Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


___________________

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mutemath backwards show

The tendency is always to think of musicians as focused on nothing outside of songwriting and maybe energetic playing, as well as their social life. Clearly some push the envelope to something that may be considered genuine performance art.

Hecklings


There is a strange and unique relationship between a comic and his audience. There is no more prominent example of this than with unhappy (often drunk) audience members. In dealing with hecklers, comics that don't have an understanding for human foilbles come off looking like they should pick another profession, while those that do impress me even more. Carlos Mencia, despite having his record tarnished since I saw him a few years ago, was a master at audience interaction.

Unfortunately a lot of the time, hecklers represent something painful and sad about how vile people sometimes are -- are very obviously in the wrong. George Carlin -- a notoriously nice guy -- had nothing but contempt for them. A lack of any patience for the subject might have some merit as sometimes heckling doesn't go well AT ALL (Peter Anthony).

Still, hecklers can improve the show as with Joe Rogan (probably the funniest), Kevin Smith, and Richard Herring. Similarly, some of the best work I've seen by Zach Galifianakis came from hecklers, although his distaste and frustration is obvious.

Finally, although some commedians really hate to be heckled, sometimes not liking what you see and writing an online review isn't a crime.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thunderbird plugins

More e-mail client customization:
  • Adblock Plus - turns off advertisements, really only necessary if you get some spam. Nice.
Once installed, be sure to go into "Tools - Add Ons", select "Adblock Plus", and choose "Preferences". Then from the "File" menu that appears, select "Filters - Add Filter" and choose a location close to you. Expand the window and click "subscribe".
  • Image Zoom - adds functionality for images
  • Lightning - the Calendar client I'm warming up to. Its not as clean as iCal or Outlook but not as annoying either. Right now its competing with Rainlendar.
  • Provider for Google Calendar - lets you subscribe (and publish) to Google Calendar stuff, also something I'm warming up to
  • Thunderbrowse - lets you browse web sites inside thunderbird so you don't have to start up a copy of Firefox. This is especially important with my portable programs thing.
  • Enigmail - you probably don't need this (very few people do) if you want to do signed / encrypted e-mail. Signing is really important if your e-mail goes out to a lot of people or folks who NEED to know the recipient is genuine. Encryption is important if you want extra privacy but your recipient has to have some kind of GPG-compatible tool.Remove Duplicate Messages (alternate) - I found I needed this a few times for when mail servers thought I didn't already have a message
  • Zindus - e-mail contact sync for Google (automated, unlike what I describe here)
Related:
See also: my first Thunderbird post.

I feel inadequate

Its true -- these small shopping carts make me feel like less of a man.

[My friend Wes replied: "Same here. That is why I shop with this."]

Downloading Gmail with Thunderbird



Gmail is arguably the best thing to happen to e-mail in the last 10 years. But I can't back up my e-mail or work on my e-mail when I don't have a net connection so I've turned to Thunderbird. There are a lot of reasons for this including being free, able to run on almost any computer, openly developed, and customizable to an amazing degree. So much so that I started seeing what I could do. One of the big changes I've made is setting the program up to look more like Gmail:
  1. Threads. View things in the style of gmail -- listed by subject rather than date or sender. Here's how to set this up permanently.
  2. Contacts. I used this guide to manually move contacts from Gmail to Thunderbird. There are automated tools that will do this but I'm not sure how secure they are.
See also: Thunderbird Plugins

Good, evil, and a virtual world

Developers of a multi-award-winning video game "Fallout 3" talk about their "Karma" system in the game and, inadvertently, a lot about good and evil as concepts. We have expectations that our activities will have either positive or negative consequences, but in an effort to make a more indepth game, the makers take their evaluations further.

Okay so he killed a FEW of us ...

In one of those perverse moments when you wonder just how history remembers (or forgets?), Joseph Stalin is voted 3rd greatest Russian. Clearly, history's great mass murderers can look forward to a time when killing millions isn't a big hit on your character. I guess nobody in Russia reads Solzhenitsyn.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Modern day slavery

Unfortunately, despite the deaths of many to try and prevent it, forced working among children remains a persistent reality with no easy answer.  Desperate parents and working conditions that are -- while terrible -- still better than where the children come from make upholding human dignity a difficult task.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Art: photo, impressionism, and computer

Moving these over to an official entry...

One of the best "club" picture I've ever seen. From Rich's in Houston (don't know the owner).



Impressionist-style work done using free ArtRage2



From the game Halflife



(As usual, click "download" for full size.)

Recent and old photos





Click "download" for full size.

Mac space saver program

Monolingual is free software for the Mac that helps eliminate extra languages included in Mac OS (like Bulgarian and Portuguese) as well as binaries optimized for systems other than your own.  I got the idea from this MacWorld article that also has some other tips on slimming down your OS X computer.

My G4 saved about 500 megs, my Intel Mac saved about 3 gigs.

Side note: despite all this, I'm very interested in moving everything over to Linux.  If something happens to my Mac Laptop, I don't have the money to buy another one.  Still, it helps to maintain what you've got.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

95786458


An art piece I did back in September using a few different art tools, most especially Pixia (a portable program for Windows)

Click "download" for the full scale (and full quality) PNG file.

