Friday, August 29, 2003
Chillin' for the weekend
Don't know if there will be too much posting . . .
Walking the dog late last night -- there, in the South East sky, very bright, somewhat Orange, about 60 degree over the horizon: MARS!
Lots of cool images over at NASA
Thursday, August 28, 2003
What's in your Bottled Water?
Interesting article over at the Hartford Advocate:
What's in your Bottled Water?
Despite the hype, bottled water is neither cleaner nor greener than tap water
Thanks to false advertising and disinfection, what you drink may not be what you think.
"You drink tap water? Are you crazy?" asks a 21-year-old radio producer from the Chicago area. "I only drink bottled water." In a trendy nightclub in New York City, the bartender tells guests they can only be served bottled water, which costs $5 for each tiny pint container. One outraged clubber is stopped by the restroom attendant as she tries to refill the bottle from the tap. "You can't do that," says the attendant. "New York's tap water isn't safe . . ."
. . . The message is clear: Bottled water is "good" water, as opposed to that nasty, unsafe stuff that comes out of the tap. But in most cases tap water adheres to stricter purity standards than bottled water, whose source -- far from a mountain spring -- can be the parking lot of an industrial facility in New Jersey. Forty percent of it began life as, well, tap water.
A 2001 World Wildlife Fund study confirmed the widespread belief that consumers associate bottled water with social status and healthy living. Their perceptions trump their objectivity, because even some people who claim to have switched to bottled water "for the taste" can't tell the difference: When Good Morning America conducted a taste test of its studio audience, New York City tap water was chosen as the heavy favorite over the oxygenated water 02, Poland Spring and Evian.
Pointer courtesy of Prof Farber.
Hartford Advocate:What's in your Bottled Water?
Scientific American: Is bottled water tapped out?
CBS: Our Man Tests The Water
Good Morning America: Bottled vs. Tap
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
DARPA's neuroengineering Programs
I know this is going to creep some people out, but -- I don't have much of a problem with this sort of research. Its actually fascinating in a Borg sort of way . . . .
'Brain Interface Program' most lavishly funded of nearly all the DARPA bioengineering efforts ($24 million over 2 years). It is aimed at developing ways to 'integrate' soldiers into machines -literally- by wiring them (remotely or directly) to their planes, tanks, or computers. An implantable brain chip is now under development in this sick program, which has already proudly demonstrated how rats can be turned into living robots through the manipulation of stimulus-response signals in the brain via electrodes.
Sounds cool. Consider this: If you had the option of implanting a chip in your brain, one that gave you 24/7 access to all the printed knowledge of mankind via the web, (enclopedias, thesaurusi, dictionaries, and more), would you do it? I might consider it
The danger would come from the chip's OS -- If it were a Microsoft system, could you imagine what the virusi you could get would look like? Also, there would always be the chance that a backdoor in the code would allow hackers to bury you in disinformation.
"The use of animals in warfare is ugly enough without the further insult to their dignity involved in turning them into involuntary cyborgs," writes James Meek in the Guardian. "And a military command committed to the use of creatures which are part-animal, part-machine, is going to be that bit less reluctant to interfere in its soldiers in similar ways."
Hey, I love animals, but I'm not sure if we are really "insulting the dignity" of rats?
Here are some other interesting projects at DARPA:
A)'Metabolic Dominance and Engineered Tissue' program is aimed at being able to artificially pump up soldier endurance and muscle strength.
B) 'Persistence in Combat' program is a bizarre self-treatment scheme which would include pain-reducing and blood-stopping devices and techniques soldiers would apply to their own wounds -even moderately severe ones- thereby bypassing the need for a medic and enabling a soldier to keep fighting, despite serious wounds.
C) 'Continuous Assisted Perfomance' program hopes to find biotechnological ways (implants, metabolic manipulation, etc) to make it possible to push exhausted soldiers on without loss of performance for up to seven days without sleep.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
This is way cool:
Its from MacSense. For $249, I can access any of the 1200 CDs I own -- all of which I've laboriously ripped to my Mac over the course of 3 years -- including the singles and live music I also (legally) own, that's nearly 25,000 songs.
That works out to a little over two continuous months of nonstop music.
Here's a blurb:
Macsense HomePod is a digital stereo component that allows users to take advantage of their existing wireless network to beam MP3 files stored on their Macs or PCs to devices located anywhere in the house. HomePod was announced at the MacWorld Expo held in San Francisco 2003. Imagine being able to select from any computer in your home or office and choose the music you want to listen to on any speaker or headphone set. Simply select your music from the LCD screen on the HomePod and you are set. HomePod even works outside on the patio, in the garden or while organizing your garage. HomePod is scheduled to ship in October with a suggested retail price of $249.
Until now, music lovers have been forced to huddle around their Macs or PCs because no standard format existed that enabled portable devices to seamlessly share media files. But now, with HomePod's 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, network interface to beam MP3 files to remote devices, consumers will end up the winners and finally emerge from behind their desks.
