Archive for January, 2007

I hope they can see this…

Seriously. Are we this freaked out?

The suspicious devices which forced bomb units to scramble across Boston today were actually magnetic lights that are part of a marketing campaign for a television cartoon.

The reports forced the temporary shutdowns of Interstate 93 out of the city, a key inbound roadway, a bridge between Boston and Cambridge, and a portion of the Charles River but were quickly determined not to be explosive.

“It’s a hoax—and it’s not funny,” Gov. Deval Patrick said.

[link via xoverboard]

Since I can never just drop a link and let it be, let me just say – it was an LED device that lit up to display a Mooninite from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It was a flippin’ billboard is what it was. I really don’t think you could call it a “hoax.”

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

I Wanna Be Sedated

Wow. Absolutely none of last week’s 10 were guessed. The answers are posted now if you want to see what they were.

Now let’s see how this week goes.

  1. “One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles“I saw you when you kissed my daughter – better wed her right now or face a slaughter.”
  2. “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian [guessed by Fred] – “Well the names have all changed since you hung around.”
  3. “All My Love” by Led Zeppelin“Yours is the cloth, mine is the hand that sews time.”
  4. “Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis & The News“Don’t tell me that I’m crazy, don’t tell me I’m nowhere.”
  5. “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals“Tell me what you’ve got in mind, ‘cause we’re runnin’ out of time.”
  6. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt“All pretty and petite – so don’t let me have any rights.”
  7. “Midday (Avoid City After Dark)” by Yusuf Islam“I love to feel the ocean blowing in my face, wave as the old boats depart.”
  8. “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys [guessed by Carl] – “This stone is genuine, like love should be.”
  9. “Karma Police” by Radiohead“Arrest this man, he talks in maths.”
  1. “Suffragette City” by David Bowie“This mellow thighed chick just put my spine out of place.”

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Have you tried a plastic rock?

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think paper is just better for some things than digital. I’m not talking the typical curmudgeonly things like “reading from a screen will never replace a book,” or “my manuscript should be on paper, how dare you ask me to submit electronically” – in those cases, going digital makes some decent amount of sense.

I’m talking about things like, oh, say, voting. In Virginia where I’m registered to vote, we had the option of using either a touch-screen system or a paper scantron ballot. When I voted in the last election, there was a line of people waiting to use the single touch-screen system.

I’ll repeat that. There was a line of people waiting to use the single touch-screen system. With six stations open to mark a scantron ballot, most people were heading for the touch-screen option. Me? I took a paper ballot and filled it out. Because I like to believe on some level that my vote can actually be counted physically, instead of depending on a digital system. Especially one that can be easily hacked.

Speaking of which, you might have heard that the Diebold systems – which can be easily hacked by anybody with a key (or basic lockipicking skills) – are even less secure than previously thought. Because Diebold published pictures of their key on their website. And now it’s been proven that you can copy them from the pictures. [link via boingboing]

But the folks at Princeton who discovered the hack (after our own organization, VelvetRevolution.us, gave them the Diebold touch-screen machine on which to perform their tests) had resisted showing exactly what the key looked like in order to hold on to some semblance of security for Diebold’s Disposable Touch-Screen Voting Systems.

But guess what? Diebold didn’t bother to even have that much common sense.

This idiotic company has had a photograph of the stupid key sitting on their own website’s online store! (Screenshot at end of this article.)

Of course, they’ll only sell such keys to “Diebold account holders” apparently—- or so they claim—- but that’s hardly a problem. J. Alex Halderman, one of the folks who worked on the Princeton Hack and tried to keep the design of the key secret for obvious reasons, revealed Tuesday that a friend of his had found the photo of the key on Diebold’s website and discovered that was all he needed to create a working copy!

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Tea for the Senateman

So after numerous problems and complaints since the list was expanded in 2001, the Bush administration is finally getting around to looking at the no-fly list and determining if maybe it’s a little too broad. They admit that tightened screenings have inconvenienced travellers, and considering that they’d already revealed the biggest threats weren’t even on the list, one could wonder why it took so long. Of course, if more senators had wives with similar names to no-fly folksingers maybe this would have gotten done sooner.

