Browse Month: January 2005

01/28/2005

If anyone from T-Mobile is reading this, you guys blow.

When I set up my cell phone with them almost a year ago, I specifically said I needed text messaging because I’ve set up my web servers to automatically call my phone with a message if they’re in trouble. It’s a great arrangement, and lets me respond immediately to any problems. Of course, this doesn’t happen often (and when it does it’s almost always a false alarm), so I only need a half-dozen or so text messages per month.

The woman I spoke with last May said she’d set me up with 30 free messages per month. Great, that’s more than I need… I’m set. Today when I was reviewing my bill I noticed I’d been charged twenty cents for four messages last month. Apparently those 30 free ones weren’t per month; they were in total. Now, every time my server cries out for help, I’m billed a nickel for the e-mail to my phone.

I called T-Mobile and asked about this, seeing if they could either give me a handful of free messages each month, or perhaps slap another 30 on my account (which will last a while). The guy said that was just not possible. Yeah, right. Even though the woman last year did it, now he’s powerless. He pointed out that it’s only five cents per message, or I could sign up for 300 messages for three bucks a month. I insisted I only needed five or so messages, he continued to tell me he “wasn’t supposed to” throw me a handful of freebies.

So now I’m quite literally being nickeled-and-dimed by T-Mobile, because of a misunderstanding last year. Losers.

01/28/2005

Man, spam sucks.

I have an elaborate set of mail filters that automatically categorize incoming messages into folders based on who they’re from, the content, and so on. One of the filters checks my address book and shovels anything from someone I don’t know into a “suspected spam” folder, which I can then check for anything legitimate.

The problem is that I get a hundred or so a day in this folder, and I have to scan them to look for anything real. Take the example here. One of these messages is legitimate; the others aren’t. Argh.

I wonder sometimes how many opportunities I’ve missed because someone writes to me and I simply discard their message with all the other trash.

01/28/2005

My friend Derek sent me an article comparing the civil rights struggle of last century– and its fight against the Ku Klux Klan– with the present-day insurgency in Iraq.

The civil rights movement, described in the article, finally emerged victorious over the KKK “insurgents” because the population finally got tired of what was happening. To quote:

“The Sixteenth Street Church bombing was a wake-up call for northern whites. The deaths of four little girls in white dresses was too much even for whites who hadn’t cared about civil rights.”

So the “solution to the problem”, in this case, was for the general population to get fed up with the crap going on around them, and stand up for something.

Similarly, in Iraq, the solution will occur when (if?) the population decides the insurgency’s day is over, and fight back. Right now I suspect most people are living quietly in their homes, doing whatever they can to avoid the next car bomb or kidnapping incident.

The important thing I want to stress here is that the presence (or absence) of U.S. troops does precious little for this situation. One might argue that the insurgents aren’t quite as brash as they might otherwise be, knowing that some Marine sniper might be around the next corner. But overall, I don’t think the insurgency much cares about the U.S. forces. They run pell-mell through the streets, yanking people out of their cars or driving through the front door of a police precinct.

A billion dollars a week from us isn’t making the elections any safer.

Now, I’m fully aware that I’m sitting in my comfortable home writing this message– I’m not hiding out in a shack in the Baghdad suburbs wondering if my wife is going to make it back from the store today. It’s easy to assess a situation as an armchair quarterback, and I know the reality is far tougher. But my grandpa, who was a bomber pilot in World War II, said of the Jews who were buried in mass graves, “The Germans lined them up and made them dig their own graves, then shot them all. If I’d been one of those poor Jews, I’d be damned if I’d dig my own grave. Let them shoot me and dig it themselves.” He had spunk, to be sure, but the reason I bring this up is that it demonstrates a shift in attitude that will be necessary if the insurgency is ever going to be put down.

01/27/2005

Who knew I’d ever agree with something Senator Kennedy says? Today I do:

“We now have no choice but to make the best we can of the disaster we have created in Iraq. The current course is only making the crisis worse.”

Kennedy is calling for the immediate withdrawal of 12,000 American troops, and a complete reduction in force by the end of the year. Good for him.

01/27/2005

It’s so inspiring to hear the leader of our country say things like:

“I’ve, you know, heard the voices of the people that presumably will be in a position of responsibility after these elections, although you never know.”