The HomePod enhances Apple's digital hub, picking up where iTunes and iPod leave off. Think of HomePod as an iPod for home distributed entertainment. The handheld device functions just like an iPod, with the ability to browse by artists, style and song name. The device checks how many computers are on the wireless network and pools all the song lists together. All software can run on Mac, PC or Linux machines.
HomePod features an 802.11b wireless and Ethernet network interface, built-in stereo speakers, stereo audio outputs to home hi-fi system, headphone jack, 2.5" back-lit LCD display, jog-shuttle rotating dial, and on-unit control buttons.
Saturday, August 23, 2003
More Rebate Nonsense
Back in late July, I posted a whining complaint regarding what ridiculous scams Rebates are, along with a link to a CBS Msrketwatch story on the same topic. I bitched about a $50 TiVo rebate and 2 $70 rebates from Amazon Sprint.
They have both been resolved favorably. Here's the play by play:
TiVo first. I got one for my B-day last year -- October '02, with lifetime membership. Mailed everything out promptly. Three months later, log on to check on it -- nada. I call someone, get the usual rebate bullshit story -- please remail it in, I'm asked; Then check back in a few months.
I do, and wait another few months.
Just in case you missed the early part of the story, here's a reminder: These rebate firms are all lying weasel scammeisters. They count on 50% (if not more) of people not even mailing the paperwork in. The fools who do mail it in, they make jump through hoops. Its a pathetic example of the dark underside of capitalism.
So now its 7 or 8 months later; Mind you, I love my TiVo -- best toy (of many) in the house, edging past the iPod and the inflatable sheep.
I call TiVo customer service, which should win an award for top 5 worst voicemail systems outside of the Seventh level of Hades. Just awful.
Eventually, I get what sounds like a Human. I explain the situation, politely but firmly:
"I know this isn't your fault, but its been 8 months and I'm really tired of the run around"
Customer Service is polite, but unhelpful. That leads me to ask THE QUESTION. Any time you are dealing with this sort of bureaucratic situation, you must be prepared to ask THE QUESTION. It goes like this:
"I'm sorry, I missed your name?"
"Ken, are you authorized to resolve this to my satisfaction? By that, I mean do you have the authority to approve cutting a $50 check?"
"No, I don't, sir"
"Thank you, Ken, you've been most helpful. Please put your supervisor on"
Note that this is spoken as a direct command -- not a request -- but rather, a firm but polite command. In the same tone you would tell your dog to sit. Not angry, not loud, just authoritative.
Supervisor Mary comes on. I oh-so s l o w l y retell my story. At this point, I've invested enough time that by taking an extra 90 seconds, its a tiny % to me -- but I'm getting Mary to spend time, and therefore have a greater commitment to resolving this. Its kinda what car salesman do; They are not really speaking to their managers, when they step out of the sales cubicle -- they are getting you to commit time.
I start out with a little sugar: "You know, I used to recommend TiVo to a lot of people. I love mine; its a terrific machine. (Pregnant pause. . . ) But I've (SIGH) stopped recommending TiVo to people -- Not with this terrible rebate experince I've been having. I'd really like to recommend the machine, but (SIGH) I cannot in good conscience . . . not when your firm hastaken over 8 months to send me a $50 rebate. Its a darn shame . . ."
This is all very seductive. I try to ourr th words out.
"Mary, this is penny wise and pound foolish. I've been responsible for 20 people buying TiVo in the first 4 months I had the machine. Since this rebate stuff got out of hand, not a single referral. And, its taking all the joy out of what should be a terrific user experience. Please help my TiVo get its mojo back."
Mary is apologetic, but goes to the default procedural rebate center bullshit.
Now its time to take this up a notch:
Mary, I don't know these rebate people, and quite frankly, I don't give a damn who they are. (Still quiet, voice steady). I have no relationship with them -- but I do have a relationship with your firm. (A little louder now ) I don't appreciate being fobbed off on some 3rd party, most especially some incompetant bureaucracy. I never asked to do business with them -- they have demonstrated that they are worthless when it comes to customer service. I am through with them. Done, Finito. Can you understand that Mary?
"Yes sir, I do, but there are procedures."
"Mary, can I ask you 3 questions?"
"When I ordered this, I paid with a credit card -- That transaction was approved, correct?"
"Then I ordered a lifetime subscription -- same credit card with my name on it. Was that transction approved? "
"And each night, my machine logs in from a phone line at the same residence where that credit card is, right?"
(Not too loud -- but with emphasis) "SO WHAT IS THE DAMN PROBLEM WITH HONORING YOUR REBATE AND MAILING ME MY CHECK? We just established unequivocally that I am an authorized fully paid for TiVo owner. Please honor your promises."
"There are rebate procedures sir."
Mary, here's my last question for you (Its THE question): Do you have authority to resolve this to my satisfaction? If the answer is no, than ITS MY PROCEDURE TO HAVE YOU CONNECT ME TO YOUR LEGAL DEPARTMENT, and we will resolve it that way.
"Yes I do Sir, I will look into it. You will here back from me within 10 days."
