Monday, December 14, 2009


I recently gave a subscription to Sports Illustrated as a gift. There is apparently no mechanism on the Sports Illustrated site to buy a single year. Instead, you can buy a year which will automatically renew, with no obvious way to opt out of automatic renewal. If you cancel, the subscription stops immediately and you get a refund. Obviously a lot of people will forget, and the subscription will continue.

I was willing to pay the price on the Sports Illustrated website, but I was not willing to accept the auto-renewal. I was close to getting a different gift, but I discovered that Amazon had a non-renewing single year available, and at a 25% better price.

It seems strange to me that not offering a choice of automatic renewal (especially for a gift subscription) is beneficial--I would expect people interested in a single non-renewing year to skip the whole thing rather than accept being forced into automatic renewal.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Media and Machine Guns

This morning I heard about a shooting where (according to the radio) a man pulled a "Mac 10 machine gun" on police, and was shot and killed when his gun jammed. Several other reports talked about the gun, " a machine pistol capable of firing thousands of rounds per minute"

I doubted it was actually a machine gun.  I finally found an article that mentioned the actual gun in detail.
The model Raymond Martinez was carrying Thursday was a semi-automatic variation called the Masterpiece Arms 9-mm

The gun in question was not a machine gun. Rather, it was a semiautomatic copy of a Mac 10 machine pistol with a 30 round magazine. Bulky and awkward, poor quality and inaccurate.  One shot per trigger pull.  Scary looking, but virtually every modern 9mm is smaller, lighter, less bulky, more ergonomic, more reliable and more accurate.  Many have available 30 round magazines.

Even the actual machine gun version is not capable of firing thousands of rounds per minute--After a few seconds to empty the 30 round magazine, the gun is empty.  If you had the 34 magazines needed to fire 1000 rounds and switched them as quickly as possible the gun would overheat and malfunction before you were finished. 

One of the clues was "purchased from a dealer".  A true Mac 10 costs around $4000 used, requires an extensive background check and a $200 federal transfer fee.  A non-machine gun copy is around $400 new. 

Tactical Tandy

Last week I had some time to kill and found myself near a Tandy Leather store. Store had a sign "ask about holster lessons" and I did. The guy explained the class, and it appears to be a fantastic deal--$20 including materials, even if the holster isn't one I'd use often. Unfortunately it is unlikely to be quite worth the trip to Columbus.

I thought it was amusing that he called any holster other than the variations made in the class "Tactical".

Friday, December 04, 2009


I watch very little television, so I miss a lot of pop culture.  I saw promos for Steven Seagal's Lawman, and was smirking a bit. 

...until I found out that it isn't a drama, but a reality show.  WTF?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Belated thanksgiving meal

I went to both my in-laws and parents house for thanksgiving dinner, then cooked my own thanksgivig dinner on Saturday.

I had planned to use Alton Brown's brined turkey recipe, but I had almost none of the spices. I wound up getting a commercial brining mix with similar ingredients and soaking the bird in it overnight. In the morning i stuffed an apple, an onion, cinnamon stick, sage and rosemary in the cavity while the bird cooked.

I will absolutely be brining my turkey from now on. The turkey was moist, flavorful and tender, the best turkey I've ever cooked by a wide margin. It also has room for improvement by adjusting spices--I think it had a bit too much rosemary.

I also made twice-baked garlic-rosemary potatoes. (Bake potatoes, cut in half and scoop the insides without damaging the skin. Mash, add flavors and butter, put the mash back into the skin, cover with bacon and cheese, bake again) Again, very good, but with a little too much rosemary.

The meal was great, especially considering all the experimenting that I did.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Federally subsidized free golf carts

I was talking to my brother on Thanksgiving, and he mentioned a federal scheme that is (as usual) being abused--A subsidy on electric vehicles can be fairly easily used to get a free golf cart. The dealer puts bumpers and lights on it, the Feds accept that as transforming it into an "electric vehicle" and the subsidy equals or exceeds the cost of the cart. You don't have to actually use the cart for anything.

I thought Cash for Clunkers was about as stupid as they could get. Now I only wish it was.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tomato Router long-term test

About 2 months ago, I switched the firmware on my router from the stock Linksys to Tomato, an open source, Linux-based router project.

The results have been fantastic. I had been having trouble where once or twice a week I would have to reboot the router to get it to work properly. Tomato has an option to reboot itself--I set it to reboot every morning at 4am, and I have not had to reboot it manually since. I don't know if it is necessary, or if Tomato is just more stable on its own, but it works and doesn't bother me so I'll leave it.

Quality of Service (QoS) is a router feature that allows different priorities for different types of internet use, and keeps one use from blocking others. I didn't bother setting up QoS when I first installed Tomato, but this morning my internet was very slow because my wife is using Bittorent. I logged on the router, checked the "enable QoS" checkbox and then the Save button. Took about 30 seconds. Web browsing speeded up dramatically, with no noticeable change in Bittorrent. The default settings appear to work very well here, although other sources say that they can be vastly improved. They give priority to the most common web usage, while giving Bittorrent and similar whatever is left-sort of like a traffic cop giving top priority to ambulances, and making sure that semi trucks leave plenty of room for regular cars.

So the end result is more useful features, more stability without sacrificing ease of us or requiring a steep learning curve. I'm very pleased.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Liner Lock knives

It has been decades since I've bought a pocketknife--Instead, I've relied on the blade from my Gerber multitool.

My current job needs a knife frequently throughout the day, so I wanted something that would open quickly and easily, and that would clip to my pocket. I was initially set on an assisted opening knife, but after playing with a Gerber Liner Lock that was on clearance at Walmart, decided it was good enough for what I wanted, at a very good price.

I was unfamiliar with the modern liner lock system, although long ago I've had knives with the type of lock they evolved from. The older style was a traditional pocket knife, where the blade was held in position by a spring on the spine. These required some effort to open and close. The lock was a brass-colored spring that snapped into place when the blade was fully open. The lock did not rigidly hold the blade in place, but it did prevent it from closing unless you pushed the lock aside. One problem was that the pressure would suddenly decrease as the blade began to close--this could catch the finger pushing the lock aside if you did not maintain a firm hold on the blade while closing.

Until I experimented with the knife I bought, I was not aware of how much better the modern liner lock system is. With the liner lock, the spine spring is removed, and its functions accomplished with a ball detent and the lock itself.

The blade is held in the closed position by a tiny ball detent, with the majority of the pressure removed after the tip moves a quarter inch or so. There is little friction until the blade reaches the full open position, when the lock snaps in place. Once the lock engages, the blade is effectively a fixed blade. Because of the greatly reduced friction in opening, the thumb studs easily generate enough force to quickly open the blade, either with only thumb pressure, or with both thumb pressure and a wrist flick.

One-handed closing is much safer than the old version as well. When the lock is pushed aside, resistance is low but constant until the blade reaches the fully closed position. The back of the blade has a raised section with a tooth pattern. This naturally allows the index finger to easily close the knife up to about 45 degrees, although only a small amount is necessary. At this point you can remove your thumb from the lock and use it on the thumb stud to finish closing. Closing the blade beyond 90 degrees with the index finger along the back is difficult. Additionally, even if your thumb were to remain in place, the first part of the blade to contact the thumb is a notch behind the sharp part of the blade.

