Thursday, June 30, 2005

Google Earth - Keyhole for free, and for more machines

Google Earth - Home

I've installed Google Earth. This is what giant CPUs, fast GPUs, big "pipes", and biggish drives were made for. Google bought Keyhole a while back and they've released a new version that's free and works on many more Wintel machines. It runs reasonably well on my 2-3 yo XP box; I think the primary source of delays are network traffic. I have a lot of free space on my cache drive, so I'll give it a 1GB cache to help with future performance.

A Mac version has been promised, Google is good at delivering on promises.

Very fascinating. Even my wife is truly impressed. I haven't yet tried the feature of setting out a route, then watching Google Earth traverse the path.

Unfortunately they've closed the beta to newcomers -- so check back in about two weeks.

Biden on Iraq: A speech to the Brookings Institute

A New Compact for Iraq

So you want to know what's happening in Iraq? Forget the TV. Forget the New York Times and The Economist and the Washington Post. Forget the bloggers and Newsweek and Time magazine. Of course don't even consider our current regime. Instead, read the speech of Senator Joe Biden.
First, the insurgency remains as bad as it was a year ago. But more jihadists are coming across the Iraqi border, and they are an increasingly lethal part of the problem. Insurgent attacks are back up between 60 and 70 per week. Car bombs now average 30 a week, up from just one a week in January of 2004. In the seven weeks since the Iraqi government has been seated, more than 1,000 people have been killed. The good news is—and there is some good news—the good news is that some disgruntled Sunnis are finally beginning to make the switch from violence to politics. The bad news is, a whole not of them are not. And Iraq's porous borders are being penetrated by well-trained fanatical jihadists who find a seemingly endless supply in what should not surprise us, somewhat of the excessive 600,000 tons of munitions that we acknowledged existed, that we pointed out we could not guard because we had insufficient forces to guard them as long as 18 to 20 months ago.

Our military is doing everything that is possible, and I would suggest more. But there's not enough of them and they are not enough fully trained or capable Iraqi forces to take territory and maintain it from the insurgents. Our forces go out and clean out towns. But then they move to next hornet's nest. They lack the resources to leave a strong residual force behind to prevent the insurgents from returning to and intimidating the fence-sitters, who are too afraid to take a chance on behalf of the government.

I heard with every general and every flag officer with whom I spoke about the inability to mount a serious counter insurgency effort.

Second, Iraqi security forces are very gradually improving. But they are still no match for the insurgents without significant coalition support. General Petreus, who I think is an absolutely first-rate, absolutely first-rate general, who has been in charge of our training of late. And I would argue, had we listened to him much earlier, we wouldn't have squandered the 18 months we've squandered in actually bringing on a more competent, more fully trained and larger number of Iraqi forces. But we have a long way to go. When the American people heard the Secretary of Defense back in February of '04 brag about the fact we had 210,000 Iraqi forces in the security force, and then when 16 months later the administration suggested that there were 168,581—pretty precise number—trained Iraqis, I don't know about where you all live, but I tell where I live, folks asked, "Well, Joe, what's the deal? You got 200,000 Iraqis or 150,00 Iraqis trained, why do you need to keep my kid there? Why do we need 136,000 American forces?"

And the next thing they'd say: "Is even if they're trained and you need all of those forces, then Joe, you're telling me we need well over 300,000 forces to get this thing done?" Remember, remember a guy named Shinseki. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the answer is that there are very few of those Iraqis who are trained to the only standard that counts—that is the ability to take over for an American troop. That's the ultimate exit strategy we've announced a long time ago, be able to replace essentially one for one—an Iraqi for an American force.

Right now, there are 107 battalions in uniform being trained by us. Three of those are fully capably. Translated—it means they can do the job without any American hanging around with them. They can do the job. Somewhere around 27 are somewhat capable, meaning they can do the job is backed up by a significant American presence—backed up by. The rest are in varying degrees of ability to be able to in any way enhance the security circumstance with American forces...
It's a long and very educational speech. But why are we getting our news from senatorial speeches?

Cringely on Web 2.0 -- and Greasemonkey

PBS | I, Cringely . June 30, 2005 - Accessories Make the Nerd
Web 2.0 will be staffed by two different kinds of entrepreneurs -- those who provide staunch web services exposed through APIs (Amazon, eBay, Google, and a bunch more), and those who glue those services together and make some sort of useful abstraction service.

As an example, look at Greasemonkey, a FireFox plug-in that allows dynamic client-side manipulation of web pages. In other words, you write a little JavaScript app that gets applied to every page you want it to on YOUR browser. With Greasemonkey you can add a delete button to Gmail (there isn't one now), add a link on every Amazon book page that looks up that book in your local library and tells you if it's on the shelf or not. In other words, with Greasemonkey you can manipulate anyone's web page to do anything you want (even collect info from other web pages and aggregate it). Now that's powerful.

And it brings us back to Grokster and the Supreme Court. Grokster wanted to be seen as a common carrier like the telephone company. Just because telephones can be used to plan and sometimes carry out crimes doesn't make the phone company a criminal accessory. But Grokster, the Court decided, was built more with the intention of illegally sharing music than the phone company was built to aid kidnappers. So Grokster IS a criminal accessory in the eyes of the court.

What will happen, of course, is that Web 2.0 will turn the next Grokster into several separate organizations offering different services that use a common API syntax to create a Grokster equivalent. Each of these parts will look more like the phone company and less like Grokster until the Supreme Court won't recognize them as the accessories they happen to be.

Crime never goes away, it just evolves.
He's in good form today. There are many subtexts in this essay.

Dianetics and Scientology: Lessons for the treatment of paranoid schizophrenia? Books | Stranger than fiction

I've not read many reviews of Dianetics. This one is interesting ...
In a way, it's impressive. Hubbard not only managed to get one of these books published, it actually became a bestseller and the founding text for Scientology. It's not your garden-variety crank who can take a crackpot rant, turn it into a creepy gazillion-dollar church with the scariest lawyers around, and set himself up as the 'Commodore' of a small fleet of ships, waited on hand and foot by teenage girls in white hot pants. But, I digress.

