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


Friday, April 30, 2010

Modern hearing loss

Anything that interferes with an audiophile's enjoyment of music is an automatic enemy.  As such, riding in a roller coaster might not be a good idea.  Additionally, listening to very loud music can hurt your ability to enjoy it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drill baby drill?

... a mentality that may have lead to the biggest oil spill in the world in our back yard. (thanks Jordan)  While we have tried to achieve energy independence we may have destroyed a whole host of other industries.

Update: one youtube video hits this perfectly.

Party tools

From a recent text message exchange on Party preparation:

"My party tools include a toy shark and a box. Then I have people
guess what's in the box. At the end of the night whoever guessed
closest gets the shark."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The hope behind ChromeOS and/or Linux on the Desktop

Note: this article is very out of date.  I was hoping that there would be some kind of clear next step for the OS that I could use to revise this article, but instead I post it as a kind of hope for the future.

ChromeOS is an entire operating system that's purely a web browser.  There are some problems with this but one advantage is finally escaping vendor lock-in with your computer.  Purely web-driven technologies will allow developers to make software that immediately runs on 90% of computers, as well as allow both software and platform developers to compete with each other.

This contrasts when Microsoft locks users into their model and Apple increasingly locks people into theirs.  Vendor lock-in was the problem with the recent Google's Books program: you could only buy their books (which they frequently didn't own) from them.  Its bad because makes it possible for the both recent Apple vulnerabilities and the long, long list of unpatched IE 6 problems over time.  When there's no competition, you kick back and relax.  I can see management saying: "What are the customers going to do -- go somewhere else?"

Hoping that companies effectively create standards and then nurture them is counter to the nature of business.  Yet standards are necessary and good because they provide a consistent user experience and make people use computers faster and easier.  Its open standards that allow people to go elsewhere when someone abuses their market position.  The hope behind ChromeOS and/or the Successful Linux OS is making some better standards than Linux has had so far, while still keeping them open. 

Anytime you buy a car, you buy whoever gives you the best deal. Vendor loyalty is your decision and it should be the same in hardware and software.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Must-have Windows software (installed)

I'm a strong proponent of portable software and avoid installing anything on my Windows computer.  So when I do, its something really important to have.
  • PrimoPDF or PDF Creator - two programs that all you to print from any application and send the output to a PDF file.  Primo has more options but PDF Creator is open source.
  • MyDefrag - Does optimized defragmenting based on daily, weekly, or monthly optimizations.
  • TaskSwitchXP - although a newer and prettier version is out, I prefer this one because it uses FAR less memory.
  • Google Calendar Sync - so I can check calendar events remotely.  The program only Syncs with Outlook, which is fine for me as my calendar software Rainlendar also connects to Outlook.
  • Dropbox - backup your files and share them with friends very easily.  Also out for Mac.
  • Flashfolder - an excellent program that keeps track of recently saved folders and posts a bar above any save dialog to give you more options to organize your files.  Awesome. Originally heard about this great program through freewaregenius
  • Copernic Desktop Search - the only "desktop search" program among offerings from Google, Microsoft, and others.  Note that this program gradually losing ground to portable alternatives Everything and SearchMyFiles as well as the semi-portable DocFetcher
  • Send To Toys - when you right-click on an item and choose "Send To" its nice to have some options you'll actually use and the ability to customize them.  Found via Lifehacker.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fox News propaganda lunacy

 More speculation about the world nuclear summit logo's similarity to other symbols gives way to another great John Stewart poke. (thanks victoria)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Game: Flaming Zombooka

A remarkably fun and silly game in the tradition of Lemmings.

Chemicals in beef

Heavy metals in American beef due to lower testing standards than its neighbors.  Fortunately reform is promised but in the mean time, organic? (thanks Kristy)

Ethics and business

Those of us that have worked for companies of less-than-stellar reputations may see ourselves described here.  The author relates his own experience making far too much money for doing less than excellent work, while never saying no.  In an era of CEOs with golden parachutes, its pleasant to read that some are not able to purchase a clean conscience.

Era of Responsibility

Great Op-Ed piece over at NYT on finger-pointing after disaster.  I'm reminded of the public relations-friendly use of the passive voice "mistakes were made."

Admitting to failure and apologizing is not weakness, but wisdom.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Invade your own privacy

A site that does the work of a background check and gives free basic results.  These so far have been pretty accurate and its disturbing just how much is available and accurate. (thanks eb)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

How to encrypt a file in OS X

Although there's a way to encrypt a lot of files in OS X using Disk Utility, those files can be very big.  What if you just want to save one SMALL file, for example to send through email?

