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The DC area will be testing "Terror Sirens," to alert citizens that terrorists are lurking about. I dunno -- do we really need another siren, when these sorts of sounds already announce hazardous weather, tornadoes, noon on the first Wednesday of the month, nuclear war, fires, curfews, and any other number of events? Oh, well...if it makes people feel safe, I suppose it's better than nothing. #

London has an urban fox problem, and trappers are caught between animal rights and the wishes of landowners to be fox-free. #

Chewbacca has a blog. Okay, it's probably not that funny, but it made me giggle for abour 10 seconds, and that's worthy of a link according to Standard Blogging Practices ordinance 196d-2002.1-5. #

The Pornography Of Joy is a great term from this article. It's a take on the term "pornography of grief," the act of news outlets to use photos of people in horrible situations as a way to sell papers. However, "pornography of joy" is used by the writer to describe a trivial situation -- in his case, a boxing match won by a local boy -- blown to enormous proportions so the public can feel good about their failing nation. Here in the USA, welfare and education is cut but an attractive actress concieving a baby makes hundreds of magazine covers, and benefits for the disabled are cut yet Dr Phil can cover a single family's treatment just so they can weep gratefully during the last 10 minutes of the episode. Pornography of joy, indeed. #

Highway drivers call authorities regularly because of the junk-strewn horse pasture alongside the road. I was past there yesterday; it's right on the curve of the interstate and you'd be hard pressed to overlook it. There's a scrapwood shack, a Winnebago with a busted-out windshield, a bunch of scattered junk...and two horses. Good news on two points: First, the horses are not being mistreated -- they're getting good food and water daily, the junk is not in the pasture, and the shack is their shelter from the elements. Second: people are paying attention to what's going on around them, even if they're cruising down the interstate at 85 or 90 miles an hour. #

Orange "RSS" buttons are out - new icons, based on Firefox's icon, are in. All major browsers will start using this icon to represent the location of a website's RSS feed, so only the lamest of websites will have the old boxy orange button anymore. (via Cadenhead) #

At this moment, approximately 811,000 Blogger users have no idea how to edit their blog template. #

Jan
23
2006
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She turned quickly, a shrinkwrapped package of food in her hands, almost colliding with me & my groceries.

"Cheesy garlic bread?" she demanded.

I was not as prepared with the correct answer -- "yes, it is" -- as I would have liked, and was unable to deliver it before she looked up at me.

Realizing I was not the person she thought I was, a look of horror and disgust crossed her face.

The intendend respondent, a 14-year-old girl a few coolers down, responded "Yeah, I like that better."

By that time, I was off to find the ice cream.

At the checkout, I followed a guy buying an entire pallet of beef ramen noodles. The bagger asked if he would like to keep them in the box; he requested the entire contents of the case of ramen be poured into a plastic bag.

I was unable to tell how he paid, but from what I could see on the cash register, the possible combinations of denominations that would require such large change, and what the cashier counted out, he recieved an extra $10 beyond what he was owed.

As I prepared to swipe my card (which customers are not allowed to do until the machine orders you to), the cashier at the closed lane behind me read from a very long receipt abandoned by a long-gone customer.

"Tyson.
Tyson.
Tyson.
Tyson.
Tyson.
Tyson.
Tyson.

Marlboro."

I thought to myself that Tyson Marlboro would be an excellent pen-name or porn-star name. I briefly considered telling this to the teenaged cashier helping me, or the teenaged receipt-reader, but feared that my wit would be lost on them, and then I missed having my wife along, who definitely would have appreciated the thought.

Radiolab is a NPR program that I've never hear before, because I tend to get voted down when it comes to radio station selection these days. However, I listened to an episode tonight, and was impressed. It has the tone of This American Life in its episodic first-person segments, but with a more factual, knowledge-oriented theme akin to Nova. #

Anachronism, from the History Channel (and its parent, A&E), is probably the one collectible card game that I have any interest in playing. It allows historical figures from different eras (hence anachronism) ro fight against each other, using weapons and facilities of various other historical times. While not exactly a learning tool, it could be useful in showing through play some of the things that history books brush over with nondescriptive and uninteresting scholarly words. #

Who knew a dog in zero-g would make me laugh so hard? Well, besides my wife; she knows everything. #

Linotype University: teaching the ancient art of Linotype linecasting. In the old days, before electronic typesetting, the Linotype machine was a successful step at moving away from hand-setting each letter for the printing press. There's a couple of the big machines at the Rollag WMSTR, and I always stop to watch and maybe get one with my name printed (they also give away free ones with the show title on them). Now, there's this place -- for FREE if you're accepted -- to learn how to operate a Linotype machine! I may have to look into it further, even though my qualifications and ability to actually attend are limited. #

Here is a very 'bright' idea *heehee* -- this person used one trick from Sharper Image and one from Nikolai Tesla, and created a free-floating lightbulb that still illuminates. Far better looked at as a science project than an art project, I would try to build one of my own if not for all the other projects I'm working on. #