... Not only does "Dianetics" offer precious little sideshow appeal, it's impossible to read much of it without realizing that it's the work of a very disturbed man. (Here's where things get less entertaining.) Hubbard's grandiose preoccupation with "an answer to the goal of all thought," the reiteration of fantasies of perfect mastery foiled by invasive, alien forces (engrams are described as "parasites"), the determination to envision the mind as a machine that can be brought under absolute control if only these enemies can be ejected -- all these are classic forms of paranoid thinking. The alarm bells really start to ring when Hubbard describes colorblindness as caused by a "circuit" in a person's mind that "behaves as though it were someone or something separate from him and that either talks to him or goes into action of its own accord, and may even, if severe enough, take control of him while it operates...
The subsequent description of Hubbard as a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic is persuasive; it includes a description of what seems to have been one of his core delusional complexes having to do with abortion and domestic abuse. If Hubbard were paranoid schizophrenic this would also account for his suspicion of physicians and hatred of psychiatrists.

I've long wondered about the natural history of paranoid schizophrenia and its relationship to religion. Hubbard's story adds an interesting angle. We are far from understanding what paranoid schizophrenia is, how it can be avoided or mitigated, and what the natural history of the condition is from age 20 to 40 and beyond.

I wonder if some of the methods Hubbard teaches in Dianetics (later incorporated into Scientology's "Thetan" retraining programs) reflect techniques Hubbard developed to manage his own psychiatric disorder. If so, could we translate them into evidence-based testable therapeutic techniques?

It would be a great irony if L Ron Hubbard, a passionate hatred of psychiatry, were to teach us valuable lessons in the management of one of the most terrible of human disorders -- schizophrenia.

Blumenthal summarizes the Iraqi situation: 600 years of Sunni rule | Empty words

Bush's strategy rests on more than sheer avoidance of facts, however; it depends on willful ignorance of the history of Mesopotamia.

From the creation of the Iraqi state in 1921 to the army's coup of 1958, Iraq had 58 governments. In 1968, the Baathist Party led by Saddam staged another coup. Some periods of this prolonged instability were less unstable than others, but the instability was chronic and profound. The overthrow of Saddam appears to have returned Iraq to its 'natural' unstable state. But in fact the instability runs even deeper.

The Baathists, of course, were Sunnis. Saddam was a Sunni. Before him, the monarchs, beginning with Faisal I, were Sunnis. Before Faisal, the Ottomans, who ruled beginning in the 15th century, were Sunnis. Shiites have never ruled the country until now. Why should the Sunnis, after 600 years of control, accede to the dominance of Shiites? In Vietnam, the root motivation against the United States was nationalism, as it was against the French. It even trumped communism in the national liberation struggle. In Iraq, religion and ethnicity are often ascribed as the root motivations of conflict. But to the extent that nationalism may exist as a factor, its ownership does not and cannot reside in the current Iraqi state.

The present Iraqi government is a ramshackle affair of Shiites and Kurds. The Kurds have no interest in a central authority, and play the game only to solidify their autonomy. The Shiites are maintained as dominant only by the presence of the U.S. occupation army and their sectarian militias. They will never disband those militias in favor of a national army unless they can run the army like an expanded version of the Shiite militias. Prime Minister al-Jaafari and the other Shiite leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, have all been Iranian agents or allies, recipients of Iranian largess in one form or another. Shiite Iraqis are natural friends and allies of Shiite Iran. Iraq under the Shiites does not have to be remade in Iran's image to serve Iranian interests. Whether or not sharia (Islamic) law is imposed, Iraqi Sunnis will never see Shiites as Iraqi patriots or nationalists but, instead, as being in league with Iraq's traditional and worst enemy.

These suspicions are hardly abstract. The militia of the largest Shiite faction, the Badr Brigade of SCIRI (Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq), was trained and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and is heavily infiltrated and directed by Iranian agents today. Yet Bush has invested American blood and treasure in the proposition that a Shiite-dominated government, which now inevitably means an Iranian-influenced regime, can serve a second master in the United States and present itself to the Sunnis as national saviors.
At the time of the invasion I thought Rumsfeld's strategy made sense only if the goal was to partition Iraq.

Given the current state, is the least worst goal mitigation of the civil war?

Salon takes on Scientology News | The press vs. Scientology

This is the third of what will be four articles on Scientology. Great job by Salon. This article describes how the Church has cowed mainstream journalists; it says something very important about the state of journalism today. They also seem to have become less aggressive than they were in the Hubbard days.

Salon and Slate do some of the most interesting journalism anywhere.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Google to annihilate PayPal - thank heavens

Verizon |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Google Inc. (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) this year plans to offer an electronic-payment service that could help the Internet-search company diversify its revenue and may heighten competition with eBay Inc.'s (EBAY.O: Quote, Profile, Research) PayPal unit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Exact details of the search company's planned service are not known, the report said, but quoted people familiar with the matter as saying it could have similarities with PayPal, which allows consumers to pay for purchases on Web sites by funding electronic-payment accounts from their credit cards or checking accounts.
It's been known for at least a decade that the fundamental security model of credit cards was a very poor match for online transactions. Fraud cases have waxed and waned over the years, but based on recent news reports I suspect the toll on small vendors is getting pretty heavy.

So what are the alternatives to standard credit cards? PayPal is the big one today, but I've never liked them. I've been monumentally unimpressed with their approach to security, or the feeble and unimaginative ways they've struggled with phishing scams and PayPalm spam.

Now, apparently, there will be Google.


(BTW, does anyone remember Microsoft Wallet -- a major component of the very first release of Internet Explorer? Don't think Microsoft has forgotten. Palladium has a role here too.)

Brin on hierarchical societies and the Bush agenda

Contrary Brin: A Little More Hormatsian Wisdom

A good summary. In a world where brilliance and excellence is commonplace, what becomes valuable? Remember, diamonds, if they were common, would be cheap -- despite their interesting properties.

That which is valuable is that which cannot be readily substituted. Connections. Family ties. Owned wealth. Power.

See also this and this and this and (most recently) this. From neo-feudalism to the new guilded age.

Teddy Roosevelt, where are you?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Does Scientology really want all this publicity?

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Psychiatrists hit back at Cruise

I like this. The more Cruise talks, the more publicity scientology gets. The American Psychiatric Association's press release, however, was pretty pusilanimous. They called Cruise "irresponsible" for claiming psychiatry was evil and patients should all stop their meds. This is not Cruise being irresponsible, it is him expressing a key tenet of a very whacky, and often quite nasty, religion.

Keep talking Cruise.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Thinking about Fab

So what's the "plastic" (see 'The Graduate') of the 2010s? Is it nanotech? Proteonomics? AI?

