Browse Month: June 2008

06/29/2008

This afternoon I suggested we make a bunch of chocolate-chip cookie dough and eat it, then use whatever was left to make some gigantic cookies. The plan was met with great enthusiasm by the kids, so we whipped up the dough, snitched a few spoonfuls, and then made the big cookies.

Mmm.

06/29/2008

So I love my Xbox Media Center, and when my friend Dave decided to get rid of his (we had built it a few months ago) I called Tom to see if he wanted it. Sure thing, so I bought it from Dave and hooked it up so I could upgrade it to the latest version of all the software.

But something went horribly wrong, and now the Xbox is pretty much toast. After messing with it for a while I realized it really wasn’t going to work (I’d deleted the wrong file or something). Chancellor sent me the hardware hacking goods which I’d used last time, but even they don’t help because it turns out that I erased the default Xbox “dashboard” used to boot the system and copy the hack.

Long story short: I’m dead in the water. The Xbox can play games but it can’t be hacked to become a media center any more.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that I’m not the only bonehead who’s done this before, so there are a few places in the dark corners of the internet where I can get even more esoteric hacks that will essentially rebuild the Xbox from scratch. They’re pretty crazy and involve a lot of very detailed steps, making sure the planets are aligned properly and I’m saying the magic incantations.

Hopefully it’ll work, because if not then I’ve got a nice piece of hardware that doesn’t really do much…

06/22/2008

On Amazon you can buy an amazing cable manufactured by Denon for only $499 ($1 off the suggested retail price of $500, so it’s a real steal). The description is almost comical in the way it makes ordinary data transmission seem like hyperdimensional physics:

Get the purest digital audio you’ve ever experienced from multi-channel DVD and CD playback through your Denon home theater receiver with the AK-DL1 dedicated cable. Made of high-purity copper wire, it’s designed to thoroughly eliminate adverse effects from vibration and helps stabilize the digital transmission from occurrences of jitter and ripple. A tin-bearing copper alloy is used for the cable’s shield while the insulation is made of a fluoropolymer material with superior heat resistance, weather resistance, and anti-aging properties. The connector features a rounded plug lever to prevent bending or breaking and direction marks to indicate correct direction for connecting cable.

Keep in mind that it is, in fact, just a standard Category 6 ethernet cable– the same cable you could buy for $15 at Best Buy (where it would still be a ripoff) or in 500-foot spools at Home Depot for about $50.

The shameless ripoff of the product notwithstanding, it’s the customer reviews on Amazon that really shine. A few of the particularly hilarious ones:

* * * * * Solved Global Warming Locally, June 16, 2008
By Daniel A. Koblosh (Redondo Beach, CA USA)

After I took delivery of my $500 Denon AKDL1 Cat-5 uber-cable, Al Gore was mysteriously drawn to my home, where he pronounced that Global Warming had been suspended in my vicinity.

Yes, I had perfect weather: no flooding, no tornadoes, the exact amount of rain necessary, and he pronounced sea levels exactly right and that they were not going to rise within five miles of my house. Additionally, my cars began achieving 200 mpg and I didn’t even need gasoline. I was able to put three grams of cat litter into the tank and drive forever. What’s more, the atmosphere inside my home became 93% oxygen and virtually no carbon dioxide. In fact, I now exhale oxygen.

One heck of a cable.

Didn’t notice any improvement in audio quality though. The $800 Apple iCable is clearly superior.

* * * * Moves data faster, June 16, 2008
By Kevin Murphy (Los Angeles, CA USA)

One of the unmentioned qualities of these cables is the reduced latency of the signal. Normal copper cables pass signals at about half the speed of light, but these puppies pass the signal at up to three-fourths of lightspeed! This means that your data arrives faster, and since the Ethernet protocol involves collision detection, backoff, and retransmission this added speed means YOUR data is more likely to go ahead of competing data! Further, if there is no issue with other data sources, your data arrives hundreds of picoseconds faster than with other cables. This can be important for gamers in multi-player situations! Or even for folks who just hate to wait for their data to arrive.

Marked down 1 star because it still won’t let you do the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.

* * * * * Quoted length misleading, June 19, 2008
By Brad Grenz (Salem, Oregon)
I thought I should mention that while this amazing cable is supposedly 1.5 meters long, I find this quite misleading. When I opened it at first glance 1.5 meters seems accurate. It certainly didn’t feel much longer than 4-5 feet in my hands, but I have since used it to span much greater distances.

So far I have successfully used this cable to share my internet connection with my parents’ house across town, create a wired network connection to a nuclear submarine in the Pacific and, most recently, share files with astronauts on the International Space Station in orbit around the Earth.

I’m not sure how any of this is possible. I suspect it is made of supermolocules, but this cannot be determined with any certainty.

I am currently planning on buying another cable and sending one end on a rocket to Alpha Centari in hopes of connecting my network to any alien civilizations there. I expect the faster-than-light communication features of this Denon cable will be a great asset in growing our knowledge through contact with other intelligent species.

* * * * This Cable Improved my Health!, June 16, 2008
By MB
Thank you Denon! I suffer from a rare R/F allergy which makes it nearly impossible for me to leave my lead lined sarcophagus (unless there is a power outage). Generally i can only listen to music on an accoustic gramaphone and hence my library consists entirely of John Phillips Sousa. That all changed when i got the Denon AKDL1 dream maker. No random photons here! I’ve integrated the cable into a bucket I’ve lined with tinfoil and now my library has already expanded to include Count Basie and Sir-Mix-Alot. Life is once again worth living.

The list of reviews continues for nearly twenty pages. It rivals the hilarious hijinks that resulted from hundreds of reviews of the gallon of whole milk you could buy on Amazon a few years ago.

06/19/2008

This is just funny.

One can see why I always masquerade as Steve when I head down to the Google office in Boulder.

06/19/2008

On Tuesday Comcast took our office internet offline all day so they could “upgrade our user experience”. Yesterday and today the internet connection has been up and down pretty randomly– it’ll work fine for 20 minutes, then die for 5, then be up for 10, then down for 7,…

Good times. At least we can play some foosball while we wait for it to come back.

Finally, this afternoon I’d had enough of this so I called Comcast. I got transferred to the business department, which was stupendously unhelpful, and finally hopped over to the technical support department. There I spoke with a very nice lady who offered such helpful advice as:

Comcast Lady: Did you unplug your modem and plug it back in?

Me: Yes. Twice.

Comcast Lady: Did you clear your Temporary Internet Files in Internet Explorer?

Me: I don’t use Internet Explorer.

Comcast Lady: What about your browser cookies? Did you clear those?

Me: Again, this isn’t a browser thing. I don’t have internet access.

Comcast Lady: But is Internet Explorer having trouble connecting?

Me: Please understand me. I’m not using Internet Explorer, or even Windows. I’m trying to connect to remote servers with SSH, or ping, or anything at all. And it’s failing.

Comcast Lady: Perhaps you should unplug your modem again.

Me: Yes. Thank you. I’m sure that’ll take care of it.

I finally just gave up, and resigned myself to the fact that the Comcast-powered internet is going to be a dog today.

06/13/2008

There are so many things about Corporate America that I don’t miss, but pretty high on the list are meetings and conference calls. Right now I’m on the phone listening to a conference between Google and Salesforce, and it’s amazing to note…

1) How many people are involved in this call. There must be a dozen people dialed in, and only about three of them are actually participating in any way. Several of them are “account managers” and “project managers” and whatnot, which means basically they just oversee things but don’t actually do any work. Maybe they need conference calls to justify their existence somehow.

2) How long it takes to do anything. We’re talking about how to do, for example, some data migration work. They’re bouncing around things like “Well… we might be able to develop a preliminary spec next week and put together some initial documentation the week after that and scope the programming work the following week and get it going after that.” What’s amazing about this is the actual work will probably take a week at most, but there are three or four weeks of paperwork and discussions and conference calls just like this leading up to it. Sometimes I just want to jump into the fray and yell, “Come on guys, I’ll just slam out the code this afternoon and we can move on with our lives!”

