TSA Question [AN P]

I wanted to ask the TSA representative - I think his name was "Fife" -
what should I do differently now that we are at "orange" alert.


United is Satan [AN PG RR]

Everyone has been on a flight that is late. Whether it is late by a few minutes departing, or one is trapped on the ground for hours at a time, it has happened to just about every air traveler.

Now some one-time, first-time travelers, which I refer to as "mouth breathers" may not have ever experienced this, but trust me it happens. And if it is your first time - unlike the act of coitus - I do not want to hear you say over and over and over again "it's my first time". Also as a kind hint, your baby is crying due to the air pressure changes and not knowing to pop their eustachian tube - give the kid a bottle or a pacifier for the sake of my sanity. And I'll let you in on a big secret, holding a bible and praying for the duration of the flight for the Almighty (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, depending where you stand on this "God" thing) to protect you during the flight you is not foolish, actually believing that He/She will protect you is foolish.

Anyway, so we arrive late into Denver but still within 20 minutes of the connection. We would have been in a bit earlier but the "wranglers" to help park the plane were not there?! So we get to the gate 10 minutes before departure time, to find the door closed. The United drone says - get this - "We knew you were coming but we had t close the gate." Whatthef*ck?! Was there a special award today for flights leaving early? Of course getting our bags was impossible as they were in a "holding area". I contemplated faking a diabetic fit/coma, but was too tired and hungry.

The real sad thing is that I will be flying United on Wednesday. I never learn.


Netflix is Nice [F H PG]

We rent movies from Netflix. I know there is nothing too profound in that, but what is interesting is that I had signed up "back in the day" but had dropped my subscription. With the writer's strike, I decided to rent movies to fill in the gap. One of my choices of Netflix over Blockbuster was the selection. I mean where else could one find: 

Rififi - This is a classic black & white jewelry store heist. You liked Tom Cruise suspended from the ceiling in Mission Impossible? Well, this movie was the originator of that scene, plus a whole lot more.

King of Kong - No, not "King Kong," neither the original, the abortion from De Laurentis, nor the decent Peter Jackson remake. This is about one man's quest to have the highest score in the arcade game "Donkey Kong", whether it be a "live" score or a videotaped score (I didn't even know there was a difference!).  The best line is the young daughter of a gamer, when he explains his quest to get in the Guinness Book; she says, "Some people sort of ruin their lives to be in there."

Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter - I mean, Jesus teamed up with masked Mexican wrestler El Santos, the saint of the wrestling ring - it does not get any better than this. This movie is so bad it is great. There is one fantastic scene where - as Jesus battles a group of lesbian vampires (I can't explain, see the film) on the shore of a lake, he yells to two priests, "bless the lake!" Once the water is thusly sanctified, any vampire thrown in the water is destroyed.

Pom Poko - This movie is simultaneously a great bit of the Japanese anime genre, and at the same time probably had Jew-hater Walt Disney spinning in his grave. It is about a group of raccoons who are being displaced due to house construction outside Tokyo. As they have the ability to "transform" into animate and inanimate objects (even clothed humans), they are going to scare away the developers. What I thought was odd was the rather, shall we say - detailed - representation of the male raccoons. That is until we see (according to Japanese legends?) that raccoons can inflate their scrotums to gigantic proportions and use them as weapons!! Released by Disney on DVD in 2005, I can just imagine someone picking this up for their kids: "Oh look at this Disney film, they are going to fight off the evil construction crew... wait, what are those raccoons doing. Omigod, Bill, turn off the TV now!!!"


Elmo Mystery Solved [G PI T]

You read it here first. Apparently someone has a new "Elmo Knows Your Name" toy that - after changing batteries - she thinks it is saying to her son "kill James". Now, I do not want to burst her bubble of either that toys are now sentient or that Fisher Price will pay her a lot of money, but this is what is happening.

One of the names in the database from Fisher Price is "Keir" somehow that got chosen as the name to say. It is exactly what this Elmo is saying.

It could be worse - at least Elmo didn't say "wang" or "vivia2" (sounds like "vulva") or he would be accused of sexual harassment!

Oh - and the name "clint" does not sound like Clint.


Second Oldest Profession [AN PI R]

I mean a good portion of lawyers are great people. Some like this f*ck-head; are the reason this profession is despised by many. It also got me thinking, given the whore-like slavish pursuit of clients, what is the exact relationship between lawyers and prostitutes?

I mean, think about it this way; prostitution is considered by many people far more prosaic than me to be the worlds oldest profession. Let's suppose that a long, long time ago a woman in this line of work was "stiffed" by a client. She tried to collect her payment (which depending on the era may have been coins, talents of silver, polished beads, dried chunks of clay, or stream-polished stones) and was not able to.

She mentioned this to a friend, who suggested she seek help from someone who dispensed judgments, or the law-giver. This person convinced the ex-client who owed compensation to pay the woman. Once the payment was made, the law-giver took a percentage of the fee recovered as payment. And so the first plaintiff/lawyer transaction took place.

It is even interesting to note that when prostitutes needed help collecting payment, the law-givers who were going to offer this service were said to be "lawing-her" shortened to "law-her"; hence "lawyer".


Computer (in)Security [A AN I PG PI W]

Now you probably read a lot about identity theft, and may have trouble sleeping at night. The first thing is you have better odds winning the lottery or being hit by lightning, assuming you are not an idiot.

What I mean by that is do not reply to an eBay or bank request for your password to be verified; do not send information to that British lawyer who has discovered you are the last surviving relative to the Duke of Cornwall (you didn't know that?), and above all set your computer to not allow guest access.

You see, what I sometimes do to alleviate boredom when traveling is to check the network to see what other servers (i.e. laptops) are on the network. Now as I use a Mac, I do not worry about the security of the computer. Yes, before you start, I know Macs have some potential security flaws, which are usually fixed quickly. And a Mac never got infected from surfing a website, nor opening a .JPG or .PDF file, nor from playing a Sony/BMG music CD with a "rootkit" infection. A Windows PC is notoriously insecure, but I digress...

Anyway, when you see a computer on the network, just try and log-in. My favorite is when "guest" access is open or they have the ID of "guest" on, but the password (which is "guest" also) is pretty easy to guess. I have also seen "Admin" (ID & password) and "Test".  I even ran across a laptop which looked like it might be someone else from my employer! I connect and reviewed an address book, and sure enough it was! When I told IT, they just said something to the effect that "oh yes, all the Service techs in that Division have their laptops unsecured, so they can share files easier". 

Anyway, I have had fun over the years. Whether it is getting someone's Qatar wedding photos or downloading the entire Queen discography I am amazed. Later I'll tell you about BlueJacking.


New Stuff Posted [G I]

Be sure to check some new stuff posted both at my Flickr and YouTube sites. New photo sets including some amazing whale photos and some good videos including "Max VS RoboDog"!

Workplace Stress [G I PI S]

I was thinking about stress in the workplace. There's not much one can really do to alleviate the majority of the stress, but these things can help - a bit. These either may make someone else feel happier, or your accepting these tenets will help you cope better. Note a lot of these things we learned when we were kids, but some of us have forgotten.

Say "please" and "thank-you" when appropriate.

For exemplary service let the person's boss know they went above and beyond to help you.

Be aware that when a new company policy says it applies to EVERYONE – such as renting a compact car – realize it really doesn’t.

Sometimes a smile and/or a compliment can brighten a person’s day. (note that nowadays however if a man says to a woman “that’s a nice dress” you may find yourself a party to a harassment lawsuit)

Knock on someone's door when entering, even if it is not closed. It even does wonders if one knocks on a cubicle partition; it's just simple courtesy.

If you have a bonus of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars per year more than your subordinates, you do not need to flaunt it by doing things like wearing a solid gold hat to work. SEC filings are public – everyone knows what you “earn”.

Don’t cut in line in the cafeteria; I realize that in some cases it is within the culture of your native country to encourage “cuts” (especially due to mass starvation) but in civilized lands we que up!

Don’t use a speakerphone, especially if you have an open office door or are in a cubicle environment. The President of the US and the Joint Chiefs of staff can use a speakerphone, not you.

Except for when I was speaking with my late grandmother - who was pretty much stone-deaf in her 90s (although she would staunchly proclaim she didn’t need a hearing aid, usually followed by “eh - what did you say?” in her quaint Polish accent) I have found that yelling doesn’t help you communicate any better. (Note that paradoxically this occasionally works with children and non-English speaking individuals, but this is a rare occurrence).

There will always be someone far, far less qualified in an identical job being paid far, far more than you make; that's life.

Companies will always send business to developing countries like China. Not every time is it profitable (for example I recently saw a piñata made in China; there is no way with oil at $90 a barrel that one can ship raw materials to China from the US, make the piñata, and ship it back at a profit compared to being made in Mexico) – it just looks good to investors and everyone else is doing it.

Not everyone appreciates offensive, sexist, ethnicist (is that a word?), misogynist, or ‘locker-room’ humor at work; I certainly do; but not everyone does.

If you ask me an important, detailed question, please realize that: A) it may take more than 45 seconds to research the answer, and 2) you may have to devote more than 45 seconds listening to the answer.

If your company introduces a brand new quality initiative, and someone says it is pretty much the same as the old quality initiative; trust me, they are correct.


Why HP Sucks Ass [AN PG T]

GREAT tech support story, also an implied "watchout" for manufacturers whose products break when you try to install their own sanctioned software upgrades! Note the background to this story is I was given a broken HP iPaq PDA - my older son and I replaced the screen and the dead internal backup battery, and this was going to be given to someone I work with so they could have a PDA (pretty nice model too, it's no iPhone but it has a keyboard, WiFi, BlueTooth etc.)

Anyway, it was all set, new screen working fine, backup battery reading 100%; so I thought let's see what software updates there are from HP. There were a few, the most important was a ROM update. Without going into too much detail, a ROM update is sort of like a "brain upgrade" for an electronic device. For many, the most familiar ROM update is when you plug in an iPod and you are told a new version of the iPod software is available do you want to install it.

Actual Tech support chat session

Mark says: HP iPaq model 4350 Serial ------; I went to install the HP ROM update 1.10.03 and the iPaq is frozen, it is a blank screen with “i.15” (in red) and “1.03” (in blue) at the top of the screen.

Automatically generated message: A Support specialist, Alan H has been assigned to your case.

Alan H says: Hello Mark, thank you for contacting HP and for your interest in our Active Chat online support. Here is SR ID # for your service request ###### . My name is Alan and I see you have a question regarding your handheld. I'm going to take a few moments to review your information and will message you back very soon. [At least he did not ask "how is the weather?"]

Alan H says: According to our records, your HP iPAQ is no longer covered under its limited warranty. As a result, we are unable to provide in-warranty support at this time. If you wish to proceed, out of warranty Instant Support for your HP iPAQ is available for a $25.00 USD fee. (Please be advised HP Support Services is offered as .best effort. only. Though we do have a high rate of resolution success for most cases, we do not guarantee a resolution nor provide parts through the Instant Support service. The fee will not be refunded if the issue is unresolved.) If you choose not to continue with out of warranty Instant Support, the following service options are available to you: Free online resources, accessed through www.hp.com, include:
Support forums: http://forums.itrc.hp.com/cm/1,,2,00.html
Manuals: http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/en/support.html
Parts information: http://h20141.www2.hp.com/hpparts/Default.asp
For technical support, please call 1-800-HP-INVENT. There is a $49.00 fee to obtain out of warranty technical support by phone. Should hardware repair of your unit be required; any fees paid for out of warranty support will be deducted from the total unit repair cost. Thank you for your interest in HP.s Instant Support Group. Please note that the billable support offered is best effort only and that we do not guarantee a resolution or provide parts. The issue will be supported for 7 days from the time of the troubleshooting billing fee at which point if the case has not been resolved you will be billed again for additional troubleshooting. The fee will not be refunded if the issue is unresolved. Would you like to proceed with billable chat support?”

Mark says: The only question is that all was fine until I attempted YOUR (HP's) ROM update and it froze. Note GOOGLE for “iPaq 4350 ROM frozen” and you will see this is not an unique occurrence. So you are saying if a customer attempts a ROM update and the device is hosed it is the CUSTOMER'S problem?

Alan H says: There is a license agreement that you accept that says that Hp is not responsible for any data lost or any problems during update.

Mark says: I'm laughing because I just said to someone "I bet that's what they'll say." There is also an implied warranty that the ROM update should work. HP lists several dozen fixes, enhancements or improvements the ROM update takes care of so I would think it is necessary, plus that as the ROM update itself came from HP it should work.

Alan H says: There are no warranties on the ROM updates.

Mark says: In the US there is always an implied warranty on something like a manufacturer's ROM update; please speak to a supervisor or check the facts before saying something so silly. BTW - I have updated ROMs on several Apple laptops, 3 Apple iPods, 2 Palm PDAs and one Samsung Blackjack PDA and - guess what - they never locked up nor failed to work. Thank you anyway, but it is good to know HP does not have any warranty/guarantee on ROM updates.

Alan H says: I have checked agreeing to the license of the update says that Hp [sic] is not responsible for any data lost or any problems during update.

Mark says: Buh-bye [I must admit that sounded childish and I know this is not Total Bastard Airlines]

Alan H says: Mark, I am going to close this support request at this time. You may start a new session and refer to SR ID number ----- . If you should need assistance in the future, please try our Instant Support program again. Thank you again for contacting HP and have a great day. – Alan


Note this is the 21st century and ROM updates should be error-free and about as easy as falling off a log.

Note to HP: tell your tech support people that both the 'H' and the 'P' are capitalized. Jesus.

I also sent an e-mail to the iPaq support forum at HP. The auto-reply message - and I am not making this up - was: "Please note: At this moment we have an issue with this Mail System, your mail cannot reach the Support teams ." They must've been updating their ROMs.

Ode to Science [G RR]

With all the renewed interest in what one might generously term "pseudo-science"; such as homeopathy, creationism, psychics, astrology, intelligent design and the like in the news lately, this speech was a breath of fresh air. It may be apocryphyl, but it was allegedly used by someone named Phil Plait as a kickoff to a school science fair.

I know a place where the Sun never sets. It's a mountain, and it's on the Moon. It sticks up so high that even as the Moon spins, it's in perpetual daylight. Radiation from the Sun pours down on there day and night, 24 hours a day; well, the Moon's day is actually about 4 weeks long, so the sunlight pours down there 708 hours a day.

I know a place where the Sun never shines. It's at the bottom of the ocean. A crack in the crust there exudes nasty chemicals and heats the water to the boiling point. This would kill a human instantly, but there are creatures there, bacteria, that thrive. They eat the sulfur from the vent, and excrete sulfuric acid.

I know a place where the temperature is 15 million degrees, and the pressure would crush you to a microscopic dot. That place is the core of the Sun.

I know a place where the magnetic fields would rip you apart, atom by atom: the surface of a neutron star, a magnetar.

I know a place where life began billions of years ago. That place is here, the Earth.

I know these places because I'm a scientist. Science is a way of finding things out. It's a way of testing what's real. It's what Richard Feynman called "A way of not fooling ourselves."

No astrologer ever predicted the existence of Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto. No modern astrologer had a clue about Sedna, a ball of ice half the size of Pluto that orbits even farther out. No astrologer predicted the more than 150 planets now known to orbit other suns. But scientists did.

No psychic, despite their claims, has ever helped the police solve a crime. But forensic scientists have, all the time.

It wasn't someone who practices homeopathy who found a cure for smallpox, or polio. Scientists did, medical scientists.

No creationist ever cracked the genetic code. Chemists did. Molecular biologists did.

They used physics. They used math. They used chemistry, biology, astronomy, engineering. They used science.

These are all the things you discovered doing your projects. All the things that brought you here today.

Computers? Cell phones? Rockets to Saturn, probes to the ocean floor, PSP, Gamecubes, Gameboys, X-boxes? All created by scientists.