Or is it Fab? I've been thinking again of a post from a few weeks back: Gordon's Notes: Self-replicating device -- another step on the road. The more I think about it, the more it seems that this will be the next enormous disruption. Fab.

I don't know the detailed history. I remember reading about applying ink jet printer technology to create 3 dimensional objects, and to create small circuits -- maybe 5-10 years ago. Around the same time came the 21st century equivalent of the lathe; rapid prototyping machines that could create resin/plastic shapes on demand.

The field has moved on. Fab is now one of these areas, like the personal computer, when one can imagine the capability/cost ratio growing exponentially.

In the world to come one can imagine a home fab unit, loaded with basic modules (resin, copper, gold, platinum) and fed with directions downloaded off the net. Want a variant on a phone? Download the hacked version and use your own software to tweak it. Push "start" and, tomorrow morning, your new phone awaits. The phone has no bolts, nuts or modular components, it's a seamless whole. Slice through it and you will find plastic and circuit intermingled. Somewhere inside is the power supply. When it stops taking a charge, throw the thing out.

Want a bit more cleverness in the phone? Add in the neural network module created from cultured human neuronal tissue (ok, so I'm getting ahead of myself ....)

Need more raw materials? Toss an old PC into the "digester" ... ok, so that takes Nano, so it's still science fiction. Until the nanopalypse the raw materials still must be bought and "mined".

Fab is weird and disruptive. It also seems inevitable -- unlike, say, nuclear fusion or Nano.

Does anyone really think they can predict social security finances in 2040? What a joke.

The Philippine Insurrection

When we take car trips, and when the kids are watching DVDs, my wife and I listen to tapes from 'The Teaching Company'. On this trip we're listening to James Senton lecturing in 1996 on American history from the 1870s (Florida throws the presidential election to a crook, de facto slavery is reinstated, the genocide of the Plains Indians is implemented) to the 1920s.

Post-civil war America, by the way, is brutal. It's as though whatever meager nobility we had died with Lincoln.

During our imperial heyday, America conquers Cuba, Mexico and the Pillipines. Cuba was invaded, we are told, because God told President McKinley He wanted Cuba. McKinley seems to stumble into the Phillipines. War there kills 5,000 Americans (generally forgotten on Memorial day) and 500,000 Phillipinos (presumably not forgotten over there). You do remember being taught about this war in your history classes, don't you?

It was in the Phillipines that the US adopted the Spanish "Reconcentration" anti-guerilla methods, which were later rediscovered in Vietnam.

Any similarities to our era, and our adventures in Iraq, are purely coincidental (573,000 hits).

McKinley, by the way, was the creation of a 19th century version of Karl Rove.

Bush will rule for 3.5 more years. At least. We need Teddy Roosevelt the IInd.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wicked deflation of the Friedman balloon

The Light Of Reason � Blog Archive � MY TERRIBLE (WHITE) BURDEN

via DeLong. This is truly wicked -- a "translation" of Friedman's most recent column that purports to reveal Friedman's true thoughts. It works quite well.

I won't miss Friedman when the NYT puts the editorials behind a paywall. He's nowhere near as interesting as he was four years ago.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bribe inflation: 700K for a house member?!

Brad DeLong's Website: Republican House Member Randy Cunningham Takes Bribe, Pockets $700,000

The alleged bribe was passed through using an inflated home price. The price seems high though. 700K will buy presidential access or a part of a senator. Why would Randy Cunningham be worth so much?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Shock - Corrupt Bush official resigns

Editor of Climate Reports Resigns - New York Times

Bush brings in an industry flunky opposed to climate change science. This gentleman edits documents to support his boss's agenda. He's following standard Bush procedures that happen to also be legal. He's discovered.

So far, so good. Then he resigns?! Those who've committed far worse offences usually make a move to a lateral position. This guy shouldn't have gone anywere. Is this a sign that Bush's power is fading fast? Cooney may have figured there wasn't much of a future left in the Bush administration.
Philip A. Cooney, the chief of staff to President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, resigned yesterday, White House officials said.

Mr. Cooney's resignation came two days after documents revealed that he had repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that cast doubt on the link between building greenhouse-gas emissions and rising temperatures.

Mr. Cooney has no scientific training. Dana Perino, a deputy White House press secretary, said Mr. Cooney had long been considering his options following four years of service in the administration. Ms. Perino said the decision was unrelated to revelations about the documents...
Ms. Perino snorted her soda out her nose as she tried but failed to keep a straight face ...

Has Bush done anything lately? If he's decided to retire early that's great with me ...

Update: My wife corrected me on this; it really is hard to believe that someone as ruthless and vengeful as George the IInd would retire like this. So either Mr. Cooney had other reasons to quit and took advantage of this one, or someone felt he was an inadequate lackey and this was a handy way to get rid of him.

Toxoplasma infection alters personality?!

Dangerrrr: cats could alter your personality - Health - Times Online

The claim is that toxoplasma infection alters human personality. I don't believe it, but it's fascinating. We do know that parasites change personality and behavior in many species. (via Metafilter)

via Metafilter - the worst tv series ever?

Movie Poop Shoot - COMICS 101

A wonderful description of a kids? 1979 NBC tv action/series that lasted two episodes. It was based on DC comic book characters, and it's so bad it may move into the twilight zone of interestingly awful. One has to assume drugs were involved somewhere.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

NameVoyager: explore US infant names over the century

The Baby Name Wizard: NameVoyager

I'd come across this a while back, but it deserves mention again. This time via Marginal Revolution.

Track the fall and rise of Emily.

Friday, June 10, 2005

We are primates: faces and judgment

FuturePundit: Babyfaced Politicians Lose Elections

Another bit of evidence that we are machines programmed by natural selection; weak chinned folk may be smarter and braver, but they are judged inferior and lose elctions (Science).

The most successful politicians viscerally understand we are primates and behave accordingly -- even when they themselves don't believe in either natural selection or in our programmatic nature.

It's easy to understand why the Kurds and Shiites won't disband their milias ...

Building Iraq's Army: Mission Improbable
BAIJI, Iraq -- An hour before dawn, the sky still clouded by a dust storm, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's Charlie Company began their mission with a ballad to ousted president Saddam Hussein. "We have lived in humiliation since you left," one sang in Arabic, out of earshot of his U.S. counterparts. "We had hoped to spend our life with you."...