Christmas photo

Was outside and saw a nice sunset and a single star. Was a very good description of the holidays.

Click "download" on the drop.io page for full size.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Robots, flying cars and sex

From "inventor builds [female] robot" concerning a beautiful -- if someone creepy -- Japanese robot female:
"Like a real female she will react to being touched in certain ways. If you grab or squeeze too hard she will try to slap you."
This article is probably stretching; the key word is "try", which is likely raising one arm partway. The fembot is obviously a modern version of the flying car and easy to report on because its really just a fluff piece nobody expects any real facts from anyway. Like any minute now, we'll all have one and they'll all have features like they're advertising -- sure. But really, 20 years from now, some super rich people will have one that can actually do some of those things.

However, the article isn't all fluff: it openly points out something that is already becoming a reality: that the robot may be used for sex. With the increasing prominence of extremely human-like dolls, who knows? Maybe the sex industry will be the primary drive for artificial intelligence. Asimov (among other futurists) thought sex with robots was kind of obvious and expected, but I don't know if they considered the causes could be reversed.

(Link care of my friend Jordan)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Netflix PR hilarity

http://www.hackingnetflix.com/

Just read this site and found a netflix statement about pulling like 100+ videos from the online instant watch (including Casablanca, Smith Goes to Washington, Ghostbusters, and Dog Day Afternoon):
"As watching instantly becomes a more prominent part of the Netflix service, our goal is to have all of our streaming content available for all of our partner devices. We're doing well in this area, but it will take some time before we fully achieve that goal. Today, titles regularly come in and out of availability and there is a natural ebb and flow to what we have available at any given point in time."
I love reading corporate PR responses ... I think its genuinely an art to say nothing at all. And you have to worship Satan with ALL your heart to put out stuff like this.

Addendum:

A forum I post to had this response:
"What's even better is that a large majority of people are quite satisfied with receiving a response to their questions that doesn't answer them at all..." - David
Oh absolutely -- these guys wouldn't have a job if they didn't placate people with meaningless but vaguely poetic phrasing like "ebb and flow".

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fox News hates Obama

One quick addendum to this post: be prepared for Rupert Murdoc's coming anti-Obama chicanery.

Hospital death rates

Find out how your hospital stacks up against other local hospitals.

Windows services: backup and search

Two windows-only software services I'm keeping my eye on:
  1. Faroo Search Engine requires Windows installation and isn't pretty, but search results really do rival Google's.
  2. Windows SkyDrive - a possible backup solution if you break files into encrypted 50 mb chunks (using 7zip for example).

Reduce your carbon footprint

Among a long list of other benefits I've seen over time, going veggie saves gas, which reduces pollution and our dependence on foreign oil.

Windows App: musiCutter

I've been pulling a lot of music from newmixes.com lately and there are always a number of sections of talking or of music I don't really like. I also recently converted all my old tapes from when I was a kid to OGG Vorbis format using "OGG Drop" for Windows, but ran into a problem when I accidentally put too much in. This program will chop up both MP3 and OGG files nicely. Saved me hours of re-recording and re-encoding.

Tracking students with collars

This is seriously messed up right here. That someone is merely trying this is horrifying.

Garbage disposals and the environment

Slate takes a look at the problem.

Torturing animals for fun and profit

I thought this was a really dumb thing to get upset about since there are more important things in this world than trying to end bad meat production. Then I watched [only part of] the video. Wow. Need to get some abortion videos so I can have a fair and balanced sickening video collection.

Torrent indexing services

Since I feel like torrents, something regular search engines ignore, will be the primary method of distributing files for the next few years here's a few services that keep track of rapidly changing torrent sites on the Internet.

Tested:

Untested

Excessive hilarity

Only the most premium in comedy.

Plain-view obfuscation techniques

I often send information that I don't need to protect from anyone but casual viewers:
  • hackerspeak - a way of exchanging similar-looking characters ("E"s into 3, "W"s into \/\/)
  • teh srclamber tool - benefits from the fact that we don't really read entire words, just the first and last character
  • rot13 - an ancient technique of rotating everything 13 characters forward (and then backward by the recipient)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shout-a-thon

This video is of Dan Savage -- a gay columnist -- versus Tony Perkins who came out against gay marriage. I don't want to talk about gay marriage but instead focus on how they were talking; I wanted this to be an example of how intelligent debate doesn't exist on TV, especially cable news. Unfortunately, the ugly appeal of this scenario was obvious: my favored side made me feel good and I enjoyed several of his quips as well as his clarity.

That's really the catch: someone of my opposite political views would have the exact same experience. This is the nature of the beast: both sides look like winners because both sides got some shots in and the other guy looks like a doof or a zealot. Its a painful Bill O'Reilly-esque barking phenomenon that helps no one and only reinforces your original opinion.

Despite the fun of two "adults" mixing it up, if it were my show I would force them to take turns. I'd respect my audience enough to make up their own minds and maybe come away with something new.