Those places I talked about before; you can get to know them too. You can experience the wonder of seeing them for the first time, the thrill of discovery, the incredible, visceral feeling of doing something no one has ever done before, seen things no one has seen before, know something no one else has ever known.

No crystal balls, no tarot cards, no horoscopes. Just you, your brain, and your ability to think. Welcome to science. You're gonna like it here.

Windows Patchouli [PG I W]

REAL e-mail from our "Help Credenza"

Email/Server Access - We have been dealing with problems related to a Microsoft Windows patch. This patch was applied on Sunday during the standard maintenance window for the Data Center. One of the patches was MS05-019 which patched a serious hole in the Operating System. All patches had been tested in a test lab prior to being applied to the production servers. On Monday we started to notice that the patch was causing communications problems for users accessing network resources. During Tuesday and Wednesday we applied a hotfix that Microsoft had released on Sunday to try and repair the problem. It now appears that as of Thursday morning we are continuing to have the same issue. We have taken some measures to try and remedy the problem by applying some parameters changes recommended by Microsoft. We are monitoring the situation and are waiting for Microsoft to release an additional fix/patch.

What the hell were they saying? I don't know if I should keep working or turn off my laptop and cower in the corner sucking my thumb... Oh wait, that's right, I use a Mac!

Makin' Money Any Way I Can [B G S]

I noticed our current mileage allowance is 44.5 cents per mile. However if you put 1 mile into the expense account spreadsheet, it rounds up to 45 cents. I had a trip where I drove 200 miles, which the form says = $89.

But - if I submit 200 separate expense account pages with 1 mile on each, I would get $90. I would be ahead $1 (90-89).

Reorganization Quote - Sound Familiar? [H I]

"We trained hard - but it seemed that every time we began to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing - and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."

Petronius Arbiter 210 B.C.


Super Bowl Coke Symbolism [FE G GY PI]

For those who saw the Super Bowl Coke commercial, many have not recognized the symbolism.

Now, first we have Stewie Griffin, from the Family Guy cartoon. This cartoon family "lives" in Rhode Island, which is I guess the closest one can get to Massachusetts for a cartoon character; therefore Stewie represents the New England Patriots. Note that William Shatner on Boston Legal has been in a cartoon, but not recent enough for many of the viewers to remember. 

The Underdog character has two different aspects of symbolism. He represents the New York Giants, they being the "underdog" in this match. Also Underdog was an anthropomorphic canine version of Superman. People even used a similar catch-phrase: "look up in the sky - it's a bird, it's a plane... it's a frog."  Superman lives in the fictional city of Metropolis, which is more or less New York.  So we have the underdogs from New York.

Now why Charlie Brown? Obviously the Coca-Cola company cannot have an ad that picks one team over the other. But why Charles, and what's the football connection? As you may remember, Lucy Van Pelt is always pulling the football away from "Chuck" before he can kick it. 

Oh, and hey, you've got to hand it to Charles Monroe Schulz, for having Patricia Reichart as the first lesbian cartoon character

iAccessories [G T]

Now here's an idea I had; not all that original as the GPS module may see the light of day someday. 

Anyway, the idea would be to have very small modules that would clip onto the bottom of the iPhone, matching its width and thickness; from the drawing at right, also available at Flickr. Note that some of these would require custom software that is not yet available.

The infrared module would allow control of appliances like TVs, DVD players, etc. The laser pointer could be used while controlling a slideshow via Salling Clicker, when it is ported to the iPhone. The battery module would have a pass-through connection to allow one additional module to be daisy-chained; it could also re-charge via the standard iPod connector. The GPS example here has a fold-out antenna for better reception.  The small camera flash module (turned around to face the same direction as the camera) is similar in concept to others available for camera-phones. The FireWire/USB module allows the use of other cables to connect/synch/charge the iPhone. The same with the Ethernet RJ-45 connector; you could connect to a wired network where WiFi is not available or not allowed as the iPhone is not an approved device. And lastly, a memory card reader to allow transfer of photos from your camera's memory card to the iPhone, to allow easier synching as well as being able to e-mail photos while in the field.