Archive for May, 2007

Irrational worry

May 31, 2007 7 comments

She’s a skilled driver – a former ambulance driver with professional training in fact.  She’s going to Ohio on roads she knows well.  She’ll be fine.

Brakes, tires, both marginal -  put the mechanics to work.  Put some RainX on the windshield.  And on the side windows.  All done before she hit the road. She’ll be fine.

Just called to say she arrived safely. 

And she had to stomp on the brakes to avoid an accident in Indiana. Happened a couple cars in front of her.  “Stopped dead on the highway for half an hour” before they opened one lane.  Waved her on through.  She’s just fine.

Have a good time at your high-school reunion, Mrs.  Drive carefully. But you always do. Come home safe.

Categories: Personal

I can think of a lot of ways to misuse this product

May 30, 2007 6 comments

Parents, do your kids trust you too much?  Would you like them to be more emotionally distant, more wary, and never tell you anything?  SnoopStick is here to help.  Just plug it into your kid’s computer, run the setup program, and quick as you can say; “I just don’t know why we don’t talk anymore” you can spy on everything that happens on his or her computer.

Husbands and wives can use SnoopStick to spy on each other, too.  It’s fun for the whole family!  There’s endless ways to show you’d rather run a power play than risk having any real relationship with someone. 

Bosses can even use SnoopStick on up to three employees at a time.  Just remember your employees might use a SnoopStick on your computer if they know how to bribe a janitor.  It’s really hacking made easy.

Note: there are about a zillion ways around SnoopStick, including running the computer off a Knoppix or Ubuntu boot CD when you want privacy. 

Categories: Geeky, Security

Change in commenting

May 30, 2007 18 comments

Just a little change: when you leave a comment, your email won’t show anymore.  If you are a blogging narcissist like me, your URL will still show, but not your email.    In the battle against spam, I may one day need to require an email address and/or “being logged in” for commenting, but even then it will not be visible.  Spammers are evil; they shan’t acquire your email address from me.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Think snakes on a plane would be scary?

May 30, 2007 3 comments

The movie Snakes On A Plane was campy and fun, and not at all scary.  But this IS scary: Microbes on a plane.  Epidemiologist Tara Smith (who would fit right in on CSI or Numb3rs)  describes the situation as a passenger was found to be infected with a highly resistant strain of tuberculosis.

)Deep Breath( … OK, calming down, the passengers were notified, and they’re getting tested.  It appears their risk of infection is “low”.  It’s still going to be a while before I get on a plane without thinking about this one. 

  • There is some reassurance as Effect Measure gets technical on airplane epidemiology.

  • Mike Dunford at Questionable Authority takes apart the passenger’s “side of the story” in Thou shalt not be bloody stupid
  • Oh, NOW he says he’s “sorry”.  “At every turn it was conveyed to me that my family, my wife, my daughter, that no-one was at risk”  Well sure, but the doctors and authorities told you not to travel, idiot.
  • And if you really want to research this case from every angle, The Pump Handle has a large section on it in their Friday roundup.
  • Seen on TV news: the guy shows up at the US border.  The border guard scans his passport and the screen pops up: “Don’t let this person in, and only deal with him while wearing hazard gear”.  Border guard looks him over; “He appeared to be perfectly healthy to me”, and lets him enter the country unchallenged.  Reminds me of a scene from The Simpsons:
    Bob: [running a credit check] [presses `Enter’] [sirens wail and lights flash]
    Homer: Is that a good siren? Am I approved?
    Bob: You ever known a siren to be good? That was the computer telling me, sell the vehicle to this fellow and you’re out of business.’’

Really serious accountability in China

May 29, 2007 3 comments

Remember Janet Reno taking “full responsibility” for Waco and Ruby Ridge, but not doing a damn thing about either one of them?  Remember “Heckuva Job” Brownie after Katrina?  Notice how Oliver North is a big TV hero these days?  Sometimes it seems we take accountability rather lightly in our country.