Con artist escape

This video was up on Slashdot and, having had two people try to pull something similar on me, I can say something about how to avoid it that the video doesn't discuss:

The trick to get out of a situation that doesn't feel right it is pretend to answer your cell phone or ideally actually call someone and step away from the situation. Usually just a few seconds of consideration or getting some feedback from a friend is enough to break the spell that a good con artist (especially two) can cast.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Windows software update

You may be familiar with the process Windows uses to update itself but what about all the other software? Is everything else up to date? "By using up-to-date software you'll reduce the risk of encountering bugs and will benefit from more features." (betanews)

Three freeware programs that help you stay on track:
  1. Sumo - my favorite
  2. File Hippo Checker - still fairly new, but promising
  3. AppUpdater - an open source (GPL) checker
I thought the non-free Mac application "AppFresh" had no Windows equivalent but there are several. For more info, I did a write up for this over at portablefreeware's forums.

Update: there are apparently a LOT of free software version checkers (scroll down on this page).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One last political video from the election season

Sort of the coup de grace from Bill Maher, but more importantly a warning that the problems of the Clinton administration are simply not comparable to the problems of the Bush administration.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Commencement speeches

Three speeches that have really stuck with me over time: Steve Jobs and Mary Schmich. Also Stephen Colbert for good measure.

Windows data security

A few programs to help keep credit card data, passwords, your novel, or anything else safe and encrypted. Extremely simple and easy.
  • AxCrypt is a really simple program that's been around for a long time and is very reliable. With this you can open any encrypted document with just a password. Open source.
  • Crypditor is an equally simple program just for text. You type in the window and then save the text with a password. There's no install -- just a single file that runs by itself. Each file you save is also a self-contained editor and document with its own password.
  • Locknote - similar and supremely simple. Has a few more features than Crypditor and is from a company I really like, but requires an install.
  • Truecrypt (my choice, also out for Mac) - more complicated but has the advantage of behaving like a removable drive. Even better, you can put in a fake password and a real password -- the wrong password will show an empty archive while the right one will show everything. There's no way to tell the difference. Open source.

Gmail: show only new messages

Do you have thousands of messages in your inbox? Is the "new" mail always listing a few old e-mails that you've never read? It never goes down to zero because you can never click "older" enough times to find them.

Fortunately, Google has a trick: in the search box type: "is:unread"

(source)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Web development: address bar web site logo trick

This did the trick for something I've been trying to do for a while: display my web site logo in the address bar and bookmarks. It just looks more professional. Here's the icon I created for a coffee shop (circled in red below):



I use PhotoFiltre to get it into 16x16 then the website tool to get it into the correct format (ICO). Its a great extra touch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Recommended Mac Software Part 2: Power Users

If you feel like Mac's easy-to-use functions are really just restrictions and getting in your way, these are some tools that are above the novice.
  • muCommander - a file manager that allows you to get a FULL look at what's on your hard drive and other devices.
  • OnyX - advanced system changes, tests, troubleshooting. I used it to turn off Dashboard and make my dock like 10.4. Use with caution.
  • Springy is even better than Unarchiver but more complex. Shows you the internals of a compressed archive before dumping its contents all over your drive.
  • Winclone - helps you back up a Windows bootcamp partition.
  • X Resource Graph - system monitor
  • Spotlaser - a more detailed "Spotlight"
  • Sloth - view open files. Program for advanced users or for trying to track down problems.
  • Remote Desktop Connection - for connecting to Windows machines
    remotely.
  • Lynx - a text-only web browser that's blessedly simple and clean. A great tool for web developers who want an idea of what cell phone web browsers are seeing.
  • iStumbler - get indepth info on Wifi points. You may want to try AP Grapher as well. KisMAC does a few things the others don't but is very buggy and doesn't crack WiFi points like it claims.
  • Chicken of the VNC - in case you have to VNC somewhere.
  • CLIX - a great command-line macro program. Great for those getting used to Terminal commands as well as experienced users.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Recommended Mac Software Part 1: Must Haves

  • Firefox - I have to list this -- the best browser because of its terrific plugin selection. Alternately, Camino is quite slick.
  • SuperDuper! - a commercial backup tool that is my favorite Mac application and maybe one of my favorites of all time. Backs your computer up live (using a great tool called rsync). If you have an external hard drive of a similar size to your regular hard drive, you can back up your whole computer. If your hard drive ever crashes, you plug it in and hold option at system startup. Magic.
  • Transmit - a strong commercial FTP/SFTP client but is rapidly being overtaken by the free Filezilla. Still Transmit ties into the automated system features extremely well.
  • AppFresh - checks versions and makes sure you have the latest and greatest of everything. Not the best at actually *getting* those files (the download sequence is a little iffy) so some manual action is required. Non-free.
  • AppZapper -- good for removing all traces of a program. Non-free.
  • Cog - although not regularly updated, my favorite music player. Will work with your keyboard backward/pause/fast forward and volume controls as well as your remote control.
  • Disk Inventory X - helps you track down space-hogging files
  • EZ 7z - although Mac supports creating and opening ZIP files, there are much better tools out there, especially for collections of text documents or spreadsheets. 7Z is one such alternative. Your recipient will need a 7-zip decompression tool like Unarchiver.
  • Floola - because iTunes blows.
  • iPodDisk, which treats any iPod like a regular disk, which should come standard with every Mac.
  • InsomniaX - allows you to close the lid of your computer without it going into standby.
  • VMware - the best virtual machine player. Parallels is way behind and more annoying -- I haven't tested Sun's new, free VirtualBox.
  • iSerial Reader - necessary serials for thousands of mac programs. Surprisingly complete.
  • PeerGuardian - use to protect yourself if you use peer-to-peer tools like Transmit.
  • TextWrangler - closest I've gotten to my beloved PSPad for PC. You might prefer xPad.
  • The Unarchiver - opens a lot more compressed formats than the default tools.
  • Xee - a more feature-rich graphics/photo viewer than the default viewer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Learning Java