I am not thrilled with the easily-damaged black paint on the blade, and I wish the pocket clip was reversible, so I could more effectively carry this in my left pocket. However, for the price I'm happy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Smallest Minority Beer Bread

After making the Trader Joe's beer bread, I decided to try the recepie from Kevin Baker at The Smallest Minority. Very easy, very good, just a touch sweeter than I would prefer.

I modified his recepie a bit, cutting back on the sugar and adding butter to the top:

3 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar (one tablespoon less than Kevin's)
12 oz beer
1 tablespoon melted butter

Mix the flour, sugar and beer. You will wind up with a stiff batter.

Put in a buttered loaf pan and smooth the top a bit. Dump melted butter on top, bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A couple of weeks ago in the middle of the night, something started chirping, then turned to a constant beep. I finally got out of bed to figure out where the noise was from, but it stopped before I could find it. Went back to bed, and of course it started up again a bit later.

It turned out that one of the buttons on my electronic deadbolt was intermittently pressing itself. The lock took this as someone trying to break the combination, and complained. I took the batteries out and went back to bed.

Later, 10 minutes on Google didn't turn up any parts available, and I'm trying to be extra frugal, so I decided to roll my own.

I found an old Princess-style phone in clear plastic--I could see that the keypad was a separate part, not molded into the case. With about 45 minutes work with a soldering iron and a multimeter, I had this mounted to my front door:

I did make sure the redial button doesn't actually work...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Trader Joe's Beer Bread

Trader Joe's beer bread mix. Surprisingly good, even made with cheap malt liquor. Dense, good crust, not quite as stretchy or chewy as I'd like. A little too sweet to use as a sandwich bread, but really good with butter. 45 minutes to bake, about 5 minutes prep time--Add beer to mix in a mixing bowl, stir until mixed but not too much, dump in a greased loaf pan, dump melted butter over the top, bake. Directions claim anything carbonated will work, I don't think I would use sweet pop, but plain seltzer might be good.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Triangle of power

The traditional political spectrum is left vs. right. This is overly simplistic. A slightly more nuanced view is 2 dimensional--the same left vs. right, but also an up/down, with libertarian/anarchist at the top, and authoritarian/statist at the bottom, giving a square diagram.

I forget which episode, but on the Vicious Circle podcast someone said that the proper diagram would be a triangle--As you move towards libartarianism the left vs right difference matters less and less, because there is less government, and therefore a larger chance that whatever it is you are worried about will fall outside the scope of government intervention.

I used to work with a very fundamentalist Christian-According to him, the bible says it is wrong for women to rule over men, homosexuality is an abomination, etc.. I wound up convincing him that religion should not be a basis for government policy by asking him "What do you think the chances are that the particular version of government Christianity used will match yours?" The same basic thought works regardless of belief system.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Trader Joe's Plantain chips

These plantain chips look like Banana chips, but taste pretty much like slightly nutty potato sticks. If you are expecting banana, the first bite is very strange. Once you clear your expectations, they aren't bad. Probably won't get them again, but I'll finish them.

(Once again filler, not a paid endorsement)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lazy with forethought

My current job is installing computers in small offices across the country. We are talking well over 10,000 offices, and each office has an inventory sheet as part of the process. (Obviously I'm not the only one involved...)

Unfortunately, the sheet was designed very poorly. There is a part of the sheet that must be filled out by hand. That part was editable text. The rest of the sheet could potentially be filled out by cut and pasting from email, except it was actually an image. I am pretty sure that this was done for formatting purposes, allowing slight resizing of the left side without affecting the spacing of the right. The result is a form that has data available electronically, but must be entirely filled in by hand.

I wound up making my own version, with the eventual end result a form where you could cut and paste part of the standard schedule email as a single blob of text and that would fill in about 2/3 of the form. The rest could be typed, in fields that were in the order you would usually find the information. Took about 90 minutes all told, but it will save me alone that much time in a couple weeks. (It is also trading very boring administrative work for problem solving, so even if the net result was no time saved, it was a more pleasant use of time)

I don't know if this is the best way to do this, but it is certainly better. Things like the original form bug me--The solution was simple and if the rest of the installers adopt it, this could save thousands of hours, a few minutes at a time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Karmic Koala first look

I've been having some glitches on my main laptop--Video downloads refusing to play in either Totem or VLC (even files that used to work), and Skype had quit. It turned out that the Skype problem was a dead mic in my headset, but in trying to figure it out I messed up the input settings. I had other alternatives, and wasn't very motivated to fix these, especially with the imminent release of Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala).

9.10 Release Candiate 1 is out, and I decided to try a fresh install. After backing up my home folder, I downloaded the ISO, burned it to a disk and rebooted.

Dual monitors did not work at first--I would either get a blank screen with nothing but a mouse cursor that I could move, or the same with a non-moving cursor. The moving cursor problem would revert after 30 seconds, the stuck pointer was stuck until cycling the power. After a bit of Google, I turned Visual Effects off, and that allowed dual monitors.

The microphone was turned off by default. As soon as I turned it on, Skype worked. Video was still broken, but in a different way--Totem, VLC and Mplayer would play the audio but show a blank screen rather than just shutting down. I did not turn up a fix for Totem, (although that has never worked well for me) (one of my gripes is that naming is not consistent--Totem is called Movie Player in menus) but I was able to fix VLC--Tools, Preferences, Video and changing the output from Default to X11. I was also able to fix Mplayer, by editing the config file for X11 output. Odd that it isn't set by default.

The default IM program has switched from Pidgin to Empathy. I have noticed some annoyances in the user interface. The biggest annoyance so far is that if someone sends you a message when the conversations window is not open, it does not open by default--you have to open it yourself before you can answer. It appears that I can change that in settings, and in some circumstances clicking on the notification icon will open it. Haven't found anything that leads me to believe I'll like it better, so I've installed Pidgin.

One of the nice things about Linux is that most settings are stored in .config files and .folders in the user's home directory--The program Xchat will have a folder called .Xchat (The beginning dot makes it hidden by default) with the settings in a plain text file. If you copy your old .Xchat folder when you reinstall, anything you customized before will be brought to the new system.

So far, with about a day of use, everything else seems to be fairly smooth. Nothing amazing, nothing particularly bad.

And as always, much faster and easier than a Windows install.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Desk

My desk:

(Click to enlarge) The middle computer is my main laptop, with Ubuntu Linux. To the right is a second monitor from the main laptop. To the left is an old laptop running Windows XP, for Windows-only applications--Mostly iTunes and my GPS. Usually turned off. Below the second monitor is my EeePC, running the Easy Peasy version of Ubuntu Linux, so far my favorite for the Eee. All three computers have Synergy, a free program that lets me control all three computers from the keyboard (an IBM model M2 from 1990--Similar to the Model M, in a smaller package) and mouse from my main computer--scrolling down controls the EeePC, scrolling to the left takes me to the Windows XP computer. (Macs are also supported, but I have not tried that) Cut and paste usually works between computers, but can be buggy at times. The full size laptops are on wire Closetmaid shelving for better ventilation--this reduces the amount the fans have to run, and keeps my office a bit quieter.

The "frankenstein's lab" thing behind the left laptop is the fuse panel from a big old house behind the house I grew up in. Big knife blade switches, cartridge fuses, all exposed and mounted on an inch thick slab of slate. I don't know much more about it, except that it has fused neutrals, banned by the National Electric Code in 1928.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Health care

I recently bought a new pair of glasses for an amazingly high price--Progressive bifocals with light-sensitive lenses. Nearly $500 at Walmart, which will be reimbursed via a use-or-loose health care spending account.

Although I like them, if it were "my" money, I wouldn't have spent nearly that much--I could have lived with my old glasses for quite a while longer, or I could have ordered traditional bifocals from a company like Zenni, starting at $25. The Zenni equivalent in features would have been around $100. I wound up getting the exact same frames as my previous glasses--If I were paying, I would have at least re-used my old frames.

This illustrates a major problem with non-patient-paid health care--there is often discressionary spending. When the person benefiting isn't the one paying, it is very hard to judge whether a particular spending is a good value. When the payor is judging, whatever is cheapest and meets their minimum obligation wins. When it is a non-paying consumer, some combination of "best" and "least effort" wins, regardless of cost.

If we must have universal coverage of some sort, there has to be some mechanism to encourage reasonable economic decisions. The patient has to benefit by taking cheaper options, but in a way that does not force everyone into the cheapest regardless of other factors. Assuming we have no choice but to offer universal health care, something like the Whole Foods healthcare system appears to be the "least bad" way of going about it--Health care savings accounts controlled by the patient (and ideally that roll over and are not tied to an employer), combined with high-deductible catastrophic coverage. Whole foods has lower costs, but higher satisfaction with this system, because patients have control of costs, and incentives to save.

It will be interesting to see what happens. In Massachusetts (with a universal system), a couple was fined because the rules changed and their catastrophic-only plan was deemed inadequate because their maximum out of pocket cost was $2500. They had to pay an extra $1000 in fines, about as much as the worst case scenario if they both were extremely ill in the same year. That was still cheaper than either the next higher option, or going with the state paid system.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Definitions of the second

I've never had a satisfactory explanation on what the second amendment means to an anti gunner. Instead of logic, there's something like "Of course I support the constitution, but the second is a collective right, and only applies to militia service, and doesn't actually mean your right to keep guns is protected".

Questions I'd like their answers to:

What does "collective right" mean?

Exactly whose 'right to bear arms" is it that "shall not be infringed"?

Under your theory of actual meaning, what would constitute a violation or infringement?

If your theory is that it is obsolete, what made it obsolete? How did that change the law? What other laws or constitutional provisions no longer apply due to the passage of time?

News Awareness

Mostly Cajun had a link to this quiz on current events, where I scored 10 out of 12, better than 89% of the public.

I don't think this is something for me to be proud of--I don't consider myself well-informed, and I really don't know what my primary news source is--I don't deliberately watch (or avoid) traditional news sources. Rather, I think this shows a disturbing lack of awareness by the general public.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too nice for a gun

Drunk patron shoves owner, grabs bank bag. Scuffle ensues involving thief, owner and another patron helping the owner. Owner gets a a gun, thief runs, owner fires a warning shot. Thief returns, more fighting, owner throws gun into a truck bed so he doesn't have to shoot thief. Thief winds up with gun, leaves, is arrested later.

I know the bar owner involved. He is a really nice guy, possibly too nice to carry a gun. I haven't talked to him yet, so my comments assume that the newspaper account is closer to reality than most stories.

First of all, the paper says the warning shot was after the thief was fleeing. In Ohio (like most states), you can't use deadly force to protect property. Warning shots are rarely a good idea, and in an area as populated as where this happened, a warning shot into the air is a really bad idea.

Don't involve a gun if you are going to throw it away rather than use it--especially if you will throw it where a criminal can retrieve it. I think the criminal thought that the owner wasn't willing to shoot.

If the owner doesn't get charged, this worked out reasonably well, but only by really good luck.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not my fault

Near the end of June, I had a Tiki torch catch fire. Turns out that it wasn't my fault, the refill bottle in question has been recalled for doing the same to others.

IBM Model M

Marko has done a couple of posts on the IBM Model M keyboard, quite possibly the best PC hardware ever made.

IBM made some significant mistakes with the design of the original PC, but they got the keyboard right. This was all the more impressive because many computers of the day had keyboards that were impossible to touch type on, like the membrane keyboard of the Atari 400, or the keyboards with remote-control style rubber keys on some others. To make matters worse, most of these keyboards were built in and could not be easily upgraded.

The original PC keyboard was further refined into the Model M--Same key feel, but with additional keys and a better layout.

When a low cost IBM PC was $2500 and even cheap keyboards weren't all that cheap, this made sense. When computers are down to $300, spending 1/4 of the cost on a keyboard doesn't. This is reflected in the keyboards for most PC's getting cheaper and cheaper

IBM also had the best laptop keyboards I've ever used on the mid 90s Thinkpads--A similar feel, with a shorter stroke. One of the dumbest purchase choices I've made was when I bought a new low-end Toshiba laptop instead of the clearance IBM of marginally lower spec.

New type M's are around $70 shipped from This sounds outrageous for a keyboard, until you figure the per-year cost. I retired my 1988 keyboard that was still in perfect working order to replace it with a 1990 M2, the slightly smaller, lighter and less rugged version. I'm a little lucky that my USB port will drive this keyboard, some of them draw too much current for some USB ports.

If you need peace and quiet, the Type M isn't for you--they make a quite loud click on both the press and release. On the other hand, when someone hears you typing, they think you are twice as fast as you really are...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Easy chili recepie

1 can Bush's Chili Hot Beans
Equal amount diced tomatoes
tomato paste (small can)
Corn Meal (about 2 tbsp--I don't measure)
Onion (to taste--about 1 small onion)
Fresh diced JalapeƱo peppers (2 or so)
Minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
Cooked hamburger (half a pound or so)

(This recepie is for regular sized cans)

Dump it all in a crock pot, simmer an hour or three. Even though it is in a crock pot, you will likely still have to stir occasionally.

I usually make this using gallon cans of beans and tomatoes. For that amount I use two small cans tomato paste, a lot more fresh onion, and about half a head of garlic. It freezes very well.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jam Jacket Ipod case

Since buying my Ipod Touch, I have been looking for a decent case for it, and a better way to store the headphones. As a temporary solution I had the 3 pack of silicone covers from Walmart, but they didn't stay on all that well. I kept the earbuds in a tiny plastic box in my pocket, separate from the iPod. I wanted a belt clip, and some way of storing the earbuds would be nice. A friend had a case for his Nano that had headphone storage, and I really wanted one like that.

I had pretty much given up, when I found the Jam Jacket while shopping for something else. The clip on the back does triple duty as cord storage, a belt clip, and a stand.

The clip is rubber coated metal X, and has a three dimensional curve to it. The clip will sort of pop and turn inside out to make the legs stick out to use as a stand, and to make winding the cord easier. I'd rather the stand function were a bit less upright. The clip also twists, but I have not found an advantage to that yet. The case adds considerably to the thickness of the iPod, especially in the center. The rubber is much thicker and sturdier than the silicone covers I had. The case also comes with a pre-cut screen protector.

As a belt clip, the iPod has to be vertical, and if you are shaped like I am needs to be on the rear half of your body if you plan to sit. (Someone with a smaller belly may not have this problem).

Cord storage works best if you arrange the earbuds at the top of the clip, and then wrap the first half of the cord in a figure 8 around one pair of legs, the other half around the other 2 legs. Tuck the jack in. This minimizes bulk by keeping the winding of the cord away from the thickest part (in the same way that holsters with their loops or clips beside the gun rather than on top do). The clip can keep the cord stowed reasonably well when using it as a stand, but not so much if being used as a belt clip.

(This is a filler post, not a compensated endorsement)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Gordon Food Service Primo Gusto pasta sauce

Years ago, Sam's club had a really good pasta sauce, really cheap. When they discontinued it, I tried to find it elsewhere, and was unsuccessful.

Not so long ago, Meijer's had a premium house brand pasta sauce that was really good, in several varieties, at about the same price as cheap sauce. Unfortunately they have shuffled their product line. They now carry a generic sauce, and a super-premium at twice the price.

Most of the time if sugar or corn syrup is not in the top 5 ingredients of a pasta sauce, it will be at least a little better than average, and if there is no added sugar it will be pretty good.

We were at Gordon Food Service and I checked the ingredients on their gallon cans of pasta sauce--No sugar! I bought a can, and it is really good sauce by itself. (Full disclosure--I haven't found a bottled sauce that isn't better with some fresh garlic and anise or fennel) The price is right too--Under $6 per gallon. The downside is that like a lot of Gordon products, you can't get less than a gallon.

(Not a paid endorsement--If I ever start doing them, I will mention the fact)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tomato Router software

I recently switched my Linksys WRT54G router from the original firmware to Tomato.

Linksys routers use a version of Linux. Because Linux is open source, interested people can modify the code and make improvements. Various people have done various versions of replacement software with different features. One version is Tomato, and it has other sub-versions with less mainstream options. Also being Linux, this is free. I'm using the base version.

The install process could not be much simpler--Basically the same as updating the router firmware with the official updates, except with the Tomato file instead of the file from Linksys. The router will pull the file in, then reboot. Your internet connection drops for about 10 seconds. then comes back up using Tomato, preserving all the settings you had before--same SSID, same security settings. The admin password is the same, but you now have to use the "admin" or "root" account instead of leaving the user blank. The most difficult part is making sure you use the proper file for your particular version of router--there is a chart to verify by serial number. There is a small risk of a failed upgrade leaving your router in a state that is unusable--In theory there is a method to set up TFTP on one of your computers to push working firmware if this happens. I would rather not have to test that, but I had the instructions handy beforehand.

Tomato solved a problem I had with my Ipod Touch, where it could connect to the network but not the Internet. At home (and only at home) I had to give it a static DNS (which required static IP) and put it in the DMZ--directly on the Internet rather than firewalled. It worked without modification everywhere else. Now it works properly at home with no workarounds.

It also lets me used "fixed DHCP", which is the main reason I installed it. This lets the router manage IP addresses, but also lets you tell the router to give particular computers the same address every time. Setting up a fixed DHCP IP for a computer that is on the network is simple--find it in the Having stable IP addresses makes a lot of network based stuff easier to do. On my computer, the "save" button was not initially visible, I had to scroll down to find it.

There are a lot of other features that look promising, but I haven't tried yet--QOS to control and prioritize bandwidth use of various applications, (don't let Bitttorent take ALL the bandwidth, for instance) and the ability to run scripts at set times. Timed automatic reboot option--I now have it set to reboot at 4am every morning--I am hoping this prevents the need for rebooting when the router has been on for a long time. You can adjust transmit power from the pre-set of 42mw up to 251 (I would be cautious about extreme increases, there is a potential for overheating and permanent damage) You can block certain combinations of computer and Internet application at certain times--this would be good for some control of kids useage. You can limit wireless connections to pre-defined devices.

I haven't used this long enough to know if it is stable--If it is at least equal to the Linksys firmware, I am impressed.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Not as bad as it sounds

Wife: "Would you cut some of that thin plywood for my plastic drawers? I've got a drawing of what I want"

Me: "Sure, if you come help"

"But I did a drawing..."

Me: "We both know I won't be able to read your drawing"

(move to garage, where the saw is)

Me: "How wide do you want the first piece?

Wife: "What do you mean wide?

Me: "What dimensions do you want the first piece cut?

Wife: "There are 4 dimensions....

Me: "There can't be 4 dimensions, that violates the laws of physics.

Wife: "There are too!

Me: "Um. Anyway...(I look at the drawing) You need a piece 6 inches by 15?

Wife: "No, that's the drawer.

(no further information....)


Wife: "Oh...Let me look at the drawing....Um....

Me: "And you thought I could read your drawing when you can't?

Wife: "Hush. OK, I need this one 4 inches wide by 12 inches deep

Me: "Just one?

Wife: "No.

(no further information)

Me: "....Well, how many?

Wife: "Oh! I need 4 of those.

Me: "Do you need any other 4 inch wide pieces?

Wife: "No.

/me (rips wood, removes rip fence set at 4 inches, cuts to length)

Ok, what next?

Wife: "I need some that are 4 inches by 6 1/2.

Me: "I thought you didn't need any more that were 4 inches wide?

Wife: "I don't...I need them 6 inches wide by 4 inches tall.


(Despite what it sounds like here, we were laughing hard enough through most of this that I had to delay turning the saw on)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

...said the spider

A preying mantis is buzzing around the deck tonight, driving our cat nuts. At one point the mantis wound up stuck in a spider's web. The spider was determined to eat well, but I'm having more fun watching my cat try to lazily stalk so I "rescued" it from the web. Mantis is sitting at the top of the screen door, and cat is staring intently, (while lying down, of course)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dog training

We often let our dogs run loose by the river under supervision. They know their boundaries, come when called, and do not bother people unless invited. (If you talk to Angie, she will consider that an invitation and almost certainly try to lick you...)

The other day, another dog on a leash came around the corner, so we called our dogs and put them on leashes. That dog's owner was amazed, and asked how we got them to behave that well.

I am not an expert. I can tell you what I do, but I won't claim it is the best thing.

If you scold your dogs for misbehaving, stop scolding as soon as they stop misbehaving. It is especially important that you do not discipline them when they come--they learn that coming back is when they get punished.

Make sure that most of the time when they come when called, something good happens. This may mean that you will have to call them for no reason sometimes, and give them a treat. A treat does not have to be food, it can be affection or play. A variation of this is why I have a pile of sticks in my backyard. Bella loves to carry big sticks. I do not want Bella to associate going on leash with losing her stick, so I let her bring them home.

For my dogs, rolling them on their back is an especially potent form of discipline. I save that for particularly offensive behavior.

Do not worry too much about fair. Bella would sometimes snap at other dogs at the dog park, to the point where if she did not improve I would not be willing to bring her. That ended when I either rolled her on her back, or took her to the car for a few minutes every time--even if in my opinion the other dog started it.

Praise them for doing the right thing, and not just when you are surprised by good behavior. For example, I praise them when they pass another dog without barking, when they pass people without trying to lick them, and when they are off the bike path pavement when a bike goes by.