This guy went to Yale?

01/26/2005

Laralee and I were watching Phenomemon and discussing the nature of intelligence and, more specifically, curiosity. I find that very few people I know are as curious about things as I am. Laralee says she would be more curious, but since she seldom has the time nor inclination to find answers to the things she wonders about, it dampens her curiosity. Personally, I think that laziness and curiosity aren’t necessarily related: you could be both.

In any case, I remember a long time ago (early high school, I suspect) when I became curious about how the body makes energy. I mean really makes energy; everyone knows that food is converted to energy that drives your muscles or whatever. What I wanted to know is how that energy is converted, stored, and then released… on the molecular level. After a bit of research, I learned about ATP– adenosine triphosphate– and how the body “builds” these molecules and then breaks them down (turning ATP into ADP) to release the energy stored in the atomic bonds. Wow. It was amazing stuff, and I even took the chemical formula (C10H16N5O13P3) and figured out how the molecule was structured. Then the phosphate groups made sense, and I really understood how the body made energy.

It’s these sorts of thoughts– I can think of many such seminal moments throughout my life– that keep me interested and learning. There’s so much amazing stuff around us, and so much more to learn than I’ll ever know. I find it a little disappointing that more people don’t share my curiosity, but that just means they have to listen as I explain to them (in excited tones) about the latest thing I’ve wondered about or learned.

01/26/2005

From an article in today’s edition of The Register:

According to Dell’s lawyers – old hands at this sort of thing – the owner of Dellwebsites is committing “an act of parasitism” and “creating a risk of confusion” between himself and the online PC vendor Dell. It wants the domain signed over to it, at the owner’s cost.

The theory runs that as soon as someone sees or hears of www.dellwebsites.com, they immediately think “oh that lovely company that sells cheap but well-built PCs has got into web design”. They are then overwhelmed with revulsion when they find out it’s nothing to do with Dell the PC maker.

Yes, incredible as it may seem, the name “Dell” did exist before 1984. You may think this was obvious since the company is named after founder Michael Dell. If nothing else, his parents would have used the name before him. Does Michael not realise that other families may also the same surname? He probably does, but tough businessman that he is, he’s not afraid to screw over his own kin.

In this case that is one Paul Dell. Paul lives in Spain and, incredibly, makes websites for a living. Paul thought the Internet domain dellwebsites.com was therefore a pretty good description of what he was up to online (apparently, dell.com had already gone).

But while Mr. Dell (Paul, that is) was pleased with his purchase back in April 2001, it now appears that he was trying to rip off Mr. Dell (Michael) and his enormous US company. Quite what the enormous impact Paul’s website has had on the PC giant is hard to gauge.

For the first half of this year, Dell’s revenue actually went up 20 per cent to $23 billion. No mention of Paul Dell’s web design business has appeared in its financial results as having a negative impact on these sales.

Nonetheless, it’s not just about the money, it’s about the principle, isn’t it? Which perhaps makes it hard to understand why it was that Dell backed down the last time it tried to take dellwebsites.com off Paul Dell. Yes, Paul Dell has been through this charade once before, in April 2002. Dell was still adamant that it rightly owned the domain, but when Paul Dell make it clear that he wasn’t prepared to cave in to pressure, the company walked away.

Why didn’t it take him to a domain arbitrator or a law court, you ask? Most likely because it didn’t stand a chance of winning the case. And so jump forward two-and-a-half years and we’re here again. What has changed?

Not much it seems: “You continue to use the denomination DELL WEB SITES as trade mark, company name, trade name or shop sign to designate your activities,” roar Dell’s lawyers. Er, yes.

“Alike you continue to use the denomination DELL WEB SITES as domain name and within the copyright notices to which the Site links.” Well, that’s because that’s where I run my business, haven’t we been here before?

“Finally, you modified the copyright notice to ‘Copyright 2004, Paul Dell, Dell Web Sites’ in order to include your first name.” That’s it! They’ve got Paul Dell bang to right because – get this – he included his first name as a copyright notice on his own website.

This would be funny were it not so worrying for the individuals and small businesses that find themselves at the end of such unwarranted demands by powerful legal firms and international businesses.

01/26/2005

In a press conference today, Bush said:

“In the long term, our children and grandchildren will benefit from a free Iraq.”