At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Hawley ran into inquiries from lawmakers with family members or friends who had encountered problems at airport checkpoints.

Among them was Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who complained that his wife, Catherine, was being identified as “Cat” Stevens and frequently stopped due to confusion with the former name of the folk singer now known as Yusuf Islam, whose name is on the list. In 2004 he was denied entry into the U.S., but officials declined to explain why.

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Working on my last nerve…

You might realize – I think I’ve mentioned it somewhere along the line – that I’m currently in graduate school. I’m working on my thesis which will hopefully be finished this semester, granting me my degree.

The thesis in question is going to be a one-man show with a twist (spoiler: It has other actors) based on the life of a fictional burlesque comic. The comic – named Lou Drake – speaks from a burlesque dressing room about his experiences onstage and off.

Lou has his own MySpace page, and now his own vodcast. I’m going to be recording the occasional video giving insight into the development of the piece and maybe trying out some material.

I was hoping to use the MySpace page’s blog capability to post the episodes as they were released, but I’m using Revver to store the videos. And MySpace – in all of Rupert Murdoch’s monopolistic wisdom – has decided that it won’t allow me to embed Revver videos any more. Any time I post the HTML in, it removes everything except the final “embed” tag. Any time I try to link, it cuts out everything except the last few characters of the URL. Same if I just try to post the URL itself. I notice other people posting URL’s without any problem, suggesting that Revver, itself, is verboten.

Anyway – you can still be Lou Drake’s friend, and you can subscribe to the vodcast from Revver.

And as a teaser, here’s the first episode. Note: This episode contains pasties – but with no girl attached. Aren’t they supposed to come with a girl? I must talk this over with my supplier….

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

First prize in the ugly pageant

Via BoingBoing: Seriously. Could the Zune be any less attractive?

Zune’s wireless sharing is described by Microsoft with a footnote – indicating that “the Zune to Zune sharing feature may not be available for all audio files on your device”.

Curious about this, I conducted a test of my own. I pulled down the top 50 songs downloaded from Zune Marketplace, using my Zune Pass subscription. I then created a playlist of those 50 songs, and attempted to wirelessly send the whole playlist to my wife’s Zune.

When the transfer completed, a message appeared on my player: “Can’t send some songs because of rights restrictions. 29 of 50 songs sent to Carrie’s Zune”.

Some Zune songs are untransferable. These songs are not flagged as such when you buy them. “Welcome to the Social,” indeed.

Of course, Zune Articles provides some solutions for how to make this situation better. They nevertheless lack the best one – don’t buy a Zune. Seriously, just about any mp3 player would be better.

Friday, January 19th, 2007

10 Fingers

Last week’s 10 had 3 guessed. We’re improving!

Here’s the rules. If you know the artist and song title, post to the comments.

  1. “Guitar Man,” by Cake“Something keeps him goin, miles and miles a day, to find another place to play.” [multiple artists possible]
  2. “Jugband Blues,” by Pink Floyd“And I never knew we could be so thick, and I never knew we could be so blue.”
  3. “Mary, Mary,” by The Monkees“I’ve done more now than a clear-thinkin’ man would do.”
  4. “A Cloak of Elvenkind,” by Marcy Playground“And sixteen books on magic spells so elegantly bound.”
  5. “Big Fat Funky Booty,” by Spin Doctors“Sweet sugar plum, I’m crippled, blind, a little deaf and dumb.”
  6. “Feed My Frankenstein,” by Alice Cooper“Well, I ain’t evil, I’m just good lookin’.”
  7. “Dry County,” by the B-52’s“When the blues whomp you up on the side of the head, throw ‘em to the floor and kick ‘em out the door.”
  8. “My Stupid Mouth,” by John Mayer“Mama said think before speaking, no filter in my head.”
  9. “Good People,” by Jack Johnson“How many train wrecks do we need to see?”
  1. *“Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” by the Temptations – “Heard some talk about Papa doin’ some store-front preachin’.”