With this handy little program, you can design yourself as a Simpson's character. I made myself, over there on the left. Pretty good likeness, yes? Well, what do you expect from the Simpsons? Oh, well, see if you can do any better.
#

Jan
18
2006
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We saw Jeff Bezos speak today at North Dakota's Marketplace for Entrepeneurs exposition at the Fargodome. He was scheduled to speak at noon, but did not reach the stage until after several minutes worth of self-congratulatory patting-on-the-backs by the elected officials responsible for the Marketplace's existence. Happily, his speech was listenable and entertaining, unlike the eBay CEO's speech at the UGPTCTS last year. Both companies -- Amazon and eBay -- were children of the mid-90s big bang of internet companies, and the companies' business practices were very evident in the speeches provided by their leaders.

The eBay speech was very business-oriented and highbrow, with the clean sharp edges of a business presentation created by a committee of marketing and communications majors.

Bezos, however, seems to have built his Powerpoint presentation on the airplane, and had a blast doing it. His speech was friendly, energetic, and direct from the business mind that created Amazon itself, unlike eBay's recently-hired CEO and her generalized Best Business Practices. Bezos talked about what he thought the most important parts, as an entrepeneur, of building a successful company. He talked very little about Amazon's world-expanding business plan that has influenced so much of online shopping (and their suspicious patenting of rather generic features), instead talking about -- and showing -- the humble roots of Amazon in the garage of his Washington home ten years ago.

Had I no idea what Amazon was, I'd see Bezos for exactly what he is: an energetic, imaginitive guy who had a cool idea and put it into practice. Back when he built his office in his home and he needed desks, he put nails into boards and built his own desks in the garage. His family and friends debugged his software for him. Their first non-friend-or-family-sale (as indicated by an audible bell written into the cart program!) was important enough that he knew, today, exactly what book it was, and he even included the cover in his presentation.

Bezos described the success of Amazon as the result of many of the features that we take for granted today: customer reviews, cheap shipping, easy customer service, broad expanses of products available, but he showed through what an entrepeneur needs to get started: they need to be so sold on the idea, that everything about their business delights them. He laughed loudly at the two video clips he included as examples (one from Plains, Trains, and Automobiles and one from Falling Down), such that it seems they were chosen simply because he liked the movies so much. He was so proud of the little rambler that housed his first employees and the company's first sale that they were included in his presentation. It's not to do the steps of entrepeneurial business creation, but to love the steps so much that you'll show off pictures like these just as readily as your baby photos, because in your mind there's not much different.

Happily, for the most part, the tradeshow was full of people with similar love for their businesses. We stopped to talk to a writer (as a publisher, we felt important!) who has been self-publishing just for the love of writing, and I wished I'd talked to Leo E Connors, the inventor of the all-wheel-drive bicycle, the Chicago California 2 Bi 2, but there were too many people around to stop for long despite his carnival-barker presentation -- but I was impressed with how the bike appeared to work. And, my pal Roxy, who teamed up with family members to build a screenprinting and ballprinting empire in their garage, is always in high gear to make the business succeed, and had her own booth at the show.

This tradeshow wasn't for people to sell their wares, as much to show off how great their ideas are, and most did think their ideas were the greatest and couldn't help but tell anyone who'd listen. It made it all the more disappointing when people sat lazily in their booths, on the celphone or chatting with their boothmate, ignoring the people browsing the materials on the table. If only he knew of it, their lack of faith in the business would bring the scorn of Bezos upon them.

Remember, you can file taxes for free. The qualifying limit is something like $50,000 annual income, so most of the people I know should not have any problem. Remember to have your refund deposited via ACH, and it's usually sent in less than two weeks! Your state return will probably still cost money (if you live in one of these backward states), so you might still have to fill out some paperwork -- far less than your 1040, though. #

A Fargoan today tried to kill his stepson, then himself -- however, it appears he has failed on both accounts because of his ineptitude with his weapon of choice...a sword. Authorities believe that the attack was premeditated, and are pleased that ninja training is so difficult to find in the Dakotas, otherwise things might have been more tragic. #

Everyday Hogwash is a site/contest devoted to regular joes AndyRooneying the world around them. As if bloggers complaining about their cat's vomit problems isn't enough, there's a site rewarding this? Well, I suppose if there's to be a best or worst of this genre, the best is not all that bad. #

TEMPEST eavesdropping involves reading your computer's mind through the electromagnetic 'static' it gives off -- This paper explains it in technological detail. #

John Waters, in standard strange-plus-creepy form, will host a CourtTV series on spousal murders. The parallels to the CryptKeeper are striking, but I'd watch it -- there's no doubt that Waters will make it interesting. #

An enterprising fellow has made a music video, edited and composed on an Apple ][ - the 48k version, even! I did not hear any sound, but it was still mesmerizing to watch. #