I don’t know about benefit, but with his request for an additional $80 billion to support the war efforts, it’s a good bet my children and grandchildren will be paying for it!

01/25/2005

A long time ago, Steve gave me a subwoofer for some reason (probably because it was broken or something, or maybe because he bought a better one). I dug it out of the closet the other day and jacked it into the stereo receiver that’s hooked to my computer(s). Now I can listen to my tunes while I work, and get the throbbing beat from the sub. Sweet!

I haven’t yet cranked the trance stuff (streamed from internet radio of course) and gone upstairs to see if it rattles the floor or anything…

01/23/2005

I’m working on my taxes for 2004, and as usual I’m asked the big question:

Do you want to contribute $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund? This will not change your taxes in any way.

Every year I wonder what this is all about… it doesn’t change my taxes, which means I’m not making a direct contribution. Where does the money come from, then? If I choose “yes” will the IRS treat my tax return differently?

All that aside, we saw in this last presidential campaign that both candidates spent something on the order of a quarter billion dollars– so I don’t think I should be sending another three bucks. Sheesh.

01/22/2005

The FBI, showing once again how gracious, caring, and humanitarian they can be, decided to release Mei Xia Dong, a Chinese woman who’s been in custody for over two months as a terror suspect. Under Patriot Act provisions, of course, she was not entitled to a lawyer, a hearing, or even a description of the charges. I guess she just sat in the slammer wondering what the heck was wrong, and when (if ever) she’d be released.

Apparently the original tip that put the FBI on her trail described a 21-year-old Chinese man named Dong. How they could flub that up is beyond me, but I can’t say it gives me any confidence in our crack terrorist-tracking teams…

01/21/2005

FedEx just came by with my new Mac Mini.

This thing is sweet. It’s very small– about the size of a thick CD carrying case– and packs a lot of whallop. Now I’ve got to plug everything together and see if OS X lives up to its hype…

01/20/2005

In his inaugural speech today, Bush commented:

“America will not impose our own system of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”

What a crock. I wonder if he even proofs what his speechwriters throw at him, because it’s so patently absurd in the face of what he’s orchestrating in Iraq. The mission over there seems to always have been about setting up an American-style democracy… despite the fact that the people there have no experience with it.

In the end, I’m not sure they even want a democracy. No, they don’t want a religious dictatorship either, but to say that America won’t tromp around forcing others to be like us while doing precisely that is insulting.

01/20/2005

In classic form, Lily and I are trading e-mail at midnight as we finalize the name for the fabled Fourth Company. Naming a company seems to be almost, but not quite, as difficult as naming a child.

In any case, after weeks of agonizing thought and a lot of back-and-forth on what we liked, we finally decided on (drumroll, please) Zing Studios. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s got spunk– pretty much like the two of us.

Thus begins the journey. And tomorrow I’ll be filling out reams of paperwork for the IRS and everyone else. Whee!

01/18/2005

Steve sent me a link to an article that discusses the possibility of the existence of aliens, and posits that they must have visited earth at some time, because if we assume they exist, it’s almost certain they would have stumbled across us by now. Although I have a ton of work to do this morning, I couldn’t resist commenting. Here’s my reply:

The existence, or lack thereof, of aliens basically comes down to a matter of belief. We can’t prove one way or another, and there are only two ways to truly answer the question:

1) Meet an alien race.

2) Scour the entire stinkin’ universe and find nothing.

Since #2 is unlikely or impossible, that leaves #1. We either find the aliens, or spend eternity looking for them. We can’t prove they don’t exist, just as we can’t prove God doesn’t exist.

Anyway, Fermi’s Paradox as described in the article doesn’t hold water with me. Just because there are aliens (which I firmly believe) doesn’t mean they must have encountered us by now. The galaxy is bloody huge, and is only one of maybe trillions. Even with “dispersion models” one cannot assume that an alien civilization would have expanded to our little corner.

The dispersion model assumes, for one, that aliens would expand. I think this is a false assumption: they might– but they might not. Perhaps at a certain level of technology, all civilizations end up constructing Dyson spheres and sort of keeping to themselves. Perhaps they reach some higher transcendant state and end up encasing themselves in vast computer networks, lost in their own thoughts. Whatever. There are many scenarios where a civilization would *not* expand, even though they might be continuing to advance.

