“Modern journalism is all about deciding which facts the public shouldn’t know because they might reflect badly on Democrats.”

— Jim Treacher, getting righter every day...

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.

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).

Anime endings: Steel Angel Kurumi 1 & 2


Warning: there’s so little plot in Steel Angel Kurumi that I can’t possibly talk about the ending without revealing most of it. If you’re spoiler-shy, stop reading now.

more...

Citi really, really wants me


I thought it was amusing back in January when CitiBank sent me three credit-card offers in one day, all basically identical to the card I already had with them. Today, a knock on my door announced the arrival of an unsolicited Instant Rate Modification offer from CitiMortgage, complete with pen and return next-day air envelope.

They want to lower my interest rate from 4.25% to 4.0%, effective immediately, for the low price of $250. Since it would save me $43 a month, on the surface it looks like a good deal. But the offer is good for one week only, which makes me look at the fine print. As expected, it resets the fixed period on my 3/1 ARM, locking me into this rate until 2007.

I think it’s time to shop around and see what sort of refinancing deals other banks will offer me.

Poker women


Darn it, kids today just have it too easy. Do you know how hard we had to work in college to get women to play poker? Okay, we were actually trying to get them to play strip poker, but still.

Some of the reactions suggest that it may be a short-lived fad, but judging from the spring-break crowds in Vegas this year, it’s a big one.

"It is crazy on campus," said Rachel Dorfman, a University of Georgia sophomore who often plays poker for hours with her Sigma Delta Tau sisters. "It is absolutely the thing to do right now."

I can’t complain, though. I feel sorry for the Vegas old-timers who had to suffer through the days when there might be only one woman in the entire room. The only downside to this trend is that women tend to be very good at reading men, giving them a distinct advantage at the table. I don’t even like to think about the advantage that pretty women have…

Of course, no story that mixed college and gambling would be complete without the twin specters of targeting students and addiction. I love this quote:

The 18- to 24-year-old age group has some of the highest rates of gambling addictions, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Good luck finding actual statistics on the NCPG web site, though, and you’ll find even less about the differences (both psychological and financial) between different types of gambling. Not surprising, since they’re hardly the bias-free concerned-citizen watchdog group that the story presents them as. A quick Google reveals that NCPG recently got nailed for antitrust violations for trying to monopolize the lucrative problem-gambling treatment market.

The Clone Wars


Why does every girl in this film look like a cheap knockoff of some other recently-popular teen actress? Or do they all look like that these days?

Corporate fat cats


Why does this sound like a really bad idea? Sprint apparently deliberately designed their new corporate headquarters to force people to do a lot of walking and stair-climbing. For their own good, of course.

Sprint built the car parks a 10-minute walk from the office buildings. So much for getting to meetings on time when you’re running late. And, oh, by the way, this is in Kansas, not Southern California, so they have actual seasons:

"It's not bad, unless it's 110 degrees outside or below freezing and raining and cold."

The campus I work on wasn’t deliberately designed to encourage exercise, as far as I know, but the five two-story buildings are spaced out sufficiently that you will do some walking if you need to go anywhere. And it’s built right next to the Stevens Creek trail, which a lot of people use for exercise and one-on-one meetings with their managers.

Hmm, come to think of it, the internal signage in the buildings is so bad that it’s almost impossible to find conference rooms or offices you’ve never been to before, so maybe they did design it to encourage extra walking. Hey, Sprint, I’ve got another idea for you!

Oh, by the way, less than two weeks after we moved into this campus, there were dozens of those little folding scooters around, and electric golf carts in use by the Facilities group. I suspect similar things happen at Sprint, but it didn’t fit the spin of the story, so it’s not mentioned.

Update: interesting comment from someone at Fark:

What this article neglected to mention is that the major ring road for the campus is BETWEEN the parking garages and the offices, so just as the largest number of people are walking to/from the offices, the largest number of people are also trying to navigate their cars to the garages. Apparently Sprint was too cheap to pay for the skywalks over the ring road.

Fire good


Officially, my Weber natural gas grill (Silver B) is defective. They even came out and replaced the guts of it once, to try to bring it back into spec.

The problem? It’s too darn hot. Fantastic for steaks, miserable for anything that requires “low and slow”. The built-in thermometer gave out on medium, and with all three burners on high, I didn’t own anything capable of recording the temperature of the cooking surface. I just knew that it regularly burned the seasoning right off of the cast iron grates.

So, I picked up one of those spiffy non-contact thermometers, which even comes with a small laser sight to tell you what you’re measuring (toy alert! toy alert!). A friend came over yesterday for lunch, and just before we slapped the t-bones onto the grill, we took a few readings with it: 780° Fahrenheit.

Every time I think about having Weber come back out and fix it, I grill a steak, and change my mind. Who needs “low and slow,” anyway?