Be consistant and insistant. An example--when one of the dogs pulls on the leash, even a little, I give a snappy yank back rather than restraining them--If it happens too often, I will scold, or shorten the leash. Ideally the leash is for signaling and emergency restraint, rather than a constant restriction. Bella is 75 pounds or so, but my mother in law says she is easier to walk than her 15 pound Chihuahua mix. From the beginning I insisted that my dogs stay on the proper side of trees and such when leashed. It only took a week or two, now they do it automatically without being told-even on the end of a 20 foot retractable leash.

Do not punish unless you catch them in the act. If you come home and discover something they have caused, you can be verbally upset with the problem, and ignore the dogs while you fix the problem. Minimize unnecessary commands if you cannot back them up.

Commands are short and brisk--Usually the dog's name to get her attention, then a 1 or 2 word command.

I have not managed to teach Bella to quit barking. However, if I tell her to sit or lie down, she will obey, and usually stop barking as well. I think "do this" is an easier concept than "quit doing that".

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Earlier today, we were sitting on the deck when we heard exuberant shouting, a loud diesel pickup accelerating, and then a crashing noise.

Turns out that a dually diesel truck pulling a portable cement mixer took the corner a little too fast, and tipped the (empty) mixer over.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Odd pocket watch

Stopped by the thrift store and found a pocket watch. Was not running, but the stem felt like a handwind, and I have never seen a quartz marked "antimagnetic". Center seconds means it is more than likely a wristwatch movement in a pocket watch case, and probably a cheap one at that. Not something I particularly want in my collection, but more than likely I can get it running with a few drops of oil and make a small profit on Ebay.

When I opened it up, I found that it was indeed the cheap pinlever wristwatch movement I expected, but I also found a little circuit board, batteries, and a piezo speaker on the case back, a strange combination.

It turns out that with fresh batteries, it plays Greensleeves when opened.

There can only be a few years in the late 70's or very early 80's where this made any sense--any earlier and the electronics would be either unavailable or expensive, and much later and all the cheap wind up movements were replaced by quartz.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Brady Rank

I was looking at the Brady Campaign's ranking of state gun laws. Like many anti-gun propiganda, there is a lot of deceptive wording. I decided to fisk Ohio's version. Brady indented, my comments in regular text:

Are there limitations on assault weapons? No

Ohio - No state restriction on the sale or possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons. Assault weapons are as easy to buy as hunting rifles. Congress and President Bush allowed the federal assault weapons ban to sunset in 2004. See also: Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines
"Assault weapons" are as easy to buy because there is not a meaningful distinction between them. The expired ban covered things like grips, bayonet mounts, launchers for grenades (grenades remained tightly regulated) and flash hiders, and nothing that made them more dangerous.

Must handguns be ballistic fingerprinted prior to sale? No

No state requirement that gun dealers or manufacturers provide police with sample bullets/cartridges or digital images of bullets/cartridges prior to the sale of a handgun, ballistic fingerprinting, which would assist police in tracing bullets at crime scenes to the guns that fired them.

Ballistic fingerprinting has proved to be nearly entirely useless in the two states that require it. In many years, only one case even used it, and was likely solved before the database was consulted. It does require registration, like many of these laws that the Brady Campaign thinks are needed.

Are gun owners held accountable for leaving guns accessible to kids? No

No state requirement that gun owners take responsible steps to prevent children from gaining easy access to their firearms. Gun owners are not held accountable for leaving loaded guns around kids, even if a young child shoots themselves or someone else with a gun left in plain sight.

Ohio can and does find people guilty of relevant charges when they neglegently allow children access to guns, although there is not a specific law covering guns. Most of these laws would effectively make it illegal to keep a gun ready for self defense in the home--this is part of the Heller supreme court decision.

Must locking devices be sold with guns? Partial

Ohio - Requires a licensed gun dealer to "offer" to sell a child-safety lock that is appropriate for the firearm being purchased, at the time a gun is sold. The law does not require the gun buyer to actually purchase, or use, the child-safety lock. Child-safety locks cost as little as $10 and could save lives if sold with firearms.

Not sure they are correct here. Every gun I have purchased at a dealer has come with a lock. One pawn shop I have seen has a sign that says all guns, even those being redeemed from pawn must have a lock, and if the customer does not have one they will provide one for $3.

Are only authorized users able to operate handguns? No

Ohio - There is no state law mandating that all new handguns be sold with 'personalized' handgun technology that would only allow the authorized user to operate the firearm. Childproof handguns play an important role in helping to prevent unintentional shootings among children and to deter suicides among minors.
This may be the biggest misstatement on the list of laws the Bradys think are a good idea. To the best of my knowledge, no guns are available with this technology. Although similar laws exist, they have the restriction of "when such technology becomes available" and are not in force yet.

Must gun dealers adhere to state licensing and/or oversight systems? Partial

Ohio - No state laws exist requiring firearm dealers obtain a state license to sell firearms. Licensed dealers must report to law enforcement any firearm that is stolen from their inventory.

Federal dealer requirements still apply, as do the state laws for running a business. No idea what they think will be gained by having a separate state gun bureaucracy.

Do cities have authority to hold gun makers legally liable? No

Ohio - State law forbids city and county governments from taking any legal action to hold gun manufacturers accountable, even when they act irresponsibly in the way they design, market or distribute weapons. No other industry enjoys such special immunity for irresponsible conduct. Individuals are also prohibited from filing certain lawsuits against the gun industry to hold them accountable for wrongful conduct.

Because of nuisance lawsuits,(example: suing Glock for irresponsible distribution when a gun they sold to police wound up in criminal hands) a relatively recent federal law would preempt any state law that allowed this. No other industry has had the repeated attempts to claim that they are responsible for being successful.

Are background checks required at gun shows? No

No state requirement that a Brady criminal background check be done on people buying guns at gun shows if they are sold by "private" individuals or gun "collectors." Gun shows can operate on a "no questions asked, cash-and-carry" basis, making it easy for criminals and even juveniles to buy as many guns as they want at gun shows, including assault weapons. No records are required to be kept on gun show sales by private individuals or gun collectors, making it almost impossible for police to trace such weapons if they are used in a crime.

The loophole is that the rules at a gun show are just like the rules everywhere else. It is illegal to knowingly sell to a juvenile or criminal, regardless of where. Dealers have to follow the same rules as in their own shops.

Are businesses forced to allow guns in the workplace? No

Ohio - There is no state law forcing employers or businesses to allow guns on their privately held property.
What they are objecting to in other states is giving employers the right to decide what is allowed inside employee's locked cars. I have mixed feelings here, because I am sympathetic to property rights, but I also think employees retain rights inside their cars.

Are colleges/universities forced to allow guns on campus? No

Ohio - There is no state law forcing colleges/universities to allow guns on campus
I am actually surprised that they do not grade this one a partial--there is a law that requires campuses to allow concealed carry license holders to store their guns in their cars.

Is it illegal to sell handguns to anyone under 21 years of age? Yes

State law makes it illegal to sell handguns to juveniles under the age of 21 by unlicensed sellers. Under federal law, only federally licensed dealers are prohibited from selling or delivering handguns or ammunition for handguns to any person under the age of 21. A strong state law is needed to stop unlicensed persons from selling handguns to those under the age of 21.

This question is misleading-- makes it seem like some states allow minors to buy handguns. Federal law makes it illegal to sell to juveniles under 18.