Moreover, I think theories that aliens have visited (or are visiting) earth are completely bunk. Again, I see two possibilities, both based on the assumption that an alien race capable of interstellar flight is far, far more advanced than we are:

1) They’re malevolent, in which case they’d turn our planet into rubble before we even knew what hit us.

2) They’re benevolent, in which case they’d introduce themselves and share technology or at least ideas.

There’s no way, in my mind, that an advanced civilization would do goofy things like draw crop circles or kidnap hillbillies for medical experiments. It’s just ludicrous.

So all in all, I’m convinced there are aliens out there, and I’m also convinced we simply haven’t found them yet (or they us). We need to keep looking, though, because the discovery of another civilization would radically alter our world-view… for the better, I hope. It would have profound impacts on everything from politics to religion to science.

On a related topic, I imagine that finding life (however you define it) on Mars or Titan or Europa would also be profound, though not quite as earth-shattering since it would likely not be “intelligent”.

Anyway, that’s my treatise. Back to the grind.

01/16/2005

I’m back from my jaunt to California, where Lily and I had a great time planning everything for The Fourth Company (name yet to be determined). Some highlights:

On my flight out of Denver, I sat next to a woman who had a big Vitamin Cottage bag, paisley pants, a hookah filled with dry herbs, and a book titled “Analyze Your Dreams”. After takeoff, she sat in the lotus position for the bulk of the flight. Yep, definitely from Boulder!

Friday night we spent a couple of hours hashing out ideas for names, and came up with some pretty hilarious ones. No, we weren’t drunk, but a casual observer at the bar and grill we were at might have thought so. Several times, as we thought of a goofy name (and its associated tag line), I was laughing so hard I was crying.

On Saturday we decided to hang out at the public library, since we basically needed a place to sit for eight hours and lay out plans for the business. We scored big, because that was the day the library was having its annual book sale. Making the executive decision to abandon work temporarily, we loaded up on books (two bucks for a grocery bag full). Now I’ve got about forty new books for a total of four bucks. Sweet.

We were told by our friend Christine that we must be hanging out together too much, because both of us use the word “awesome” a lot. Apparently it went out of vogue in 1984 or so, although I didn’t get that memo and will continue to use it liberally. Also, Lily observed that she finds herself saying “no worries” quite a bit, which she most definitely picked up from me.

All in all, it was a good time (though tiring!) and we made a lot of progress. Soon we’ll launch The Fourth Company and get on the road to fame and riches.

01/13/2005

I just finished a fun lunch with one of my newest clients, Izze Beverages. Before I left to come back to the office, they loaded me up with a few cases of their drink and a bunch of schwag. Whee, t-shirts for the whole family!

So here’s Zack, sporting his new shirt (which he loves) and about to pop open a bottle of sparkling Izze juice.

01/12/2005

Digital image editing is so cool.

I like to change my computer’s desktop background quite often, just to keep things in flux, and it’s important that whatever I use is either fairly dark, or has large regions of solid color. As the screenshot below shows, when I’m doing programming work (which is much of the time) my text “floats” on the desktop. It’s terribly hard to read against a background that’s bright or noisy.

So I had a nice mountain picture– lots of trees, snow, and blue sky– but there were a lot of clouds that made it hard to read text against it. I just pulled it into the GIMP, selected everything above the mountains, and worked out a nice blue gradient that makes it look like a gorgeous cloudless day. Voila!

01/11/2005

When, oh when, will the madness end?

Yesterday was quite a day, and on a whim I counted the number of projects I worked on for clients. Ten. That doesn’t count going to lunch with my pal Steve, nor the emergency server replacement for a client whose hard drive went belly-up.

Today, by comparison, is relatively easy– it’s three in the afternoon, and I’ve only done work for half a dozen clients so far. We’ll see what the rest of the day brings…

01/10/2005

I’m on hold with a company out in Arizona, and after I navigated the menu system I found what I needed. Then I had one final option:

“If you would like to hold without music, please press one.”

Sweet! I figured I’d listen to the music anyway, hoping for some Kenny G or whatever. Sadly, in addition to a bit of goofy jazz, I had to endure advertising blurbs. Whee. Next time I’m going for the no-music option.

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