Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Honda paying out $6 million for 'overclocked' odometers

If you've been wondering how your Honda or Acura just seems to cover ground an awful lot quicker than your previous ride without even getting you a speeding ticket, listen up. Apparently, around six million Honda / Acura owners have been wheeling around in vehicles that are clicking off miles quite a bit faster than they're actually being driven.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rubik's Cube... for those more interested in a nap

Ok, now I'll admit that I'm professionally lazy. But this even got me going! It's perfect for those of us who like the thought of solving a Rubik's Cube and can never seem to take it all the way to completion. Myself, I had one of my desk most of the way through college in some 1/2 solved form or another. And oh yes, I knew about the websites that would give you the solution. Too much work. I'll be adding this to my Christmas wish list this year. A Rubik's Cube for the lazy! I are one.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Windows Vista Flunks At MIT

Tech staffers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are warning professors and administrators at the school -- host to one of the country's most prestigious computer science departments -- not to upgrade desktops or laptops to Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system because the software isn't yet ready for "productive and safe computing," according to an internal statement posted on MIT's Web site.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

US News Sources Too Slanted

Ok... I've gotten tired of listening to report after report of Anna Nichole Smith's death juxtaposed to next to nothing coverage of what's really going on over in Iraq. For a media so ready to pound Bush for screwing up, they're sure not ready to air our real dirty laundry around the world.

I could go on and on but why bother? Instead I'd like to encourage YOU, an intelligent person, to compare for yourself. Surf over to CNN and then compare their coverage to the BBC News. I think you'll not only be floored, you'll be irate at what we're not being told and shown. I'll grant that the BBC isn't perfect either but they're a far cry from CNN, MSNBC, et. al.

Go compare for yourself. And while you're there, bookmark the BBC News. I personally encourage you to make it your primary source for international news.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Pentagon's not-so-little secret

Feb. 8, 2007 | Deep within the bowels of the Pentagon, policy planners are conducting secret meetings to discuss what to do in the worst-case scenario in Iraq about a year from today if and when President Bush's escalation of more than 20,000 troops fails, a participant in those discussions told me. None of those who are taking part in these exercises, shielded from the public view and the immediate scrutiny of the White House, believes that the so-called surge will succeed. On the contrary, everyone thinks it will not only fail to achieve its aims but also accelerate instability by providing a glaring example of U.S. incapacity and incompetence.

The profoundly pessimistic thinking that permeates the senior military and the intelligence community, however, is forbidden in the sanitized atmosphere of mind-cure boosterism that surrounds Bush. "He's tried this two times -- it's failed twice," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Jan. 24 about the "surge" tactic. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.'" She repeated his words: "'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."

On Feb. 2, the National Intelligence Council, representing all intelligence agencies, issued a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, as harsh an antidote to wishful thinking as could be imagined. "The Intelligence Community judges that the term 'civil war' does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qaida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements."

The report described an Iraqi government, army and police force that cannot meet these challenges in any foreseeable time frame and a reversal of "the negative trends driving Iraq's current trajectory" occurring only through a dream sequence in which all the warring sects and factions, in some unexplained way, suddenly make peace with one another. Nor does the NIE suggest that this imaginary scenario might ever come to pass. Instead, it proceeds to describe the potential for "an abrupt increase in communal and insurgent violence and a shift in Iraq's trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences."

Bush justified his invasion on the basis of false intelligence in the now notorious NIE of October 2002 that claimed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Now, as the latest NIE forecasts nightmares, he is escalating the war. But almost everything has changed in the nearly four years since the invasion.

A newly elected Congress has been galvanized to debate a bipartisan resolution disapproving of Bush's escalation. Yet in the Senate, where 60 votes are necessary to establish cloture on a filibuster, the Republican minority has blocked a vote. Though many Republicans are keenly aware that continued support for Bush's policy amounts to political suicide in 2008, all but two of them have joined a phalanx to shut down the vote. By mustering behind him, they tie their fate to his policy. Bush, however, will be gone, while they remain exposed to the political elements.

Even Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the Republican cosponsor of the resolution against the escalation along with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., cast his lot with the Republican martyr brigade, voting to suppress his own measure. In 2002, the Republican right mounted a primary campaign against Warner in retribution for his deviation from their ideological line, but failed feebly. Warner cannot fear a repetition of the right's vengeance. Can he be undermining himself out of deference to the authority of a commander in chief whose course he believes is reckless?

The Republican prevention of a vote on the Warner-Levin resolution reflects an effort to close debate on the war itself. It amounts in effect to a gag rule on Bush's Iraq policy. During the Vietnam War, under President Johnson, neither party attempted to shut down debate. After 1969, President Nixon's Vietnam policy consisted of misdirection, deception, covert action and fait accompli, such as the counterproductive and ultimately catastrophic invasion of Cambodia. The Bush administration's methods can be traced to the Nixon administration, with Dick Cheney as the connecting thread.

