email address I publish on the home page of this site, which changes every month. So, not only have I never used this address to send email to anyone, but it’s addressed to last month’s address. Satmetrix appears to be legit, but a quick Google turned up several examples of them sending this exact same message to mailing lists (over at least a year and a half).

It looks like Yahoo! is forwarding viruses, spam, and other forged email to them as legitimate customer care cases, and they’re not detecting it, which significantly reduces the value of their service and likely puts them both in violation of various spam laws.

more...

It smells like… victory


Last July, I knocked together a small perl script to monitor my Apache logs for virus probes, rude robots, and other annoyances, and automatically add their IP addresses to my firewall’s block list.

Today I spotted a very unusual entry at the bottom of my referrer report. I was morbidly curious what someone at a commercial web site devoted to she-males would be linking to, but it turns out the answer is “nothing”. Someone in China was running a robot that pretended to be a Windows 98 box while recursively downloading my site, no doubt to encourage My Loyal Readers (all six of them) to visit this fascinating site.

Unfortunately for my hopeful new friend, his robot tripped my log monitor and triggered a block, preventing him from getting more than a few hits. Even more unfortunately, I don’t display recent referrers anywhere on this site, so I’m the only person who knows what site he’s being paid to direct traffic to.

And I’m not going to tell. But it’s registered to someone named Dmitri Kukushkin in Delaware, who owns at least one other fetish domain.

What political caricature are you?


Short poll at Harvard to chart your politics in comparison to current college students. Based on the short list of questions (at least two of which merited a “yes, but not the way you mean it”), I’m a Secular Centrist.

Basically this is a less-reliable version of the “What ‘Buffy’ character are you?” quiz.

What political caricature are you?
You are a Secular Centrist. Secular centrists like you tend to be:
  • Strongly supportive of gay rights.
  • Believe strongly in the separation of church and state.
  • Less supportive of affirmative action than most college students.
  • Less likely to be concerned about the environment than most college students.
  • Less likely to believe in basic health insurance as a right than most college students.

Test, ignore


Hmmm, looks like updating OpenBSD may have broken MT posting through Ecto.

Ah, I think it’s just a version mismatch in the chroot environment.

Sigh, that solved most of it, but not all. It looks like I’m going to have to reinstall a bunch of Perl modules, and then rsync them into the chroot.

No, wait, it seems Ecto allowed me to insert an invisible character into a blog entry, that it subsequently refused to translate into something that could be uploaded via XML-RPC. Blech.

[clarification: thanks to its NeXT roots, the standard OS X text widget supports a limited subset of Emacs editing keys. Unfortunately, while it lets you use Control-Q to insert literal ASCII characters, it doesn’t know how to display all of them. While typing my mini-review of the Forerunner 201, I somehow managed to type Control-Q Control-N, and Movable Type’s XML-RPC interface coughed up a giant furball when Ecto sent it this unescaped control character.]

Update: The response from Ecto support is “Should be fixed in next version.” Cool.

Update: And, indeed, it’s now fixed.

Garmin Forerunner 201


Garmin Forerunner 201

This is my latest toy, a GPS-based pedometer with calorie counting, lap timers, pace and distance alerts, interval training support, basic waypoint navigation, and even an animated “virtual partner” to compete against in a session. It tracks up to two years of workout data, with daily and weekly breakdowns, runs for up to 15 hours on a charge, and can be connected to a PC through the supplied cable.

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“And I don’t mean good musicians, I mean jazz musicians.”


A short history of drug prohibition in America, with choice quotes from the legislative literature. Fun reading, and it should ring a few bells for people familiar with the criminalization of alcohol use and firearm ownership.

What is Western Civilization good for, anyway?


I think this graph gives a pretty good answer:

female life expectancy, 1840 to present

More personally, US-specific data suggests that if I’d lived 100 years ago, I could have expected only another nine years of life. Instead, the odds are good that I’ll be around for another forty. Or more; the funny thing about progress is that it keeps progressing.

Gaming the system


Finally downloaded a new set of results from the beta iTunes Music Recommendation system. My previous run was more amusing than useful, but it had potential.

This time? Utter nonsense. Some clowns decided to corrupt the database by uploading garbage. There’s no other reasonable explanation for the results I got, in which the first 32 of 50 tracks recommended all come from albums named “Unreleased” by such famous bands as Syph Clap and the Orgasmic Meatrats, Marc Coulter, z..Marco, and Vital Cry.

If they allow this to continue, in a few months their data might be as unreliable as CDDB.

Update: things have improved, either through database maintenance or, as the creator would have it, the natural consequences of increasing the size of the database. I’m betting on the former, myself. Suddenly all the garbage went away, restoring the results to the quality of my initial run. Much faster now, too, enough to justify spending a little time tinkering with the data to see what happens.

