July 31, 2007


I can't believe that Burgess Meredith's Penguin was ahead of the technology curve as far as undersea vehicle propulsion!

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July 26, 2007

First they came for the smokers...

...and I said a bit, but not much, for I was only a sometime smoker. Then they came for us fatties, not with the old saw about us raising other people's insurance risk but now - gasp - we're actually to blame for other people becoming fat.

I think I need to declare myself a handicapped gay fat smoker. Jew is almost redundant, it seems.

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July 23, 2007

Hooray! My iPhone too can stick it to the NSA!

Thanks to the excellent, clear and efficient instructions posted at hacktheiphone.com my iPhone ringtone is now the same as my Treo's was - the excellent Call Connected Thru the NSA dig recorded by They Might Be Giants.

In addition to being slightly more individual, as well as more familiar to me, there are a couple of advantages I've reaped from the use of this hack. One, this ringtone is noticeably louder than the default options on the iPhone (yay). Two, iTunes no longer autosyncs when the phone is plugged in. Although some might consider this a problem, I don't; it makes it less likely I'll screw up by plugging my iPhone into another computer and wiping its contents. In addition, I can change my video sync settings without having it start shoving movies back and forth immediately.

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Pottering About

j with hp

As is our habit, jyeo and I convened at midnight for the release of the new Harry Potter book. Since the bastard has relocated to Cali and I lost the coin toss, he elected to receive, which meant I gained new JetBlue miles and we performed our traditional bookrace in Mountain View.

Here, the miscreant prepares to begin the sprint.

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July 20, 2007

One More Straw

Not the last, just one more. Things always happen the night before I'm supposed to catch a plane, and hence should be sleeping. Tonight? Someone smashed my car window and jacked my iPod out of the car. The iPod itself, whatever. The car window, sure, I'm annoyed. It's just...I don't know, it's just the whole now I have to deal with this part of it. Have to get the car to the shop, deal with insurance, the whole nine yards, all while trying to be at Logan by 3pm. When I'm not packed. And my house is torn up by contractors enough that I can't really shower.

Coupled with all the other crap I'm thinking about and trying to get done (but instead watching pile up on top of me) I'm left just...fucking tired, is all. A kind of despondent angry, wishing I could turn the clock back enough to catch the fucker (I was out there within 45 seconds, not fast enough) so I could really get a good cathartic rage release on.

Now? Now it's just one more thing.


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July 13, 2007

Hydrogen/Gas Combustion and Dreams (with guns)

I was reading again about BMW's Hydrogen 7 and it struck me - I wrote a story back in 1996 about a hybrid vehicle which shared gas and hydrogen combustion in the same cylinders. What's more, I posted it on the web, too.

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iPhone safe charging

Since the iPhone can only be synced to one computer, plugging it into multiple Macs is a problem. If you plug it into a different Mac, it will do the usual iPod trick of offering to sync with the new Mac...but if you say 'no', there is some chain of events where rather than sync, it will simply wipe the iPhone clean of iPod content. Or, you might (like me) just be pre-coffee and hit 'OK' and then squawk 'NOOOOOOOOoooooo....' and reach for it just too late to yank it out of the dock while you're on a road trip some 300 miles from your music/video collection.

I have adopted a new method of ensuring I don't do this to myself. While on the road, I only carry a Firewire iPod cable. The iPhone will *charge* from this cable fine, in the dock or directly, from a computer or from the iPod wall wart. But it won't even attempt to sync (it needs USB2 to sync). Ergo, safe charging with no risk of inadvertent sync.

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July 12, 2007

Ted Postol Opines and I Agree, mostly.

The irrepressible Ted Postol has an op-ed in the Times in which he states that the U.S. should accept Putin/Russia's offer to cooperate on missile defense warning systems vis-a-vis potential Iranian launches. I agree with him. This is probably somewhat due to the fact that he taught and trained me (yes, there is a distinction). I would add that the issues Ted explicitly punts in this Op-Ed are extremely important - namely, whether missile defense can be effective and, by implication, whether it should be done at all. Of course, it's an op-ed, and to get it published it needs to be on point; that's why he punted, but his explanation of such manages to get the fact that those issues are important into the debate nevertheless ("Whatever you do, don't think about an elephant.")