Something I plan on doing shortly is learning a programming language. I'd like to pass along some of the advice I got about the topic from my friend Wes:
I recommend a Dummies book, but I find those the best for getting a nice overview of a subject. When you are comfortable, then switch to this O'Reilly book, which will fill in details.

Regarding tools, you want to keep it simple at the beginning. They are really basic or really complicated. Thus, I recommend sticking with the command line and your favorite text editor. The one you just posted on would be nice since it has syntax highlighting.

Once you are comfortable with the language and the basic tools, you can move on to a full-blown IDE like Eclipse.

You will also need to learn Object-Oriented Programming as well.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Agencies vs. Democracy

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

For the customers of these companies, it means that the government has detailed records of calls they made - across town or across the country - to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others. (source)
This article is from two years ago but I pass this along because I've followed this topic for a while now and was aware they had this capability. Combined with the admissions by AT&T that information was being handed over to the government, I have little doubt that what this article says is the case. I also have little doubt that the information will be abused as it was in the 1960s with peace activists like Martin Luther King and again in 1975 when "... a congressional
investigation revealed that the NSA had been intercepting, without warrants, international communications for more than 20 years at the behest of the CIA and other agencies."

No one is willing to point out the obvious here: that these "agencies" don't have any faith that democracy will succeed without a microscope held up to it.

Although they probably won't address me personally, I suspect that many in these agencies believe that I am a silly optimist. That I think that there aren't such things as terrorists, bombs, and things that go bump-in-the-night and that a few abuses of power can't compare to preventing another Sept 11. However, I continue to believe that the surveillance of a parent-like state opposes self-determination; you can't get out on your own if you can't ever get out from under your daddy's shadow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making MP3s

MP3s, despite their problems remain THE standard for audio. Here's how I do it to get the best quality to file size ratio:

Windows

  1. Using iTunes, rip files in WAV format (Edit - Preferences - Importing - Import Using: WAV encoder).
  2. Rip the files
  3. Find the WAV files on your computer (you might want to do a search for *.wav).
  4. Download and run LameDropXPd.
  5. A small, square window will pop up.
  6. Change the settings by right clicking and from the drop down menu select "Encoding Options"

If you're going to rip music you're going to want about 190 kpbs (80 on the little scale). If you're going to do voice, you'll want to set it as low as possible (all the way to the left). "Encoding Engine" quality should be "high" at all times and check the "mono encoding" box for voice.

Finally, drag and drop (as the name suggests) the WAV files onto the little window. Be sure to delete the original WAV files when you're done.

Macintosh

Same process as above but instead of downloading LameDrop, use Max. This program has its own ripping process but you can use it purely as an encoder.
  1. Set up the MP3 encoder in the "Preferences" menu.
  2. Under the "Formats" tab, scroll down to "MP3" and click the "+" icon.
  3. Select "Custom" from the drop down menu, and set the quality setting a little to the right of the 50 mark.
  4. Set the "variable bitrate mode" to "Standard"
  5. Select OK and close the Window
  6. From the top menu, select "File" and choose "Convert Files".
  7. Drag and drop the newly ripped WAV files into the window and select "Convert"

Why this method?

Both MAX and LameDrop use the same encoder. Here's why its better:

"Windows Media Player now freely supports encoding to MP3 from CD. Unfortunately, it uses the inferior Fraunhofer codec. iTunes, however, does not use the Fraunhofer ... [but] unfortunately its quality is much worse. I recommend you use LAME. It's just better." (source)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Things that must die: 3 1/2 inch disks and tanning

After two tanning places in my town dramatically remodeled, people are still tanning despite the fact that its really, really bad.

Also bad, people continue to use these damn disks:



... that have lost more data over time than an explosion at a hard drive factory. Get a flash or thumb drive. They last longer, are far more durable, hold far more data per dollar, and much smaller.

Although I can't go as far as to suggest banning these things, I definitely loathe them.

There is no zero carbon footprint

This article points out that the advantages of owning solar energy tools for your house are more than just economics. Although it may help your conscience, its hard not to admit that just being alive you're causing environmental harm.

I remember hearing a vegan friend of mine suggest that people should kill themselves if they really want to help the earth. Then I heard about the Voluntary Human Extention Movement.

The joke/irony of this organization is that, if you are a member, you probably qualify for the few people that has the type of mentality that would be environmentally cleanest and probably should be the group actively having children and teaching them this. Your neighbor that owns a Hummer is certainly teaching his values and beliefs.

Passwords suck

Whether you care about the company that was set up to solve the problems with passwords, the video is very compelling about modern security.