...The reconstruction of Iraq's security forces is the prerequisite for an American withdrawal from Iraq. But as the Bush administration extols the continuing progress of the new Iraqi army, the project in Baiji, a desolate oil town at a strategic crossroads in northern Iraq, demonstrates the immense challenges of building an army from scratch in the middle of a bloody insurgency.

Charlie Company disintegrated once after its commander was killed by a car bomb in December. And members of the unit were threatening to quit en masse this week over complaints that ranged from dismal living conditions to insurgent threats. Across a vast cultural divide, language is just one impediment. Young Iraqi soldiers, ill-equipped and drawn from a disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, say they are not even sure what they are fighting for. They complain bitterly that their American mentors don't respect them.

In fact, the Americans don't: Frustrated U.S. soldiers question the Iraqis' courage, discipline and dedication and wonder whether they will ever be able to fight on their own, much less reach the U.S. military's goal of operating independently by the fall.

... Last week, U.S soldiers from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, and Iraqis from 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, clambered into their vehicles to patrol the streets of Baiji. The Americans drove fully enclosed armored Humvees, the Iraqis open-backed Humvees with benches, the sides of which were protected by plating the equivalent of a flak jacket. The Americans were part of 1st Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

As an American reporter climbed in with the Iraqis, the U.S. soldiers watched in bemused horror.

"You might be riding home alone," one soldier said to the other reporter.

"Is he riding in the back of that?" asked another. "I'll be over here praying."

One hopes this is a worst case scenario. I wish we had a different president.

Is the least terrible option to configure the situation for the quickest possible civil war with the lowest number of casualties and the least objectionable tyrant victor for each partitioned nation, then abandon ship? Impeaching Bush would be nice, but unlikely.

Oh, and offer refugee status to any Iraqi that had anything to do with the US.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Good news from Sudan

The Onion | Well, I Guess That Genocide In Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out On Its Own
...Not that I wanted to be an alarmist, but when I first heard about the Darfur conflict, I thought to myself, "Uh oh! Sounds like another massive ethnic cleansing, not unlike Bosnia and Rwanda!" Those genocides sure were unfathomable! And not only because of the inhumanity of the acts, either—the blind indifference with which the world allowed the killings to continue unchecked was upsetting, too.

Well, someone must've invaded or overthrown a corrupt government or something like that. I know it wasn't the U.S., though. I may not be all that up on current events, but I do follow the news enough to know when my own country attacks another country. Maybe it was one of those genocides that solves itself without substantive international intervention. Well, that's one less horrific reality of modern geopolitics hanging over our heads!

Good thing, 'cause for a while there, it seemed like the Sudan situation was pretty serious, especially when both President Bush and Sen. Kerry talked about it in the presidential debates. Heck, that the Darfur conflict qualified as genocide was practically the only thing they agreed on! So, if both presidential candidates acknowledged on TV that genocide was taking place, it's pretty safe to assume that someone stepped in before more innocent victims were systematically butchered. Right?

What a great turn of events! Frankly, I'm relieved that all the horror, death, and human agony is over. I mean, after all those reports of ongoing murder, rape, and looting, I confess I was a little surprised when I didn't hear much more about it, beyond some international sanctions and aid packages. Ah, but what's the point in belaboring the grisly details? Why go on and on about which paramilitary militias were killing and raping which women and children? The important thing is that the conflict's apparently over.

Evidently, the hatred has been healed, peace has been restored, and the perpetrators of this unimaginable crime have been brought to justice. It sure is good to know it all must've turned out all right. It's like they say: No news is good news! Right?
Even I can't bring myself to read Kristoff's editorials any more. What exactly does he think we can do? Impeach Bush? I wish.

Another step in the march: a synthetic virus combining features of HIV and Ebola

BBC NEWS | Health | HIV and Ebola lung disease 'cure'

Creating a synthetic virus that combines the most "cunning" adaptations of two fabulously notorious pathogens to treat a horrible genetic disorder -- yes, that's a step in the "march".

It feels like the biological equivalent of juggling antimatter. What will the world be like when a high school student in southern China or northern Maine can play these games? Tough enough to be an adolescent in a world of lightweight high velocity hand guns ...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Gordon's Notes: Why the name change?

Gordon's Notes

This blog has, I assume, a pretty small regular readership. Some persons, however, may wonder what happened to the old name of the blog. Has the author been replaced? Has he changed his name?

No and no, but I am shifting to a less public web profile. I'd rather it not be trivially easy for casual business colleagues to enter my name in Google and be instantly exposed to my hobby of unread opinionating. With the changes I'm making here I expect that over the next few months search engines will gradually cease to identify my "true" name with these writings. For now "John Gordon" will do as a nom-de-plume (Google has 141,000 hits on that string; it's not an identifying string!).

Since my name can be inferred from the URL of this blog, I'm hardly being anonymous -- but search engines don't match search strings against URLs. I may change the URL eventually, but there's no great hurry.

MacTel: It's a Palladium kind of world

Put your tinfoil hat on!

I've been reviewing some excellent OS X commentary (Best analyses on Apple's MacTel switch), and I think this is ultimately all about Palladium. Apple wouldn't have switched if the G5 had worked as intended, but I think Palladium was a big factor in why IBM couldn't justify investing further in the non-Intel personal computer marketplace. More in the above link, where I add my comments as an update to the initial post.

Bloglines top links: what bloggers are linking too

Bloglines | Most Popular Links

I may add this to my news page links.

Update: Maybe not. It's kind of boring, actually. Hmm. That's not a commentary on blogs like this, is it?

Know the currents - teach your children to ride the rip

Stalking a Killer That Lurks a Few Feet Offshore - New York Times

Something to teach your children:
Usually rip currents are narrow. But sometimes, according to the National Weather Service, they can be hundreds of yards wide. And although they usually run out of steam just beyond the breakers, they may carry swimmers hundreds of yards offshore.

Rip currents form when wind, wave and beach conditions combine to push up water on the beach so that when it flows back out to sea a large volume is squeezed into a relatively narrow passage at a low place in a sandbar, perhaps, or under a pier. A result is a swath of fast-moving water that cuts across the surf zone, where waves are breaking, carrying sand, seaweed and, sometimes, swimmers with it.

Savvy surfers rely on rip currents for free rides beyond the surf zone. But unwary bathers may wade into the water only to find themselves suddenly swept away. If they keep their heads and swim across the current, parallel to shore, they can escape its grip and make their way back to the beach.
They can carry a swimmer pretty far from shore (beyond the breakers), and they can take some time to swim clear of, but they don't pull swimmers down. A good swimmer can swim across the current and/or ride the current until it dissipates -- then swim in a bit away from the path of the current.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Spyware: Hewlett-Packard and the HP 1012

Spyware is everywhere. Sure it's a part of various scams, but it shows up in commercial software as well.

I bought an HP LaserJet 1012 for my 75 yo mother. She's been frustrated with cheap inkjet printers that never work for her (she prints so infrequently the cartridges clog or expire); I wanted something I could setup and forget about. The LJ1012 costs $175 to $200 or so, is utterly quiet and pretty compact, has a flat paper tray, is quite simple, and ought to do the trick for the next 5-10 years. So far, I'm pleased.

But it does include spyware. The driver installation installs a "reminder" utility on the sly. It pops up every two weeks and recommends buying printer supplies. True, it comes with an uninstaller and one can turn off the reminders without uninstalling, but it is fundamentally marketing software installed without my awareness that provides me no benefit. By some definitions, that's spyware.

It's hard to resist such the temptations that the act of installation offers a vendor.

After you install your HP 1012, uninstall the nagware.

Best analysis on Apple's MacTel switch (OS X on x86, aka OS X86)

Apple shifts to Intel: what is all the fuss about? | The Register

The Register is improving. I have to add them back to my bloglines subscription. This is the best analysis I've read thus far on the OS X IBM -> Intel switch (My preferred name: OS X86). The conclusion is pretty upbeat. I think Apple will have a bad year for PowerBook and Tower sales, but some of that business will divert to iMac (if only they had a reassuring fix for the heating problem, but that's why they're going to Intel) and Mac Mini sales. I do expect their stock to take a serious hit, but they have money in the bank. It's not a happy move, but they didn't have much choice.

This commentary is pretty good too. The claim is that Apple will outsource almost all of its manufacturing to Intel, presumably retaining their design expertise and (of course) the OS. One wonders then if Apple will allow Intel to sell Apple's sophisticated designs as Windows machines -- for a price of course. Such machines would emulate Apple's 'stealth' strategy, if purchased via Intel there might be an option to 'switch' the buyers with a second sell of the OS. I think it very unlikely, however, that Apple would allow any old PC vendor to run OS X. They'll have lots of ways to prevent that from happening.

Update: My own thoughts: ... and one Palladium to rule them.

I've posted previously about Intel's Palladium and DRM. Palladium binds a computer's identity to all of its transactions [1], and allows enforcement of very powerful Digital Rights Management. There exists a possible American and Chinese future in which it's quite legal to own a machine gun (a pathetic toy really, good only for killing a few people) but utterly illegal to own a non-Palladium computer. Palladium is where Homeland Security (security), Corporate America (security), healtchare industries (security) and Hollywood (entertainment) agree completely; it will be mandated one day for all corporate and governmental computer purchases. It will be required, eventually, for iTunes like distribution of high-definition movies and entertainment.

All of them. Intel owns Palladium. It could be forced to share it, but for now they control it.

Palladium, under some other name, is the future.

Ultimately, I think this decision is really about Palladium.

It will be interesting to see what Cringely writes.

[1] Binding a person to the transactions is more challenging. Palladium technology could be used to mandate biometric identification, but that's a weaker link.

No classic on Intel Macs

Daring Fireball: Classic Not Supported on Intel-Based Macs:

Quite a bit of children's educational software is still only available for classic. The emulation layer for Mac Intel appears to emulate a G3, so no AltiVec emulation either.

This is a very dangerous time for Apple. I would not want to be holding shares now; their sales will drop quite severely until we learn what the new machines will bring.

Computer Quiz: why would moving a PCI card cause attached hard drives to fail?

The saga of the failing Vantec was passing into memory. It was time to hook it up to my system again. Alas, the IDE cable didn't quite reach (old story). I had to move the drive controller (Paradise IDE card) to a slot closer to the top of my case. A simple procedure.

All was well. I started my backup. My system locked up completely. Not even a blue screen. What was going on?

At first it seemed the problem was Retrospect; it causes me much pain. I tried my favorite disk diagnostic -- running a defrag utility. Started ok. Next morning -- locked up. Was the drive overheating in the new location? Had I bent a pin? Was the IDE cable bad? Did the card not like the new slot? Was it another Norton Antivirus fiasco? Since drive letters had changed, had that cased a problem (I had the swap file on one of the secondary drives) with XP?

I remembered my XP admin events tool. There I saw these fatal errors:

- The device, \Device\Scsi\ultra1, did not respond within the timeout period. (XP treats the Paradise IDE controller as a SCSI controller.)
- An error was detected on device \Device\Harddisk2\D during a paging operation. (that's because of my swap file)

Hardware? Overheating? Software? Two long nights and a new air condition installation before I figured it out.

When you move a PCI Card in Windows, XP loads new device drivers for it (just as XP still loads drivers when you move your printer's USB cable from one port to another). In the old days XP loaded a copy of the current drivers. Post SP2 XP loads, it seems, the latest signed drivers. The signed drivers for this IDE card don't support large (>135 GB drives); I'd previously updated to the vendor's unsigned drivers. I forced XP to install the new drivers (you have choose the manual install by location, XP SP2 refuses to install unsigned drivers by any other means).

Problem solved.

And some people think TV shows are responsible for stressed brains and elevated IQ. I don't know how I figured this one out.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief: It's bad in Iraq

Good Intentions Gone Bad - Newsweek World News -

This reminds me of the letter home from the WSJ correspondent that contradicted what her own newspaper was publishing.

June 13 issue - Two years ago I went to Iraq as an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein. I knew his regime well from previous visits; WMDs or no, ridding the world of Saddam would surely be for the best, and America's good intentions would carry the day. What went wrong? A lot, but the biggest turning point was the Abu Ghraib scandal. Since April 2004 the liberation of Iraq has become a desperate exercise in damage control. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib alienated a broad swath of the Iraqi public. On top of that, it didn't work. There is no evidence that all the mistreatment and humiliation saved a single American life or led to the capture of any major terrorist, despite claims by the military that the prison produced "actionable intelligence."