The reception of the latest NIE, even more than the NIE itself, indicates again Bush's and Republicans' denial of objective analysis from the professional intelligence community. The October 2002 NIE was produced under intense pressure from the White House, especially Vice President Cheney, to validate its preconceived views. "The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made," Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East who oversaw the assembling of that NIE, wrote a year ago. In the shadow of this travesty, the new NIE was written with great care; its frightening descriptions, therefore, should be considered to be deliberately guarded and reserved in tone.

Just as Bush and the Republicans rejected the bipartisan wise men of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, they have now rejected the objective assessment of the professionals. By thwarting the bipartisan Warner-Levin resolution, they have declared that they will operate on their own fanciful criteria, even against their own political interests.

As the Senate curdles in frustration over Republican tactics, the trial of Scooter Libby continues to clarify the degree to which the administration covered up its disinformation campaign that led the country into war with another disinformation campaign to cover up the role of the vice president as the prime mover of the smear campaign against former ambassador Joseph Wilson for committing the unforgivable act of revealing the truth. For the Senate Republicans, Scooter Libby is not an object lesson. The lesson they take away, if any, is not the necessity of open government but once again the need to burn the tapes.

Libby's effort to prevent his grand jury tapes from being entered into evidence in his trial resembled nothing so much as Nixon trying to suppress his tapes. Both in the end revealed their respective coverups. Cheney learned from Nixon to burn the tapes at least figuratively; now, his chief of staff, Cheney's Cheney, has tried to protect Cheney by literally and futilely suppressing the tapes. Cheney finds himself back at the beginning. For him, life has come full circle. From the entire history of deception, from the Nixon to the Libby tapes, the Republicans have learned nothing.

The new NIE offers more than "key judgments" on "The Prospects for Iraq's Stability." It is also a template for the short-term future of American politics. The ruthlessly cruel events projected for Iraq will blow back to the United States. The more Bush fights there, the more the embattled Republicans must fight here.

The Senate Republicans' vote to suppress the resolution on the war was the moment when they irrevocably aligned themselves completely with a president who rejects objective analysis. Unable to shield him or themselves from the inevitable consequences, they have made a conscious decision to place the president's delusions above the welfare not only of the Republican Party but also of the troops sent into the deadly labyrinth of Baghdad. Quietly and calmly, as the Republicans hype the "surge," the war planners prepare for the worst.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Educational Toys - Discovery Toys turn play into learning

I find myself surrounded by new parents these days. I guess that's what happens when you're a single guy in the middle of a bunch of young married couples.

So what comes with being in the middle of newborns and toddlers? Well first there is the baby shower blitz. Then there are toddlers who need to be entertained and stimulated so they don't drive everyone crazy... ooo... I mean so they gain the proper life skills and are equipped and ready to excel in school.

While digging through my normal shopping haunts looking for some unique baby shower and toddler, I remembered that there was a company out there doing some unique stuff. They're called "Discovery Toys". Michelle Helferich, my half sister-in-law (is that a real title? let's run with it), happens to be a distributor. Not only is she a distributor, she's a highly engaged mom of a pre-schooler herself.

Michelle Helferich maintains a blog about happenings, experiences and living life. It's no blasé life either. Michelle and Joe are the parents of an extraordinary little gal, named Kayla, who is gifted with Trisomy 21, aka Down syndrome.

When Kayla was born, Michelle left civil service to become a domestic engineer. If you'd like to peek into their life, take a moment to pop over to her blog - Big Blueberry Eyes. The life of a military wife, raising a pre-schooler with Trisomy, tending to a quiet geek hubby (2 geeks from the same dad... imagine that... 1 quiet, 1 talkitive) and running a small business on the side requires a lot of balance, courage and scheduling.

The next time you find yourself looking for a suitable gift for that inquisitive toddler in your life, head over to Michelle's Discovery Toys ecommerce site. I'm sure you're find something perfect!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I joined the online backup revolution... you should too.

Those who know me in the business world know that I'm not a big fan of outsourcing. I only do it when it really makes sense... or when it saves me a lot of work.

Well, back almost 2 years ago I found an online backup product that worked in peer-to-peer mode called Vembu. It was a great product hampered by the limitations of configuration and maintenance. We still use it in our datacenters - where the environment is controlled and the bandwidth plentiful.

Once the per license prices of Vembu started going up, I started looking for something else that might fill the gap. That's when I heard about a handful of startup's making use of Amazon's hosted services web services APIs and outsourced data storage and processing services - known as Amazon S3. Using those web services and outsourced storage space dramatically reduce the cost of starting up and running a business whose purpose in life is to amass large quantities of data that doesn't get touched very often.