Unfortunately, I don't really want an online service (like OpenID) to control my accounts and login information, simply because I have no idea who these people are and if they have any scruples.

One alternative is this program: Keepass. It does this locally, portably, and for almost every current operating system.

Another way is my own system: I put all my passwords in a super-simple secure notepad program. Then, if someone breaks in, they still won't know my passwords because I only list a series of password hints.

I do this by trying to think up ways of describing the password using elements only memorable to me and using characters. My hint for "favorite Austin band" (And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) becomes "aywkubttod". Then, if all my passwords require that I make vowels behave differently (E becomes 3, O becomes 0, A becomes @) that's even better.

The result, "@ywkubtt0d" is an oustanding password.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Carpel tunnel advice

WARNING: Follow the following advice at your own risk. I'm not a doctor and not the least bit qualified. The following advice was given to me specifically by a specialist. However, friends that I've sent this information to have given me positive feedback so I'm making it available online.

I do feel safe recommending you always seeking a second opinion when a doctor recommends surgery for carpel tunnel. I visited one doctor who was completely and totally wrong (or perhaps just greedy) on this issue.

1. Keep good posture when typing
This is a life-long requirement, not just for those suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome.

2. Wear Braces

This is the one I use and recommend. You don't have to buy from this source (look around online for the cheapest) but definitely buy and wear braces for both hands as much as possible. Especially while sleeping. Definitely avoid anything that requires heavy lifting or straining. Just a quick jerk can set back a lot of healing.

I generally washed them once every few days using normal bleach (not chlorine bleach -- very different).

I strongly recommend wearing braces on both hands so that you don't end up overcompensating and giving your other hand the same condition.

3. Anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen/Advil) + B6 vitamins

B6 helps repair nerve damage. Ibuprofen will help reduce swelling and allow your hands to heal. You should NOT take it and continue to strain your hands -- this can cause even more damage.

Avoid taking more than 300 mgs of ibuprofen at a time (twice a day at most) and make sure you take them with a full glass of water -- can cause real problems. You can take more than 300 mgs of B6 and it doesn't matter. Its just not helping.

As pain diminishes, use less ibuprofen/B6. Stop taking it as soon as possible.

4. Non-drug methods

A. Use ice on your hands -- hold a bottle of water left in the freezer over night against your wrist. It will hurt but wait until the pain goes away. Count to 10 and then take off the ice. Don't do it longer than this or you can get frostbite.

B. In the mornings, your swelling is at its lowest so you can put heat on your wrists to increase circulation. This will help your wrists to heal. Heat means a warm cloth wrapped around your wrists.

C. Use your hands less. Simply put, just take a break from everything if possible. Watch movies, television, read, etc. This is difficult but may be necessary.


Some great poetry

One of my favorites ...

E.E. Cummings -- from SEVEN POEMS, VII

who knows if the moon's
a balloon,coming out of a keen city
in the sky--filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should

get into it,if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
why then
we'd go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:
go sailing
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody's ever visited,where

always
it's
Spring)and everyone's
in love and flowers pick themselves

Web video with "drop" services

Web video is a great way to explain new and different software. Two videos that point to two of my favorite programs of recent: GetDropBox and Drop.io

On goodness and being overwhelmed

A long time ago, I wrote someone a letter with a particular part I really liked; it became one of my more literary e-mails:

"I am pleased you found some peace finally and that you were able to embrace in some aspect what I most certainly recommend: the letting go of expectations. Part of your beauty is your failure. We will not make the world a dramatically better place because of our supreme smallness. Our imperfection tethers us to the wall while people suffer and die before our very eyes, through a window of glass called a TV screen, if not closer than that. You fail because you cannot possibly untie yourself but your passionate effort to do so (when so few even bother trying) is majestic. You squirm in the mud and yet are covered in roses."

Third parties

So Ron Paul and Ralph Nader got up and make a big push for 3rd party candidates. Both guys on very opposite ends of the political spectrum hit some surprising points that genuinely changed my political viewpoints.

As a side note, this is all a terrific example of the false dilemma fallacy.

Beauty and stillness

A passage I've come across pointed to something very important about the concept of beauty:

"Part of what gets lost [in the human tendency to think that one's life right now is not as it should be; but next week it will be settled properly] is the present. We may lose joy; we certainly lose the detail of what is before us, and much of the wonder of it. One of the later schools of Buddhism, Zen (which will be discussed in chapter 8), particularly emphasizes this. A persistent idea in the Zen literature is that the world, on a minute-to-minute basis, is beautiful but we lose the beauty (and fail to take in most of the detail) because of our desire-laden thrust into the future." (Classic Asian Philosophy - Kupperman)

What Kupperman's idea connects to is a necessity of a state of mind to recognize beauty. Art is more difficult to appreciate when we are distracted or preoccupied. It is not necessary to be happy or sad, as a person at a funeral can incite one's awareness of beauty. Nor is it necessary to be still or silent, as one can work in a great Museum and not notice its works as they have become ordinary. It seems necessary not to be angry to recognize beauty, that it creates tunnel vision and fear for one's self. Yet art that incites people to political action often makes them angry.

What is required is living in the moment. Art may startle someone and give them pause but true appreciation does not occur until they truly become still and accept art inside.