This was a Friday. The check came the following Wednesday.
On to nonsense from Amazon/Sprint
About the same story, only via email -- harder to be as effective via mail; I could not find a phone number for Amazon customer service. Similar runaround, hard to ask for a supervisor via email. When they suggest the rebate center crap again, I simply ask for their Legal Department Address (They sent it to me).
Fortunately, the checks arrived (2 for $70) ion about 10 days. Case closed.
The moral of the story: Never ever ever buy anything with rebates ever again. Never.
Decisive victory for Franken
Here's the line that will be in trademark/1st Amendment casebooks:
"There are hard cases and there are easy cases," judge Chin said. "This is an easy case. This case is wholly without merit, both factually and legally."
Expect Franken to file a motion to dismiss the suit.
In addition to denying the injunction, the judge took direct aim at Fox for bringing the case:
"Parody is a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment. The keystone to parody is imitation. Mr. Franken is clearly mocking Fox," said Chin. "It is ironic that a media company, which should be protecting the First Amendment, is seeking to undermine it."
That says it all on the legal side; On the irony scorecard, there was this:
One round of laughter was prompted when Judge Chin asked, "Do you think that the reasonable consumer, seeing the word `lies' over Mr. O'Reilly's face would believe Mr. O'Reilly is endorsing this book?"
The giggling continued as Dori Ann Hanswirth, a lawyer for Fox, replied, "To me, it's quite ambiguous as to what the message is here." She continued, "It does not say `parody' or `satire.' "
Ms. Hanswirth said Fox's "signature slogan" was also blurred, because people who were not associated with the network, which owns the Fox News Channel, also appear on the cover with Mr. O'Reilly.
Judge Chin said, "The president and the vice president are also on the cover. Is someone going to consider that they are affiliated with Fox?"
The courtroom broke into laughter again.
The funny thing is, that last question can be answered with a yes . . .
And finally, here's Franken's observation:
"In addition to thanking my own lawyers, Franken said, I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life."
In Courtroom, Laughter at Fox and a Victory for Al Franken
Judge rejects Fox bid vs. Franken book
Fox Loses Bid to Stop Sale of Franken Book http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=638&ncid=579&e=3&u=/nm/20030822/en_nm/media_fox_dc
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
Very cool collection of NYC blackout photos
Here's a satellite photo from Thursday nite:
Thanks to Hoffmania for the pointer
Rapmaster: from Angry Naked Pat
Andy Milonakis is at it again; He makes a rather bad Eminem
(he's not the only one who can bust a rhyme)
From the kid who brought you "The Superbowl is Gay" comes the latest act of stupidity...
and its hysterical! (warning: Bad language)
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Fair and Balanced PAC
08/20 5:15P (DJ) DJ New Committee Seeks Bush Defeat In US Pres Race
Story 6167 (G/EXE, G/USG, N/DJN, N/DJRT, N/DJWR, N/DJFX, N/DJGP, N/DJGV...)
WASHINGTON (AP)--A new committee that hopes to make sure U.S. President George W. Bush serves just one term takes a page from the effort to oust a Democratic governor in California, calling its web site "bushrecall" and garnering support through petitions.
The new committee, called the Fair and Balanced PAC, plans to launch its www.bushrecall.org Web site Thursday. The PAC's founders include Joe Lockhart, a press secretary to former President Clinton, and Mike Lux, a Democratic political consultant.
The Constitution provides no way to recall a president through a ballot initiative, as California voters have a chance to do to Democrat Gray Davis in October.
Instead, the PAC will work to defeat Bush in next year's election, building lists of supporters through a petition drive and raising money to run ads against the Republican, he said.
"What we hope to do is to remind people that all of the things that are being said about Gray Davis as the reasons for the recall can be applied to George Bush," Lux said Wednesday. "For example, they say Davis turned big surpluses into deficits in a matter of a couple of years. That's the same thing that happened with George Bush."
The Bush campaign didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The PAC currently plans to raise only limited contributions - known as hard money - from individuals and other political committees. It can spend its money on ads expressly calling for a candidate's election or defeat, and must disclose its fund-raising and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.
The PAC is one of several Democratic-leaning groups formed since a campaign finance law took effect in November and imposed new restrictions on political party fund-raising and spending.
The new groups are helping Democrats compensate for the party's loss of soft money, corporate and union contributions the new law bans the national parties from collecting. The GOP raised soft money too, but so far hasn't been hit as hard financially by the law because it takes in more hard money -individual and PAC donations -than the Democratic Party.
Many of the new Democratic-leaning groups are focused on the presidential race and are taking on specific types of spending, such as raising money for get-out-the-vote activities or ads on Democratic issues.
Lux said his PAC plans to coordinate its activities with other groups including America Votes, a new coalition of environmental, labor, civil rights, abortion rights and other organizations working together on voter outreach efforts.
The Fair and Balanced PAC's board members include Gloria Totten, executive director of another Democratic-leaning group, the Progressive Majority, and former political director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires