Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Corning: The Glass Age, parts 1 and 2

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Corning is presenting a web site entitled The Glass Age showcasing the science and technology of glass. There's a lot of interesting content here, although it somewhat resembles an advertisement as well, since Corning's products are (as expected) featured throughout the presentations.

Two fascinating video clips from this site feature Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman presenting some modern applications of glass: optical fibers, flexible "willow" glass and super-strong "gorilla" glass.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Algemeiner: Don't Want to Come to the Middle East? Stay in Europe and Kill Jews, IS Tells Aspiring Jihadis

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Don't Want to Come to the Middle East? Stay in Europe and Kill Jews, IS Tells Aspiring Jihadis

Recruiters in Europe for the Islamic State (IS) organization are proposing an alternative form of service for those jihadis unwilling to venture to the Middle East, where the terrorist group has carried out gruesome massacres of Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities: stay at home and kill Jews.

Can we finally put to rest the insane myth that these Jihadi groups are only interested in Israel giving up land? It's always been a desire to murder Jews, Christians, Hindus, and everybody else, including non-radical Muslims (and even radicals who belong to other organizations.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Word of the day: Dord

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Ghost Word

Claim: For five years, Webster's New International Dictionary mistakenly included an entry for dord, a word which did not exist.

Status: True.

h/t Dinosaur Comics.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dry Bones: The State Of Palestine Quiz

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The State Of Palestine Quiz

This "Palestine Quiz" has been bouncing around the Internet for some time is, of course, a reality-test challenge to anyone who has swallowed the Palestine Myth. I thought it would be fun (and timely) to dress it up as a Dry Bones cartoon.

* * *

If you know someone who actually believes that there was ever a country or state called Palestine, don't argue with them. Just slip 'em a copy of "The Dry Bones State of Palestine Quiz".

I think the text from the original page says it all. Click through to see an image large enough to read and print.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Guy claims pot made him paranoid and violent

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AP: Man who ate pot candy must stand trial in killing

DENVER (AP) — A judge ordered a Denver man on Friday to stand trial in the killing of his wife, who told dispatchers moments before her death that he was paranoid and hallucinating after eating marijuana-infused candy.

Defense attorneys for 48-year-old Richard Kirk suggested during a preliminary hearing that he was so impaired by the pot that he may not have intended to kill his wife.

But Judge Elizabeth Starrs said there was enough evidence for a trial on a charge of first-degree murder because Kirk showed he had the wherewithal to remember the code to a locked gun safe and press the weapon to his wife's head nearly 13 minutes into her call with the 911 dispatcher.

I hope this defense fails miserably. I've never consumed pot, but I know enough to know that it doesn't make people paranoid and violent. There are other drugs that can do that, but (as the article says further down), Mr. Kirk had none of those drugs in his system.

This guy planned to murder his wife for the insurance money. He went and ate a bit of pot candy to use it as an excuse. I hope the court throws the book at him. I don't think Colorado has the death penalty, but if they do, he should get it.

Muntins vs. Mullions vs. Astragels

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Architect's Glossary: muntin v. mullion

This distinction is often confusing for architects, not to mention contractors and homeowners.

A muntin is a small bar that separates two pieces of glass, aka "glazing bar" or "sash bar

A mullion is a bar or post that separates two window units

To add some confustion and a bit more complication, an astragel is the the same as a mullion except it sits between doors (it is the annoying fixed post you see between some pairs of doors that people often walk in to).

Watching lots of home improvement shows, I've heard these terms thrown about and it's never been quite clear what they mean. Maybe I'm the only non-glazier who cares, but it was bugging me. This article explains the terms very well. Click through to the original article to see a bit more content, including illustrations of each.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

AppleInsider: AT&T, Verizon to bump monthly mobile data allotments in ongoing price battle

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AT&T, Verizon to bump monthly mobile data allotments in ongoing price battle

America's top two wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon on Friday announced value added changes to their respective mobile data plans, though Verizon is only offering extra data as a limited time promotion.

Here's Verizon's page describing their pricing. Until the promo expires (no date is mentioned at this time), the $80 data plan is increasing from 6GB to 10GB and the $100 data plan is increasing from 10GB to 15GB. This is not just for new customers - current "MORE Everything" customers can also take advantage by simply changing their data plan.

I just did it for my account. I was paying $90/mo for 8GB. With this new pricing, I switched our contract to $80 for 10GB. It isn't every day that you get to pay less and get more data. $80/mo (plus the $120/mo line-access charges) is still a lot to pay, but it's better than paying $10 more for less data. Here's to hoping that the rivalry between Verizon and AT&T continues to drive prices lower.

Algemeiner: Spanish Journalist on Why Hamas Never Photographed in Action: ‘If Ever We Dared Point Our Camera on Them They Would Simply Shoot at Us and Kill Us’

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Spanish Journalist on Why Hamas Never Photographed in Action: ‘If Ever We Dared Point Our Camera on Them They Would Simply Shoot at Us and Kill Us’

A Spanish journalist told Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan that the reason television news does not broadcast images of Hamas fighters in action is because of fear of immediate execution.

Grynszpan, who directed the film ‘Forgotten Refugees‘, about the 800,000 to 1 million Jews expelled from their homes in the Arab world in the 1950s, posted his interview with the unnamed Spanish journalist on Facebook on Wednesday.

Just a little something to share with your left-wing friends who believe the Hamas propaganda that the mainstream media reports as fact. Be sure to click through the various links to others who have added commentary of their own.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

OS X 10.10 Yosemite: The Ars Technica Review

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OS X 10.10 Yosemite: The Ars Technica Review

When the book is finally closed on the product line known as OS X, last year’s release of OS X 10.9 Mavericks may end up getting short shrift. Sure, it brought tangible energy saving benefits to Mac laptop owners, but such gains are quickly taken for granted; internal changes and new frameworks are not as memorable to customers as they may be to developers and technophiles. And while Mavericks included many new user-visible features, and even new bundled applications, the cumulative effect was that of a pleasant upgrade, not a blockbuster.

But for all its timidity and awkwardness, Mavericks marked a turning point for OS X—and in more than just naming scheme. It was the first OS X release from the newly unified, post-Forstall Apple. If iOS 7 was the explosive release of Jony Ive’s pent-up software design ethos, then Mavericks was the embodiment of Craig Federighi’s patient engineering discipline. Or maybe Mavericks was just a victim of time constraints and priorities. Either way, in last year’s OS X release, Apple tore down the old. This year, finally, Apple is ready with the new.

Ars Technica has an incredibly detailed (and long - 25 screens) article all about the latest version of Mac OS X. There's lots of interesting information in here for everybody, from system programmers to power users, to Mac afficionados, to people who just like to admire and criticize industrial design.

Monday, October 27, 2014

CVS, Rite-Aid, WalMart and others are all on crack

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USA Today: CVS follows Rite-Aid, shuts off Apple Pay

Last Thursday drug store chain Rite Aid Inc. (RAD) reportedly stopped accepting payments made through the just launched Apple Pay system from Apple (AAPL). On Saturday, CVS Health (CVS) was reported to have followed suit at its CVS pharmacy stores.

The issue appears to be a conflict between Apple Pay and a mobile payment system called CurrentC that is being developed by a retailer-owned mobile technology outfit called Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX).

I'm sure you've heard about the above news already. For more information on this, TechCrunch wrote a great article all about CurrentC, how it works and why it even exists.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Interpreting Verizon's contract buzzwords

I recently upgraded my phone to a new iPhone 6+. It's great, but that's not the point of this article. In reading through the contract information, both before and after signing, I became aware of the fact that my contract has a lot of buzzwords that are not clearly defined.

In Googling for the definitions, I found that it is very hard to find definitions for most of these. As a service to my readers, here are all the line items from my contract, and the best explanation I've found so far for them. Some come from Verizon or from user-forum discussions I ran across. Some are based on my own intuition and understanding of wireless technology.

Corrections are welcome and will help to make the list more complete. I don't promise that it's all correct, but I hope people with specific knowledge will be able to help me improve it and make it correct.

Updated on June 4, 2015, based on reader comments. Thanks much!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gun humor

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h/t HappyGoth_Fanboi at The Devil's Panties:

(Click on image to enlarge)

Here's a Wikipedia link in case you don't know what "Mosin Nagant" refers to. I assume "AK" and "AR" will be self-obvious to the reader...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Digital Reader: Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries

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In the "Gee, I was looking for another reason to continue hating Adobe" department...

Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries

Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe's server in clear text.

I am not joking; Adobe is not only logging what users are doing, they’re also sending those logs to their servers in such a way that anyone running one of the servers in between can listen in and know everything,

But wait, there’s more.

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers.

In. Plain. Text.

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.


I have never installed Digital Editions, but you can be certain I won't ever install it in the future.

Please click through to the article. There are some followup posts. Adobe claims you agreed to all this when you clicked on the license agreement that everybody knows you didn't read. They also claim they are only phoning home about documents opened in Digital Editions, even though it's been demonstrated that such a claim is a lie.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Register: Marriott fined $600k for deliberate JAMMING of guests' Wi-Fi hotspots

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Marriott fined $600k for deliberate JAMMING of guests' Wi-Fi hotspots

The Marriott has been fined $600,000 by the FCC for paralyzing guests' personal Wi-Fi hotspots, forcing them to use the hotel giant's expensive network instead.

The US watchdog today said the Marriott Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, used monitoring equipment to illegally boot hotel and convention center guests off their own networks, which were typically smartphone hotspots.

Meanwhile, Marriott managers encouraged everyone to connect to the hotel's Wi-Fi network, which cost from $250 to $1,000 to access.

Ever notice how the most expensive hotels charge the most for internet access?

For those who don't know, the Marrott Gaylord chain of hotels is incredibly expensive. A "cheap" room is several hundred dollars per night. And then they have the gall to charge an additional $250-1000 for internet access? And then deliberately jamming anybody who dares to try and access the internet through their own means? I'm surprised they didn't decide to jam the entire cell phone spectrum and tell people to use their room phones at $10/minute.

It's sleazy scumbag policies like this which convinced me (many many years ago) to avoid all those expensive "prestigious" hotels. When I travel, I stay at cheap places like Holiday Inn, where my room rate is 75% less expensive and where they include internet access and breakfast at no extra charge.

These self-described luxury hotels can keep their designer soaps pillow-chocolate. It's not worth paying hundreds of dollars extra per night and losing amenities that I consider critical when traveling (internet and breakfast.) Maybe they'll learn someday, but I doubt it. They're happy catering to business travelers who will just bill everything to the company without even thinking about the cost.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Comcast speed test

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The above graphic is the result of running Comcast's speed test. (I'm paying for 25/5 service - which is what I'm getting.) Now that I've got my router straightened out, it's pretty nice. Interesting how IPv6 is about 2.7Mbps slower than IPv4.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Daily Signal: 6 Steps to Subtract 2 Numbers: Common Core Homework in 1 Photo

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The Daily Signal: 6 Steps to Subtract 2 Numbers: Common Core Homework in 1 Photo

For third graders learning Common Core math in Georgia, there are four ways to subtract—and only four ways allowed. The picture above is just one of the methods for subtraction under Common Core straight from RedState editor in chief Erick Erickson’s third grade daughter’s math book.