A deeper, perhaps Buddhist sense of stillness and appreciation of the moment, comes in finding appreciation in everyday things. Perhaps artists who paint portraits of Saints and titanic events are less in touch with art than still life painters? Certainly beauty can be appreciated in things that involve time such as the beauty of a dancer's movements, the beauty of two old peoples' long and happy marriage, but that comes with retrospect, which appreciates a single moment. It would seem that art's focus on this instant or the present.

Appreciation of art therefore requires some degree of stillness.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Various comedy

Various politics

Spanish music

My friend kim hooked me up with a long list of Spanish music on Myspace. This is important as I'm continuing to learn Spanish and keeping it in my ears is always helpful.

Similarly, Spanish children's stories.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bottled water no better than tap, sometimes worse

Federal standards are higher for tap water.

GWB vs. History

Worst President Ever. You've seen the bumper stickers proclaiming this, which really sound partisan and exaggerated. Yet this is a real issue since his supporters talk frequently about how history will vindicate him (source).

So I went back to take a look at this and see if the people who know (historians) agree. An unscientific survey found 61% (up from 8.3% in 2004) of historians do currently consider Bush the worst president ever. An admittedly poor survey belies the fact that historians don't generally come up with these opinions while a president is still in office, much less alive.

What would make them think that? After all, the US has had some terrible presidents, among them the most corrupt: Grant. For one historian, Bush "ranks with U.S. Grant as the worst. His oil interests and Cheney's corporate Haliburton contracts smack of the same corruption found under Grant."

"While Grant did serve in the army (more than once), Bush went AWOL from the National Guard. That means that Grant is automatically more honest than Bush, since Grant did not send people into places that he himself consciously avoided. . . . Grant did not attempt to invade another country without a declaration of war; Bush thinks that his powers in this respect are unlimited." (Historians vs. George Bush)

Generally considered the worst is Buchanan because of the damage the Civil War did to the US. Buchanan be said to have made the Civil War inevitable or to have made the war last longer by his pusillanimity or, possibly, treason." "Buchanan allowed a war to evolve, but that war addressed a real set of national issues. Mr. Bush started a war . . . for what reason?"

So that's the case against him. While I don't believe in sound bytes, at least one bumper sticker may be accurate.

Top 10 problems with my local coffee shop

  1. Employees don't have the requisite facial jewelry required for real indie coffee shops
  2. These great high ceilings still haven't made way for a indoor ferris wheel
  3. "Satellite" radio doesn't mean all-Dave-Matthews-all-the-time
  4. Female employees really just being friendly
  5. Somehow we're in Texas and yet the food selection doesn't include ribs
  6. No secret underground lair
  7. Male employees not just being friendly
  8. When you ask for a T-bag, you really just wanted tea
  9. The customers? Nature should have weeded out all these losers long ago
  10. "Extra shot" doesn't mean a .22 in the shoulder

Talking to the police

So when to talk to the cops without a lawyer? Never.

Graffiti art + stop motion animation

One of the most impressive art projects I've seen in a while.

Redesigning the stop sign

Why I didn't go into marketing (funny YouTube video).

"Be agressive" animation

A choice selection from web series called "Babycakes" so its sort of something you might have to see from the beginning. Its alternately really beautiful and sweet, and sometimes just odd.

Going veggie to reduce carbon footprint

"A diet with meat is responsible for producing in a year the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving a mid-sized car 4,758 kilometres (2,956 miles), the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IOeW) said.

But the food a vegetarian consumes in 12 months is responsible for generating the same emissions as driving 2,427 kilometres, the IOeW said in a study commissioned by independent consumer protection group Foodwatch." (source)

Cutting Wells Fargo

After a long list of asinine fees and problems, I was determined to cut ties but kept putting it off.

After saying they'd stop shady student loan problems, Wells Fargo found another way to screw over students, forcing them to pay the minimum on their loans.

I recommend switching to a not-for-profit credit union.

UnitedHealth Problems

Unfortunately, in terms of health insurance, I'm with a bad company. Where I'm at, that's the default insurance but ...
  1. Really negative reviews of United Health
  2. "According to a 2005 study by the North Carolina Medical Society, the company ranked dead last in a survey of doctors on measures such as prompt and accurate claims payments, customer service, contract negotiation and the process for appealing medical necessity claims." (source)
  3. "Goldman Sachs reported in January that UnitedHealth received "the most negative comments by far" from national employers, who cited problems such as service lapses, lack of responsiveness and turnover among account managers." (source)

The Browser ^2

This is old news now but some guys over at Mozilla are definitely justifying their existence. Its so obvious and brilliant, it hurts -- just watch the video (skip to 00:47 to avoid the annoying word flash thing). Even if this software doesn't end up coming from Mozilla, someone will take this idea and run with it.

Extended Warranties = Bad

Because so many people I know are still buying these.

Out. Of. The. Park.

This is genuinely the best moment on television I've seen all year.  I'm always disturbed that comedy shows seem to be our best news source.  But that's not Stewart's fault.

iPhone or not to iPhone?