Not China, though.  Let your agency get corrupt and screw up the trust that other countries have in your exports, causing billions of dollars of consequences and driving thousands into poverty, and you’re in deep sludge:  Former Chinese FDA director sentenced to death.  And 31 others have been charged in the corruption case.  Somehow I doubt they can expect a light slap on the wrist, either.

Categories: Law, Politics

Truth in comics

May 28, 2007 2 comments



Categories: Uncategorized

Just a cool lighter … and LASERS!

May 27, 2007 1 comment

When I light a cigar I usually use a Bic lighter that I found on the sidewalk.  But wouldn’t it be cool to use a “tactical” lighter from a pistol manufacturer?

Well yeah, if someone cool did it, as opposed to someone too cheap to even buy a Bic lighter.  But it’s a neat design anyway.  And check out the lasers on the same site – not exactly your usual laser pointer.

Categories: Uncategorized

Science Friday, one day late: old ideas in optics with new applications and far-reaching consequence

May 26, 2007 2 comments

When I was a kid I carried a small magnifying glass and also a 10x jeweller’s lupe around with me everywhere.  When our family went on vacation, I brought my microscope along. I could learn so much more from a bug or a leaf if I looked at it under magnification.

  1. Check out this 3D camera the size of a shirt-button.  The article says “the technology is not new”, which is an understatement considering flies have been doing it for some time now.  But what is new is putting it all on a chip.  Think machine-vision applications for this one with lots of industrial spinoffs.

  2. The new James Webb space telescope (which won’t be a straight replacement for the Hubble) has an innovative multi-segment beryllium mirror.  It is a cool idea for a cryogenic mirror, but I hope they have some pretty ferocious safety guards in place, because that’s a metal you don’t want to breathe. 
  3. Solar concentrators are not a new idea, but here’s a nifty connection to improve the efficiency (and thus reduce the cost) of electricity from solar cells
  4. I love the idea of adaptive optics where a mirror actually changes shape, and is connected to other mirrors under microcomputer control, compensating for atmospheric turbulence to give super-sharp images from the ground.  (This is also not a substitute for the Hubble telescope)  But I never would have guessed that it would be enhancing human vision.  They were working on helping visually-impaired people but wound up with the germ of a system that could “dramatically improve vision even for people with normal vision”:
    Williams has found that the visual acuity of the human eye can be somewhere around 20/10. While adaptive optics may someday help patients approach that level, he says that acuity isn’t the most noticeable improvement. Adaptive optics improves eyesight most under low-light conditions, such as night-time driving. MacRae, the laser surgery expert, estimates that a driver sharing the road with a bicyclist at dusk could see the bicyclist from roughly twice as far away if he or she were equipped with adaptive optics correction.

    In the past, Williams has used the system to look into the eye. In a series of papers in such journals as Nature, Williams’ team has published the best images ever obtained of the living human retina. Last year the team was able to differentiate the three types of cones in the living human retina. Detailed information of the eye is helpful to ophthalmologists monitoring patients with diseases like age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy.

    While the current set-up is too bulky to bring the experience of enhanced vision or super vision to many patients, MacRae is confident that that day is not too far off.

    “Someday you may no longer have to sit and answer patiently when you’re asked repeatedly whether lens No. 1 or lens No. 2 is better,” MacRae says. “Someday you may just look into a wavefront sensor as David has developed, and in one quick second we’ll have all the information needed to improve someone’s vision dramatically.”

  5. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the long-term implications of this one: using visible light to pump x-ray emissions for tabletop x-ray microscopy.  It could be as big a revolution (on a smaller scale) as CAT or MRI.  As in: examining that lump in the breast at a microscopic level without doing a biopsy

What will kids’ science-toys a century from now look like?  For that matter, what will we all be seeing?  What will we know?