Encrypt one file
  1. Move the file you'd like to encrypt to your desktop (for this example, it will be FileName.doc). 
  2. If there are spaces in the file, we recommend putting it in a folder without spaces and following the "Encrypt many files" instructions below
  3. Open up Terminal from the /Applications/Utilities folder
  4. You'll see a big white window with a little bit of text
  5. Type "cd Desktop" and press the Enter key
  6. Type "zip -e zipfilename.zip FileName.doc"
  7. Choose a password you don't think anyone could guess and type it twice (if the information is very important see choosing a good password).
You're done!  To unzip the file, simply double click on it.  No matter who you send the file to, both Mac and PC (so long as they're using Windows XP or above) will recognize the file is protected and prompt for the password.

Encrypt many files
  1. Put all the files you need in a single folder without spaces
  2. Move the folder to your desktop (for this example, it will be FolderName).
  3. Open up Terminal from the /Applications/Utilities folder
  4. Type "cd Desktop" and press the Enter key
  5. Type "zip -er zipfilename.zip FolderName"
  6. Choose a password you don't think anyone could guess and type it twice (if the information is very important see choosing a good password).

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Not a talking-points puppet

Having watched Obama switch from a self-aware and clear-headed anti-politician into yet another "stay on message" president, it was a refreshing change of pace to see the very conservative Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) go the other direction.  He resists a villainous characterization of his opponents and recommends doing homework to inform opinions, as well as getting news from more than one news source.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Nearly nuked?

I thought Obama's effort to dramatically reduce the nuke stockpile was a nice idea, but not very meaningful.  I have changed my mind.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

More bad Texas history: McCarthy = hero

Its difficult to see McCarthy as a hero when the term McCarthyism is synonymous with a proof-not-needed witch hunt.  The not-very-shocking fact that communists were infiltrating the US at that time ignores the likelihood that this approach likely hurt anti-Communist effort more than it helped.  Portraying a paranoid, hawkish bully as a hero is the same sort of revisionist history Russia is experiencing with Stalin.

Since Wikipedia has an obvious liberal bias, there's Conservapedia's take on McCarthy.

Update: This site wasn't the first to make the McCarthy-Stalin comparison.  Also, to avoid an apples-and-oranges fallacy, it should be stated the murder of millions is far more villainous than a trampling of civil liberties.

More on securing your computer against children

More suggestions for the KidSafe program (see part one):

"My younger siblings all flip with joy when I run it - "Let's go see if we can break KidSafe!" - and the subsequent keyboard-pounding makes me wonder if it would be more economical to let them destroy the desktop icons instead of the keyboard."

In security, its all about considering your attacker.  In the case with children, they have unique weakness: a low tolerance for boredom/frustration.  Unfortunately, if a program presents a challenge, their determination may increase so you must destroy the challenge by either making the reward suck or make it seem there's no progression towards a goal.

The honeypot idea:

Give kids an actual desktop with actual icons to play with and move around but they don't do anything.  They can change things, but those changes are temporary and nothing actually works.  They play around a bit and then they move on because its boring.  It seems like they got somewhere but their success is either not real or dull because many features are disabled, including network access and programs.

This is somewhat like what DeepFreeze or Returnil do, but less involved.  Its just a fake desktop.

Increasing difficulty idea
(requires durable keyboard):

User must answer a few questions.  For every question answered right, the number of questions decreases by one, but for every question answered wrong, the number of questions increases by five!  Not only that but the right answer doesn't seem to work!

Any minor setback will make kids less willing to work toward their goal.  Its a problem videogames have been trying to solve for years: how to increase difficulty for the player without making them feel like they're being punished when they make a mistake.  The more it seems like a chore and the less you feel a sense of progress to your goal, the less patient you become.  Adults have this problem too, but far less than children.

Additionally, you can make even correct answers appear to be increasing in difficulty or give seemingly negative feedback even when they get the correct answer.

(Image credit.)

Child resistance technique: dullness

A project designed to help keep young children off computers is underway.  Once started, the program presents the user with a beautiful seaside resort and a small password window.  While aesthetically pleasing, the following suggestion was made as a possible alternative:

"I would recommend boring, colorless, uninteresting reports, preferably in foreign languages.  Nothing is less interesting to a child than a blank, unchanging picture of lengthy, hard-to-understand words.  This is like Kryptonite to kids."

Examples I found:

* Dull report
* Tax credit informtion
* Blurry engineering fliers (known as the "I triple E" effect)
* Blurry tax information

Just TRY to stay awake.

See also: SEP Field