Safari: righting wrongs


For some time now, I’ve been mildly annoyed by Safari’s “Open in tabs” option at the bottom of every menu entry in the Bookmarks Bar; it’s too easy to select by accident with certain pointing devices. This is second only to my annoyance that the Bookmarks Bar doesn’t obey the same UI rules as standard Mac pulldown menus.

Well, I’m still stuck with the second one, but I just discovered that someone on the development team recognized that it was a little too easy to wipe out all of your open tabs and replace them with thirty new ones. It’s not obvious, but immediately after selecting “Open in tabs”, the back button acts as an undo.

Special privileges for special people


A US Representative on his way back to DC was stopped and politely questioned as to why he was carrying a handgun in his briefcase as he passed through airport security.

According to his press secretary:

"He was asked a couple of simple questions. They just wanted to verify that he wasn't going to do anybody any harm."

I see two reasonable responses: treat this negligent asshole the same way anyone else would be treated, which is pronounced “felony conviction,” or treat the rest of us the way they treated him. Sadly, the reality is that we get worse treatment for packing nail clippers than this clown got for packing a piece.

Note to Indiana residents: he’s up for re-election this year.

Update: he’s been cited for a misdemeanor with a fine of $500 (and the slim-to-none chance of up to a year in jail), but no federal felony charges have been filed. Oddly enough, this might still be enough to permanently revoke his right to own a firearm.

And, yes, it was not only loaded, it was one of those eeeeeevil plastic pistols that the gun-control lobby insists are designed to be smuggled through airport security.

Food addiction: “Nothing to see here, move along”


Here’s the news media’s latest attempt to spin the over-hyped obesity “epidemic” as an addiction. In a study of 12 people who were forced to fast for a day, exposure to food increased metabolism “in the whole brain” by 24 percent. The specific areas of the brain that were most stimulated were “associated” with addiction.

Gee, I wonder what their brains would look like if you deprived them of oxygen for three minutes and then offered them a chance to breathe.

Win a lottery without even playing!


The email of my dreams! A lottery you can win $500,000 in without ever buying a ticket! Even better, you don’t even have to know that it exists at all! Just post a comment to someone’s weblog and wait for the robots to come by and scrape your address! And it’s backed by Mr. Bill Gates himself, so it’s got to be real! Oh boy, am I lucky!

Oh, wait, it’s just spam…

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“Boy beats off angry bear”


No, not that way. This way.

There are a lot of things I could say about parents who ship “troubled teens” off to special camps where trained professionals promise to supply some actual parenting, but that’s way out there in After-School Special Land, and I don’t want to go there.

No, I want to question the incredible idiocy of schlepping a bunch of suburban teens around for six weeks in bear country in Alaska (redundant, I know) without so much as a goddamn cap pistol. Nothing but pepper spray and a flare gun, with who knows how many kids under their “protection”. Blech.

Not livin’ the lifestyle


Food magazines are usually about food. Gun magazines are usually about guns. Computer magazines are usually about computers. Some of them creep over into “lifestyle” territory, but not as far as many car or motorcycle magazines. Mags like Cigar Aficionado are clearly about the lifestyle its readers would like to be living, making only a token effort to actually discuss cigars.

What brought this on? Yesterday, my mailbox included a stiff brown envelope containing the latest issue of Lexus, a free magazine sent to Lexus owners. The contents are equal parts lifestyle and advertorial: organic oysters in Scotland, what to do in the Maldives, concept Lexi, titanium bicycles, overpriced gadget “reviews”, wine-making classes, etc.

But the best part was a non-ad for one of the cooler features in new Lexi: the backup camera. Since they already had a color LCD display in most of the new models for the GPS navigation system, they went ahead and added a small digicam just above the rear license plate, to transmit video to the dash when the car’s in reverse. Very handy for getting in and out of parking spaces.

But how do they lead into the “story”?

Anyone who's ever backed up over a hand-made Italian racing bike left casually in a driveway knows that awful crunchy sound, and equally awful feeling.

Just in case the table of contents had left me with any doubts, this confirms that I am not in their target demographic. I’m not sure which aspect of their opinion of their readers is worse: that they’re prone to conspicuous consumption, or that they’re stupid enough to leave a “hand-made Italian racing bike” behind a parked car.

Oh, sure, I’ll play along


I guess I’m just an Internet Lemming at heart:

  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 23.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
The Tōkyō Metropolitan Area 首都圏 in particular, although less than 2.0 percent in terms of area, has a concentration of 23.4 percent of the national population.

This is from Japan: Profile of a Nation (Kodansha International, 1999). Surprisingly readable, despite the high information density.

The Triumph of Saint Hubble


If the Fundies are going to insist that science is just another religion, I think it’s only fair that we have our own religious art.

Bug Nebula

Update: hubblesite.org finally has a page up with details and more images, so I updated the link.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”