Evel Knievel dead at 69!

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over crazy obstacles including Greyhound buses, live sharks and Idaho’s Snake River Canyon made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69.

Knievel’s death was confirmed by his granddaughter, Krysten Knievel. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs.

Read more here. It’s a sad day for those of us who were little boys with bicycles and Big Wheels in the 70s.

SONGS I LOVE: “Modern Love”

The Last Town ChorusGrowing up in the 80s, I was a fan of David Bowie. This was due, in large part, to the hits of his “Let’s Dance” album: “China Girl”, “Let’s Dance”, and (of course) “Modern Love”. This past summer, one of the cable networks – A&E, I think – did a retrospective on Princess Diana on the 10-year anniversary of her death. The commercials advertising the special featured a lot of slow-motion video of Diana with a haunting version of “Modern Love” playing in the background. I did a little Internet digging and found out that the band that did the song is called The Last Town Chorus, from Brooklyn, New York. With a little more digging I was able to find the song itself, which I’ll share with you in this post.

The only consistent member of the band is vocalist\steel guitarist Megan Hickey. Like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Hickey seems to play with all kinds of musicians under the “Last Town Chorus” moniker. But that’s neither here nor there. Hickey takes Bowie’s pop-dance tune and turns in into a slow, atmospheric tune. It’s almost as if Mazzy Star covered the song… but not quite. It’s hardly a “happy” take on the song, but although it’s “slow” that doesn’t mean that it’s “sad” either. Just slow and pretty! Have a listen and decide for yourself:


More News…

Hi Folks! I’m still looking for my muse, so enjoy some news whilst my writer’s block continues…

It looks like Morrissey is suing British music magazine NME for some comments he “allegedly” made. Moz was quoted as saying “Although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. If you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to England and you have no idea where you are”. Tim Jonze, the freelance journalist that interviewed Morrissey, claimed to be “offended” by the comments, but published them anyway. NME published a follow-up interview; in it, Morrissey dusts off the old “taken out of context” chesnut, but doesn’t deny making the comments.

The freedom-fighters at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) published a study this week that shows that Comcast does, in fact, tamper with Bittorrent traffic. Read all about it here at Ars Technica. As to what “Bittorrent tampering” is, and why you should care, wait until next week when I publish a gigantic rant about the topic. It’ll be worth the wait, I promise!

This news is a bit old, but funny nevertheless: it seems that U.S. Air somehow never had a New Mexico liquor license. The airline realized its mistake after it was fined by the state for “over-serving” a passenger that drove himself home from the airport and killed a family of five in the process. The airline applied for, and received, a temporary license while it began the process of applying for a permanent one.  But then another U.S. Air passenger was arrested for DUI – once again from drinks served in-flight. This, along with a third incident in which New Mexico liquor board members observed U.S. Air employees giving an obviously intoxicated man more alcohol, has led to U.S. Air’s liquor license being denied by the state. So, for the time being, alcohol is verboten on any U.S. Air flights coming from, or going to, New Mexico. Good job, guys!

Lastly, have you heard about the bracelet and the chicken? It seems that one Aaron Giles grew up in Fairmont, Minnesota, but often played with his siblings at his grandparent’s farm in nearby Sherburn. One day, when he was 4 or 5, he lost an ID bracelet that had his name and address on it. He never found it, and just wrote it off as something lost forever. His grandparents eventually passed away. Their barn was torn down and much of the barn’s wood was saved to build a new barn in the town of Elmore, around 45 miles away. Back in September Giles, now 31, received something in the mail… the ID bracelet! Theories abound, but the best guess is that Aaron’s bracelet somehow ended up getting trapped in the barn’s infrastructure. It survived the trip to Elmore and became part of the new barn. A chicken subsequently found and swallowed the bracelet – seeing as it was found in the guts of a chicken that had just been slaughtered. Olson Locker, the butcher that slaughtered the chicken, asked old-timers his native Fairmont about the Giles family and was eventually able to track down Aaron’s father in Scottsdale, Arizona. Aaron’s dad gave Locker his son’s address in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the boy and his bracelet were reunited… after 25 years and one chicken’s belly!

A WARNING for Verizon Customers

Do you use Verizon Wireless? If you do, you might not want to upgrade your phone any time soon. It seems that all new cell phones sold by Verizon make a loud, obnoxious alarm sound when you dial 911. Imagine this: you’re home alone one night, and suddenly you hear what sounds like someone trying to break in. A few moments later, you hear what sounds like someone walking around downstairs. You reach for the cell phone on your nightstand… press 9-1-1-SEND and suddenly your phone goes


This all came to light recently thanks to a woman in Austin, Texas named Carol (she refused to use her last name in the news story). Carol owns some land in Austin, and decided to check on it one day. When she arrived, she saw signs of vandalism. Fearing that the vandals might still be in the area, she reached for her new Verizon G’zOne phone, dialed 911 and… “WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP”.