Are there limitations on large capacity ammunition magazines? No

Ohio - There is no state law restricting the sale or possession of large capacity ammunition magazines that can fire 30, 50 or even 75 rounds without reloading. Ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition are considered large capacity magazines. These types of ammunition magazines are available for any firearm capable of accepting a detachable magazine, including assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns.

This should actually be a partial. Ohio law considers any gun that can shoot more than 31 rounds without reloading to be a machine gun--this makes a gun with a 30 round magazine subject to all the rules and restrictions of a machine gun, and effectively illegal for most people. You can posses the magazines, but you cannot use them. 10 rounds is an arbitrary limit from the expired 1996 assault weapons ban, and includes the vast majority of police and military handgun magazines. (I may have the exact number wrong here, it is around 30)

Is a license/permit required to buy handguns? No

No state requirement that handgun buyers obtain a handgun license or undergo any type of safety training prior to buying a handgun.

True. However, the NICS background check still applies.

Is there a one-handgun-per-month limit on sales? No

No state restrictions on gun-trafficking such as a limit on the number of handguns that can be purchased at one time. Gun traffickers can easily buy large quantities of handguns at gun stores and resell them on the street to criminals. violation of federal law. Dealers are required to report multiple sales.

May police limit carrying concealed handguns? No

Ohio - State law forces sheriffs to issue concealed handgun (CCW) permits to any applicant who can legally buy a gun and has minimal "training." People can carry hidden handguns in cars and into neighborhood parks, playgrounds, restaurants, shopping malls, etc.
Apparently the Bradys prefer a system where the rich and powerful can get licenses, and minorities cannot. Ohio has one of the strictest training requirements in the US.

Interestingly, this is what they have to say about California concealed carry law:

Police chiefs and state sheriffs "may issue" permits that allow people to carry concealed weapons if police believe it is in the interest of public safety. Anyone so approved by local law enforcement must undergo safety training in the legal and safe use of the weapon and there are limits in where they may carry such weapons.
Although licensing is discriminatory in most areas of California, there are far fewer restrictions on where the licensed can carry.

Must new semi-automatic handguns be sold with microstamping technology? No

Ohio - There is no state law requiring new semi-automatic handguns be fitted with microstamping technology, which would engrave on each fired bullet casing microscopic identifying markings that are specific to that firearm alone. This technology would provide law enforcement with another investigative tool to better solve gun crimes and apprehend armed criminals.
No state actually requires microstamping yet. California has postponed adoption because the technology does not work. Most microstamping laws have been proposed by the company that owns the patents.

May municipalities enact law stronger than the state's? No

State law does not allow local cities or counties to enact local gun laws to regulate firearms that are stronger than state law or that fill loopholes in state law.

For example: some local jurisdictions restrict assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, hold adults responsible if minors have easy access to guns, require a handgun identification card, require gun dealers to be licensed and restrict Saturday night specials.

Preemption prevents a patchwork of often incompatible local laws. Before Ohio had preemption, one of my guns was legal for me to carry in Cincinnati but not Toledo, and one legal in Toledo but not Cincinnati. A traveller with a license would have to research laws in each town before each trip.

May police maintain gun sale records? No

State law forbids police from keeping any record of gun sales. Police are prohibited from maintaining gun sale records that could be used for gun tracing and criminal investigations. The state has no way of knowing whether people who bought guns in the past have become criminals and are no longer allowed to possess firearms. The lack of gun sale records also makes it very difficult to identify and prosecute gun traffickers or gang members that buy guns in bulk and resell them on the street.

It also makes future gun bans and confiscation more difficult. Registration again.

Are all guns registered with law enforcement? No

No state requirement that gun owners register their firearms, though they are required to report lost or stolen guns. Police do not know how many guns are in the state or where they are. The lack of registration data makes it more difficult for police to trace guns used in crime, identify illegal gun traffickers or hold gun owners accountable for their weapons. There is no state system to automatically identify and disarm felons and other prohibited people who bought guns legally in the past, but later committed a crime or otherwise became ineligible to keep possession of their firearms.

...although it remains illegal for the new felons to posses guns. Registration is a necessary requirement to confiscation.

Are firearm owners required to report all lost or stolen guns to law enforcement? Yes

Ohio - State law requires all firearm owners to report lost/stolen firearms to law enforcement. This requirement helps to keep illegal guns off the streets by removing the excuse used by gun traffickers that "lose" their firearms.

I am not sure if this law is true. Also not sure what it should accomplish unless accompanied by registration.

Are there consumer safety standards on guns? No

No state requirement that handguns meet any basic safety standards. No requirement that guns be sold with a child-safety lock or a built-in �personalized� lock to prevent unauthorized use. No requirement that handguns have loaded-chamber indicators or magazine safety disconnects that could prevent unintentional shootings. The state Attorney General is authorized to independently establish handgun safety standards, but has not done so.

Generic child safety locks are not very useful-I have not heard of anyone using one more than once. I have never heard of built-in personalized locks--that is what a gun safe is for. People are more likely to understand that you do not point guns at people no matter what than they are to understand each individual gun's loaded chamber indicator.

Are there limitations on 'junk' handguns? No

No state restriction on the sale of Saturday night specials or "junk" handguns. No requirement that handguns meet any safety tests such as a drop-safety test or a firing-performance test. No restriction on the sale of snub-nosed handguns that are very small and easy to conceal.

The junk standards have little to do with quality--Many high-quality polymer framed guns have to get trivial modifications in order to avoid the federal imported "junk gun" standards. Most of these standards have nothing to do with accuracy, reliability or safety--examples are dimples on grips, adjustable sights and grooves on triggers are all things that make a gun "less junk". Most states allow concealed carry, so there is a legitimate purpose for small, easy to conceal guns.

Is deadly force allowed to be a first resort in public? No

Ohio - The state does not allow the use of deadly force as a first resort in public.
Another misrepresentation of "stand your ground" laws. Most of these allow deadly force when attacked by someone committing a felony, but do not allow you to shoot first in ordinary situations. Most of these laws also include a clause that prevents criminals or their families from suing after legitimate self-defense.

Are background checks required on all gun sales? No

Ohio - No state requirement that criminal background checks be done on all firearm sales. People buying firearms at gun shows, swap meets, or through newspaper or internet advertisements are not subject to a background check. Criminal background checks are only required if the buyer goes to a federally-licensed gun store - all other sales are not subject to the background check.
Universal background checks are effectively gun registration. I think "only required at a federally licensed gun store" is intended to be deceptive--all gun stores are required to be federally licensed.

Is there a waiting period on gun sales? No

No state requirement that there be a waiting period for gun sales beyond the "instant check" in federal law. Police are not given any additional time to run a criminal background check to make sure the gun buyer is not prohibited from acquiring firearms. There is no "cooling off" period to help prevent crimes of passion.

Extra checks? Is there anywhere that does more of a check than the NICS system? If the check cannot be performed instantly, the government has three days to perform it.

I have not understood the point of a cooling off period--It is only even potentially effective in a very narrow range of circumstances--someone hot-headed enough to think that shooting someone else is a good idea, but rational enough to gain control of himself before the waiting period ends, who does not have access to a gun, who has not ran into serious trouble with the law before.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

There ought to be a law

In the last few months, we've heard about the Lori Drew case, where an adult drove a child to suicide through social networking sites. She was just acquitted on appeal.