The most shocking thing about Abu Ghraib was not the behavior of U.S. troops, but the incompetence of their leaders. Against the conduct of the Lynndie Englands and the Charles Graners, I'll gladly set the honesty and courage of Specialist Joseph Darby, the young MP who reported the abuse. A few soldiers will always do bad things. That's why you need competent officers, who know what the men and women under their command are capable of—and make sure it doesn't happen.

Living and working in Iraq, it's hard not to succumb to despair. At last count America has pumped at least $7 billion into reconstruction projects, with little to show for it but the hostility of ordinary Iraqis, who still have an 18 percent unemployment rate. Most of the cash goes to U.S. contractors who spend much of it on personal security. Basic services like electricity, water and sewers still aren't up to prewar levels. Electricity is especially vital in a country where summer temperatures commonly reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet only 15 percent of Iraqis have reliable electrical service. In the capital, where it counts most, it's only 4 percent.

The most powerful army in human history can't even protect a two-mile stretch of road. The Airport Highway connects both the international airport and Baghdad's main American military base, Camp Victory, to the city center. At night U.S. troops secure the road for the use of dignitaries; they close it to traffic and shoot at any unauthorized vehicles. More troops and more helicopters could help make the whole country safer. Instead the Pentagon has been drawing down the number of helicopters. And America never deployed nearly enough soldiers. They couldn't stop the orgy of looting that followed Saddam's fall. Now their primary mission is self-defense at any cost—which only deepens Iraqis' resentment.

The four-square-mile Green Zone, the one place in Baghdad where foreigners are reasonably safe, could be a showcase of American values and abilities. Instead the American enclave is a trash-strewn wasteland of Mad Max-style fortifications. The traffic lights don't work because no one has bothered to fix them. The garbage rarely gets collected. Some of the worst ambassadors in U.S. history are the GIs at the Green Zone's checkpoints. They've repeatedly punched Iraqi ministers, accidentally shot at visiting dignitaries and behave (even on good days) with all the courtesy of nightclub bouncers—to Americans and Iraqis alike. Not that U.S. soldiers in Iraq have much to smile about. They're overworked, much ignored on the home front and widely despised in Iraq, with little to look forward to but the distant end of their tours—and in most cases, another tour soon to follow. Many are reservists who, when they get home, often face the wreckage of careers and family.

I can't say how it will end. Iraq now has an elected government, popular at least among Shiites and Kurds, who give it strong approval ratings. There's even some hope that the Sunni minority will join the constitutional process. Iraqi security forces continue to get better trained and equipped. But Iraqis have such a long way to go, and there are so many ways for things to get even worse. I'm not one of those who think America should pull out immediately. There's no real choice but to stay, probably for many years to come. The question isn't "When will America pull out?"; it's "How bad a mess can we afford to leave behind?" All I can say is this: last one out, please turn on the lights.

Will a volunteer army fight the Forever War?

US Officers Plot Exit Strategy from the Open-Ended 'War on Terror' (LA Times 5/22)

The Forever War was a classic science fiction story:
Yet Tuohey, who was promoted to captain upon returning to Ft. Hood, said he was not sure whether he would stay in the Army when his commitment ended next year. He said he was tempted to work on Wall Street.

It's not the money he's after. It's the fact that an Army that was gutted after the Cold War was promising him a future of perpetual deployments fighting a war that could last for decades.

That is not a future he is sure he can commit to.

"What's the end point?" he asked. "When do you declare victory?"
The LA Times article goes beyond the well known problems with recruiting high school graduates to the potentially more severe problem of retaining young officers. These officers are reasonably comfortable with their mission and their command, but they can't face repeated counter-insurgency deployments. They article doesn't go into why, but I assume that most rational warriors have one or two of these types of engagements in them -- but not an unending variety. (I don't believe I could manage one of them, myself).

Internal exile: the fate of those who fall

In a Transparent Society those who carry the scarlet letter are doomed to internal exile:
Barred From the Long Haul - New York Times

... Requiring drivers to have background checks before receiving hazardous material certifications makes perfect sense. But the law, as interpreted by the Transportation Security Administration, singles out law-abiding ex-offenders whose criminal records have nothing to do with terrorism or national security. The new rules, which went into effect at the end of May, could potentially worsen a national trucking shortage and kill off valuable training programs that bring former convicts back into the work force by teaching them to drive trucks and helping them obtain the necessary licenses.
A local paper ran an article in the same theme today. We seem to be flying by the 1950s towards the 1630s.

I never thought I'd see the day when I really missed Newt Gingrich. By comparison to the puritan troglodytes who rule us now Newt was a paragon of reason and thoughtfulness.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fixing Consumer Reports: what would I do?

I wrote earlier about where I think Consumer Reports is failing to deliver value: Faughnan's Notes: Consumer Reports: the paradox of a consumer organization that hates its customers.

So what would I do if I ran the place? (I'm sure you're keen to know.) Well, if it were possible to provide CR with feedback, this is the plan I'd propose. (Maybe someone else will create this business?).

1. Launch a new initiative called 'Quality First'. Plan a marketing campaign around it.

2. Quality First has two components, one for cooperating companies, the other for all the rest.

2a. Cooperating Companies: The Quality Audit
- cooperating vendors agree to provide an auditing firm with the data they have on return rates, defect rates, service satisfaction, etc. They agree to survey customers who have service done on their satisfaction with the work. They agree to participate in staged service calls run by consumer reports.
- cooperating vendors get special placement in all CR reports. They are 'Quality First Gold Members'. All ratings of all products have a new column called 'Quality Gold'; participants get a check, others don't. Quality Gold members get a separate call out rating.
- in Phase II of the program participation in the Quality Audit, and the 'Quality Ranking (see 2b) become important factors in overall rankings.

2b. Non-cooperating companies: Quality Ranking Estimated
- non-participating vendors don't get the Quality Gold benefits.
- non-participating vendors still get quality estimates done by reviewing Amazon user reports, web complaint sites, CR member surveys, etc. When in doubt they get low quality rankings. If they don't like it, they can join the Gold program. Complaints must be weighted by sales volume of course.

3. Quality Rankings
- Quality rankings are calculated based on warrantee periods, service records and surveys. They become a strongly weighted part of product rankings.

There, I've done CR's business plan for them. If they take it, it could revitalize their business. Too bad there's no way to send it to them!