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July 10, 2007

Anyone can cook!

Ratatouille. I have become a slave to Pixar's brand of humor, sanitized though it may be, because somewhere inside their compound of runaway mad supercomputer/desktop mules and LSD-derivative spatial visualizers there are indeed those who are slaves to the pretty.

Ratatouille is pretty. In the stolen words of Eddie Murphy, "It's prettah! It's SO-O-O prettah." Damn right. It doesn't try to push the limits of human modeling and tumble into the uncanny valley; it picks a style taken straight from recognizable caricature and drags it into modern 3D. Anyone who has read one of the Madeleine books will recognize the facial structures, which is appropriate since the thing is set in Paris.

We won't ask why the rats have American accents. Hey, at least most of the non-evil humans do too.


Never mind.

The plot is just long enough (not complex, long) to keep me exactly the right amount of interested in what's-gonna-happen. The imagery - unbelievable. I saw this movie the day after seeing Transformers, and it's like being served the two ends of the spectrum of modern effects and animation. Two entirely different but completely believable (believable as in visually consistent and convincing) worlds that pull you in. Personally, I think Ratatouille had it somewhat harder, because (as the cute sigil said at the end of the credits) it was 100% animated; no motion capture, no live action. They had to make all that not just funny but buyable strictly using what was in their noggins, and get it down onto film via electrons with rendering times in the hours-per-frame for the final product.

Damn, I'm glad that our economy, fucked as it is, presently supports that sort of activity.

I won't tell you what it's about, save to confirm that yes, it's entirely kid-friendly. There's some teensy violence (some people get tied up, albeit entirely offscreen in true cartoon fashion) and there's some scary-ride type stuff. Threatening gestures? Sure, from silly-looking people, but mostly...chases. Good ol' fashioned cartoon chases. Looney Tunes are way more violent than this.

And good God, they got Peter O'Toole to voice the food critic. SALUD!

Two paws up.

(The usual Pixar short beforehand, 'Lifted', was hilarious.)

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July 8, 2007

All U.S. Cell providers suck.

I've been most derisive of AT&T in my previous iPhone posts. I suppose I should be specific about why I'm so down on them. I must preface this by noting that this in no way reflects a scientific study; I own stock in neither AT&T nor Verizon (although I do own some in Apple), and I was a Verizon Wireless customer for 12 years prior to leaving them last week in order to activate my iPhone. I have been a T-Mobile customer via my work Blackberry 8700 for some 4 months now in the New York metro area (Philly through NYC), in Washington DC, and in the Boston Metro area and in Houston, TX. I've used my Verizon phone all over the U.S. (Motorola flips, then Qualcomm candybars, then the Kyocera 7135 Palm, finally a Treo 650).

AT&T/Cingular's wireless service, subjectively, sucks. Some completely random anecdotal reasons they annoy me follow.

  • I can't get reliable phone service in my house. I live in Cambridge, MA, near the BU Bridge. Verizon was 5-bar service even on the Treo (which had lousy reception) for blocks in any direction, even in my basement. The iPhone and a friend's Treo on AT&T both vacillate between zero and one bar in use sitting at my desk on the first floor.
  • When I do get phone service, it's flaky. The iPhone, sitting in its dock at a particular angle, will in fact get two bars of service. If I reach out and turn the phone ninety degrees, I get 'NO SERVICE.' This is true of another, non-iPhone AT&T handset on my desk that I tested. WTF?
  • For a company whose billboards read 'FEWEST DROPPED CALLS' this is laughable. I never worried about dropped calls before. In the first week, so far, I lost count around twenty calls interrupted due to failure midstream - not all of which even had the decency to bleep and say 'CALL FAILED', some of which just went silent with my handset ticking away for 15-20 seconds before doing so. On testing, I found many of these to correspond to areas where a five-bar signal would drop to NO SERVICE if the phone was rotated between forty-five and ninety degrees. Again, WTF? In only five of these cases was I walking or driving.
  • Outside the Boston Metro Area, heading North, as soon as I got into New Hampshire and onto I-89 service became...spotty. Whole swathes of that highway refuse to offer any service at all. Service is notable around larger towns, which remains true up into Vermont. Um...useless.

