News for 01/11/2008

OK, I’m having a bit of writer’s block… so let’s do some news!

New York City is going to clone 25 “historical trees”. Why? To save them, I guess. This article doesn’t mention anything about the trees being sick, or in danger of being cut down to build condos. The trees are historically significant, though: one of the trees is a 230 year-old St. Nicholas elm that George Washington is thought to have walked under, and “several” of the trees date back to the time of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer and architect of Central Park.

Congress is asking drug maker Pfizer why they think that Dr. Robert Jarvik is qualified to pimp Lipitor. They’re even questioning whether Jarvik’s ad breaks the law (since the ads run nationwide, is he legally giving medical advice in states where he doesn’t have a medical license?). The most interesting thing in this article about the issue is the biographical information about Jarvik: he attended Syracuse University as an undergrad, where his grades were so subpar that he wasn’t even interviewed to go to a medical school in the US. So he attended the University of Bologna in Italy, then transferred to the University of Utah, where he graduated. He did not do an internship, nor has he practiced medicine, however. Far from being the “super doctor” I always thought him to be, NBC’s science expert Robert Bazell last year wrote that while Jarvik is an M.D., “he doesn’t have the strongest credentials”.

If you’re in Maryland and a customer of Allegheny Power: check your bill! It seems that the company is sending their customers boxes that contain 2 compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs… and charging you 96¢ a month for it! The company sent the bulbs to almost 220,000 customers, and is threatening to cut off their power if they don’t pay for the bulbs, even if they return them to Allegheny Power or refuse to accept them from their letter carrier. I don’t know whose idea this was at Allegheny Power, but I can tell you what it is in two words: mail fraud! Read the whole vile story here.

And lastly, from the “What Are The Odds?” Department… a pair of British fraternal twins that were separated at birth met later on in life… felt an unbelievable attraction to one another… and ended up getting married! This became news this week because of changes that some lawmakers are pushing with regards to birth data in the UK. Currently, only the mother has to be named on a birth certificate in the UK, and birth certificates also are not required to identify “births that result from IVF or to identify the sperm donor”. British lawmakers want to tighten up the laws, so things like this don’t happen in the future. As for the twins feeling an “unbelievable attraction” towards each other… well, if I remember my anthropology correctly, then this is actually quite common. And not only is it just “attraction”, people that experience this sort of thing report an almost unstoppable sexual attraction to their birth mates. In fact, all kinds of bizarre behavior has been reported by twins who were separated at birth at meet up later in life!

News for 01/10/2008

Wow – I’ve got a lot of stuff for today… so let’s just get right on it!

dakigokochiThe latest craze in Japan? “Dakigokochi”, or bags of rice shaped like babies. When a woman gives birth in Japan, it’s a big deal – much like it is here in the US. However, instead of just sending pictures of the newborn to family and friends that couldn’t be there for the birth, Japanese parents order a dakigokochi. It’s a bag filled with rice. The bag is carefully weighed to match the baby’s weight, and the newborn’s picture is printed on the front of the bag. Relatives can then “hold” the baby and love on “it” as if the baby were there with them. And when the relatives are done cuddling the baby, the bag is opened and the rice is eaten. That so typically Japanese: completely sensible on one hand, yet totally unsettling on the other.

Imagine how awkward it would be: your wife just isn’t “cutting it” anymore. You’re a man with needs. So you pay a little visit to the local brothel for a little “somethin’ somethin'”… and find your wife working there! It happened in Poland recently. The wife told the husband that she was working at a store in a nearby town for some spending money. He believed her… until he walked into the brothel and saw her there! The couple, which had been married for 14 years, is divorcing.

Former Talking Head David Byrne has written an excellent article at about the future of the music industry. In short, Byrne envisions a world where record companies are far smaller, yet still exist. Because technology has reduced the cost of recording music to almost nothing, Byrne feels that musicians will have their choice between signing a “traditional” record contract and going it all alone – with several options in between. The article is all about finding a happy balance between “selling out” to the labels to take advantage of their mighty marketing machine or going it alone and having 7 people visit your website every month, only 1 of whom buys the CD (and that visitor is your Mom). It’s a really good read, especially considering that it’s written by a man that was in a band, owned his own record label, and looks forward to receiving publishing payments as a kind of “pension plan”. You should really read it!

The town of Peterborough, England offers trash bins to its citizens, much like many cities in the U.S. do. For some reason, however, people love stealing the ones from Peterborough. The city council recently announced that 2,351 of the bins have been stolen over the past couple of years at a cost of £70,000 ($137,585) to local taxpayers. From now on, residents will have to pay £30 ($60) for a new bin, or £20 for “a ‘pre-used’ bin that has been steam-cleaned”. Anyway, my point behind telling you all this is that this article about the bins notes that stolen bins have been spotted “as far afield as Bulgaria”. Who the hell steals a trash bin in the middle of England and ships it all the way to Bulgaria?