"Large quantities of data that doesn't get touched very often..." Hmm, doesn't that sound like the exact definition of computer backups? Absolutely. Since S3 is so well fitted to the online backup model, it's no surprise that 7-8 real companies are trying to make a business of it.

The first product I tried that made use of them was called Elephant Backup. Great idea... horrible software. Their software must have truly been written by engineers because it made no real sense to normal users. Even I, a tech guy, looked at a few of the ways they did things and went "Huh?"

So I've been on the lookout for companies doing similar things and testing the products. After more than a couple false starts and some hair pulling, 2 months ago I finally found an online backup product that works as advertised, required no manual intervention from me, and just did it's thing without pestering me in the process. That product is Carbonite Backup.

Cheesy name... great product. And yes, it literally does create a carbon copy of your data for backup purposes. The shining star of this product isn't their website (nice but who cares... you should never have to touch it if the product works right). Instead the real meat is their client software. It has smarts to figure out - with pretty good accuracy in all of my tests - what files to back up and what to ignore.

The Carbonite software doesn't fuss with trying to backup all your software installations, Windows files and other junk. It zooms in on the important stuff: documents, emails, photos and important settings. The biggest surprise for me was that it figured out I was using Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client and correctly chose all the Thunderbird mailbox files to back up. (This did create a slight problem. Keep on reading for details.)

For those who have never used online backup tools before let me give you a couple helpful hints to make things register correctly in your brain.
  1. Your computer has to be connected to the internet and able to actually access the outside world for backups to take place. If it's turned off or not online, nothing happens. So don't use online backup if you're seldom online or the machine spends more time turned off than it does turned on.

  2. The speed of backups and restores is limited by your connection speed. If you're on a 768kbps DSL line, forget about it unless you have next to nothing to back up (in which case, why aren't you just burning CDs instead?). On my 6mbps x 640kbps DSL line it took about 7 days to completely backup 29 GB of data.

  3. Carbonite is smart enough to not use up a lot of bandwidth when you're doing stuff. It waits for you to be idle. For me that meant my backup went much slower than it could have. I'm on my main PC 16 hours some days. "Normal" people won't notice it as much as I did.

  4. If you have VoIP in active use, set Carbonite to use "Lower priority" mode. I couldn't figure out why my VoIP calls (on all 4 of my terminal adapters) went to crap at night after I installed Carbonite. Come to find out I was using the phone at night when my PC had gone idle. So that meant Carbonite was running full bore and using up all my bandwidth trying to make that initial backup. Setting it to Lower priority mode not only limits the amount of data it will try to send at a time, it also makes the data it sends go in smaller chunks so it doesn't bottleneck your connection.

  5. Files get automatically re-backed up every time they change. For normal files this is terrific, however, as I mentioned Carbonite recognized my Mozilla Thunderbird email files as something it should back up. That meant every time I got a new email, Carbonite tagged my 680MB inbox file as something that needed to be backed up. I eventually had to set that one particular file to "manual" status so it wouldn't be backed up automatically. It was causing my whole backup to choke since it was constantly getting requeued.

  6. You can't reliably back up Outlook files unless you exit Outlook. This is Microsoft's fault, not Carbonite's. Outlook opens its files for exclusive use when it's running. Thus your marvelous PST file that really needs to get backed up will not be touchable while Outlook is running. This is quite easy to solve. 1) Close Outlook at night and leave your computer running. 2) Install the Outlook Back-up Add-in from Microsoft so Outlook will allow you to easily save a 2nd copy of your PST file somewhere periodically. Then backup that 2nd copy since it won't be in use.
Looking at the product Carbonite offers as a whole, I'd have to say my favorite feature is it's unobtrusiveness. It's one of those products you install and forget about - until you need it. The only reminder it's running in the background is occasional hard drive access (when it scans for new files) and a little green lock icon to let you know it's happy.

Since I'm a Carbonite user myself, I can give you something that they don't advertise. 1 free month of service. Use the link on the title or click here to try Carbonite for 15 free. If you go to their website without that link, you'll pay $49.95 for 12 months. Use my link and you'll get 13 months instead of 12. (Hey, have I ever mentioned that my lucky number *is* 13? No kidding.)

I suggest letting the 15 day free trial fully run its course. No credit card is asked for to start or required during the trial. They will back up everything except big movie files during the trial. If you like how it works, subscribe and smile at getting a free month. (Especially since *I* didn't even get a free month when I started using the service myself!) If you don't like it, uninstall and go about your merry way but don't forget to find another way to back yourself up!!

Remember, "Lessons not learned are repeated until comprehension." And one lesson most computer users shouldn't have to learn twice is to back up their data. So get going... go backup your computer RIGHT NOW. Mommy says you can't have your dessert until you do. :P

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Car Renting Anecdote

I was doing a car rental online tonight for an upcoming trip and ran across some a comment that struck me as funny. I thought I was the only person in this guy's shoes. I prefer to drive smaller cars and always feel like I'm going to take down a wall or the car next to me in something big like an SUV or van.