Consumer Reports: the paradox of a consumer organization that hates its customers

Consumer Reports Ratings and recommendations available at

This would be funny, if it weren't so irritating. I think there are broader lessons here than a single dysfunctional company. Many of us feel the pain of "brand reputation and quality" in a world where price competition is severe and consumers are overwhelmed with choices and making consistently "wrong" (IMHO) value decisions. Consider the story of Consumer Reports and my quest for a reliable air conditioner.

Consumer Reports is an old (once non-profit?) consumer oriented organization. It's not ad supported, I pay to get access to their web site. I went there looking for a quality of service and repair record information on air conditioners [1]. It might be there, but I couldn't find it. So I decided I was annoyed enough to send them some feedback.

So I find it quite amazing that, after 15 minutes of searching, I couldn't find any way to send them feedback on CR's services [1]. Maybe it's there, but it's professionally hidden (they've outsourced their web support to a separate company). I gave up. I expect that kind of thing from, but from Consumer Reports?

Did they get bought out by a some evil entity? Alas, the more likely explanation is that they're far more interested in their newly launched health services rating and education program than they are in providing the services I'm interested in. I suspect a deeply introspective and dysfunctional service company in a non-competitive niche. I wish they'd provide the services I need, but they so dominate this niche that I'm probably still better off paying for the crummy service they provide.

Of course give me an alternative and I'll be gone in a heartbeat ...

Quality of Consumer Reports and their outsourced customer support operation. Quality of Samsung air conditioners. Quality of Best Buy and their outsourced repair services. Getting data and providing feedback. It's a theme.


[1] The feedback was that I don't care about 'air conditioner' test attributes as much as I care about reliability records and quality of service; CR doesn't provide the key data I want. In this case we'd bought a highly rated Samsung air conditioner from Best Buy. It worked for about a year, then it apparently lost coolant. We had it serviced under warrantee by a Best Buy contractor, after a one week repair, and upon later reinstallation, it still doesn't work. We don't have time to waste on this stuff, so we wrote off both Best Buy and Samsung (sorry guys, you only get one chance to deeply annoy us). I went to CR looking for some repair and service measures and couldn't find them. No wonder vendors don't bother to invest in quality!

Update 6/5: To be fair to CR, I wrote out a business plan for their recovery. In a not-unrelated event, today at the gym my one year old delicately handled SONY walkman died on me. I'm replacing it for now with a much abused "Jensen" device that I bought at a garage sale, it was made in China perhaps 8 years ago. Grr. The aggravation of disposable devices is never-ending.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Self-replicating device -- another step on the road - The machine that can copy anything - Jun 2, 2005

A device that can supposedly create some of its own most critical components. If it can also create other interesting devices, in theory it could allow massive distributed manufacturing. It's not 'grey-goo' nano-stuff, it still needs conventional raw materials and human activity.

Remember that quaint 1970s book by Toffler called 'Future Shock'? He greatly underestimated the ability to humans to adopt to change. The Future Shocks he described described are now beneath our everyday notice.

I wonder what our adaptive limit will be?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Apple has crummy server performance?

AnandTech: No more mysteries: Apple's G5 versus x86, Mac OS X versus Linux

A very technical analysis finds the G5 to be a reasonable workstation choice, but OS X fares poorly as a server solution.
The server performance of the Apple platform is, however, catastrophic. When we asked Apple for a reaction, they told us that some database vendors, Sybase and Oracle, have found a way around the threading problems. We'll try Sybase later, but frankly, we are very sceptical. The whole 'multi-threaded Mach microkernel trapped inside a monolithic FreeBSD cocoon with several threading wrappers and coarse-grained threading access to the kernel', with a 'backwards compatibility' millstone around its neck sounds like a bad fusion recipe for performance.

Workstation apps will hardly mind, but the performance of server applications depends greatly on the threading, signalling and locking engine. I am no operating system expert, but with the data that we have today, I think that a PowerPC optimised Linux such as Yellow Dog is a better idea for the Xserve than Mac OS X server.
I think they used 10.3 for testing. I wonder how the server results would look with 10.4? Apple made major challenges to the threading model.

Neandertal shall rise again

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Extinct cave bear DNA sequenced

Sequencing cave bear DNA was the test case. The real focus is on Neandertal DNA. Can anyone doubt that within 40 years a Neandertal infant will be born?

Revenge of the Bell Curve: selection for IQ in European Jews

Researchers Say Intelligence and Diseases May Be Linked in Ashkenazic Genes - New York Times
...Ashkenazi Jews occupied a different social niche from their European hosts, and that is where any selective effect must have operated, the Utah researchers say. From A.D. 800, when the Ashkenazi presence in Europe is first recorded, to about 1700, Ashkenazi Jews held a restricted range of occupations, which required considerable intellectual acumen. In France, most were moneylenders by A.D. 1100. Expelled from France in 1394, and from parts of Germany in the 15th century, they moved eastward and were employed by Polish rulers first as moneylenders and then as agents who paid a large tax to a noble and then tried to collect the amount, at a profit, from the peasantry. After 1700, the occupational restrictions on Jews were eased.

As to how the disease mutations might affect intelligence, the Utah researchers cite evidence that the sphingolipid disorders promote the growth and interconnection of brain cells. Mutations in the DNA repair genes, involved in second cluster of Ashkenazic diseases, may also unleash growth of neurons.

In describing what they see as the result of the Ashkenazic mutations, the researchers cite the fact that Ashkenazi Jews make up 3 percent of the American population but won 27 percent of its Nobel prizes, and account for more than half of world chess champions. They say that the reason for this unusual record may be that differences in Ashkenazic and northern European I.Q. are not large at the average, where most people fall, but become more noticeable at the extremes; for people with an I.Q. over 140, the proportion is 4 per 1,000 among northern Europeans but 23 per 1,000 with Ashkenazim.
A 600% relative increase in near-genius. If the averages are in fact similar, however, this may imply a roughly 600% increase in the rate of retardation (autism?). (Note if 1/250 humans are almost-genius, imagine how clever the 6,500 1/1 million minds on earth are.)

This article appears in the Times next to one about the genetic determinants of gender preference in fruit flies. A useful coincidence. I'm amazed this article was written without mention of the infamous Bell Curve book. Similar comments about ethnicity and IQ, by the way, have been made about Scots and South Koreans.

If I were to bet I'd guess most of the diseases the authors refer to are in fact 'founder effect' diseases and unrelated to a selection for extreme IQ variability (both high and low); in other words, the main point of the paper is incorrect. I would further guess that the IQ variability is real and is genetically, not environmentally, determined.