Someone I know asked if I recommended buying an iPhone.  Certainly there are good things about it but -- without even talking about the technical details -- you are required to get a contract with AT&T, a company almost nobody likes because of bonehead movies like this and this.  Still, I should say that on the consumer side, Sprint is our worst enemy.  As for AT&T, Consumer Reports said it is the "home of the iPhone but trails the better carriers in almost all respects."

From what I've seen over the past few years, AT&T is the poster child for shitty corporate mergers that hurt everyone.  Basically by going with them you're hurting the entire technology industry.  They want to get into a position of dominance (mini-monopoly) and then sit on it as the rest of the world gets cell phones that can do 10x more (think video phones).

Windows e-mail clients: Evolution vs. Thunderbird

Although most people I know are using web mail exclusively, there are still some advantages to running an e-mail client. Since
Evolution has come out for Windows, I decided to go back and see what's changed.

I downloaded and installed Evolution but was not impressed. Apparently the transition to Windows meant that some 5 different processes had to connect independently to the internet for whatever reasons -- annoying in terms of allowing each action on my firewall and inefficient in terms of system use.

Thunderbird meanwhile has come a LONG way. Lightning (calendaring plugin) and Enigmail (secure e-mail plugin) have both improved immensely over the last year. Add to that its adoption of Evolution's "virtual folders" and capability to run portably make it better than Evolution, save for lacking an MS Exchange functionality and extremely cool virtual folders.

I also just figured out a trick to force "thread" style viewing, like Gmail, which brings me one step closer to moving away from their service. From the menu, select: Tools - Options - Advanced tab - General tab - Config Editor. Then, type in "mail.strict_threading" and double-click on the item until it changes to "true". Firefox will now always start in a threaded format.

Is drinking a bottle of Nyquil fatal?

If you may have overdosed on Acetaminophen, please don't read this article -- call American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222.)
 
If you are thinking about suicide, this appears to be a painful way to die so trying to induce overdose is not going to take the pain away. Please call 1-800-784-2433 to talk to someone about your feelings.  Comments on this post have been disabled.

---

"Acetaminophen overdose is one of the most common poisonings worldwide." (National Institute of Health)

I knew that Acetaminophen was bad in large amounts but I didn't know how bad. Essentially, I couldn't find adequate resources on this topic so I did some research of my own. According to the link, it appears only 8 extra strength pills (500 mg) can cause serious problems and 14 -- untreated -- can kill you. You have about 8 hours after taking them, and then liver failure will kill you in a few days.

This is a big issue for people who get really severe headaches, for elderly folks who forget how many pills they've taken. However, the other group is people who drink a whole bottle of NyQuil either to get the mild alcohol high or to go to sleep.

The NyQuil wikipedia page also has cautions that seem to point to unspecified danger:
"It is essential to avoid excessive amounts of acetaminophen as this may cause damage to the liver. This risk is additive when separate co-ingestion of acetaminophen is used. The normal maximum for acetaminophen per day is 65 mg/kg/24hrs or 4g/day, whichever is less."
However, this doesn't say whether or not drinking a *whole* bottle is a bad idea. However, according to NIH information, doing so appears to be quite harmful. Here's the math:
  1. There are 500 mg Acetaminophen per every 15mL in NyQuil (source)
  2. A bottle of NyQuil contains 10 oz, which converts to 295.7 mL (source)
  3. So there are 9,856 mL of Acetaminophen in every bottle [(295.7/15)*500]
  4. 7,000 mg is supposed to be threshold for possible liver failure.
Therefore, there is a strong chance that drinking a whole bottle could cause serious health problems, including liver failure. My math or my assumptions may be incorrect so please comment if I've made a mistake. There are a long list of other variables including ingesting food, body weight, pre-existing liver problems, and more that would change this. If you're not sure, please contact the Poison Control hotline at the top of this article.

Useful UV lights

Kind of cool item, basically these are lights that can give you a tan (although you shouldn't go tanning). Turned up a little higher, they're also used in air purifiers and also in sterile facilities to kill germs.

The idea is that you would run this (probably on a timer) every night to turn on for a few hours. It would then automatically clean your kitchen. Lots of cool applications -- expect to see more devices that use them.

Update: I actually bought one of these things but I can't really verify that it works or doesn't.  I haven't figured out a way to easily test it on various bacteria to see if it's working.

Anti-French?

A friend of mine was doing the lame hate-the-French act popular among hyperconservatives who wanted the French to support the Iraq war. Apart from the long list of historical contributions the French have given the world, especially regarding Philosophy and Democracy, there's another (more entertaining) side to this.

Calcute

One of my favorite programs for PC, its completely free and lets you do some more advanced math stuff. Its fantastic for calculating complex math problems whose variables might change a little (like calculating your rent for the next year depending on where you choose to live).

Waste heat management

A lot of buildings around where I live have steam coming out from underneath them -- I'm not sure why but its a huge electricity waste. As it turns out, there's ways to recover that which I hope to propose to the building owners.

Motorized bicycle

A guy who's working on setting up his bike for motorized capabilities (and car-replacement).  Pretty amazing how far this stuff has come.  One thing important to note about this is that this setup will do pedal-assist work for you -- its not just a glorified mini-motorcycle.

Gay marriage isn't new

I always thought that gays were older than humanity while the idea of gay marriage was new. Nope.