Now, I will offer the following. AT&T, so far, has been much more pleasant to deal with on the phone than Verizon. The latter autoblocked my number transfer for 24 hours so that they could have Retentions call me 20 hours later and harangue me about leaving them; then, when they couldn't keep me, found a way that my executing a 'new every two' credit I'd waited two years to use, cashing in two years prior to buy my Treo, meant that I was in fact still under a contract despite my 12 years of time on their network. Also despite the fact that I'd had to wait two years to get it after signing up. Whatever. As delicious irony, those two years were up July 13th; I deactivated June 29th. Rather than billing me a final month of july, that's right; $175 cancellation fee.

Whatever, it's not worth my time to argue with them at this point. I had assured the Retentions lady that I was enamored of the iPhone and would certainly return to Verizon if AT&T's phone service, which I was experimenting with, was bad enough to cause me difficulties.

You know what? No way. Verizon, fuck you at the drive through. I'm done. Worst of all, you know, you *could* have had the retentions lady politely mention the contract to me, you know? Or even, heaven forbid, offer to split the difference and bill me for the month of July rather than hit me with the full $175 early termination fee for a two-week early exit after 12 years? I might have even considered keeping my Verizon phone active as a standby. But no, you simply had your system send me an email notice with the early termination fee, and when I tried to determine why my final bill had jumped by $175 your system informed me that since I wasn't a customer I couldn't use the website anymore.

And you wonder why people are leaving? Hint: the shitty phones that you lock down are part of it, yes. This is the other part.

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iPhone, eBooks, stopgap solution

My major gripe about the iPhone (well, after the completely abysmal nature and quality of AT&T's cellular service, more on that later) is that on my Palm Treo I have around 150 ebooks for use in emergencies. You know, stuck on trains, in airports, in boring meetings, just sitting around? Yeah. Around 100 sci-fi novels of various quality, some reference books, and some classics from Project Gutenberg. The iPhone doesn't offer any way to load them on, much less read 'em.

Well, the trashy sci-fi novels are the easiest to deal with. I've purchased a large chunk of 'em from the Baen Books online WebScriptions service, and downloaded many more from their excellent free library. I had them all in Mobipocket format because their reader was nice on the Palm, but they offer the books in zipped HTML archives. Since they're not DRMed, and since they keep track of books you've bought and allow re-download, I grabbed a bunch of them as zipped HTML archives, stuck them up on a private server I have (thank you Linode!) and wrote a quick index page into the archive folders for them. So as long as I'm on WiFi or EDGE, I can at least read these using Safari.

Now, for next steps, I'd love to find a way to write a not-an-app that at least knows how to download and cache the HTML and/or text format ebooks on the iPhone so that I can easily leave network coverage (again, thank you AT&T for your completely shit-tastic service) and not have Safari dump the book I'm reading, as well as take care of basic bookmarking and stuff like that.

Maybe in my copious free time.

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July 5, 2007

iPhone, days later

So I've been using the iPhone for around 6 days now. I migrated my phone number from Verizon Wireless, where I'd been a customer for around 12 years, to AT&T/Cingular - because I wanted this phone. Verizon promptly threw a 24-hour hold on my number transfer when I tried to autoactivate the iPhone. I will admit it's only the conspiracy theorist in me that notes that 2 hours before that period was up, I got a hard-press phone call from the Retentions department at Verizon.

I didn't really enjoy it. I told the lady on the other end of the phone I'd just gotten an iPhone. She made a great effort to sound shocked. "But you've been with us for twelve years!" she exclaimed. "You can't be leaving because of a phone!"

Um. Yes, actually, I can. See, up until now, all phones have sucked. A lot. I almost left Verizon when I couldn't get a decent Palm phone, but they got theirs out in time, and I stuck around. First for the Kyocera 7135, which was a great phone; then for the Treo 650, which is a crappy phone and middlin' PDA. I stuck with Verizon because I agreed with her next attempt:

"But we have the best network!"