You’ve heard of the “No Fly List, right? It’s a giant database that contains the names of people that are suspected of various crimes, mostly terrorist activities. You’ve probably also heard stories about people that have the same name as someone on the list and all the hassles they have to go through to get this names off the list. But check this out: 5 year-old Matthew Gardner and his mother were flying out of SeaTac airport. Poor Matthew has the same name as someone wanted by ICE, so the family was stopped by TSA. The TSA agents, instead of realizing that this was just a silly coincidence, subjected the two to an extensive search. And during the brouhaha, Matthew started to cry, so his Mom went to pick him up… only to stopped by the TSA agent and told that doing so would be a “national security risk”. After putting him down, she was even searched again, to make sure that Matthew hadn’t “passed materials” to his Mom. This is why I don’t fly any more, people. Watch the local news clip about it here.

And lastly for today, you geeks out there might want to check out this article over at Engadget, which has the first pictures (that I’ve ever seen) of a USB 3.0 device. USB 3.0 is significantly faster than USB 2.0 (4.8 Gbit/s, as opposed to 480 Mbit/s for USB 2.0). USB 3.0 will also include intelligent power design that shuts off power to unused devices (which is neat) and will also sport plugs that have a slight depression on the top (so you’ll be able to tell which side is “up” by feel only – something looooonnng overdue in my book!). Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2010 for this technology to be unleashed.

Jeremy Clarkson is stupid!

Jeremy ClarksonI hate British TV personality Jeremy Clarkson. He’s just so damn… smug. He’s a jerk in the same way that Simon Cowell is, only he’s somewhat quieter and he lacks Cowell’s wit. He’s an America-basher that finds fault with anything my country does, yet he (apparently) feels that Britain is heaven on earth. He comes across as one of those Britons that still longs for the British Empire, and deep down he probably thinks the Union Jack is still flying over Bombay.

Anyway, as you might of heard, there have been several incidents lately where the British government has lost sensitive data. Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) lost a CD containing the names and addresses of 160,000 children. The week before that, the British government admitted that a government contractor had lost a CD containing the names and addresses of 3 million people with learner’s permits. And shortly before that incident, the government admitted that it had lost a packet of CDs that contained the names and banking information of over 25 million people – almost half the population of the UK!

As you might imagine, privacy activists in the UK were (and are still) livid over all this. In response to the activists, Clarkson recently published a newspaper article about how the activists’ fears are overblown. He called their cries “a bunch of palaver” (idle talk) and called the whole thing “a storm in a teacup”. And to prove that all this privacy paranoia was a bunch of nonsense, Clarkson put his real, actual bank account number in the article.

Almost as soon as the article hit the newsstands, someone hacked into Clarkson’s account and transferred £500 to the British Diabetic Association. This article from The Guardian notes that Clarkson, “in a rare moment of humility”, admitted that the stunt had backfired:

The bank cannot find out who did this because of the Data Protection Act and they cannot stop it from happening again. I was wrong and I have been punished for my mistake.”

He also added: “Contrary to what I said at the time, we must go after the idiots who lost the discs and stick cocktail sticks in their eyes until they beg for mercy.”

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer jerk!

This Odd House

My girl watches a lot of HGTV. Since I kind of “own” the HDTV in the living room, Lisa and I have an unspoken pact where she “owns” the TV in the bedroom. So I don’t complain when she flips it on HGTV, even though it’s not really my bag. I mean, House Hunters is OK, I guess – even though it’s all kind of the same after a while – and I actually kind of dig House Hunters International just to see how crazy home prices are in London or how it is that Italians pay cash for their houses. But really, the only shows I really enjoy on HGTV are those “weird house” shows. You know what I’m talking about… the type of show that visits a house made entirely of Lego blocks or maybe an old theatre or elementary school that’s been converted over to a house. That sort of thing.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me offer my own contribution to the “weird house” phenomenon:

St. Albans

This is all that’s left of St. Alban’s church, on Wood Street in London. Some believe that this site was the location of the palace of King Offa, an Anglo Saxon ruler of Mercia (what is today the English Midlands), who ruled from from AD 757 to 796. Parish records date back to the year 930, and it is known for an absolute fact that a church has been on this exact site since 1077. In any case, by 1633 the church had fallen into serious disrepair, and a committee fronted by Exchequer Sir Henry Spiller and Inigo Jones (who is widely regarded as “England’s first architect”) recommended that the church be demolished. And it was, in 1634. The church built to replace it was short lived, having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church was rebuilt yet again, this time by Sir Christopher Wren in 1685. And this is what you see today… sort of. Most of the church was destroyed during The Blitz in 1940. The tower was the only part of the church to survive the bombing, and the remainder of the ruined building was demolished in 1965.

The tower is now a private residence. Interestingly, it stands in the middle of a busy London street, in a “traffic island”. Here’s another picture:

St. Albans (second pic)

What’s with Popular?

Popular was one of my favorite TV shows in the late 90s. The main arc of the show involved two characters: Brooke McQueen, the popular, All-American blonde cheerleader and Samantha (Sam) McPherson, the brunette champion of the downtrodden and all things alternative. The girls are, in fact, complete opposites… and Jacqueline Kennedy High School became a war zone when Brooke and Sam’s parents started dating. Popular was similar to Beverly Hills 90120 and Dawson’s Creek in that it was a “teen drama”. However Popular was smart enough to realize that people made fun of shows like 90210. Much of the drama in Popular is therefore completely over the top and winkedly tongue-in-cheek. It was a great show, and I still miss it.

One interesting thing about the cast of the show is how much weight they’ve lost.

Here are before and after pictures of Sara Rue – who played Carmen Ferrara, Popular’s “sensitive fat girl”:

Sara Rue (Before)

Sara Rue (After)

Of course, I knew that Sara had lost weight because of her role on the much-hyped ABC show Less Than Perfect. But I had no idea that castmate Ron Lester (who played Michael ‘Sugar Daddy’ Bernardino) had lost so much weight too:

Ron Lester (Before)

Ron Lester (After)

Wow – my hat’s off to you guys! I always thought that Sara Rue was pretty, even when she was heavy. And I suppose that it’s not that surprising that she lost all that weight – after all, there’s so much pressure for women to be thin in Hollywood. But I only found out about my fellow Georgian Ron Lester a few days ago… and “Wow” was all I could say when I saw him!

Awesome Sex Pistols video!

Check out this awesome news clip about the Sex Pistols from NBC’s Today Show. It was filmed on or around January 5, 1978 in Atlanta… the date of the Pistols first show on their American tour. The sarcasm of the reporters is absolutely stunning; you’d never see reporting this slanted in the news today. The clip is pretty long (7:28), but it’s worth it, I swear!

A couple of other points:

1) This show happened just over 30 years ago. In fact, had I posted this just three days ago, I would have hit the anniversary exactly.

2) Access Atlanta has a cool write up about the show here.

3) The linked article quotes Atlanta music legend Jeff Calder. Jeff owns Wax N Facts Records in Little 5 Points and is also in the legendary Atlanta band Swimming Pool Qs. I gave Jeff lots of money when I was a young hipster.

4) Jeff is also working with my MySpace buddy Lisa King on her new music CD. You can visit Lisa’s band’s site by clicking here.

5) I got the link for the video (which spawned everything you’ve read in this post) from this site… which is written by a guy that hosts a show on WREK and lives in… Duluth, Georgia. The world really is a small place.

6) James Bolton was right… Jane Pauley was hot back in the day.

2 More File Sharing Apps

The Internet is not hurting for ways to share files with friends. Sites like RapidShare, YouSendIt and MailBigFile were the first on the scene, and for a while they were pretty cool. For various reasons, however, those sites decided to put caps on the way people used them. Most of them adopted rules that limited the maximum file size (100 MB, usually), and many of them put limits on how much “non-premium” users could download at once. With RapidShare, for example, “free” users can only download 60MB or so per hour. So if you have a mess of pictures that you want to email someone, you’d probably have to break it up into pieces (which makes it unnecessarily confusing for the end user) and that end user might have to wait several hours before they can download the entire lot of pictures.

Other programs and services came along. Tubes, for example, is a free service. To use it, you (and all your friends) sign up on the site and download a program that looks something like an instant messaging program. You can then create shared folders (called “tubes”) that are copied back and forth between your friends. So you can create a “public” tube and drag and drop files there,  and the files will automatically be downloaded to any of your friends that have “subscribed” to your “public tube”. It actually sounds simpler than it is in practice. In reality, you need to send “invites” to your friends to join your “tube”; these don’t always go through, and sometimes the “tubes” will mysteriously disappear from your friend’s computers. And then there’s permission issues: Tubes tries to allow granular control of your files, so that Friend A can download a file from your public tube but not edit it, while Friend B can open and edit the file, while Friend C can’t download or edit it or anything. It’s all too complicated for the average user, and to make matters worse, it just doesn’t work that well. I tried Tubes for a couple of months, and I’d often find really outdated files on my friend’s computer. As in, files I’d deleted from my Tube weeks ago. Tubes said they were in perfect sync. Yeah right. And Tubes also seems to choke on large files, which is most of what people want to trade these days in the first place.