Missing from the four methods: borrowing and carrying numbers. You know, the old-fashioned-taught-the-same-way-for-decades-granny-method-not-approved-by-bureaucrats subtraction.

Click through to the full article to see one insanely complicated approach to subtraction that kids are forced to memorize.

And this is a great example of why education should not be controlled by faceless Washington bureaucrats. Our schools are being forced to teach according to academic theories and experiments, without regard to whether or not the children will actually learn anything.

I'm very glad that Virginia (for the moment anyway) is not one of the 43 states participating in this brain-dead Common Core curriculum. But I'm sure Washington will find some way to force their will on us. They just need to shred another few pages of the Constitution before they decide we have no rights whatsoever.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

What an $18,400 airline ticket gets you

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What It's Like To Fly The $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

In 2008, Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class, the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.

The Suites were exclusive to their flagship Airbus A380, and they go beyond flat beds by offering enclosed private cabins with sliding doors that cocoon you in your own little lap of luxury. The interior was designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste and comes along with a plush soft leather armchair hand-stitched by the Italian master craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Perhaps most well-known of all, Singapore Airlines became the first and only commercial airline with a double bed in the sky.

I will never experience this first hand. Something about not having a spare $19,000 lying around, or if I do, I'd rather do something other than buy a round-trip plane ticket with it. But wow! That is the most luxurious plane ride ever. First class is just so pedestrian in comparison!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Comcast users: disable Gateway Smart Packet Detection [UPDATED]

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(This is an update from an article I shared back in 2010)

I just ran across this article.

Apparently, the cable modem that Comcast ships to business internet customers has a "Smart Packet Detection" feature that has a nasty habit of making connections go flaky from time to time. According to one report I read, it was actually causing the router to drop every other packet, which will obviously make your user experience less than ideal.

I'm not sure what this feature is supposed to do, and Googling reveals nothing but recommendations that you turn it off. But if turning it off fixes your problems, then I'd recommend doing it. Comcast's support staff don't always know about this, so they might not tell you to try this unless you're persistent enough to get your call escalated to high-level techs.


It's not just Comcast business customers. As some of you may know, I recently (in July) switched to Comcast internet as a result of moving to a location that has no other high speed internet service. I was seeing all kinds of flaky behavior, typically manifesting as web pages that would hang or take forever to load. The netstat command would show hundreds of connections in the "SYN_WAIT" state, meaning the TCP stack is waiting for connections to be established. This is very similar to the linked article.

After re-reading the article today, I decided to visit the firewall settings on my modem/router (a Zoom model 5352). There was no "smart packet detection" setting, but there were settings for "port scan detection" and "IP flood detection". According to the manual, these settings look for and block that activity on both the WAN (internet) side of the router and the LAN side.

Of course, when you open 30 tabs at once in a web browser (or just one site that has a lot of embedded content), it results in hundreds of TCP connections originating from a single IP address on the LAN. The router is clearly misinterpreting this as an IP flood attack, and it blocks them. When I disabled these features, I once again got the performance I have come to expect from high speed internet.

I sent e-mail to Zoom letting them know about this. I think they need to update their packet-flood detection algorithms. I also think they should have separate configurations for LAN-side and WAN-side detection. I would like to detect and block scans and floods that originate from the internet, but not from computers on my LAN.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bottoms Up beer tap

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The Bottoms Up beer tap is a really nifty gadget. And they make a home version as well.

I don't drink anything close to the amount of beer that would be necessary for such a gadget to make sense, but the geek in me would love to play with one. According to the description, it acts as a replacement for the faucet on a traditional tap system. So it should (in theory) be easy for any serious beer-drinking geek to install as a part of a bar or kegerator.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Turn-On - the TV show canceled during its first episode

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Turn-On (Wikipedia)

[Tim] Conway has stated that Turn-On was canceled midway through its only episode, so that the party the cast and crew held for its premiere as the show aired across the United States also marked its cancellation. Cleveland, Ohio's WEWS-TV did not return to the show after the first commercial break (after "11 minutes", according to Conway). ...

Your show has got to be pretty awful to be canceled before the first episode finishes airing, and for one network affiliate to not even allow it to run beyond the first commercial break.

Of course, having read about this, I now want to see if there's some way I could see it. Although offensive for 1969, I suspect it would be just fine for today's TV audience (on cable and home video if not broadcast TV). Of course, it might not be funny either, but I'd love to see it to find out.

Time: Burger King Japan Unveils Black Burger

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Burger King Japan Unveils Black Burger

The buns, cheese and ketchup are black
The buns, cheese and ketchup are made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, according to Kotaku.

None for me, thank you. It's an amusing looking novelty, but it doesn't look appetizing in any way.

They've been selling black buns for two years now. I assume successfully, if they're one-upping it with black ketchup and cheese now. But I fail to see why people would find it attractive.

I guess the Japanese are a bit different from the rest of the world....

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Keurig 2.0

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Keurig 2.0 Brewing System

Brew up to 4 Cups with the Touch of a Button

With just a touch of a button things change.

Now when one cup isn't enough, use a K-Carafe™ pack to brew up to four cups of your favorite beverages at once.

This may be the first time I've ever shared something discovered via clicking on a banner ad, but this looks really awesome.