3) How no one is willing to commit to anything. Everyone is using vague terms and hazy deadlines as a way to shirk responsibility and make sure no one can hold them to anything later. Of course it makes it impossible to know when anything will happen, which in turn means no one can plan. Again, I just want to say, “I’ll do this part and I’ll have it done next Tuesday” or something, just so we have an actual deadline.

Perhaps best of all, they want to have weekly calls (just like this one) so we can do the same thing all over again.

I guess there are different kinds of people in business: the men of action and the men of meetings.

06/10/2008

Thirty-five articles of impeachment against George W. Bush were read into the Congressional Record yesterday by Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. It won’t make a difference, of course, because the Democratic leadership of the House has already gone on record saying impeachment is “off the table”. It’s too bad, because in the words of the American Freedom Campaign:

The founders of our country feared more than anything else the prospect of an executive who put his own power and desires above the Constitution. Congress was given the power of impeachment so that it could remove any president who committed the high crime of violating the Constitution during his (or her) term in office.

A strong case can be made that no president in the history of this country is more deserving of impeachment than George W. Bush. If he is not impeached, the bar for impeachment will have been raised so high that it might as well no longer exist. Future presidents will know that they can violate the Constitution at will, confident in the fact that Congress does not have the courage as an institution to do anything about it.

We’ll see what comes of this, but my bet is a big fat nothing. Too bad.

06/10/2008

Obviously not content with their naked body scanners, the TSA has now officially announced that starting in a few weeks, airline passengers will no longer be allowed to pass through security without showing identification. From the TSA announcement:

Beginning Saturday, June 21, 2008 passengers that willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint will be denied access to the secure area of airports. This change will apply exclusively to individuals that simply refuse to provide any identification or assist transportation security officers in ascertaining their identity.

This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers. Cooperative passengers without ID may be subjected to additional screening protocols, including enhanced physical screening, enhanced carry-on and/or checked baggage screening, interviews with behavior detection or law enforcement officers and other measures.

There goes my standard procedure of refusing to show ID in exchange for a fun pat-down. Now I can’t even do that… I guess I just have to say “Gee, I must’ve left my ID in my other pants.” Or, more likely, simply not fly on airlines any more.

How this improves security is, as usual, beyond me. This directive clearly isn’t about terrorists at all– since any reasonably intelligent terrorist will have either a legitimate ID or a well-faked one. Rather, the directive is aimed squarely at those people (like me) who feel it’s not right to be required to show ID, and therefore refuse to do so simply for ideological reasons. It’s those people who the TSA is attempting to shut down.

06/08/2008

Los Alamos National Lab is running a supercomputer called Roadrunner that has broken the “four-minute mile” of computing: the petaflop barrier. This puppy cranks through just over one quadrillion calculations per second.

Perspective: if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.

That’s fast.

06/07/2008

Zack lost both of his front teeth in the past three days, and he wanted to be absolutely sure the Tooth Fairy gave him what he was due. So after tucking his teeth safely under his pillow, he made a little card to set beside the pillow, just in case the Tooth Fairy didn’t know where to look.

Luckily for him, the Tooth Fairy is pretty savvy about these things, so he got two shiny quarters.

06/07/2008

Yay, the TSA has officially decided to roll out their millimeter-wave airport checkpoint scanners, which essentially create a “naked” image of the person in the scanning machine. It’s not quite like paging through Playboy, but it’s a fairly high-resolution photo at the skin level.

Homeland Security’s Clark Kent Ervin (his real name!) said:

I’m delighted by this development. This really is the ultimate answer to increasing screeners’ ability to spot concealed weapons.

Fearmongering, whee!

What’s perhaps more frightening is the reaction of some airline passengers who were asked about the screening devices. Eileen Reardon of Baltimore said:

Some of this stuff seems a little crazy, but in this day and age, you have to go along with it.