Since I have preferred status with a couple companies, I normally get a class upgrade. When inventory is tight at certain locations that can lead to really strange upgrades. For example, I once reserved a mid-size car (smallish Toyota or something like a Pontiac G6) and walked out to the pickup lot to find my name attached to a Ford Expedition. I was mortified at the thought of driving such a large car but never thought about going in and asking for a *downgrade*. Never dawned on me that such a thing was possible.

Dayton Ohio a coupla days ago, on a one day business rental:

I went from (reserved a) Compact to (got) a Caravan.

...and then promptly marched right back in and stated "Unless you want the Caravan back wrecked, I'd like a car that I will not smash into things with" (like I had originally requested).

Since this was the second time (in a short period) that something like this has happened (last time I refused a Chevy Suburban for my compact), I called them up and now "no upgrades" is in my profile. I'm used to subcompacts.... If I drive a big car, I'm going to smash it into stuff... then noone is happy. Hopefully that note will stop these crazy upgrades.
The joys of "status". We used to have to fight for nice upgrades... now we're asking for downgrades. What is the world coming to?

If only Embarq would call me up and offer to upgrade my 5-6mbps DSL service to 45mbps DS3 service for no charge, boy would I be a happy camper! Even if it would mean I'd have to buy a $4000 router.

Friday, February 02, 2007

China says Bush should "respect religious diversity"

Ok, Hell must have frozen over while I wasn't looking yesterday. China is speaking out about religious tolerance. That's like George Bush trying to explain "intelligence".

Reuters is reporting on remarks from Ye Xiaowen, China's director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs.
President Bush should scrap his unilateral approach and respect religious diversity in his "war on terror" to resolve troubles in Iraq.
Now those comments would seem quite off-base for a country who does not recognize non-state sponsored religion, ran an ethnic cleansing/redistribution campaign in Tibet and still is doing so other places, and is itself trying to run the Muslims out of the western part of it's country.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

RDU HDTV owners... WRAL offering free over-the-air antennas

Fellow RDU folks... if you're within the coverage of the WRAL TV5 (CBS) broadcast area you can get a free over-the-air antenna for your HDTV setup. For more information check out the linked page on the WRAL website.

Most people don't realize there are currently channels being broadcast that don't come through your satellite dish or most of the cable systems. For example NC ETV (PBS) - channel 4 in the RDU area - broadcasts 5 channels. WRAL 11 (ABC) broadcasts 3. There are a total of 35 digital channels available to most of the people in our area. You just need the right equipment to receive those channels.

Here's the basics of what you need:
  1. HDTV set or something suitable to watch the broadcasts on.
  2. A TV tuner that can decipher those digital HDTV signals. This is called an ATSC tuner. Some HDTV's have the built in (most of the newest ones) and some require an external box. Check with where you bought your TV from if you have any questions.
  3. An antenna that is strong enough to pull in the stations that you want to receive.
The good news is that digital signals still look great when analog signals are too snowy to watch. Digital is pretty much an all or nothing affair. Either there's enough information being received for the TV to display a perfect picture or you get nothing. The bad news is if there's not enough information being received... you get nothing.

So if you have #1 and #2 above covered, take WRAL up on their offer. Let them give you a free antenna. It will save you anywhere from $50 to $150. Their engineering folks will take a look at where you live, analyze the terrain between you and their broadcast tower, and order the correct antenna for you at no cost.

That's a great deal! Take advantage of it ASAP! Get their free antenna form in the mail today.

Bush... Shorthand for ungrateful poopie head.

Cheney's Handwritten Notes Implicate Bush in Plame Affair - excerpt

"Bush has long maintained that he was unaware of attacks by any member of his administration against [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson. The ex-envoy's stinging rebukes of the administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence led Libby and other White House officials to leak Wilson's wife's covert CIA status to reporters in July 2003 in an act of retaliation. But Cheney's notes, which were introduced into evidence Tuesday during Libby's perjury and obstruction-of-justice trial, call into question the truthfulness of President Bush's vehement denials about his prior knowledge of the attacks against Wilson. The revelation that Bush may have known all along that there was an effort by members of his office to discredit the former ambassador begs the question: Was the president also aware that senior members of his administration compromised Valerie Plame's undercover role with the CIA?

Further, the highly explicit nature of Cheney's comments not only hints at a rift between Cheney and Bush over what Cheney felt was the scapegoating of Libby, but also raises serious questions about potentially criminal actions by Bush. If Bush did indeed play an active role in encouraging Libby to take the fall to protect Karl Rove, as Libby's lawyers articulated in their opening statements, then that could be viewed as criminal involvement by Bush."