I've been a big fan of Keurig brewers for a long time, starting when my employer got a first-generation model back when they were only available as rentals from coffee-supply companies.

The product page seems a bit short on details, but I like the idea that they now support extra large "K-Carafe" packs to brew a whole pot at once, and while keeping the system compatible with existing K-Cups. One of the big problems they had with their previous next-generation "Vue" system was that it was incompatible with K-Cups, forcing upgraders to discard the coffee you already purchased.

I'm not going to be getting rid of the unit I've got right now, but when the time comes to replace it, this looks like a really good choice.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Girl gets beaten up by police for talking on a cell phone in school

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Police Tackle Female High Schooler for Using a Cellphone in School

How many adults does it take to tackle a girl standing only 4'10" tall and weighing just 100 pounds? Well, at Sam Houston High School the answer appears to be three.

Ixel Perez is that girl. She is a 10th grade student at Sam Houston High School in Texas who claims three school resource officers with the Houston Independent School District slammed her to the ground and pinned her head against the floor after she refused to hand over her cell phone.

And the school appears to be standing by their brutality. The girl's mother tried to remove her from the school, to enroll her elsewhere, and the school administration threatened to arrest her if she didn't leave the building immediately. Quoting the original article:

Perez has been suspended until Friday, and her mother says they are still having problems with school staff.

"Yesterday I tried to take her out of this school, looking for another school, but police came in there and kicked me out," Santos said. She said they threatened to take her to jail if she did not leave.

So, is anyone going to file criminal charges here? It seems to me that this assistant principal and the three rent-a-cops are all guilty of felony assault and battery. Will anyone press charges? Will the national media pick up on this? Will the attorney general decide to get involved when a real case of police brutality against a child occurs?

Monday, September 08, 2014

College advice from grandparents

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In case the link breaks in the future, today's Luann comic features Luann receiving college advice from her grandparents. They are:

  1. Dress nicely. No torn jeans or sloppy shirts.
  2. Take Home Economics. It will serve you well.
  3. Type your reports on quality paper. This impresses.
  4. Join math club. Good boys are in math club.
  5. Have plenty of stamps and stationery for letter writing.
  6. Wear a watch to keep track of your classes.
  7. Read a newspaper every day.

Luann and her mom then make a comment about being out of touch.

Although some of these may be a bit out of date, I would say that most are pretty apt for today as well, perhaps with a bit of tweaking.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A collection of amusing ALS ice-bucket clips

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Everybody knows about the ALS ice-bucket challenge. A lot of celebrities have created a lot of amusing clips. Here are some of the most fun ones that I've seen so far.

To start, here's Homer Simpson:

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

BBC declares gardening to be racist

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Gardening show’s focus on soil-purity, foreign species deemed racist

A soft-spoken BBC radio program that provides listeners with weekly gardening tips has been accused of peddling racism while discussing soil purity and non-native species.

Ben Pitcher, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Westminster in London, is among others who say Radio 4's "Gardeners' Question Time" promotes nationalism and fascism that is disguised by using coded language about gardening, The Telegraph reported.

So, all you gardeners. You better not remove those weeds or try to fight the kudzu or try to exterminate that colony of fire ants. If you do, you're really projecting racist hatred and bigotry and the BBC will tell the world just what a horrible disgusting person you really are. Don't deny it - we all know that denial constitutes proof.

h/t to Mallard Fillmore:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

London Cyclist: What an RAF pilot can teach us about being safe on the road

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London Cyclist: What an RAF pilot can teach us about being safe on the road

"Sorry mate, I didn’t see you". Is a catchphrase used by drivers up and down the country. Is this a driver being careless and dangerous or did the driver genuinely not see you?

According to a report by John Sullivan of the RAF, the answer may have important repercussions for the way we train drivers and how as cyclists we stay safe on the roads.

A fascinating article about how human eyes and the brain perceive vision, including the fact that it is physically incapable of perceiving certain things that are critical when maneuvering a vehicle. It also includes several suggestions for drivers and cyclists to take into account to try and compensate for these issues.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

5 get rich quick schemes

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Bankrate: 5 alternative investments for fat returns

Some out-of-the-box, alternative investments can pay you beefy interest rates -- and can even be fun or help others. They range from investing in Broadway shows, becoming a hard-money lender, funding startup companies and dishing out loans to peers.
Here are some other alternative investments to consider.

Is it just me or is it completely insane to go searching for high-risk "alternative" investments based on a free article on a web page? If you're not already enough of an expert to know about these ideas, then you don't know enough to understand the risks involved.

These kinds of investments might be fun speculation, but you'd have to be crazy to base some kind of money-making strategy on them if you've never heard of them before reading this article.

To quote Homer Simpson: After years of disappointment with get-rich-quick schemes, I know I’m gonna get rich with this scheme ... and quick!

Friday, August 01, 2014

AP: Century-old pipe break points to national problem

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AP: Century-old pipe break points to national problem

The rupture of a nearly century-old water main that ripped a 15-foot hole through Sunset Boulevard and turned a swath of the University of California, Los Angeles, into a mucky mess points to the risks and expense many cities face with miles of water lines installed generations ago.

Notice how although the article talks about "budget crunches that slow the pace of replacement", they made a point of not mentioning why the budgets are so tight.