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Work the System Before it Works You

It was… way too long ago that I talked about schoolyard piracy and the music industry’s attempt to paint it as a graver threat than online piracy. If you look back at that article (well, you don’t have to look back – I’m about to quote it here) you’ll find this little snippet.

I remember buying a couple of CD’s back in the days before you could download music off the interweb. This was the typical scene. I would walk up to the counter with my CD’s and my money in hand. The clerk would ring the CD’s up. Then, invariably, the clerk would turn and gesture to a display of blank cassettes sitting right next to the register.

And the clerk would say, ‘Would you like some blank tapes with that? This brand is special and makes near-perfect copies of CD’s.’

A similar thing happened last year when I went into Best Buy. My old iPod had long since frazzled out, and I had been trying to go about my life without a portable player. I couldn’t handle it any more, so I went to buy the cheapest iPod I could find, which at the time was the 512 MB iPod Shuffle. I walked up to the checkout counter with my pack-of-gum-shaped mp3 player and got out my wallet.

“Would you like our return policy?” the man behind the counter said. “iPods have been known to have battery issues every now and then, and if the battery starts to act up we’ll replace it for you free of charge.”

“How does that work?” I said.

“If anything happens to your iPod – anything,” he said, “just bring it into the store with your policy and receipt and we’ll change it for the in-stock model that’s closest to it. Free of charge. So if you have battery problems or you lose the cap that covers the USB plug or anything at all, just bring it in.”

“So, even if it’s just that I think my case is too scratched up—” I said.

”—you can bring it in, tell us it’s too scratched up, and we’ll return it.”

Now, sixwise is reporting that chains including Best Buy are looking to punish what they call devil shoppers. These are shoppers who do unethical -but legal – things that cost the company money. Like, I would guess, returning your iPod shuffle and getting a brand new free one because your case is too scratched up. Even though you were encouraged to do so when you bought it.

Devil Shoppers may find that they suddenly cannot return merchandise. Nor can they buy warranties. And they’re not receiving the special offers by mail that other customers are. In short, Best Buy decides that these shoppers are untouchable.

Many of the behaviors listed for “devil shoppers” are, in fact, unethical. They consist of such old favorites as wearing an item of clothing once with the tags attached and then returning it, and buying an item only to return it and re-buy it at the discounted open-box price. But hidden in the list are these two little treasures.

Buying a product at a discount, such as from the store’s selection of “loss leaders,” (low-priced products stores lose money on that are designed to attract customers) then reselling it on eBay for a premium price.

Finding rock-bottom prices on Web sites, then challenging stores to pay up on their lowest price guarantees.

Let’s take these one at a time, shall we? “Buying a product at a discount… then reselling it on eBay for a premium price.” I fail to see how this behavior loses the company any more money than it had already determined it was going to lose. If the item they sold is a “loss leader,” then they were already planning on having to take a loss on its sale. What does it matter then if the customer puts it up for sale on eBay? The eBay sale doesn’t steal more money from the company. It doesn’t result in lost productivity. All restricting this behavior does is squelch entrepreneurship. It is the retailer deciding that nobody should be able to sell property that they have paid for and now own.

Second – if a store advertises they’ll match the lowest price on the market and a consumer then tries to hold them to it, that doesn’t make the consumer a devil. That makes the company stupid for not realizing what the lowest price actually is before promising they would match it. It’s something to consider changing your store policy over. It’s not something to punish the consumer over.

Corporate greed in America is at an all-time high. We’ve seen consumer abuse from the RIAA and MPAA, and the retailers are getting in on the game as well. Believe it – if this trend is left unchecked, American consumers will soon find that the only “consumer rights” they have will be to move money from their bank accounts to the bank accounts of major corporations, and the right to expect nothing in return.

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Superior product? People can still do stuff with it!

And now, a lesson on the boundless optimism of inventors. Variety tells us of a British inventor who has invented an alternative to HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. This version, however, uses the existing DVD technology with better multi-layering to store more data, which means that the players would be significantly cheaper than the current Blu-Ray and HD-DVD entries, and apparently most computers will be able to play them with just a software update.