The magic of video

An anti-McCain video but not in a stupid or pandering way. Its also a bit slow, involving a lot of fact checking.

Recommend skipping to about 2:30 into the video as the initial arguments aren't very interesting or compelling.

Reasons to drive slower (using physics)

The physics of moving objects certainly apply to your car, although the math varies greatly depending on the type of car you drive. The work a moving object does to overcome air resistance increases in a cubic relationship to increases in speed. This means that when speed doubles, air resistance increases by a factor of 8 (= 2^3). So it takes 8x more energy to push your car through air at 80 mph than it does at 40. That's 64x more energy than at 20 mph!

This explains why you should (where possible) keep your windows down in town but roll them up on the highway and use your air conditioning system instead.

Going faster is more dangerous because the the energy is a product of half its mass times its velocity squared (e = 1/2m * v^2). So if you double the speed, the energy that must be dissipated to stop increases by a factor of four (because velocity is squared).

So using the example above, your car has 4x more energy at 80 mph than it does at 40. That means your brakes are less effective if you have to slow down rapidly to avoid an accident and if you don't avoid it, your car will have to dissipate 4x the energy.

Loosely speaking, this means that 80 mph accidents are 16x more dangerous than accidents at 20 mph.

Related:

Menthol cigarettes not as bad, cigarettes still horrible

Two of my friends insist on smoking and, worse, insist on smoking menthols. I thought they were worse than regular cigarettes but when I looked into it, here's what I found. Essentially: they ARE worse but "far worse" isn't accurate.

In related news:
"In my professional experience, dying from emphysema -- which is almost always caused by smoking -- is probably the worst way possible to die."

"It takes a long time and you're constantly gasping for breath. You tend to get pretty miserable emotionally and often take it out on those who love you, which doesn't help."

(source)

Mint.com Review

mint.com : Really glad I set up this site to keep track of my finances. Really frees you up from using just one bank and sets up alerts and budget stuff. A great first step towards getting your finances in order.

How to cook in jail

Not a joke -- I found everything this woman had to say fascinating. I've watched like 10 of her videos so far.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Garbage disposals bad for the environment?

Good article that points out the necessity of compost heaps.

CLEP Exams to save money

I wish I'd known more about this a few years ago -- would have saved me big money in college.  Rundown on CLEP testing, a few free online tests.  For the math portion, you even have online classes.  I hope education keeps going in this very positive direction.

People's Guide to Mexico

Found a very, very old copy of this.  Glad to see its still around.  The whole thing on Google Books, the website, and where I'll probably buy it from.

Stallman vs. Cloud Computing

Richard Stallman recently made some harsh comments (slashdot.org) on cloud computing:

Some thoughts ...

Stallman is concerned that you are *especially* un-free with your software an applications when they reside entirely on someone else's server. His concern is that you have almost no rights whatsoever; Google holds all the cards from beginning to end. If they lose every mail you've ever sent and document you've ever published, you have no way to get it back. If Google suddenly sets up their previously free service as for-pay where it costs $1,000 to get your e-mail, documents back, etc? Tough -- pay or don't pay, Google doesn't care. If Google turns out to be handing out your data like candy, you have no power to make them stop. Read the terms of use agreement which takes away any rights you *thought* you had.

So for Stallman, cloud computing is the ultimate black box. But cloud computing can be useful, especially when it saves your files locally (as can be done with Google Gears). Having just dealt with a horrible experience of the latest Microsoft Word document on the latest edition of Vista completely losing someone's document the other day (and 5 hours of work), PCs are still quite stupid. Cloud computing has some real advantages by keeping every change you make almost every step of the way. Even if your computer disappears, you didn't lose any of your work.

As far as the privacy problem, its a small piece of what your ISP can do. One method around this is dummy traffic, where you regularly get and send fake e-mail messages and searches (kind of like TrackMeNot, although Schneier doesn't like it http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/trackmenot_1.html). Its possible to work just a few minutes a day to get and send fake e-mail by just cutting and pasting random stuff you find on the web to a dummy address. Your privacy is not preserved, but the capability to categorize you by your surfing, e-mail, and other habits is damaged.

Note about Palin and History

Everyone has this conception that no candidate for president should be too intelligent -- the phrase "out of touch" has been used in this election frequently. Palin was selected to help make the Democrats appear elitist, despite Obama growing up poor.

This seems absurd to some but there's a history lesson that invokes this. The Republican party is reacting to a president who has low ratings and scandal just as the Democrats did this with Woodrow Wilson in the early part of the century. Wilson was clean, clean, clean and probably would not have been elected if the other side wasn't divided.

Wilson was brilliant but totally unconnected and made one of the worst decisions of any president when he refused to compromise and get the Treaty of Versailles passed in the Senate. He was a staunch idealist and made a decision that might have been a big reason for WWII.

The problem with a candidate that's on the other side of Wilson's brilliance is that, while they might be in touch, they are inevitably either going to be puppets of their advisers. This happened to Wilson's successor Harding, who was not qualified for the office and let his friends and his party make his decisions and run his office.

Its clear that Palin is far from Woodrow Wilson but, should she come to power, let's hope will be both in touch and choose good advisers.