Maybe there would be plenty of money if they weren't flushing all their tax revenues down the toilet on providing unnecessary services to a population that can't stop begging for more, giving the full benefit of our entitlement programs to people living in the country illegally, regulating low-cost contractors out of business, and generally spending hundreds of billions of dollars on things far less important than making sure the water mains are kept in good repair.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Geekabout: 40 Most Disastrous Cable Messes

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Geekabout: 40 Most Disastrous Cable Messes

If you think that rat’s nest of cables behind your computer is bad, check out some of these cable disasters – it'll make you feel a lot better about your own personal "computer-cable hygiene"! This is the definitive list of the all-time worst (or at least sloppiest) wiring jobs ever, including out-of-control computer wiring, A/V cables gone-bad, data center disasters, and ridiculous power lines from around the world.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Naked Security: Anatomy of an iTunes phish

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Naked Security: Anatomy of an iTunes phish – tips to avoid getting caught out

... We often forget that many things are "obvious" only with experience, meaning, in fact, that they're not really obvious at all.

That's why we do phishing walkthroughs fairly regularly on Naked Security.

The idea is to step you through a typical email phish, pointing out the telltale warning signs in the original email and the web pages that follow, so you know what to look for in future.

So, even if you'd back yourself to spot a phish every time, here's a step-by-step account that might help to save your friends and family in the future. ...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Getting internet working in our new home

We just moved to a new home a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, Verizon FiOS is not available in the new neighborhood. The next town over is just getting wired now, but that’s there, not here. Rumors of local political problems between the town government and Verizon tells me that although FiOS might be available in 6 months, it’s also possible that it won’t be here for 6 years or 60 years. Needless to say, transferring the FiOS service from our old house was not an option. Verizon’s only internet offering for this location is DSL, which isn’t sufficient for my needs (telecommuting, including VoIP through our corporate VPN.)

For TV service, we subscribed to Dish Network. Mostly because the previous owners used it and the dish was already on the roof. That installed quickly and after three weeks I’m quite happy with it. But that’s for TV only. Dish does offer satellite internet service, but the latency inherent in a geostationary satellite link (over half-second round-trip packet times) makes it useless for interactive services like remote-logins and VoIP. Since both my wife and I require interactive services (distance learning, telecommuting, FaceTime, etc.) satellite internet is a no-go.

Which leaves Comcast internet as the only possibility for high bandwidth and low latency. We subscribed to their 25Mbps internet-only service. Due to the fact that we were involved with moving and closing on two houses (buying the new home and selling the old one), I was in no state of mind to research and buy a modem, I elected to rent Comcast’s modem, at least for the first few months, just to keep it simple.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dilbert: That's an enginnering secret

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Today's page on my Dilbert desk calendar...

...struck a chord. It reminds me of real-world practice that I faced several years ago.

At that time, my employer's Federal sales group worked fairly closely with engineering. They would frequently request features - very specific micro-managed features. Sometimes these features didn't make sense - there were better and simpler ways to do the same thing.

As good engineers, we would ask them "what task are you trying to accomplish with this feature?" figuring that if we know what they were trying to do, we might be able to suggest a better or more efficient or at least standards-compliant way to solve their problem. The answer we always got back was "sorry, that's classified."

Fortunately, our sales people were fairly knowledgeable, so we could discuss the topic at length with them (never mentioning what the end customer actually wants to do, of course) and the sales people could help determine if an alternative feature would be better, but it was still a very frustrating way to work. Even when the feature is developed and tested, it's frustrating to know that you can't test it against the customer's usage because you aren't allowed to know what that usage is. And when you get a bug report devoid of actual usage data, it's really hard to find and fix the bug.

I think Dilbert (in today's strip) has it easy!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cutter or just cats?

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I was trying to find this strip a few years ago. It appears that the indexing for Dork Tower is now complete enough that I was able to find it.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

New home

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To all those who know me in real life, I've moved (with the family, of course) into a new home in a new town, about an hour away from the old one. I'll be sending out e-mail with new contact info soon and those who know me, feel free to ask.

To those who don't know me in real life, move along, nothing to see.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In Japan, everybody will be getting robots....

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I just read an interesting article about a recent demonstration of two very human-like robots at the Tokyo museum.

Kodomoroid and Otonaroid are female-looking robots with surprisingly convincing personalities. They don't walk and have some bugs (not surprising with tech this cutting-edge), but the result is very impressive.

The article also described, but didn't show a photo of Telenoid. Telenoid appears to be more of an experiment - it is designed to be only minimally humanoid, with a face that could be male or female, and small enough (and soft enough) to be huggable. Telenoid is primarily (I think) meant to be remotely operated as a telepresence device, not an actual independent robot.

The article also makes reference to Pepper a three-wheeled robot designed to read human emotion from tone of voice and facial expressions, and respond appropriately. Pepper was developed by Softbank (one of the biggest Japanese telecom companies) and will likely start selling for under ¥200,000 ($2,000). At that price, if the product works as advertised, I think we'll start seeing a lot of people buying them.

Now if they can develop one that will clean the house for me, it will be perfect.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Norwegian Wood" DOES end in arson!

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For many years, I've listened to the song Norwegian Wood by The Beatles, and the ending always seemed strange to me:

So I lit a fire
Isn't it good
Norwegian Wood?

My comments, then as now, was that this is a terrible song. It tells the story of a guy who tries to crawl into bed with a girl, is refused, and he retaliates by burning he house down.

Most people I tell this to think that can't possibly be right. Such a sweet happy song can't possibly be describing a psychotic arsonist.

Well, I decided to Google for it today, and as it turns out, the lyrics are explained on the song's Wikipedia page. John started writing the lyrics as a cryptic way of describing an affair he was having. Then Paul finished it up, and thought it would be funny to end with him burning the house down:

... So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, "You'd better sleep in the bath." In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge ... so it meant I burned the place down ....