I'd also guess that the IQ variability is primarily among males, and that the "genius" outcome operates through the same gene family variation produces autism in some people.

Of course the extremely incorrect aspect of this article is that if an ethnic group has a selection for higher IQ, the converse is also likely. Let's assume this were found to be so. Consider now my recent comments on the genetics of behavior. IF we have still have an advanced technological human culture in 2025, I suspect "meritocracy" may carry little more moral approval than plutocracy. Both represent the outcomes of chance.

Omelettes not in America

Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog.
... you may have accidentally happened upon a few bodies halfway across the world (Afwhatsistan? Bagrawho?), which may or may not have pricked whatever remains of a long-dormant and desensitized National Conscience. And you may be asking yourself what the point of all this has been, what has driven Americans halfway around the globe to sieze innocent men, beat their legs to pulp, and chain them to ceilings until they die.

Regrettable, yes, but let us remember that these two eggs, like the dozens before them, and the tens of thousands before them, were broken to make the greatest and worthiest of omelettes, the most succulent of breakfasttime generational commitments, the proudest and most visionary of truck stop slop.
And there's more.

One gene, one gender preference

For Fruit Flies, Gene Shift Tilts Sex Orientation - New York Times

Gender behavior in the fruit fly is specified with a single gene.
"We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. "It's very surprising.

"What it tells us is that instinctive behaviors can be specified by genetic programs, just like the morphologic development of an organ or a nose."...

...The finding supports scientific evidence accumulating over the past decade that sexual orientation may be innately programmed into the brains of men and women. Equally intriguing, the researchers say, is the possibility that a number of behaviors - hitting back when feeling threatened, fleeing when scared or laughing when amused - may also be programmed into human brains, a product of genetic heritage.
One might think a fly is quite different from a human, but genes that code for things as fundamental as gender preference tend to be highly conserved by evolution. If there's a similar gene in humans it may well have a significant effect on male gender behavior. (Gender preference in female humans is thought to more fluid than in male humans; we may not be the same as the fruit fly.)

The more we learn, the more programmed and machine-like humans seem. The research has been pretty consistent over the past 20 years. When popular books strive to preserve a role for the environment they provide examples that are frail and tend to fall quickly to further research. In contrast genetic control of behavior has held up well. Identical twin studies seemed to preserve more room for the environment, but since then we've learned that there's a large amount of variability in gene expression even among identical twins (esp. female twins).

What will we do with this knowledge? How will it alter our thinking on self-determination, on "merit", on responsibility, on punishment? If modern Republicanism rewards the luck of parental wealth, does not the meritocratic alternative reward the luck of parental genes? (Parental wealth and parental genes, of course, are generally correlated in any event.)

If we come to see all fortune, goodness and badness as merely the expressions of random chance, will we look differently at winners and losers alike? Will we one day return to the marxist doctrine of 'from each according to their means, to each according to their needs'?

Come back in twenty years and let's see.

Coalition casualties in Iraq: tally, details and news

I was thinking this morning of how little I know about what's going on in Iraq. It's a reasonably large, populous, and complex country. A bigger Yugoslavia. With Oil. Occupied too.

I wondered again why nobody seems to have a web site that that provides an english language digest of the editorial and news pages of 6 or so Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite daily newspapers.

The New York Times could do this. Forget about investing in journalists in Baghdad. They're expensive and prone to be kidnapped and murdered. Translate and summarize some Iraqi newspapers instead. Safer and more effective.


While looking half-heartedly for such a thing, I came across this: Iraq Coalition Casualties. They have a news summary from the usual suspects (BBC, Guardian, etc) but also a tally of coalition (not Iraqi) casualties. The totals link to details and thus to death notices. They also provide links to similar pages in the "about" page. Somewhere to go when your child next Memorial day asks about soldiers.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

iPod battery settlement: $50?

iPodlounge | Apple to offer $50 credit in iPod battery settlement

Maybe. It's not clear this is official yet.

Based on past experience I would not send a working iPod to Apple for a battery replacement. I did that once and it took two replacements and a letter to the MN attorney general to get another working iPod back.

I will, however, happily take the $50 credit. My wife will inherit my current iPod, and I will move to the 30G color version ...

At the moment the settlement site is hard to reach.

Office 12's promised Open XML file format: I'll chew my hat.

InformationWeek > Breaking News > Office 12 To Boost XML Support, Document Security > June 1, 2005
When Office 12 debuts next year, the default 'save-to' file format of the applications will be XML. Or at least a version which Microsoft is calling Microsoft Open XML Formats.
If Office 12 actually uses well documented file formats without intellectual property entanglements that other applications can readily and safely read and write, I'll (at least) chew my hat. File format control is so fundamental to Microsoft's business model this would only make sense if they are planning a radical transformation of their business model.

It does make sense if Microsoft plans to move to a 'rented software' model rather than the current no expiration 'licensed model'. Since I believe they very much want to move to a rented software model this move is not utterly inconceivable. So I'm only promising to chew rather than eat my hat.

BTW, Microsoft promised XML file formats for Office XP, but the implementation ended up being very proprietary and basically useless. This implementation resembles the OpenOffice file design: ascii XML with binary objects embedded in an enclosing zip file. Apple does something quite similar with their Office competitors.

Washing keyboards -- in the dishwasher

You CAN Put Your Keyboard in the Dishwasher

This is an old practice -- clean out a dirty keyboard by washing it. I read of this practice at least 8 years ago, and it's probably older.

Surprisingly it's said to work well for a variety of electronics, but not motors of any kind. Don't rapid-dry the keyboard. Fan drying is fine. Most people don't remove the keys, but older or somewhat loose keys may fall off and should be removed and stored prior to the dishwasher. Some say to avoid soap, but most agree a small amount of standard dishwasher soap works well.

The drying stage can take a few days.

Camera vendors of Brooklyn -- home of the "great deal"

Central Digital, d.b.a.,,,,, and

Brooklyn is the home of the low cost camera "deal". The companies selling these cameras operate on very low margins, and it turns out they have store fronts to match (and about 7 different names each).

Some of these vendors make money by cheating their customers. Others make their money on bundled accessories. I had a good personal experience with iBuyDigital, and, by comparison to their peers, they have a palatial store front (link above).

(iBuyDigital did pester me to buy some higher margin accessories, but that's only fair. I only used them once however. My other purchases have been at more traditional venues and Amazon.)