No, Eileen, actually you don’t have to go along with it. You can refuse the screening (resulting in a pat-down, which is marginally less invasive) or you can simply refuse to fly. That aside, the culture of fear that’s been built by our government and the companies profiting from it for the last seven years simply continues to astound me. People who would be appalled by a stranger grabbing their breasts or taking voyeur photos of them seem to have no trouble whatsoever with airport security screeners fondling them and watching them from a remote, enclosed, private room.

From a rousing discussion on Slashdot:

Wasn’t the whole mantra several years back one of “We musn’t change our way of life, or they will have won”? Now look at us. We allow draconian measures to be passed in the name of “security”. We freak like children with imaginary boogeymen under our beds when someone even thinks the word “terrorist.” We happily give up privacy because we are sold on the illusion that it’s for our own good and it will only affect those who have nothing to hide. We have become completely paranoid and changed the way we do pretty much anything, out of fear that we will get hit again.

Society has become so caught up in trying to prevent ‘them’ from winning that the exact opposite effect seems to have occurred. Their goal wasn’t to savagely murder thousands of people– that was just the tool they chose to use. No, their real goal was to make themselves known, and us frightened. I hate to say it, but they succeeded.

06/05/2008

First they renamed my alma mater. Now they do this kind of nonsense:

According to an Associated Press report, the Missouri University of Science and Technology now requires students to correctly answer six questions about digital copyright law before they can use peer-to-peer tools. If they pass the test, they get six hours of access to the software.

Umm, what? You’re required to pass a test about copyright law, and then the university will kindly let you mess around with P2P software?

The sheer idiocy of such a thing notwithstanding, I can’t imagine how the campus network administrators will be able to prevent five thousand fairly smart engineering students from using P2P software in their rooms, completely independent of any university oversight. Encrypting traffic, using non-standard ports, and even spoofing MAC/IP addresses are three trivial ways to circumvent The System.

Boy, things have changed since my days there, when we used our 14.4 modems to connect to the campus mainframe (which, of course, was running VAX). Good times.

06/05/2008

Tonight I had to drop the bomb on a client.

We’ve been working on a project for almost six months, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and the end is tantalizingly close but we finally realized we’re never going to get there because this guy keeps adding more to his list. So I wrote a long e-mail explaining to him that we’re basically going to have to bail on the project, or he’s going to have to agree to severely restrict what he’s asking for. It was a hard thing to do, but necessary.

The bummer about the thing is that it’s the biggest single project we’ve ever done, so I hate to walk away from it, but at the same time I have to protect my company and the sanity of my guys. Hopefully things will turn out all right in the end.

06/04/2008

So I’m working on a project for Google and Salesforce (yeah, yeah, I’m such a name-dropper) and I must say I’m woefully unimpressed with Salesforce. For a system that’s the poster child of the “software as a service” industry, and a database that’s being used by thousands of top corporations around the world, it’s probably one of the slowest online applications I’ve ever seen. Every page takes five seconds or so to load, which of course in the web world is an eternity. The navigation isn’t intuitive, there are a gazillion links on every page, and finding what you want is a real chore.

I suppose the good news is I don’t actually have to use the system (except while I’m testing my programming work), and I’ll just leave it to the Google guys and everyone else who’s paying an arm and a leg for this bloated monstrosity.

06/03/2008

As ultimate season starts, I’ve updated my computer desktop to this cool photo of “seven on the line”.

06/02/2008

This week marks the start of the Boulder ultimate summer league season, which means it’s when I really start to get in shape.

We have practice every Monday and games every Wednesday (double-headers every week!). And of course I continue to play pickup games Tuesdays and Thursdays during lunch. That makes five games of ultimate in four days every week for the next three months. Woot!

06/01/2008

Yesterday La was playing Dance Dance Revolution for about an hour, and she succeeded in getting the coveted triple-A:

That means she did every step perfectly on the beat. Of course Kyra has already managed that feat (because Kyra is an awesome dancer) but so far she’s been the only one.

One of these days I’ll do it…