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?