So far, our inventor has had difficulty selling American studios on the technology. But they have signed up EROS Entertainment, the premiere distributor for Bollywood films worldwide.

And now here comes the boundless optimism.

The company’s now eyeing March launches in India and China. Potter acknowledges the studios might take some convincing—especially after having invested in the other high-def formats—but believes they will come around to the affordable alternative.

“Hollywood will come,” Potter says. “They have to understand what we have will make them money.”

Hollywood isn’t cool with affordable. Hollywood, apparently, isn’t even cool with making money these days as they continue to pursue a failing business strategy. What they are interested in is keeping customers from doing anything with the movies they’ve purchased. Case in point: Hollywood says they don’t want to invest in the iTunes video store until Steve Jobs agrees that viewers have no rights whatsoever, instead of just limited rights.

“His user rules just scare the heck out of us,” claims one studio exec. The article claims that the studio views sharing a purchased film in this matter [on up to three iPods -G] is “just as bad” as someone using file sharing. While Jobs has been able to convince Disney to participate (in part due to his position on the board), the others are balking. Paramount did agree to let older movies be sold via iTunes, but nothing new or popular.

Monday, January 15th, 2007

You’re joking, right?

Pesky’Apostrophe points me to this news story that – if I didn’t know better – I would swear had to come from The Onion. Apparently, creationists in Federal Way have demanded that the schools stop showing An Inconvenient Truth, and are demanding that an opposing view now be presented to the kids who have already seen it.

“Condoms don’t belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He’s not a schoolteacher,” said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. “The information that’s being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn’t in the DVD.”

Norse mythology claims the world will end in a final, brutal war. Some Germanic tribes held with the notion that the world would end in an all-encompassing blizzard that would continue until all the world became snow. So what’s your point? That we should spend the entire senior year of high school presenting theory after theory about how the world is going to end? Oh – wait. Conservative Christian creationist. They just want the Bible taught. Sorry – forgot who we were talking about for a second.

“From what I’ve seen (of the movie) and what my husband has expressed to me, if (the movie) is going to take the approach of ‘bad America, bad America,’ I don’t think it should be shown at all,” Gayle Hardison said. “If you’re going to come in and just say America is creating the rotten ruin of the world, I don’t think the video should be shown.”

I’ll admit that it’s been a long time since I saw the movie. But at least I have seen it. And from what I remember, Gore never actually suggests the “end of the world.” He suggests major crises that would change the way our world operates – but not necessarily the “end of the world.” Making the objection that Gore’s vision of the end of the world doesn’t match up with the Bible’s rather a moot point.

As for “Bad America, bad America,” We produce 25 percent of the greenhouse gases of the world. And we have the power to change that. I don’t think saying that qualifies as “Bad America, no biscuit.” But this is the sort of thing that happens when nobody actually pays attention to the movie, instead relying on—wait. Did she actually say she was basing it on “what my husband has expressed to me”?

Of course, this would be comical – if not for the fact that the School Board president got in on the act.

The requirement to represent another side follows district policy to represent both sides of a controversial issue, board President Ed Barney said.

“What is purported in this movie is, ‘This is what is happening. Period. That is fact,’ ” Barney said.

Students should hear the perspective of global-warming skeptics and then make up their minds, he said. After they do, “if they think driving around in cars is going to kill us all, that’s fine, that’s their choice.”

Again, it’s been a while since I saw the movie. Even so, one thing I clearly remember is that a major point of the lecture is that responsible stewardship of the Earth does not entail destroying the modern technological quality of life. It’s not a choice between driving around in cars or saving the Earth. It involves calling for cleaner fuels and alternative sources of energy. In the 21st century, it makes little to no sense to me that our society is still powered by the black ooze we pump up from beneath the Earth’s crust.

And as far as a “credible, legitimate opposing view,” let me know when you find one of those. I haven’t been impressed by any that I’ve seen or heard yet.

Saturday, January 13th, 2007