Outsourcing Outrage

May 24, 2007 16 comments

In her 23may07 column, Outsourcing Outrage, Kathleen Parker explains why it’s OK for Americans to be rude to people who work for outsourced call-centers:

Don’t get me wrong. I love all peoples great and small, but I do not want to talk about my bad Internet connection with someone in Bombay named Kapil pretending to be Karen.

Well how devious of that person to land a coveted job with a call center, listening to you in the middle of her night, complaining about the awful fact that she wasn’t lucky enough to be born American. 

Anglicizing names is one of the tricks of the trade these days as more and more customer services are outsourced to other countries where call-center operators are grateful for $200 a month and an air-conditioned workspace. Invariably polite, and no doubt qualified, they are, nonetheless, not here.

Well that’s the whole point of a telephone; it lets you talk to people who are somewhere else.  And You know why they bring in voice trainers and anglicize their employee’s names, Kathleen?  Because Americans like you freak out if their tech-support dollar provides five jobs in India instead of one job in America. 

But if you pay five times as much for tech support, you’ll freak out even more.  You can’t have it both ways. 

Most people probably assume they’re talking to a recent immigrant, only to realize that the person telling them that their charging privileges have been suspended is in Manila. Once this realization sets in, apparently, Americans can become unpleasant.

That is putting it mildly

In India, a television sitcom—“The Call Center’’—was created around calling centers and their rude Western customers. Note to world: We weren’t always so rude. We weren’t always on the verge. Corporate America has made us this way.

That human being on the other end of the line did not create your situation, Kathleen.  If you are rude to a pleasant, qualified person who is just trying to make a living, you’re being a jerk.  It’s no use blaming “corporate America” for your bad manners.

Deep in our star-spangled hearts, we know that Arjun—good fellow though he may be—doesn’t really care about us. It’s a safe bet he may not even like us.

Thus, the corporate insult of hiring foreigners is compounded by the pandering of passive-aggressive non-Americans. Between robots and foreign operators—and the powerlessness most consumers feel—American business has robbed its citizen-customers of their dignity.

If an unsatisfactory conversation with a polite, qualified person is all it takes for you to act without dignity, you didn’t have any to rob.  Maybe Arjun doesn’t like you or really care about you as a person, but it has obviously been too long since you worked in the service industry.  If you ever did.

…[My tipping point] came a few days ago while in the North Carolina mountains trying to get Internet service. After two days on the phone with Charter Communications operators in three countries (U.S., Canada and the Philippines), trying to solve a local Internet-access problem, I wondered why homicide rates aren’t higher.

Finally, the “customer service’’ operator who said she was in the Philippines determined that I needed an on-site technician—what a concept!—but I’d have to wait 36 hours. I noted humorously (I thought) that a Charter tech was probably within a few miles of me, yet someone in the Philippines is saying he can’t get to me for a day and a half.

Yeah, I bet that was real funny.

At that precise moment, no kidding, a burly mountain man rapped at the door: “Are you Ms. Parker? I’m from Charter Communications and I’m here to fix your modem.’’ Well, hallelujah and hit delete. I wanted to hug the guy. Love the accent. Love the all-American, gung-ho, can-do attitude.

“Philippines, we’re done.’’ I said to the nice lady on the other end.

You’re a constant flag-waver, Kathleen Parker, so you wanna do something good for your country?  Treat people in other countries like human beings.  Yes, you know you’re talking to someone in Manilla, but don’t forget they know they’re talking to someone in America. 

Categories: observations

Credit where credit is due

May 22, 2007 12 comments

In the long run, this will do more for world peace than any military campaign or blowhard political speech: Dubai ruler in vast charitable gift

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum says there’s “a wide knowledge gap between us and the developed world in the West and in Asia” and that he wants to fight illiteracy – especially among Arab women – and create a “knowledge-based society”. [More details]

Al-Queda probably won’t like this guy – I hope his bodyguards are well-chosen.

Categories: Education