The local media jumped on the story (read all about it here; watch the video on that page to hear the actual sound the phone makes when you dial 911). Verizon admitted that all of their new phones make an alarm when 911 is dialed. In fact, Verizon blamed an FCC regulation called “Section 255 of the Telecommunications Code” for the alarm. The FCC has said that that regulation – which requires cellular providers to offer phones that notify the customer when dialing 911 – does not require an audible alarm. In fact, an FCC spokerperson said that “[t]he Commission has not implemented any rules pursuant to Section 255 that would require the use of any tones concerning 911 calls”.

No more news has come of this yet. As of “press time”, all new Verizon phones still make that alarm sound, and the end user still cannot disable the alarm. I’m guessing that Verizon will push out a firmware update the will make the alarm optional… but that’s just a guess. I’ll keep up with this story and let you know what the dealio is…

Today’s Ramblings…

Remember the 80s band Midnight Oil? Peter Garrett – the band’s lead singer – has long been an “environmental activist” in his native Australia, and now he can put his money where his mouth is: incoming Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has appointed Garrett as Australia’s “environmental minister”.

This is kind of neat: a new free web service called PrinterAnywhere lets you (or your friends, colleagues, etc.) print documents over the Internet! Let’s say that you often need to print reports from a particular program at work. For whatever reason, you can’t install this program on your home computer, so if you want to read a report at home you have to print it at work and remember to take it home with you. With PrinterAnywhere you only need to sign up for a free account, install their software (which shares your printer) and print it from your work computer… and it’ll print on your home printer! This could be a godsend for people that work from home, or for small companies that have several offices but lack an IT budget to connect them all via VPN. A bit of a warning though: print jobs are held in a queue on PrinerAnywhere’s website… so your home computer doesn’t need to be on all the time; as soon as you boot your PC, the software connects to the Internet and downloads the print jobs. This might squick-out the security-minded types out there.

A lot of European luxury goods makers are in trouble as of late. It seems that top-shelf names like Gucci and Prada are outsourcing much of their production to China. In some cases, the posh companies are importing goods that are 3/4 complete and doing “just enough” work on them in Italy to be allowed to legally put “Made in Italy” labels on them. In other instances, they’re stamping the “Made in China” label in the most inconspicuous place possible (like at the bottom of a purse’s inside pocket), or are stamping it in black ink on black leather. Some of these companies are even brazenly removing the “Made in China” tags and replacing them with “Made in Italy” ones. And believe it or not, some of these companies are even importing illegal Chinese workers to do the work for them: the Tuscan town of Prato – long the center of Italian leathermaking – now has Europe’s second largest Chinese population after Paris. That’s right: there are more Chinese people in a tiny Tuscan town you’ve probably never head of then there are in London, Berlin or Madrid.

Ever heard of Zug.com? It’s another one of those “Internet humor” sites, but Zug is also known for the pranks their users play on people. One of the “Zugsters” – John Hargrave – got sick and tired of hearing the credit card pitch that U.S. Air announces over the loudspeaker on every U.S. Air flight… so he called the company’s marketing guy at 5am – to pitch his own credit card! Read all about it here; be sure to read page 3 of the prank, which has a complete transcript of the call – you’ll bust a gut laughing!

The Magic Roundabout

Here’s an interesting “behind the scenes” look at how this website works. You see, I meant to write the following post several months ago. However, something or the other happened, and I just never got around to it. In fact, I had completely forgotten about it altogether for several months.. until this past weekend. I was in Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holiday, and my parents suggested that we all go to the neighborhood IHOP for breakfast on our way back to Charlotte. Lisa and I agreed, and so I was driving Lisa’s Jeep and following my parents to the nearest IHOP. We suddenly came across something rare in the metro Atlanta area: a roundabout!

For those of you that have never been to the England – either “old England” or America’s “New England” – a roundabout is a circular intersection. You’ve probably seen them on TV or in the movies – especially National Lampoon’s European Vacation: “Look kids… Parliament… Big Ben!” Roundabouts are superior to the traditional “red light” intersection in many ways: they don’t require electricity, so they work exactly the same if there’s a power failure; they can handle a much larger amount of traffic than a traditional intersection; and they’re statistically much safer than red lights (unless you’re on a bicycle). In fact, roundabouts are superior to red lights in almost every way. It makes one wonder if the only reason America doesn’t use them more is a lack of familiarity. But even if you’re familiar with roundabouts, you probably haven’t seen one like this:

Magic Roundabout

This is the legendary “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon, Wiltshire, in southwest England. There are other “magic roundabouts” in the UK these days, but Swindon’s was the first, dating back to 1972. It’s a 5-point intersection containing 5 “mini-roundabouts” within one large roundabout. Although it looks insanely complex at first, it’s really quite simple. Traffic in the “outer ring” moves clockwise, while traffic in the “inner ring” moves counter-clockwise. At any point, you can circle around one of the “mini roundabouts” and move in the opposite direction. Here’s a diagram:

Magic Roundabout (diagram)

Let’s say that you’re approaching the roundabout from the southwest corner (that is, the road on the bottom left of the diagram). You want to take the road at the bottom right corner of the diagram. If you’re a tourist, you simply enter the roundabout and go almost all the way around the circle and take the road. If you’re a Swindonian (or a fearless driver), you might choose instead to enter the roundabout, then turn around at the first available roundabout (at about 9 o’clock in the diagram), then circle around the second roundabout (at about 5 o’clock) and make the turn.

Despite being one of the most complicated road designs ever, the Magic Roundabout has produced only 14 serious accidents and just over a hundred lesser ones in over 30 years – and in the face of ever-increasing traffic at the intersection, too. The Magic Roundabout even has a song about it – “English Roundabout” by world-famous Swindon group XTC!

Read more about the Magic Roundabout at SwindonWeb or Wikipedia.

Meet Echiniscus madonnae!

Did you know that Madonna has a species of animal named after her?

According to Wikipedia, “[i]n 2006 a new water bear species (Latin: Tardigrada), Echiniscus madonnae… was named after Madonna. It is the first and the only (so far) species named in honour of the artist. The paper with the description of E. madonnae was published in the international journal of animal taxonomy Zootaxa in March 2006 (Vol. 1154, pages: 1-36). The authors’ justification for the name of the new species was: ‘We take great pleasure in dedicating this species to one of the most significant artists of our times, Madonna Louise Veronica Ritchie’. The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) number of the species is 711164.”

Here’s a picture of Echiniscus madonnae:

Echiniscus madonnae (small)
Click to enlarge

Read the bits about Echiniscus madonnae at Wikipedia by clicking here (Note: the linked section is copied in full above). You can also find out more than you ever wanted to know about Tardigrada – a species I didn’t even know existed 20 minutes ago – by clicking here.

Welcome to Zzyzx!

Did you know that there’s a “town” in California called Zzyzx? I say “town” because the place was originally built on federal land that was squatted on in 1944 by a guy called Curtis Howe Springer. Springer gave the town its unique name, then built the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. Taking advantage of the mineral waters at nearby Soda Springs, Springer built the resort and bottled the waters for tourists passing through. When that didn’t bring in the kind of money he wanted, Springer started importing animals from all over the world – hoping the zoo would make people stop by.

For some reason, the Feds let this go on for 30 years. In 1974 U.S. Marshalls finally arrested Springer for misusing federal lands, as well as for food and drug violations. In 1976, the Bureau of Land Management allowed California State University to use the site, and several California colleges established a “Desert Studies Center” there. So it’s not really a “town” in the usual sense, although people *do* live there year ’round.

Read more about Zzyzx at Wikipedia.

Install XP SP3 (if you dare)

Normally, Windows Service Packs don’t generate a lot of interest from end users. Sure, businesses with lots of home-grown applications pay careful attention to them, since Service Packs (SPs) can break those programs. And many businesses hold off on installing new MS apps and operating systems until Microsoft has released the first SP for a product. But generally speaking, “Joe Schmoe” really doesn’t care when a new SP is coming out.

Such is not the case with SP3 for Windows XP. Unlike Windows Vista’s SP1, SP3 for XP will supposedly provide noticeable performance gains, in addition to the usual bugfixes. And although the final version won’t be released until early next year, the adventurous geek can install it today with a simple registry tweak. Just go to this site and download the batch file that makes a tiny change to the Registry, then launch Windows Update – you should see an option to download “Service Pack 3 for Windows XP Release Candidate 1”. Choose to download it, and you’ll be on your way.

I’ve installed it on a virtual machine and have no complaints so far – but since it’s a virtual machine, it’s hard to tell if there’s any actual performance boost. Remember that SP3 RC1 is beta (test) software, so it’s possible that installing SP3 could screw up your computer big-time. As always, read everything posted at the above link, and make sure to back up your computer before installing SP3 if you choose to do so.

Sad News…

The last bit of news for today is a sad one: Quiet Riot Singer Kevin DuBrow Found Dead In His Las Vegas Home

Quiet Riot singer Kevin DuBrow died Sunday, drummer Frankie Banali confirmed in a post on his Web site. DuBrow was 52 years old and the official cause of his death has yet to be determined.

“I can’t even find words to say,” Banali wrote. “Please respect my privacy as I mourn the passing and honor the memory of my dearest friend Kevin DuBrow.”

I wasn’t a fan of QR, but it’s sad news nevertheless. You know you’re getting old when the rock stars you grew up with start dying of diseases and old age instead of drunk driving accidents and overdoses.