I feel justified, amused, and a just a little disturbed by this revelation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

AP: Brooklyn a hit as a baby name, except in NY state

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According to an AP report, the name "Brooklyn" is now hot. And at least one couple named a child "Bronx".

I wonder what's next. "Queens"? "Manhattan"? "Staten Island"?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Comic: No rest for the weary

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Sadly, it's not just cartoon housewives. I've frequently been in the same situation. The rest of the family goes out shopping for a few hours and I take the time to complete a bunch of chores around the house. I finally finish and go stretch out with the TV and everybody returns home within a few minutes.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

OK, we're officially addicted to broadband

Yesterday morning, I woke up to discover the FiOS was out. No dial-tone on the phones, no TV and no internet. I phoned up customer service (fortunately, we had cell phones!) and reported the problem. A tech came out to fix it today.

We went a day and a half without any connectivity and let me tell you, it sucked big-time. Some of the things we were unable to do without this:

  • Jen was not able to do her college coursework (it's all on-line these days.)
  • It was very difficult to manage household finances. (I needed to use a smartphone to check balances and could not pay any bills.)
  • People calling us were all shunted to voice-mail, which I had to check via the mobile phone
  • No TV whatsoever. Our DVR (leased from Verizon) won't boot up without network connectivity, so no recorded programs. Netflix obviously doesn't work without the internet either. We could play DVDs, but nothing else.
  • Although I was on vacation that day, I planned on periodically checking my work e-mail. I had to do this using my phone. Let me say that sending a significant-size e-mail reply using a phone is a real pain in the neck
  • No computer games. I have a few games loaded onto my hard drive, but they're all pretty old. Every game I play today is hosted on a web page somewhere.

Fortunately, it was an easy repair. The power supply for the ONT (the optical network terminal on the side of the house that terminates the fiber connection) had died. The tech replaced it in about 30 minutes and all was well, but I was unpleasantly surprised to discover how much our lives depend on high-speed internet these days.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot that can be done about it. Jen's college work and my financial activity simply can't be done without internet access. And her school work requires a high-speed connection because it involves multimedia and VoIP conference calls. And needless to say, telecommuting is out of the question without high-speed access (VPNs are painful and our corporate VoIP phone system is impossible on a slow connection.)

I suppose we could ditch the VZ-supplied DVR and go with a TiVo, which would boot up without internet access and allow us to play stored content, and we could use it (with an antenna) to get over-the-air broadcasts of local channels. I may have to think about this some more. And I think I need to get some good games loaded onto my Mac's hard drive!

On the other hand, it gave me plenty of time to catch up on my reading.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sign Installer Cited for Violating Rule on the Sign He Was Installing

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Santa Barbara, CA: Dan Greding was installing parking signs with a 75 minute time limit when he got a parking ticket for being parked there longer than 75 minutes - even though he just put the signs up 20 minutes ago.

The judge upheld the ticket, with the argument that he was parked there more than 75 minutes and the signs said so, and he knew about the signs because he installed them.

IMO, the 75 minutes shouldn't start ticking until after the sign is installed because, like most places, you can't be ticketed for a parking violation where there is no sign.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

AP: Keystone XL ad visible on White House website

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The irony is just delicious.

This framegrab image of the White House website obtained by The Associated Press shows an oil and gas industry advertisement that got some prime online real estate for their ad pressing President Barack Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline on the White House’s official website. (AP Photo)

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why don't fish crash into the side of the fishbowl?

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After reading yesterday's Drabble comic:

I started wondering how it is that fish don't crash into the side of the tank. After all, they have no binocular vision, and their brain can't possibly be big enough to learn about things like invisible barriers.

Google to the rescue. A quick search ran across an article from The Straight Dope which spells it out:

The fish aren't using their eyes to "see" the glass, but rather a special pressure-sensing system called the lateral line. This system is made up of sensory units called neuromasts, consisting of cells on the body surface that have a projecting hair encased in a gelatinous cap. When pressure waves in the water move the gelatinous caps and bend the hairs, the firing rate of nerve impulses sent to the brain by the neuromasts changes, enabling the fish to detect the waves.
Fish set up pressure waves as they move through the water, and are able to detect the reflection and distortion of these waves from objects and thereby avoid them. They are also able to detect the pressure waves of other fish.

That's really awesome. Who'd have thought that a silly comic would lead to learning such interesting trivia. Go read the rest of the article for more interesting related facts.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What <insert meme here> are you?

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On The Fastrack comic for April 28, 2014:

And just for kicks, here are my answers. No I'm not going to hunt down a bunch of quizzes. These are just the answers I would give if asked the questions. Make of that what you will.

  • Star Trek character: Chief O'Brien
  • Lord Of The Rings character: Frodo
  • Harry Potter character: Arthur Weasley
  • Star Wars character: Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • Disney Princess: Fa Mulan

Friday, April 11, 2014

IETF: Yahoo breaks every mailing list in the world including the IETF's

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h/t Hacker News

Yahoo recently upgraded the "security" of their mail servers in an attempt to curb spam. Unfortunately, they decided to use a protocol that is still under development, has serious known problems, and they configured it for maximum paranoia. The result is that they reject nearly all mailing-list traffic (legitimate or otherwise) that comes from a Yahoo user, potentially crippling the lists themselves. (Except for lists hosted by Yahoo's own servers, of course.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Scott Hanselman: The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore

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A really amusing article about GUI design, focusing on icons that don't make a lot of sense or are hopelessly outdated.

Of course, some of these are more wrong than others, but it is a good read.

Unfortunately, trying to come up with replacement icons for some of these (especially the floppy disk) that will be intuitive to novice users is not an easy task.

Monday, March 24, 2014

AP: Camera used on moon landing sold for $758,489

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The Hasselblad 500 sold over the weekend is described by Vienna auctioneers Galerie Westlicht as part of the equipment carried by the 1971 Apollo 15 mission -- and the only camera ever bought back from the moon.
Read more. (Including a photo)

I am a bit disappointed that NASA decided to sell it. This camera really belongs in the National Air & Space museum, or possibly in the Kennedy Space Center museum - alongside the other Apollo artifacts.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bloomberg: Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It

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According to a detailed report by Bloomberg, December's credit-card heist from Target was detected by their outsourced security firm well in advance of any real damage. Target's security people were alerted and had plenty of time to purge the malware and lock out the hackers, but they sat on their hands and did nothing. They took no action until after the news broke and government investigators got involved.

Lots of people in high places in Target should lose their jobs for this. It's one thing to be the victim of crime. It's quite another to pay big bucks for an outsourced security system and then deliberately ignore them when they tell you there's a massive attack in progress.

RootMetrics: Cell phone coverage survey

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RootMetrics has completed their survey of cell phone coverage by network. They have created an interactive map that you can use to zoom/scroll around the country and see various coverage statistics (call performance, fastest speed, best technology) for all the major carriers at a fairly detailed resolution.

The results are not too surprising. Verizon has the best coverage, with AT&T not far behind. T-Mobile and Sprint cover most of the populated areas, but with what could be annoying gaps if you travel the countryside. For example, Oswego New York is has coverage by all four networks, but the surrounding towns (Wolcott, Fulton, etc.) have no T-Mobile or Sprint coverage, and some of the towns (like Sterling, where the Renaissance Festival is held) are only covered by Verizon.

Warning: Avoid using Google Drive on Mac OS X 10.6

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At least avoid using it until Google fixes this bug. It's a pretty nasty one. Panics your entire system with symptoms that masquerade as a RAM or motherboard failure.

Fortunately, I never installed this app. I access my GDrive entirely using the web interface.

xiph: 24/192 Music Downloads ...and why they make no sense

Another article (this one from March 2012) about high-definition audio, sampling rates, human hearing, and why the CD-standard format is a really good format for distributing audio.

Some notable quotes:

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

Yes, this surprised me too. Unnecessary, I agree, but inferior?. As it turns out, inaudible ultrasonic content frequencies can cause intramodular distortion that may be audible unless you've got very high-end equipment that can cleanly reproduce it.

The concept is similar to how high/mid/low frequencies can interfere with each other, which is why most good amplifiers and speakers use separate discrete components (along with appropriate filters and crossovers) to process these ranges independently.

The article also talks about how 16 bits really is enough to capture the full dynamic range a human ear is capable of hearing:

16 bit linear PCM has a dynamic range of 96dB according to the most common definition, which calculates dynamic range as (6*bits)dB. Many believe that 16 bit audio cannot represent arbitrary sounds quieter than -96dB. This is incorrect.
With use of shaped dither, which moves quantization noise energy into frequencies where it's harder to hear, the effective dynamic range of 16 bit audio reaches 120dB in practice, more than fifteen times deeper than the 96dB claim.

120dB is greater than the difference between a mosquito somewhere in the same room and a jackhammer a foot away.... or the difference between a deserted 'soundproof' room and a sound loud enough to cause hearing damage in seconds.

And has so much range that any recording actually using it would be annoying to listen to in a normal room - I'd be constantly turning the volume up (to hear the quiet parts) and down (to avoid pain during the loud parts.) Just like I sometimes have to do when listening to music in the car or when trying to watch a movie while others are talking in the same room.

I would contend that 16-bits is more than sufficient, because audio that is comfortable to listen to in an uncontrolled environment should be compressed to less thaneven 96dB. (Although the high dynamic range is definitely welcome when I'm in a quiet room listening on good equipment.)

Finally, I want to quote a section on how loudness can impact preferences. I always knew that people tend to prefer louder sound, but I didn't realize how subtle the changes can be, and why you can't eliminate this factor from audio testing without specialized equipment:

The human ear can consciously discriminate amplitude differences of about 1dB, and experiments show subconscious awareness of amplitude differences under .2dB. Humans almost universally consider louder audio to sound better, and .2dB is enough to establish this preference. Any comparison that fails to carefully amplitude-match the choices will see the louder choice preferred, even if the amplitude difference is too small to consciously notice. Stereo salesmen have known this trick for a long time.

The professional testing standard is to match sources to within .1dB or better. This often requires use of an oscilloscope or signal analyzer. Guessing by turning the knobs until two sources sound about the same is not good enough.

Please read the complete article including the footnotes. There's a lot of great information in here.

If people want to switch to a new audio format that sounds better than the MP3s they have now, they would be best off by simply re-ripping their CDs into a lossless format like FLAC or Apple Lossless. By simply removing all compression artifacts, you will get audio that will sound great if your playback equipment is up to the task.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Dork Tower: On The Etiquiette Of Sharing Web Comics

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Yes, I'm aware of the irony of sharing this comic on my blog. Please click through so John Kovalic can get some ad revenue from it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mix: The Emperor's New Sampling Rate

Audiophiles have been singing the praises of various high-definition audio formats (SACD, DVD-A, 96KHz sampling, 192KHz sampling, 24-bit, etc.) for years, while others have claimed that it's all hype and wishful thinking.

A double-blind study (from 2008) demonstrates (and to me, proves) that the nay-sayers are right and the audiophiles are wrong.

According to a remarkable new study, however, the failure of new audio formats — at least the ones that claim superiority thanks to higher sample rates — to succeed commercially may in reality be meaningless. The study basically says that (with apologies to Firesign Theatre) everything you, I, Moorer and everyone else know about how much better high-sample-rate audio sounds is wrong.

The study was published in this past September's Journal of the Audio Engineering Society under the title "Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted Into High-Resolution Audio Playback."
It was designed to show whether real people, with good ears, can hear any differences between “high-resolution” audio and the 44.1kHz/16-bit CD standard. And the answer Moran and Meyer came up with, after hundreds of trials with dozens of subjects using four different top-tier systems playing a wide variety of music, is, “No, they can't.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Forbes: Vitamins Lack Clear Health Benefits, May Pose Risks

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Back in December, Forbes wrote:

Vitamin fans, take note: An editorial in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that multivitamins provide no health benefit in the long-run, and in fact, "should be avoided." The authors of the piece, "Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements," summarize the work of three review studies in the same journal, which together find no effect for vitamins on cardiovascular health, cancer risk, cognitive health, or mortality. The bottom line, at least to the authors, is clear: We should stop wasting our money on multivitamins, since there’s little evidence to their benefit, and some evidence to their detriment. But as always, others say they jury is still out on this one.

It does go on to say, however, that this is in the context of trying to prevent chronic conditions and extend life. If you don't get enough of something your diet (e.g. many women have iron deficiencies, and people who eat a lot of junk food may lack all kinds of vitamins and minerals), then you should take supplements to make up the difference, but that's a completely different scenario from the person taking large doses of vitamins in order to try and prevent cancer, for example.

Read the rest of the article for more details.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Today's Garfield

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I honestly wish our cats would be willing to look cute for photos the way Garfield and Nermal do...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Krebs On Security: Bug Exposes IP Cameras, Baby Monitors

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Brian Krebs exposes a critical bug in popular web-cameras:
A bug in the software that powers a broad array of Webcams, IP surveillance cameras and baby monitors made by Chinese camera giant Foscam allows anyone with access to the device’s Internet address to view live and recorded video footage, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

The issue came to light on the company’s support forum after camera experts discovered that the Web interface for many Foscam cameras can be accessed simply by pressing "OK" in the dialog box when prompted for a username and password.

All I can say is d'Oh!

Wired: A Hackathon Where 2G-Era Tech Is King

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Wired reports:
if you want to make smartphone applications that work for most people (not just most Americans), you have to think slow. Smartphones and the Internet are booming in the developing world. ... But the mobile Internet in the developing world is a fundamentally different beast than the one we typically talk about. That includes everything from the devices people use to to the plans they purchase, and the networks they run them on.
The most common smartphone in the world is, according to Ericsson, the K-Touch W 619. It has a single core processor, and a 3.5-inch display with 480 x 320 resolution. When you hear about the next billion people going online, that’s the kind of device they’re going to use to do it. What’s more, they’re going to run that phone on networks where traffic moves at kilobytes per second, not megabytes. In Ethiopia, for example, only 23 percent of network traffic can hit download speeds of greater than 1 Mbps; a mere 4 percent can upload at that speed. For bandwidth-hogging apps, this poses multiple problems. The first is that they may just not work. When phones are constantly trying to suck or push data to a network, and encountering problems doing so, it also eats up battery life. That’s a much bigger problem than simply needing to recharge your iPhone twice a day.
With luck, these app developers will also optimize their apps to use less CPU, less battery and less bandwidth on the high-powered phones used in the US. In the developing world, these issues may be business-crushing problems, but they're really annoying everywhere else too.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Abu Dhabi song

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Every now and then, the cats get me annoyed enough that Jen and I talk about mailing them to Abu Dhabi.

Here's where the idea came from:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

UNIX as religion?

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Or, as the article's author calls it, Over-Extended Metaphor for the day.

It's an amusing (if somewhat tenuous) way of drawing an analogy between the world/politics of UNIX-like operating systems and Christianity.

In the early days, the UNIX faith spread underground among nests of true believers; but they evangelized their friends and neighbours and gradually it began to spread in strange communities. And with the spread came the great split. By the mid-1970s there were two main sects: AT&T UNIX, which we may liken unto the Roman Catholic Church, and BSD UNIX, which we may approximate to the Orthodox Churches. And then lo, there were many schisms.
Read on...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Project Unity: 15 game consoles in one big wooden box

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Project Unity is one person's method for creating a multi-standard game console. He takes 15 different console motherboards, mounted into a single wooden box, along with custom-built hardware to select the active board and to allow a single custom-built controller to work with them all.

It's not pretty, but it works. It must've been fun to design and build this.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I just replaced Jen's iPhone battery

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Jen's iPhone, which is approaching two years old, has lost its ability to hold a charge. The battery would lose 20% of its power per hour, just sitting in standby. So I went on-line to buy a new battery and installed it last night. The process was much simpler than I had expected, although you must be able to manipulate some extremely tiny screws in the process.

The instructions I followed are available here.

I bought a battery and matching toolkit (two small screwdrivers, plastic pry-tool and two tiny Phillips-head screws to replace Apple's annoying pentalobe screws,) from iFixit for $30. It took about 10 minutes (not counting the time to sync and backup the phone) to complete this repair. Far better than sending it to Apple, who would charge $80 and hold on to the phone for a week.

All of our battery problems appear to have gone away, thanks to this relatively simple fix.