Because of the clocks on celphones & other electronic trinkets, people aren't wearing watches anymore. I had this conversation over the weekend -- and, in polling people present at the time, we found it 100% true. #

Do you know how popular I am on the internet? (sounds NSFW) I was actually quite popular at an ad agency's 2000 Xmas party due to the Receipt Site's success. Being popular on the internet means something, man! #

The Garfield Randomizer is a surprisingly absorbing applet that pieces together Garfield comic frames, in the great tradition of 5-Card Nancy. #

Apple has unveiled the MacBook -- a Macintosh running on a dual-core Intel processor. #

The Black Eyed Peas' song "My Hump" is one of the most unpleasant songs lately -- poor beat, uninteresting lyrics, and it could continue, quite literally, in an endless loop on the radio for years at a time and nobody would notice because of its insignificance and unlistenability. So, via Waxy, we get an improvement: "My Hump", redone acapella by some very white sounding guys, and edited over the original video (links in 3rd paragraph). #

NASA has played the world's largest game of laser-tag - over 15 million miles. The Mercury Messenger, a probe launched last year, was the loser in the deal, recording a 'hit' and responding back to Earth in kind. #

T Herman Zweibel, former editor of The Onion (as performed by Onion writer Maria Schneider), has been memorialed by "The Foundation" with his own historical website. Little more than a front-end to the editorial archives, the addition of the timeline of his life is amusing despite its length, and it gives a nice final chapter to a character that I always thought, despite his launch into space, would return eventually. #

The second chord of the longest concert has been sounded. It's the first change in tone since 2003 -- only 633 years to go. While admittedly an ambitious project, I wonder who will ever be able to enjoy the music being performed? I'd hope that would be the composer's main objective, but the late John Cage was always a bit odd. #

I owe a link to Jim Guckin (his blog), because he listed my blog in a forum post yesterday as one he reads once in a while. I would've put the link under 'friendly websites', but he didn't link me from his blog *hint*. Still, it's nice to know people read my blog. Traffic has been pretty stable over the past years, but I see less evidence of the readers themselves. #

How photographers can protect themselves against invasions of privacy. In today's world where a celphone camera and a blog post can be an invasion of privacy, all bloggers should keep their tips in mind before uploading those pics to Flickr. #

Ever been to a mystery spot? Some have been deliberately constructed, and others are accidental like the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot. A scientist has analyzed the effect, where people think they're falling when standing still, things roll uphill, and people even become ill at the illusion. His paper is linked in the article, and mirrored here. #

PBS has released their outline for the digital future of public service media - a forward-looking concept designed around enveloping the media-devouring public with a transparent ability to get their programming. Also interesting is their concept of the Public Service Media Web Engine. -- read more on page 11 (too long to quote here). #

Jan
2
2006
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Learning new things is both exhausting and invigorating -- while I have our regular business projects, I get things bouncing around in my head, things I've seen in use elsewhere and decide I should try to do it.

Often they're things I've never used before and have developed a prejudice against. Once upon a time, I insisted on using Perl to write all my programs. Then came the day I needed to use MySQL -- and I found PHP handled the process much easier. Unfortunately, it was a paid project that I needed to get done immediately, and had no time for a learning curve. I threw myself into it, and found out how much better it was than Perl in so many ways. Same with CSS -- I had written it off as a flowery annoying bastardization of the tried-and-true HTML...but after working with Blogger templates and deciding to make significant use of it in some new software I've written, I've decided it's not so bad.

It always seems that, after learning a new batch of programming skills, I inevitably have to go back and look at an older program I wrote long ago. This, more often than not, results in disgust at what a horrible programmer I was -- how could I have ever thought it would work that way!?!? Now, I do marvel at the ingenuity I've demonstrated in making things work, but now that I know the more direct way using a more modern system, it's difficult to go back to the old way.

Today's project was WML -- or, in layman's terms, the language for writing cellphone-compatible webpages. Have you bought a celphone with internet capability, only to find out all your favorite websites give you errors? It's because there's a difference between a webbrowser and a celphone browser...wireless devices don't understand HTML. I've glanced over the WML specifications in the past, but didn't have anything to apply it to, so I ignored it.

Last weekend, while we were travelling for the holidays, I had a flash of inspiration: I Am... would be handy to have on my celphone, so I could post from wherever I Am. The I Am site is a rather simple page (archives aside), heavy on text, with a simple form process to send data to the server. This afternoon, after completing a major component of a moneymaking project, I told myself that I should take an hour and write a WML shim for I Am...

Of course, as I've proven numerous times before, I have no concept of time. The project actually lasted 3 hours -- stopping to make dinner during the bleakest, most broken point in the programming -- but now I've learned a whole lot and have a very workable version of I Am... for celphones. Frustrating? Yes. Time-Consuming? Yes. A new skillset that has uses beyond my 6-year-old community 'blog' project? But of course! We'll see what I come up with now -- no doubt I'll figure out a useful application for this new knowledge.



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