"There ought to be a law"


Lori Drew should be shunned. She should be too embarrassed to be seen in public to the point where she changes her name and moves to a new town. But any law capable of stopping what she did would also stop lots of completely harmless behavior.

The laws she was convicted of breaking were not relevant, let alone adding new ones.
(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

This makes a whole lot of beneficial behavior on the Internet risky--I've always got a problem with intent being part of the law. Eugene Volk among others have suggested quite a few legitimate behaviors that would be at least technically violations of this law.

"But we wouldn't use it like that"

Bull. Looking again at the Lori Drew case, she was convicted of hacking activities--not because she broke into a computer, but because she did something people thought justified punishment, and that was what they could find. It would be like someone who passed out flyers at a store marked "no solicitation" being convicted of burglary because they were not using the store for a purpose the owners approve of.

Most laws have unintended consequences, (or for the more cynical, consequences that were foreseen by the authors, but not meant for the public to realize until too late). We have to allow some unpleasant things to remain legal if we are going to keep the ability to run our lives with minimal interference.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Quack medicine

Several of the sites in my RSS reader have ads for various quack medicines and supplements. One of these was something like "acai--an Internet scam?" and lead to a fake consumer reporting website, where they decide that at least one acai berry company is legit, complete with directions on how to order a free trial (just pay shipping...) from there...But when you try to leave the site, you get pop-ups and redirects that try to prevent you from leaving.

I cannot imagine this ever actually working to sell product, and I would think that it would be counterproductive-Imagine someone taken in by the scam, but short of money until payday. They try to leave with the intention of ordering later...and the popups make them change their mind.

(I would also be nervous about visiting one of these sites with a Windows computer)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things I'm sorry I bought

1. Wal-mart "chocolate" covered Espresso beans. Apparently the nasty chocolaty stuff they use is cheaper than the miniature beans they cover. I don't remember the brand, because I threw the mostly-uneaten container in the first rest stop trash can I came to. They were a mix of brown and white--if anything the white ones were worse. I'm not being a chocolate snob here-M&M grade chocolate would be more than adequate. I usually get a 12 ounce box of Trader Joe's espresso beans for $3.99--certainly not a super luxury price.

2. Diet Coke Plus. Advertised as "diet coke with vitamins and minerals", I bought it because the store was out of regular diet coke. It tastes like someone dissolved a children's chewable vitamin into a coke--The funny vitamin pill taste, mixed with a hint of artificial fruit flavor. I drank a few sips, and gave the rest of the 12 pack away--I'd rather have generic diet cola.

3. Eco-nation speakers 'made with up to 80% recycled materials', another Walmart purchase. (What does "up to 80% mean in this context?) Folding pyramid-shaped speakers, they fit together like a cardboard cut-out toy, 'tab A in slot B" style. I didn't expect much from them--all I wanted was something to make the tiny, tinny speaker in my generic GPS a little easier to hear. Even with my low expectations, I was sadly disappointed. Although they did reduce the distortion a little, they also reduced the already low volume considerably, so much that even taped to my headrest, they were harder to hear than the built-in speaker from the windshield mount. I've tried them on my laptop, and on my Ipod touch. While they are less tinny than the Touch's built-in speaker, they are not as good as the laptop, and are quieter than either.

Cyber Powers

A recent cybersecurity bill appears to give the president broad new powers over any computer connected to the internet and "deemed critical"

There does not appear to be any limitation on what can be deemed critical.

And the government gets to decide cybersecurity standards:
Beginning 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any individual to engage in business in the United States, or to be employed in the United States, as a provider of cybersecurity services to any Federal agency or an information system or network designated by the President, or the President’s designee, as a critical infrastructure information system or network, who is not licensed and certified under the program.
From Cnet:

Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to "direct the national response to the cyber threat" if necessary for "the national defense and security." The White House is supposed to engage in "periodic mapping" of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies "shall share" requested information with the federal government. ("Cyber" is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)

I do not care who the president is, he should not have that much power without significant limitations on when he can use it. In a *defined* emergency, I could see a requirement to disconnect a network from the internet. What are the limits on "shall share"? Is it just network routing information, or does it include the data on the computers themselves? Reading the bill, I do not see a limit here, either.

A lot of the bill makes sense for how the government deals with its own computers, but the control of computers and networks "deemed critical" is frightening. It may not be misused, but I don't want to rely on the good nature of future administrations, even if I trusted this one.

(HT to Walls of the City )

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on the Eee PC

I have been playing with my Eee pc, as well as a similar one I ordered for my wife a few days after mine arrived. Hers is a few months more recent, but a lower end model--no webcam, and only 4gig storage.

The included OS is fine, but upgrading to the latest versions of software is not as easy as it should be-I wanted Firefox 3 especially. It was not in the repositories for my computer, and there was not enough room on my wifes to add it after doing updates.

Rather than learn my way around the Xandros-based stock OS and figure out which repositories work for Eee, I have changed to Ubuntu-based operating systems on both of them. (Both are versions of Linux, and both based on Debian Linux) My wifes is now running Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a version of Ubuntu specifically for netbooks. Newer versions of Firefox, easier to add (and rem ove) software. Netbook remix has a slightly different interface-apps are accessed via the desktop, which has tabs along each side for categories of programs, and the selections appear in the center. This would be ideal for tiny screens, but I am not sure it is necessary for the 900 series.

I wound up using Eeebuntu, another version of Ubuntu, specifically designed for the Eee hardware. There are microphone and webcam issues with the stock kernel in the Netbook Remix, and I want to be able to use Skype on mine. Eeebuntu has a kernel designed specifically for the Eee hardware. The microphone still isn't configured quite right, but with some setting changes it works--Unfortunately I have not figured out how to keep the mic sound from routing to the speakers. (Easy-Peasy is a version that uses the same kernel as Eeebuntu, but the Netbook Remix interface--I will likely switch my wife's Eee to it soon)

Eeebuntu is closer to a standard Ubuntu interface. I am not sure I like the "task launcher" bar at the bottom--I think I would prefer the usual task bar, but set to auto hide, and I'm likely to set it to work like that. This the biggest difference in interface between eebuntu and the standard Ubuntu.

The version of Firefox that comes with Eeebuntu came with 'compact menu' and 'Smart stop/reload' add ons, that allow you to eliminate a row of toolbars without removing functionality--both add ons that I have used on full sized computers. I added a set of plugins that Lifehacker recently featured--Permatabs mod, faviconize tab, and Better Gmail. I always have Gmail and Google Reader open in the first and second tabs. With this combination, these tabs are reduced to the size of an icon and permanent, and the Gmail icon has the number of unread messages in the icon.

I also set up the touchpad so that it does not click while typing--with the tiny keyboard on the Eee, I was constantly finding that I had moved my cursor to the middle of a different paragraph in mid-word.

I am getting used to the keyboard, but I still have some problems finding the right shift key, and hitting enter instead of the quote or apostrophe key--as a result I am avoiding contractions... I have typed on worse full sized keyboards, and it gets easier the more I use it.

With Eeebuntu, I am very impressed with this little computer--It does just about everything I need in a computer, while remaining compact and very portable. I wold almost call it the J-frame of computers...With the added feature that if you can wait for these to show up on, you can pick one up for under $200 including shipping.

I do not know how necessary changing operating systems is--people with less Linux experience may be completely happy with the stock setup.