Yes ma'am, I said, you surely do. And that's why I've stayed this long. But you cripple features on your phones so I can't use them and you make more money. You cripple dialup access on phones which will do it strictly to get me to buy a data plan. You backslide on 'unlimited' data access plans when people start using them as actual unlimited data plans. You lock down ringtones, multimedia, you name it.

"But you have to buy your media from Apple now! We have multimedia phones that are just as good as that one!" (that's a quote.)

Er, no. See, whatever your position on the whole FairPlay DRM kerfluffle, one thing nobody has really denied is that you can always do what I do - which is (for the most part) take your CD collection, rip it into unprotected format, and dump it to your iPod. And now, your iPhone. So no, I don't have to buy my music from Apple. Some of it I do (at last count, it looks like 1.6% or thereabouts of my library- 0.0157, that is.) Most of it, though, comes from the umpty-ump hundred CDs I've bought. Some comes from free downloads, like the entirety of Splashdown's catalogue or the Kleptones. Some, indeed, is illegal music; I won't pretend otherwise. I don't have an easy way to calc that, but it's probably something like 3%-4% of the library from a random sample I grabbed. In any case, it took all my effort not to burst out laughing at her. Your phones are just as good. I know. It's just not fair that nobody buys them, is it.

I told her that I had really been hoping Verizon had taken the iPhone. I knew that Apple had offered it to Verizon first. As a Verizon customer, I hadn't known that at the time, but had they asked me, I would have told them unequivocally to take it; I would have indicated that (at the time) I was willing to pay what I'd just paid for the iPhone, and to Verizon, and that I'd probably have been willing to incur a small monthly surcharge for it. Indeed, I incurred a $9 higher fee for AT&T's middle rate plan.

"Oh, but they insulted our company with the offer they made us."

Well, folks, that's not my problem. That sounds like pride. Which is all well and good, but guess what? I'm your customer. I was for twelve years. I am telling you, now, apparently in the only way that matters, that your pride meant bupkes to me. The network meant something to me as long as the equipment playing field was relatively even. But I consider the iPhone an uneven playing field, and your network doesn't even the gap.

Dear Verizon: If you haven't figured out yet that you fucked up, well, this won't teach you. If you have figured it out, then this won't mean anything. All it is is a blog post saying I tried to tell you but you weren't listening.

Having said that to get it off my chest, there are some things Verizon should be proud of. AT&T/Cingular's network, in the Cambridge/Boston area and up to Vermont along I-93/I-89/I-91, is incredibly shitty compared to Verizon's. The whole 'Fewest dropped calls!' claim on AT&T's billboards? Yeah, right. I never really had dropped calls on Verizon enough to notice them; one or two a month, maybe, and usually when I was on the phone with another cell user. So far this week, I've counted fifteen. FIFTEEN. Ten of those when I wasn't moving, and when I was in a five-bar signal area. Your network sucks ass, AT&T.

Furthermore, coverage is abysmal. Leave the major metro area, and it turns into little islands around towns big enough to have a McDonalds. The nearest tower to my parents' house is apparently some five or six miles away. Verizon had towers along the interstate, or at least coverage; AT&T, nope. Only at the major service towns/areas.

Is this enough to make me go back to Verizon? In my current life, no. I'm no longer required to be reachable 24 hours a day, and if I were, my answer would be to get a Verizon phone on my company's dime and carry two phones. I hate Verizon phones that much; I'd carry them both just to not have to look at/use the VZW one.

I've watched seven movies on the iPhone so far. Listened to a Harry Potter book. Haven't made a call using the headset yet. Have been keeping it in a jeans pocket (albeit with nothing else in there) and it seems quite happy. No scratching, creaking, feeling of 'ooh I'll damage it.'

Went 2.5 days without recharging, in which I watched 1.5 movies and listened to 1/4 of Goblet of Fire. Didn't make more than a call or two, but the phone stayed on standby the whole time, although it was out of service area for a good fifteen of those hours.

Happy happy as clam.

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July 2, 2007

This is, indeed, me.

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