Continue reading “2 More File Sharing Apps”

Geek Basics: Dynamic DNS

As I’m sure you know, every computer connected to the Internet has an IP address, such as (this site’s IP address). As I’m sure you also know, every computer on the Internet communicates with every other computer via IP address. Most web sites have static (unchanging) IP addresses, while most home users have dynamic addresses (addresses that change every day, week or month, depending on how often your ISP decides to change them). If you still use dial-up, for example, you’ll generally get a different IP address every time you connect to the Internet. Some DSL providers change their customer’s IP address several times a day. Many cable providers don’t change their customer’s IP addresses for months at a time.

So why do web sites have static IP addresses, and why do home users have dynamic ones? Well, web sites need static IP addresses so that people can connect to them. If a website’s IP address changed every day, the Internet’s DNS servers – the computers that convert “” into when you type that address into your address bar – simply couldn’t keep up. The web would be in a constant state of flux, and you wouldn’t be able to connect to your favorite web sites on a regular basis. For an ISP, though, keeping track of which home user has which IP address is a monumental pain. It’s much easier for them to run DHCP servers – computers whose sole job is to assign IP addresses when the home user’s cable\DSL modem asks for one. So rather than have a huge database of account numbers and IP addresses, your ISP simply sets up a server that says “here are our available IP addresses. Whenever a customer requests an IP address, give him one of these”.

It might be helpful to think of IP addresses like phone numbers. A Chinese take-out restaurant needs a static phone number so that people can call in and order food. After all, if their phone number changed every week it’d be hard to order from them, no? But in this example, the restaurant’s customers don’t need static phone numbers to call in an order. They can phone their orders in from their home phone, their work phone, their cell phones, or even a pay phone.

Continue reading “Geek Basics: Dynamic DNS”

All About: Digital TV

You might have heard some of the hoopla about the “Digital TV switchover” or the “analog cut-off”. A lot of people have heard about it, but haven’t heard any of the details. A lot of misinformation is floating around out there – hopefully, this post will help clear the air on many issues:

What’s going on? The United States Congress has passed a law that requires all television broadcasters to stop broadcasting analog signals on February 17, 2009. After that date, all television broadcasts must be in digital format.

Why did they do this? Because digital broadcasts are much more efficient than analog broadcasts. By converting over to digital broadcasting, television stations will be able to broadcast clearer images with much less bandwidth than is currently being used. And once the cut-off is complete, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will take some of the bandwidth currently used for analog broadcast channels and use it for the “public good” (e.g. radios and communications devices for police departments, fire departments, ambulance services, etc.). They will then auction the rest of the bandwidth to the highest bidder; this may result in more cellular services, city-wide wireless Internet, and other new high-tech services.

Who is affected by the cut-off? People that get their TV via over-the-air (OTA) antenna are the only people affected by the switchover. People that get their TV via cable or satellite are not affected by this in any way.

Continue reading “All About: Digital TV”

5 Annoying “Programs”

As an IT guy, there are software programs out there that are a pain to install and maintain. As someone who uses computers, there are certain programs that make me want to pull my hair out. Programs that deserve a special place in hell… programs written by Satan himself. And here’s a quick list of them:

1) Windows Vista – Several years ago, several stunning “proof of concept” videos began leaking out of Microsoft’s headquarters. They were breathtaking. They made geeks like me salivate. They were the first glimpses of Windows Vista, and they were awesome. Sadly, Microsoft began cutting features from Vista – so much so that Vista went from “an operating system from the future” to “just a little upgrade from Windows XP”. And sadly, Vista fails in this aspect. It fails badly. Windows 2000 was a huge upgrade from Windows NT. Windows XP was a huge upgrade from Windows 2000. Upgrading to Vista seems like a huge step backwards for a lot of people… and in a sense it is. In my experience, Vista requires an 8-way quad-core system with 36GB of RAM just to work as well as a 1.5GHz P4 with 512MB of RAM running Windows XP.

What makes it all so sad is that there’s a lot to like about Vista. Explorer has had a much-needed face lift, and Vista’s icons are much more pleasing to the eye than XPs’. The built-in search feature is nice, as is the inclusion of Shadow Copies. Microsoft did a lot of worthwhile work under the hood – specifically, with DirectX and Desktop Window Manager – but the implementation of that work – Windows Vista – just sucks.

2) Adobe Acrobat – If I had to choose between living in a world without Osama Bin Laden or Adobe Acrobat, I’d choose the world without Acrobat… hands down! When people call Acrobat an “800 pound gorilla” it’s not a compliment to Adobe’s coding or marketing teams. The program really is an 800 pound gorilla – with all the grace of a brontosaurus thrown in for good measure. Acrobat takes forever to load of most people’s systems, when it’s not busy crashing Internet Explorer or Firefox. Previous Acrobat updates have taken 4 reboots to complete. Sadly, although there are alternatives to Acrobat, most of them suck for various reasons. FoxIt, for example, looks and acts like a Windows 95 program, and (most importantly) doesn’t render all PDFs correctly. If I could rid the world of Abobe Acrobat, I would.

Continue reading “5 Annoying “Programs””