If you are not going to give up your full-sized computer, you might also be interested in Synergy--This is a cross-platform app that lets you control one computer using the keyboard and mouse of another, just by scrolling off the screen, even if the computers are completely different operating systems.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Over-regulation anyone?

Federal law required garage sales and thrift stores to verify all items sold have not been recalled

Thrift stores often don't have any clue what it is they are selling, and should not be expected to. It is used crap, buyer beware. Not only applies to retail stores, but also garage sales? Wow.

Federal law bans used children's books prior to 1986, unless tested for lead

Before 1986, there were not strict standards for the amount of lead in children's books, and some have trace amounts. Unlike lead paint and toys, this is a minimal hazard, because the amounts are small, books in general remain intact, and don't flake into pieces that toddlers find attractive. There isn't enough to be a hazard for normal contact to be a danger. The ban also covers most children's toys and clothing.

Testing isn't simple--It far, far exceeds the value of most of these items.

I'm fine with consumer product safety stuff within reason, but this is absurd. The penalties are severe, and the net result is that thrift stores really can't afford to sell any children's items at all. "We're not going to be heavy-handed" the CPSC promises.

At most, the CPSC should be able to require retailers of used children's items to post signs stating something like "products sold in this store are used, and may not meet current CPSC standards". They should not have power over garage sales.

We really are at a point where it is impossible for someone who wants to be law abiding to comply with all the laws. This is frightening to me--if you do something that should be legally protected that a bureaucrat doesn't like, they can find something to charge you with.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Last week, I bought an EeePC from For the few people unfamiliar, it is a netbook, a tiny little notebook computer the size and weight of a hardback book.

It isn't a replacement for a full laptop, but it is so portable it is almost a fundamentally different thing. It is easy to read almost anywhere, even lying on my back on the couch.

As a computer, it is decent for what I use it for, basic word processing and internet. Came with flash already installed, and it works fine. It boots very fast.

Skype actually works better on my deck than it did on my laptop.

My biggest problem is fat fingers--the keyboard is tiny and requires a different typing method to make my fingers fit the keys. It is OK up to a blog post or comment, I don't think I'd want to write a novel on it. There isnt much that is possible to improve with the keyboard that would not require more size.

It uses a version of Xandros linux, which is itself a version of Debian. The stock system has a cut-down interface--Apps launch from the desktop instead of a start menu. I switched to "desktop" mode, more like a traditional computer. There is a version of Ubuntu, but it apparently has microphone issues on this particular hardware. I'll probably give it a try, but this version works fine for now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've been in Pennsylvania for most of the last 6 weeks, coming home late Friday, leaving around noon on Sunday. My wife was getting worried about Bella, our older dog--she was lethargic and on our usual walks was lying down to rest early on--she never does that usually. Wife had begin taking the two dogs separately, so Angie could at least get some exercise. She was worried enough that she was about to make an appointment with the vet.

Apparently the only thing wrong was me being in Pennsylvania. We took her to the river together, and there was no sign of any problem--She ran, swam, kept bringing me a stick to throw into the river, and was completely energetic and normal.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

While the main reason I disagree with the cash for clunkers program is the money spent, there are also problems with the way it was set up.

This program would have done the same good for the auto industry, and more good for eliminating the most environmentally unsound and gas guzzling clunkers if it had merely required that the cars have been registered for the last year, not necessarily by the same owner. The people with the very worst clunkers can't afford a new car at all. They will keep driving their $600 gas guzzling and polluting beaters, while a lot of $1500-$3000 cars with much better mileage and emissions will be scrapped. Once the program runs its course, there will be a shortage of cars in this price range for poor people to buy.

Had the program been more flexible, someone with a low-value car with gas mileage too good to qualify for the maximum incentive would be interested in trading for a "worse" car that would qualify for the full $4500. Even if he trades even for a car with a value of $600, he comes out ahead.

Meanwhile, the person driving the $600 oil-burning, gas guzzling clunker would also benefit as long as he does not pay the full difference in value between the cars. The environment and the country's fleet average would benefit, since now the very worst cars will be the most likely taken out of service, rather than the slightly bad owned by the middle class. Even if someone buys a beater just to qualify for the rebate, it still accomplishes the stated goals.

Am I missing something?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tourists and gunfire

I'm still going back and forth to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania for work. The travel is already old, but the money is good. Stopped at a rest stop on I-80, and heard gunfire--Spaced out with a second or two between shots, rather than gunfight or Hollywood rate of fire. I thought "must be a gun range behind those woods...wonder how often it freaks out the tourists" A couple minutes later, I overheard an older looking guy on his cellphone calling 911 to tell them about the gunfire. A worker at the rest stop was walking by and told him there is a range behind the woods. There were only a couple of vehicles in the parking lot, and I'm pretty sure his was the one with New Jersey plates...

Monday, July 20, 2009

I spent the weekend before last in New York City with my daughter, who is living in Harlem. My first trip to NY--quite interesting, since I've never lived in a city over 30,000 population.

The Apollo theater is unimpressive from the outside.

There is apparently a chain of street vendors that sell incense and Shea Butter--nearly identical tables on several successive blocks. Every other table was Michael Jackson merchandise. There are a bunch of vendors near Times Square openly selling watches that if real would be thousands each. I didn't check prices , but I would expect a lot more security on a case with over $500,000 in merchandise.

A constant barrage of people chanting sales pitches for DVD's, CD's, loose cigarettes, Rrrrolex, rrrrolex. (with a trilled R)

Lots and lots of signs announcing rules and penalties that everyone ignores.

Didn't have a problem parking near my daughter's place, but when I'd go to get something out of the car, people would ask if I was leaving. Lots of storefront churches on her block. On Sunday morning, there were double parked cars all up and down her street.

I'm not used to seeing homeless people, flamboyantly gay people, or flamboyantly gay homeless. One of the places we went by was the neighborhood of the Stonewall Inn, where all three were present.

New York pizza is great.

I kept forgetting to bring my camera when we were going to photogenic places..

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Terrorist watch list abuse

Alpheca is a gunblogger who is also a car salesman. Recently he had a guy turned down when trying to get a loan--Not because he was a poor credit risk, but because he was on the Terrorist watch list.

This needs oversight--If someone is too dangerous to be trusted with a car loan, he's too dangerous to be in the US.

What pisses me off about this is that the reaction to terrorism brings us closer to the kind of government that they want us to have.

I'm fine with eliminating techicalities for real terrorists--Forget to read their Miranda rights, if they are still proven to be a terrorist, they still get the consequences. What needs to stop is the ability of the government to delcare someone a 'potential terrorist' with all sorts of attached rights violations, without any duty to prove it. Without limits, the list essentially covers all of us--If you don't properly bow to the most corrupt government official with the ability to add to the list, what prevents him from putting you on the watch list out of nothing but spite?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Pictures through a windshield

I'm in Pennsylvania/NY training for my new job. Even though I lived in West Virginia for a couple years as a child, the hills of this part of the country are amazingly beautiful. (Click to make bigger)

This was just after a sign announcing the highest spot east of the mississippi river on this particular interstate.

The beginning of an ear-popping descent into a valley.

...or was this the highest? I lost track

tiny little hill

A road cut visible from the plant parking lot. Not so impressive until you realize that the thing just to the left of the sign is a full sized semi: