November 30, 2006

Moving Money

It feels kind of strange to be walking down the street with tens of thousands of dollars in your bag. In the U.S., I have to admit, I'd feel like I had a huge target painted on my back, and I'd go to a big expense to avoid that risk. But in Japan, even in Shinjuku, which is close to some of the "more dangerous" neighborhoods in Tokyo, I felt only slightly odd. But certainly not at risk.

The purpose was to transfer money from my main bank to my other bank, a U.S. bank from where I transferred the money to a third location electronically. The two banks are only about a block apart, so it wasn't such a big deal, and avoided the costs of having to use a cashier's check, not a standard monetary device in Japan. Still, the money was given to me in several nicely wrapped bundles of one hundred ¥10,000 yen bills--more than I transferred the same way a few years ago, which I photographed at the time (see right--this time I didn't have my camera).

I also am catching a break on the exchange rate; it had been up as high as ¥120 in mid-October, just a month ago, but today it fell to ¥116, saving me about $1700 in the transaction. Furthermore, although the usual exchange rate banks charge is three yen off the mid-rate (the one you see in reported--this moment, it is ¥115.92-95), when you issue traveler's checks or make a bank transfer, they only charge you one yen off the mid-rate, saving me a further $850 on this transaction--but that's standard, of course, so is not really a savings or anything.

The fact is, leaving the money here in Japan doesn't make too much sense, since interest rates here are virtually zero (I think my main bank here offers 0.1% interest). I've left too much here for too long, not certain whether I would use it to make a down payment on a home at some point--but finally got around to realizing that it just didn't make sense in the long run. Better to invest in the U.S., and bring the money back if I have to.

Posted by Luis at 09:37 PM | Comments (2)

November 29, 2006

Cool Free Mac Apps

Here are some applications for the Mac that I find myself using quite a bit. In no particular order:


This little app helps you with all the other apps. There are only so many apps you may want in your Dock, and there will be a lot more apps you will want to use. Tired of searching for them in your Applications folder, or wherever you stashed them? Namely will help you open them right quick. Just type the keyboard shortcut you chose for Namely (I have it set to Option-Escape), then start typing in any part of the app's name. Namely will create a list of apps with the text string in their name (like the illustration at top right demonstrates). If the app you want is highlighted at the top of the list, just hit "Return" (or "Enter") and the app will start. If the app is not at the top, either keep typing to eliminate the others, or just use the down arrow to get to the app you want and again hit "Return." Namely becomes invisible when it is not the active application, so it never gets in the way. You can set it to launch at startup so you never have to think about it. You can set the keyboard shortcut it uses from the preferences, and you can even set the color of the search bar. A very small but useful app.

Tunes IconYou Control iTunes

Ycit-BtnsI've never been a fan of the multitudinous iTunes controllers--and will admit right up front that I've tried very few--but You Control iTunes is a very nice one, one I've come to like a lot. It resides in your menu bar, so it doesn't intrude on your screen space. But in the four little buttons it puts there, you can play/pause, go back or forward in the playlist, or get drop-down menus that allow control of just about any aspect of iTunes. You can even customize the appearance of the buttons in your menu bar, choosing the best style and color from a long list provided within the app. YCiT also allows for an "overlay" to appear anywhere you want on the screen when a new song starts, showing the Song title, album title, artist, song duration, and even album art (if it's in iTunes). And there are a ton of preferences you can set about what appears and does not appear and how it will appear; it is comfortably customizable. A very well-designed and unobtrusive app that tries harder to help you than it does to impress you with how slick the programmer is. The app is free, though you do have to get a registration code from the web site and enter it into the app.

Skype LogoSkype

Yes, I know that you know about Skype. Did you know that the Mac version with video conferencing is available? And that version 2.0 is out of beta? There's even a new beta (v. 2.5) which allows for audio conference calls between up to 10 people (yourself and 9 others; video is still limited to two people). Skype works well between Macs and PCs, and allows you to conference by text, audio, and video chat, and it's all free, so long as it's computer-to-computer. You can also opt to pay for the ability to dial any telephone in the world, for prices cheaper than most if not all other call plans.

Also, Skype's audio quality is much better than standard, it seems. My dad and I tried Skype as well as Apple's iChat and AIM, and of the three, Skype's audio quality stood out tremendously. So if you thought Skype for Mac wasn't ready yet, it is--go get it.


For those of you studying Japanese: JEDict is the best Mac client for Monash University's public and free J-E/E-J Kanji dictionary database. The app will serve as a humble Japanese/English and Kanji dictionary, allowing for standard lookup and Kanji finding by radical or term search. It's not a really detailed dictionary--"definitions" are mainly lists of synonymous words, and there are no examples of use--but it will serve in most cases, or at least help some. The ability of the app to automatically insert whatever is in the clipboard to the search window is a nice feature. Version 4 is a nice upgrade to the interface. And it's the best dictionary you're likely to get for free!


Onyx is an excellent free app that will allow you to set preferences in your system that Apple has made possible but has not provided the interface for. You can show/hide invisible files and folders, turn off Finder animations and Dock special effects that might take up unnecessary CPU time, and change Dock preferences Apple doesn't let you do (like aligning the dock to one side, or even putting it at the top of your screen!). You can change the scroll bar arrows, change the file format for screen captures, and even deactivate the Dashboard if it irritates you--or you can enable it's "Developer mode," which lets widgets exist outside the Dashboard. You can also do a lot more stuff that you might not even understand, including regular (and automated) maintenance, like repairing permissions. TinkerTool is an easy-to-use but powerful little utility that'll let you customize your Mac even more. It does more than the free version of TinkerTool--more similar to TinkerTool's big brother, which costs money.

Burn IconBurn

Want to burn CDs and DVDs just like Toast, but don't want to buy or pirate Toast? Burn is a great secondary option. It gives you most of what you're likely to use in Toast, but in a nice, free, open-source package. Make Data discs, Audio CDs or MP3 DVDs, make video discs as VCDs, SVCDs, DVDs, or DivX discs, and burn disc images on discs. The interface is simple, simpler than Toast. And while it may not have all the features you may want, it certainly has enough--as a free app!--to be useful.

Burn is one of a multitude of different apps on SourceForge, a haven for open-source software projects.


This is an app that I just found, but it seems to work and I plan to use it a lot. Aurora is an alarm clock for your Mac, using iTunes to wake you up. Like You Control iTunes, Aurora is one of many such apps, but I like this one now that I've found it. I haven't tried too many others, but the ones I did try out, I never really liked that much, and some I couldn't get to work right. Aurora works, and works well.

You can set any number of alarms that will activate at the days and times you set (you can select any and/or all of the days of the week, and set them to recur), even waking the Mac from sleep or even starting up the Mac if it is powered off (I haven't tried that last one yet). You can set the Playlist that will start up, how the volume is handled, and what window will come to the front when the alarm goes off.

Vlc-IconVideoLAN - VLC Media Player

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this one before as well, but it's a great app that you should use (including Windows users). It's a media player that plays a lot more different file types than almost any other player out there. It still can't handle Real Player files, but just about anything else is game, including DVDs. In fact, depending on the DVD drive in your computer, it might even be able to play DVDs from any region. It's also unobtrusive and simple in design. There is one feature it lacks which I wish it didn't: the ability to move frame-by-frame using the arrow keys (or by any means at all, as far as I can figure out). Other than that, it's golden--and you should have it handy even if you prefer another media player, just in case you come up against something you can't play otherwise.

QuickTime Video Playback Enablers

If you really like QuickTime and don't want to abandon it, then here are two system add-ons which will make WMV and DivX files play in QuickTime, something they cannot do normally. The first is Flip4Mac, which will enable Windows Media Video files in QuickTime. The free version allows you to play the files and save them for playback on your Mac, but you can't export as a different file type, even in QT Pro--that requires a paid version. But the free version will allow you to see any of these files, and it will even work inline within your browsers; it is a system extension which shows up in your System Preferences pane.

The second one is Perian, an open-source plug-in for the QuickTime player that enables it to play AVIs, Flash files, and a lot more.

There are a lot more apps I could list, but I'll stop there for now. If you know of better apps than these, add your input in the comments; otherwise, just enjoy!

Posted by Luis at 10:58 PM | Comments (8)

90% Garbage, and One Solution

A new report says that spam email--already at record levels last summer--has tripled since June, and now accounts for 9 out of every 10 emails sent.

How long will these scum be allowed to operate before everyone out there says "enough!" and does what is necessary to cut them off at the knees? Already they have overrun our email, flooded our blogs, polluted the Internet with filth both illegal and barely legal. Probably a big chunk of what you pay for your Internet service subsidizes these sleazes, who take advantage of the free ride we're giving them so they can annoy us, harm us, and fleece us.

I am not one for restrictions or regulations on the Internet, so I would suggest as many self-healing techniques as possible, but beyond that, make the rules necessary to stop these rat-bastard parasites from bringing the Internet crashing down.

Almost exactly three years ago, I outlined a new email system that would immediately crush email spammers, and I reiterated the same plan a year and a half ago. A good idea never wears thin, so here it is again.

Call it "Email 2.0." Start a new protocol for email. It should be open-source, with profits, if there are any, going to fund new projects to stop spammers. No one company or country would be able to hijack the standards nor profit from them--the protocols and technology would be agreed upon by programmers and experts in the open-source project, and kept that way. Makers of email software would be given 6-12 months' lead time (or whatever is realistically necessary) to incorporate the feature into their email clients and other software.

In this new protocol, everyone would receive $1 credit right off the bat--you wouldn't even have to pay to start off. Those who would need to buy more credit could use a system that anyone could pay into--credit cards and PayPal would be possible, perhaps, but some other system, like a prepaid card or sending a money order to some location, would also be necessary.

Here's how it would work: whenever you send an email, it could potentially cost you a penny. But here's the beauty of it: it only gets debited from your account if your email winds up in someone's spam folder for more than three days. When that happens, you receive an automatic receipt informing you of the transaction, or whatever other notification system works best.

UPDATE: Oops. I misremembered my own idea. The idea was not to charge senders only after the email was reported as spam by the recipients. The idea was to automatically charge every email one penny and then forgive the charge once it was accepted by the user. This itself would cause problems, I'm sure--if your account were taken over by a spammer somehow, for example--but as I mentioned in the comments, a standard setting could be not to allow more than x numbers of messages to be sent within a certain time period. Again, stuff that could be worked out by smarter people. I know this whole system raises problems, and maybe it is unworkable--but I do have faith in the idea that some system would be workable, and we need to find that and implement it.
Most people would take years to eat up a dollar at that rate--have you sent 100 emails that wound up in people's spam folders in your lifetime? Maybe most people would never lose the original dollar.

But spammers would run out of money in the first few minutes of operation. Today, they depend on free email to send millions of spam out every day. But at a penny a pop, a million spam would suddenly become $10,000, and no spammer could afford to operate at the levels they now operate at. In November this year alone, 7 billion spam emails were sent; that would come to $70 million per month to the spammers. No way they could keep that up.

This system would not stop junk mail--after all, businesses still pay postage for snail mail advertisements. You'd still get spam--but you'd get a hell of a lot less of it, and that's the whole idea. Spam would no longer threaten to cripple our email systems.

The money paid for these spam emails could be split between the spam recipients and the open-source project, which would after all need some funding to survive. Even better, the recipient's portion of the income from spam landing in their inbox could be used to recharge their own accounts in case they lost some pennies from their own email accidentally landing in someone's spam folder. Beyond that, they could get a PayPal credit which could then be used for online shopping. What spam remained after this technological culling would actually begin to spur legitimate online shopping. And anyone who tries to nickel-and-dime their friends by collecting the spam penny off of legitimate email would probably not get sent any more email, not to mention they would not have their friends for long.

Because the system is, to a degree, exclusive, as well as self-correcting, spammers could not take refuge in spam-friendly countries or international waters. However, checks for fraud would need to be pretty good so that spammers couldn't hack in and create fake accounts full of credit. But we're able to do that with real money (PayPal manages, not to mention credit card companies), so hopefully that would not be a roadblock.

Perhaps a greater problem would be the spammer's propensity for hacking into victims' computers and using them as proxies to send massive numbers of emails each--but hopefully protections of this sort could also be averted by beefing up email security, like adding a feature that would require user intervention to send email to more than three people within a span of ten minutes, say.

I truly believe that such a system is possible, workable, and should be done. It just requires enough people getting fed up enough to make the effort. Frankly, I am pretty surprised no one has tried to get such a movement going by now.

Posted by Luis at 10:05 AM | Comments (7)

November 28, 2006

A Big, Fat Target

OK, I know, the "big fat" jokes concerning Rush Limbaugh are wearing thin. But he has so clearly crossed over the line from being a pompous, extremist windbag to being a complete joke that it's hard not to take easy pot shots at him. I really, truly have to wonder at the character of any human being that accepts anything he says. Here is his latest on the Middle East:

Let's just have the civil wars and let the crumbs crumble and the cookie crumble where -- because I'm fed up with this. The Palestinian situation -- for 50 years we've had the Palestinian situation, and it's not going to be solved until the Limbaugh Doctrine is imposed or tried. And that is, this is a war, and until somebody loses it, it isn't going to stop. And now, you know, we've done everything we can to make Lebanon a democracy, and it's crumbling because Syria keeps killing the popular leaders there. Meanwhile, the Hezbos [Hezbollah] keep expanding their influence in Lebanon.

But what the hell! We're going to bring Syria and Iran in to fix Iraq, why not let them just fix the whole region? If we're heading to civil war -- I mean, everybody comes to us: "You got to fix this and you got to fix that." So we go and try to fix it, and our own people, Democrats and the left in our country do their best to sabotage our efforts, and then we get blamed for trying to clean up the messes that these people start. And then they come on our television show: "[Gibberish] George [gibberish] civil war [gibberish] we gotta do something. Palestinians it's a must, it's a must, we must [gibberish] right now [gibberish] war."

Fine, just blow the place up. Just let these natural forces take place over there instead of trying to stop them, instead of trying to use -- I just -- sometimes natural force is going to happen. You're going to have to let it take place. You can spend all the time you like with diplomacy, and you can spend all the time you want massaging these things with diplomatic -- you're just -- you're just delaying the inevitable.

I love that middle part, where he says that all the messes in the Middle East are the fault of Democrats and liberals, and that right-wingers get blamed for trying to clean up after them. Because Republicans over the past five years have done so much for peace in the Middle East. And Democrats and liberals, despite having no power over that time, somehow got in and sabotaged all they had accomplished! And now we're blaming the Republicans for all that stuff which is so clearly the Democrats' fault! Boo hoo!

Of course, the key statement in this tirade is the "Limbaugh Doctrine": Just blow the place up. That ought to solve all their problems.

Posted by Luis at 12:17 PM | Comments (1)

NBC Breaks with Truthiness

NBC News has made an editorial decision to call the Iraqi internal conflict a "civil war." No doubt the right wing will attack this as an example of the "liberal media," but quite frankly, it's the other way around. For major news organizations to go along with the White House and even question that this is a civil war when it so obviously is (former Iraqi prime minister even said so eight months ago) is a sign of how they have been all too eager to toe the conservative line--something the media seems to think is necessary in order not to appear "biased."

And that is what it has come down to: since the right-wingers come down on and attack so vociferously anyone who challenges their extremist views as "liberal" and "biased" (remember, in their world view, Fox News' "fair and balanced" is not ironic), the media has been cowed to the point where they feel that if they do not give full credence to right-wing views as equal to reality, then they are indeed being "liberal," and so in order to be "balanced," they represent the right-wing worldview as equal to or stronger than the truth.

The question is not why NBC has made this decision at this time. The question is why NBC did not make it earlier, and why almost every other major news outlet has not yet made the same decision yet. The Washington Post (often characterized as "liberal") says it's not using the term because the Iraqi government is not using it--which is virtually the same as saying they won't use it because the Bush administration won't. A few people within certain networks are calling it for what it is, but even that is within the framework of the network posing it as a question and giving equal credence to the conservative side. Still, the conservative dam is holding in general.

The answer to the aforementioned question is, of course, that we have a conservative media, not a liberal one. Of course, no one can say that, because that would be too "liberal" and "biased."

Posted by Luis at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

On Hold

When an automated phone "service" puts you on hold to wait for a live person, they start playing music. They then interrupt the music every thirty seconds (that's what Citibank is doing to me as I type this, I timed it) for the exact same 17-second "we're still busy" message.

What idiot came up with this idea? Why does it seem to be an industry standard? Does anybody find it useful to hear the same stupid automated message three times every two minutes?

It is annoying enough to be teased with music and then denied the ability to enjoy it (assuming the music itself is not annoying), but what's really annoying is the fact that when the automated message starts, it makes you think that a service rep is answering you call. You'd think that even a firm like Apple Computer would have figured out how annoying this is, but they are the same as everyone else.

How about this: start the music (and stick with some nice, quiet jazz, that's usually the safest), and then every one or two minutes, incorporate a message into the music (lower the music volume a bit, but do not stop it, so the person on hold doesn't think that a rep is answering) which says that if you want to hear options without losing your place "in line" on hold, then press "0" or something like that; then return the music to full volume.

If the caller presses the number key, then play a message which tells them their options--they can choose a different option from the main menu, or better yet, get the system to estimate how long they are likely to be on hold. Treat this interlude as still being on hold, and the live rep can cut in at any time; allow the caller to go back to listening to music without having to wait longer for having accessed the menu.

All of this should be eminently possible. Most systems like this, especially for big corporations, know the approximate length of their calls, and so an estimate of call length should not be a big deal. The caller will be happy to have an idea of whether they'll be on hold for two minutes or two hours; just over-estimate the wait time a little just in case the regular time is exceeded--this will even help by making it seem for most people that their calls are being answered earlier than predicted.

As for incorporating the message into the music and allowing the caller to take a no-time-penalty options detour, computers are absolutely capable of handling this kind of thing. Maybe I don't know of some crippling engineering factor involved, but frankly, I doubt that. I think it is more likely that these places want to discourage callers, and making the call-in system less annoying would mitigate that.

Posted by Luis at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2006

The Only Way We Win in Iraq Is If We Pretend

A little more than a month ago, Bush gave a news conference on Iraq, which included the following:

The ultimate victory in Iraq, which is a government that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself, depends upon the Iraqi citizens and the Iraqi government doing the hard work necessary to protect their country. And our job is to help them achieve that objective.

As a matter of fact, my view is: The only way we lose in Iraq is if we leave before the job is done.

And I'm confident we can succeed in the broader war on terror, this ideological conflict.

A little later, a reporter asked a question to Bush:
Q: Are we winning?

BUSH: Absolutely we're winning.

Bush denies there is a civil war, but if hundreds of people each day are being slaughtered in sectarian violence--not insurgent or terrorist, but sectarian violence, that's a civil war, no matter how you try to spin it. And not only is there a civil war, it is getting worse.

Shi'ites took over a major television station in Baghdad and aired a two-hour polemic fomenting war against Sunnis. One resident of Sadr City said:

"This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me: We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety. We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that's the truth."
The Sunnis are no happier, and there is evidence that the coalition government is splintering along those same sectarian lines.

Meanwhile, the insurgents are now self-sufficient in terms of financing, meaning that it is actually getting healthier, not weakening. Remember that a month ago, Bush said that the "ultimate victory in Iraq... is a government that can sustain itself...." Well, the U.S.-backed government is falling apart, and it's the insurgency that is now self-sustaining.

The U.S. has been in this conflict longer than it was in WWII. 2,876 American military personnel are dead, tens of thousands wounded. Bush wants to "stay the course." He says that it will take "a long time," and in the past has indicated that "future presidents"--plural--will have to decide on whether we pull out. Under Bush's plan, we will be in Iraq longer than we were in Vietnam, by which time at least ten thousand American soldiers will have died--assuming things don't get too much worse there, which they probably will--and the chances of success, despite Bush's rosy predictions, are virtually zero.

And the parents of our troops must understand that if I didn't believe we could succeed and didn't believe it was necessary for the security of this country to succeed, I wouldn't have your loved ones there.
This coming from a man who supported the Vietnam War and berated his schoolmates for dodging the draft, and then ran like the drunken, drug-addled coward he was when his deferments ran out.

Iraq was never about terrorism. It was never about a military threat. It was never about bringing freedom to Iraqis. Make what you will of the remaining reasons: a neocon worldview, an imbecilic naivete that we would be welcomed and it would be a cakewalk, the desire to feed the military-industrial complex, the desire to control oil output so as to affect world prices, personal revenge--any and probably all of these in varying measure.

And the only reason Bush keeps us there is because it would be politically crippling for him to pull out after all that he has said and done. Iraq is now just damage control for Bush. And he would rather sacrifice the lives of thousands of our soldiers than to admit that he made a mistake, so instead he can leave office, let the next president pull out the troops, and then slide a parting knife into that president's back by saying that the inevitable collapse was only because of "cutting and running."

What a petty, pusillanimous, cowardly little ratfink.

While I sincerely believe that the war could have been run in such a way that could have ended with relative success ("relative" being the operative term here), Bush's mismanagement from day one precluded that possibility, his intentional military and diplomatic policies were absolutely contrary to that success. Not only did Bush start this war, let there be no mistake in the conclusion that Bush lost this war, and he lost it badly. He pushed for it, he insisted it was necessary, he got everything he wanted to fight it. No one else is or ever will be as responsible, despite Republicans already trying to claim that Democrats "own" the war in Iraq.

All Bush believes he can succeed in is spinning the perception so that it doesn't seem so clear that it was completely, entirely his fault. It will be a success and a potential success until the day he leaves office, and then it will become someone else's failure.

And all that will cost is the life of every American soldier and every Iraqi civilian who will die until that time comes.

But never doubt: Bush is willing to pay that price.

Posted by Luis at 02:00 AM | Comments (6)

November 26, 2006

Global Orgasm

You know how peace activists are always being stereotyped as hippies, conspiracy theorists, hedonists, crazies, or New Age nuts? Well here are all of those stereotypes rolled into one: it's called Global Orgasm. The idea is for as many people as possible to have sex and come to orgasm on December 22, so as to "effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy a Synchronized Global Orgasm," and in so doing stop "two more US fleets heading for the Persian Gulf with anti-submarine equipment that can only be for use against Iran."

Now, on the one hand, I can totally get behind this movement. I certainly see little functional downside to it (aside from unreasonable expectations for world peace, and, if you're anti-population-explosion, the blip in the birth rate next August), and it could be fun. I know a few people who believe in this sort of energy having a real effect on things, though if I were of that persuasion, I would try to get as many people to have their orgasms at the exact same time--probably early morning Pacific Standard Time, say 6 to 7 am--on December 17th (it might be too hard to excuse the kiddies on Christmas Eve), when most of the world is awake, and it's Sunday, so those awake at mid-day have a chance to find some private time. Let's face it, if people are having orgasms along a 24-hour period, that's hardly "synchronized."Peaceinportland

On the other hand, this kind of plays into the hands of those who belittle the peace movement. I don't think that I really need to explain how. This is being carried out by the same people who organized "Baring Witness," a group (run by Paul Reffell, 55, and Donna Sheehan, 76, no relation to Cindy Sheehan) that gets people to shed their clothes and form human anti-war signage, as seen at right. (That's a very well-formed and tastefully executed Chinese character for "peace," by the way.)

While the premise might sound nutty, the concerns over war are not. Two months ago, Time Magazine reported that a submarine and minsweeping vessels were to be deployed--with the Persian Gulf the only place in the world these ships would be needed, and Iran the only logical enemy. This year, there has been a buildup of forces in the region, mostly naval, that would appear to be primed for an Iran conflict. So it's not nutty; instead, it is eerily familiar to the days leading up to the Iraq War, though this time the pieces are moving even more quietly.

I have no problem with millions of people having scheduled sex, and I believe the concerns are valid and vastly underreported in the media. (Drat that liberal media yet again!) My only problem is that this kind of movement tends to bring scorn and levity to a deathly-serious topic, and, in a way, gives the media and the proponents of militarization a way to trivialize protests and the legitimate claims that our country is yet again being led into another disastrous war.

Posted by Luis at 09:43 PM | Comments (0)

Surfing Conditions

One constant I have always noticed in the visitor stats for this site: readership numbers drop by more than half on weekends and holidays. Which brings me to wonder why: are people simply out of the house more on these days? It seems unlikely that this would be the case, as they are at home in the mornings and evenings and could surf then. It would account for some drop-off, but not so much--in fact, if surfing is done at home, one would assume that it would rise when people are at home more.

What seems more likely is that a large number of people surf the web at their jobs. That would make perfect sense--the drop-off happens when people don't have access to the web. Either they don't have access to computers and the web at home, or they just spend a lot of time at work goofing off. Interesting.

Um... but not you, of course.

Posted by Luis at 12:28 PM | Comments (5)

November 25, 2006

Translation Fun

My sister in law, in describing an order on her blog, posted about automatic web page translation software and the shaky job it does. That reminded me of something I discovered a while ago; I posted this as a comment to her blog, but thought it was blog-worthy in and of itself.
Here's a fun game: open the Mac translation widget (or, equivalently, go to any translation web site), and type in an English sentence to be translated into Japanese. Then reverse the translation (a single-button action in the Mac widget). Then reverse again, and again, and again. Sometimes the translation gets stuck and won't change, but usually it will change into something new and more and more bizarre each time.

I tried it with this sentence:

"The heater in my apartment room works wonderfully in getting the place nice and toasty."
After one round, it became:
"The heater of my apartment room the place is splendid, toasty works splendidly by the fact that you obtain."
Next time around:
"The heater of my apartment room the place element clear forcing and toasty job does nicely with the fact which you obtain."
"The heater of my apartment room does clear forcing and toasty job of the element of fact and the place where you obtain securely."
"The heater of my apartment room fact and removes forcing of the element of the place where you obtain securely and toasty job."
Several iterations later:
"You force the element of the place where you obtain securely because of the heater of fact of my apartment room toasty job which it removes."
You get the idea. Fun for the family!

Posted by Luis at 12:07 PM | Comments (1)

November 24, 2006

Cool Mac Features You May Not Know About: Zoom

It's been a while since I did this--I've been busy and have fallen behind--but here's number three in the series on cool but little-known Mac features. It's one I use a lot myself: the zoom feature. Not many people know about this one, because it's tucked away under "Universal Access," and you might think that you don't need anything there unless you're handicapped in one way or another; it is intended for Mac users who have vision problems. But the zoom feature has been a lifesaver for me.

My main use of the feature is in class. I teach some computer classes, and all I can show the students is what they see on the TV. Now, Macs are already very good about using a TV as a second monitor, either mirroring (showing the same thing on both screens), or with two separate but connected screens. The problem, however, is with resolution.

Computer monitors are like HDTV screens; in fact, my current screen is 1200 pixels tall, which makes it higher-def than a 1080p TV set, the highest-quality HDTV you can have right now. But when you show your computer to a class on a TV set, it's suddenly low-def again--just 484 lines (the rest of the 525 lines in NTSC are used for other data). Plus, an NTSC screen is interlaced, which means that every time the TV screen "flashes" a frame, it's really a half-frame--every other line, filled in by the other half of the lines 1/60th of a second later. Interlacing, along with the fewer lines of resolution, makes the text go fuzzy.

Add to that the fact that my students sit far from the TV and you get a situation where they cannot read a thing on the picture I show them--unless I zoom in. That's where the zoom feature comes in handy for me, whenever I want to show more of the screen, with good enough clarity for everyone to see what's going on.

Below is a movie I made (low-res, but you can get the idea) of zoom being used on my computer. I start out on this blog's page, and use my standard setting, which zooms in double each time I press the F11 key (the original shortcut was Option-Command-+ and -, but I opted for a one-key solution). I then switch to the System Preferences, and demonstrate how you can set the feature to zoom a lot more hit a single keystroke--first 10x, then 20x, and then a more reasonable 4x. Hit another key (F12 for me) and it zooms out. The movie is in QuickTime format, 1.2 MB, 320x240 (it's sharper than the preview image); click the image to see it in a pop-up window, or click here for it to take over this window.


It is ironic that I have to use my Mac to teach Windows to my classes, using Virtual PC. I'd love to use Parallels, but my laptop is a G4, so not yet. But I cannot use a Windows machine because the zoom feature in Windows sucks horribly. It divides the screen in half horizontally, with the bottom half being regular size, and the top half being zoomed. It is terribly distracting and confusing, as you're not sure where to look. If you are used to the zoom in Windows, you'll be blown away by the elegance and simplicity of zoom on the Mac.

One drawback: in Virtual PC, the zoom feature works (some Mac OS elements do), but it will not follow the cursor--instead, it stays locked in the center of the screen. It's still functional, though. With Parallels, the Mac zoom works only if your mouse is outside the Windows environment, but it is similarly functional.

Not only is the zoom good for my classes, it's also useful in daily use. My 24" monitor is a monster, and often I feel much more comfortable zooming in to read small stuff, or narrow columns of text many blogs have.

If you have a Mac and want to turn the zoom feature on, you can use the keyboard shortcut Option-Command-8 to activate it, and then Option-Command-+ (plus) to zoom in, and Option-Command-- (minus) to zoom out. To change these rather clumsy keyboard shortcuts, go to System Preferences, open "Keyboard & Mouse," select the "Keyboard Shortcuts," and change the "Zoom" settings under "Universal Access."

You can also control the feature by going to System Preferences, opening "Universal Access," and make sure that you're in the "Seeing" tab.

Posted by Luis at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2006

Inogashira and Kichijoji

Sachi and I went to Kichijoji today for dinner, some shopping, and a walk in the park. The usual complement of ducks were there, which is to say the Spot-bills, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Tufteds, and Common Pochards--though Mandarins could not be found. Crows and Bulbuls were there in abundance, and a few Great Tits could be spotted. Even a Northern Goshawk was visible in a treetop.

In addition, Inogashira's two common-yet-special visitors were in attendance:

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A Black-Crowned Night Heron (click for larger image) can often be spotted lurking in dark areas at the water's edge, usually perched low on a branch near the water.

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Here's a better view--again, click for a larger image, or click here for the jumbo-sized (1500 x 1000).

The other handsome attendee is a Common Moorhen, which usually can be found standing on a low post or swimming just beyond the ducks being fed by park visitors from the main bridge. Go to either end of the main bridge and look to the back of the groups of ducks, and you'll probably spot one.

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After Inogashira, we went shopping, and saw a nice dog-oriented pet store which sported a notably funny Engrish name. One has to imagine that this has been featured in many blogs, as the shop is on a prominent street corner in a popular shopping area, and has a huge sign. Someone must have pointed out the double-entendre to them already, or at least one would imagine so. (Update: And here it is on tip to my sister.)


Posted by Luis at 11:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2006

It's the Simple Things

In Japanese homes, centralized heating does not exist. It simply isn't done. Instead, there are a variety of heating methods that take the place of what we in the West take for granted.

The traditional (in a modern sense) Japanese way to keep everybody warm is the kotatsu, a table with a heating element underneath it. The kotatsu is a low table, maybe only 18 inches off the floor (taller kotatsu are sold, but the low ones are the most common). The top comes off to show the frame with the heating unit; place a comforter over it, and put the tabletop back on--and presto, you have a nice heated table.



People sit around the table with their legs underneath to keep them warm. Usually, there are seats with no legs--just a chair seat and seat back--which keep everyone sitting comfortably that close to the ground. And not just humans enjoy it:


Now, put a bowl of mikan (mandarin oranges) on the table and you've got classic Japonica.

For some reason, I've never been too enamored of the kotatsu. I used to have one, twenty years ago, back in Toyama, but I don't think I've had one since. It's nice and all, but it doesn't heat your upper body, and I tend to move around the apartment--and the kotatsu is only good for keeping your legs warn when you're sitting.

One alternative I used back in Toyama was the kerosene stove heater. Every so often, a kerosene seller comes around and you can fill up your red plastic kerosene container; using a special plastic pump, you can siphon the fuel into the heater, and fire it up to warm up the room. Often there's a space on top to put a tea kettle or anything else you want to warm up. The down side: it's a pain to fuel, and smells kinda bad, too. And I hate the tunes (wav file) the trucks play when they come around.

Here in Tokyo, a lot of people use their reidanbo--literally, a "cooler-heater," or an air conditioner with a heating unit installed. They are virtually ubiquitous in Japan; I have two, in fact. Many apartments come with them pre-installed (not my place, though). I'll sometimes use this, but it uses tons of electricity, and is not an cost-effective way to heat the house.


The remaining way is, in my opinion, the best: using natural gas piped into the house to fuel gas heaters. I used to use the kind that simply light up heating elements, like four book-sized orange-glowing panels behind a sparse metal grill. This is called a "gas stove":


The problem with these, however, is that they don't circulate the heat very effectively. So the ultimate heating unit is called a "gas fan heater," a heater which uses a nice fan to blow the warm air a good distance so it fans out. I've had one for some time, but it's a huge, old, used unit which tends to cut out the heating part while the fan stays on, just blowing cold air around. So I broke down and went out and bought a new unit--last year's model, on sale for $200.


It's a nice unit--has a sleep and wake-up feature that shuts down and turns on the fan by a timer, but the feature I like is the thermostat, which automatically turns the unit down to a very low setting once a certain temp has been reached. And when on high, it heats up my big room fast.

And yes, I know that I can wear a sweater. Call me jaded.

Posted by Luis at 11:02 PM | Comments (3)

November 21, 2006

Fox's Daily Show Wannabe

Fox is making noises about creating its own Daily Show style comedy show for conservatives. Lamenting that Comedy Central's Daily Show and Colbert Report are left-leaning, Joel Surnow (co-creator of 24 and the creative force behind the new show) said, "The other side hasn't been skewered in a fair and balanced way." Isn't that interesting--someone from within Fox News lamenting that others aren't "fair and balanced." I'm glad I had my irony sensors off when I read that, I don't like replacing them after they've been burnt out from overload.

This should be interesting, though; one thing I have noticed is that good-quality right-wing entertainment, especially comedy, is rare to non-existent. It'll be interesting to see if it can be done successfully without seeming shrill, and if they will include skewering of the right as well, just as The Daily Show will skewer left-wing politicians should they make the news.

One also has to wonder if this show would have been given the go-ahead if the Dems had not taken control of Congress. Anything that happens on Fox News, after all, does not happen without a political agenda.

Posted by Luis at 11:04 AM | Comments (2)

Enough to Make You Nervous

A US Air Force helicopter has been circling this apartment complex for the past twenty minutes, flying low and tight above this one specific building where I live. What the hell?


Yes, there is a U.S. military base in our backyard, but it is a recreational base, and this thing is circling my building, not the base.

Posted by Luis at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)

November 20, 2006

Canary Obligations

This is weird. I have a blog entry from December 2003 where I put up some photos of my dad's canaries. I made no claims about canary expertise, and made it clear that they were not my canaries. And yet, since then, I have been getting comments from people--most from people with Arabic-sounding names--asking for canary stuff, as if I were a canary go-to guy or something. The comments include:

THANK U.   ["Masoud"]

visit [my] site and write me a letter showing me where the canaries live.    ["Meshari"]

Please send me picture and article Kingstroat and Backsrtoat breedings, thank'c (Indonesia)   ["Anjar Siswanto"]

My canary is sick. I'm to give him 3cc of liquid antibiotic two times a day. Is there an easy way to do this? Thanks! G   ["Georgianna"]

In the comments, I replied to these, saying that I know nothing about canaries, they are not mine, I don't have regular access to them and so on. But the weird comments keep on coming. Just a few minutes ago, another came in from "Rashid":
hi please send me photo by canary
thanks you.
All part of the risks of blogging on random stuff.

Posted by Luis at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

The Not-So-Mighty Mouse

I love the new 24-inch iMac I got. My only complaint is that I can't turn the brightness down enough, but there are workarounds to that, and everything else about the main body of the machine is fantastic. The wireless keyboard is excellent (except that I still haven't gotten used to the Delete key not being at the top right, but that's a training issue). Overall, it's probably the best computer I've ever had.

MghtymsExcept for the mouse. I am seriously thinking of ditching the damned thing.

When I bought the Mac, I opted for the wireless keyboard and mouse. I do not regret going for the wireless option; I think the "Mighty Mouse" would be even worse with a wire. It's the other "features" that annoy me, which add to the reputation Apple has for making sucky mice.

When I got it, I wanted to give it a chance, and at first, my impressions were actually good. For the first week or so, I enjoyed it, ascribing its problems to adaptation errors.

The scroll ball (instead of a scroll wheel) was too tiny for my tastes, but I did like the fact that it can scroll omnidirectionally. But now the danged thing is dropping out, making it hard to scroll; when I scroll down, it usually goes but sometimes has no effect, before suddenly cutting in again, leading to over-scrolling. A few days ago, scrolling down didn't even work at all, until I knocked the mouse against the desk, which brought it back--never a good sign.

And even without a mechanical malfunction, the improbability of scrolling exactly up or down leads to side-scrolling to the right, shifting the content on the left out of view. At the very least, the scroll ball takes getting used to.

But that's the least of my dislikes. The all-in-one seamless surface leads to problems with clicking. Apple opted for rocking the body of the mouse to discern between left- and right-clicking. But all too often, this doesn't work right. Maybe two or three times a day, a right-click registers as a left-click, and vice-versa. At first I though I was clicking wrong, but then I paid closer attention and realized that I was not, and sometimes I had to push on the far side of the mouse to get the correct click to register. Bad design. When I right-click a link to open a web page in a new tab, I don't want to find that I've left-clicked and loaded the new page in the same window, or a new window, either of which would require backtrack and correction.

And the side buttons? A horrible idea. Apple placed a "third button" on both sides of the mouse; you press inward with your thumb on the left and another finger on the right to activate the button. You either have to use your weak ring finger to apply more force than it's used to, or you have to reposition your hand to use your index finger, either way in a manner that is inconsistent with moving and manipulating the mouse as normal, making a click-and-drag a messy, uncomfortable, and haphazard affair.

I know that Steve Jobs has a psychological problem with a mouse which is not seamless and pretty, and demands that the Apple mouse be aesthetic in a certain way. And I like good style--except when it interferes with functionality. That should be the tipping point, but Jobs can't handle that for some reason, and that's what has led to Apple having crappy mice.

So when I go back to the U.S., I'm going to be looking for a new mouse, caring a lot less about how it looks than I do about how it works.

Posted by Luis at 10:54 AM | Comments (4)

November 19, 2006

November Birding

As I noted on my entry of November 3, I went to Kasai Rinkai Park with Sachi to do some casual birdwatching. At that time, we just missed seeing a Eurasian Jay, by maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Assured that they were making frequent appearances, I went back the following weekend--and again missed the appearance by 5 or 10 minutes. Today, I was going to visit Sachi at her exhibition booth (she currently works for a firm in their Nailist division) at Tokyo Big Sight, which happens to be just between the Tokyo Minato Yacho Koen and Kasai Rinkai, two notable birding spots. So, after seeing Sachi off at the station in the morning, I went off to the two parks before meeting her for lunch. The following photos are a combination of the past two weekends of watching.


One bird that made an appearance both times was the Kasai Rinkai Kingfisher, who seems to be more and more visible--Sachi and I spotted him on November 3 as well.

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Along with the common-as-dirt Brown-eared Bulbuls, a flock of Azure-winged Magpies commonly enjoys a bath at dusk at Rinkai.

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And speaking of common, we got a trio of Common Snipes at Rinkai last week. They get four shots in this set, just because they turned out so well.

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We sometimes see cats in the parks--I saw two at Rinkai this morning, and once saw a tanuki (raccoon dog) there--but this morning, the Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park had a canine visitor making a brief appearance to enjoy the birds.


This bird is a little hard to see:


It's smack in the center of the image, but mostly you can see the black rump sticking out. It's a Gadwall, sleeping among the reeds of the marsh. This is a first for me with the Gadwall.

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Also a common sight everywhere nowadays is the Eurasian Coot; you can see a small bevy of them here feeding on the shore.

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A Herring Gull also put in an appearance, picking at the carcass of a fish (eww) at the Wild Bird Park.

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Meanwhile, this beautiful Grey Heron was apparently trying to coax some goodie out of this bit of detritus; from a distance, it appeared to be struggling with a handbag.

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Today, this Daurian Redstart showed up at the east lake at Kasai Rinkai. This is the second Redstart I've spotted, but both times it's been a female. Not to discriminate, but the male has striking colors.

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Last week at Rinkai, this Eastern Marsh Harrier was what kept me from seeing the Eurasian Jay. When a bird of prey like this shows up, a lot of the smaller birds make themselves scarce. Nevertheless, the Harrier was another new bird for me. Note how crazily the leg plumage stands out in the second shot.

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However, finally, I got a clear shot (well, except for that twig) of a Eurasian Jay. A beautiful bird, and I still wish he'd have turned so I could get a shot of the gorgeous blue-and-black striations on its wings. But for the time being, I was satisfied with this shot.

The landmark Kasai Rinkai Ferris Wheel, from the birding area of the park

So, with three new life birds, I guess I can't complain. But then, over the next three months, I should be getting more new life birds under my belt. I started birding, though not too seriously, in mid-February 2005; the really good birding season is supposed to be December through February, and last year, I was laid up with a broken foot just during that time. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good birding done this time.

Posted by Luis at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

Ruminations on an Early Morning Mall Walk

I walked Sachi to the station this morning before going off to do some birdwatching (next post), and on the way back, snapped some photos of the pre-business mall walk. This is an upscale area just out of Meguro.


This one I'm not sure I figured out. It's twenty people lined up to get into a pachinko parlor/game center, at maybe 8:15 am. Was there some special new game that gets 20 forty- and fifty-somethings up before eight a.m. on Sunday morning? Or do they do this every week? Note the mini-chairs many are using.


This shop is interesting as it's not some Japanese faux-American rapster joint or something--it's a clothing shop and the proprietor is an African-American man, as I've observed while passing by during business hours. Not something you'd expect to see on an upscale Japanese walk-and-shop mall. I wonder if he has local shoppers coming in all the time and then seeing him and slooowly backing out...


And this is a chiropractor's sign. They got the foot OK, but what the heck is with the hand? Is that a hand? If not, then what the heck is it?

Posted by Luis at 07:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2006

The Unspeakable Truth

The Huffington Post has a great excerpt from an upcoming Al Gore interview with GQ. Reproduced below is Gore's response to the question of the president's responsibility for 9/11. It's virtually a perfect answer and response from the man who, had he been president, probably would have kept 9/11 from happening at all:

GQ: Do you feel that we would be safer today if you had been president on that day?

AG: Well, no one can say that the 9-11 attack wouldn't have occurred whoever was president.

GQ: Really? How about all the warnings?

AG: That's a separate question. And it's almost too easy to say, "I would have heeded the warnings." In fact, I think I would have, I know I would have. We had several instances when the CIA's alarm bells went off, and what we did when that happened was, we had emergency meetings and called everybody together and made sure that all systems were go and every agency was hitting on all cylinders, and we made them bring more information, and go into the second and third and fourth level of detail. And made suggestions on how we could respond in a more coordinated, more effective way.

It is inconceivable to me that Bush would read a warning as stark and as clear [voice angry now] as the one he received on August 6th of 2001, and, according to some of the new histories, he turned to the briefer and said, "Well, you've covered your ass." And never called a follow up meeting. Never made an inquiry. Never asked a single question. To this day, I don't understand it.

And, I think it's fair to say that he personally does in fact bear a measure of blame for not doing his job at a time when we really needed him to do his job. And now the Woodward book has this episode that has been confirmed by the record that George Tenet, who was much abused by this administration, went over to the White House for the purpose of calling an emergency meeting and warning as clearly as possible about the extremely dangerous situation with Osama bin Laden, and was brushed off!

And I don't know why--honestly--I mean, I understand how horrible this Congressman Foley situation with the instant messaging is, okay? I understand that. But, why didn't these kinds of things produce a similar outrage? And you know, I'm even reluctant to talk about it in these terms because it's so easy for people to hear this or read this as sort of cheap political game-playing. I understand how it could sound that way.

... But dammit, whatever happened to the concept of accountability for catastrophic failure? This administration has been by far the most incompetent, inept, and with more moral cowardice, and obsequiousness to their wealthy contributors, and obliviousness to the public interest of any administration in modern history, and probably in the entire history of the country!

Damn straight.

I have posted before on the whole idea that 9/11 was eminently preventable. Here I list the many PDB's that outlined the al Qaeda threat loud and clear ("Bin Laden planning multiple operations," "Bin Laden network's plans advancing," and "Bin Laden threats are real," in addition to the infamous "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States"); I outline some of the various warnings and clues (available in 2004) that came at the White House from all angles (multiple warnings from Clinton administration officials, the FBI, and the CIA, as well as intel that al Qaeda was planning to use airplanes as weapons).

Then I lay out a scenario in which, had Rice been doing her job, had she followed the strategies followed in the Clinton administration, she could have rolled up the 9/11 plot weeks in advance. Simply put: Rice should have been paying attention to the intel coming in from the agencies (that was her actual job, after all), she would have been focusing on any reports about terrorism (because of all those warnings) and she would have noticed the two terror suspects who were arrested and were taking flying lessons; from there, a single call to the FBI to immediately check out flight schools around the country for terror suspects would have netted virtually all the 9/11 participants and would have prevented the attacks with weeks to spare.

This is not rocket science. This is not the result of not having enough appointments passed by Congress. This was something that could have been achieved with a skeleton crew. It is what the National Security Advisor is supposed to do. And the media has given the Bush administration a 100% free pass on this one.

This is likely because in the beginning, no one wanted to challenge the administration's story that there was no way to see it coming, for fear of appearing unpatriotic--the idea was that we all had to stand together, behind the president, and wave the flag. Since then, the likely reason for reticence is partly that "the time has passed" for such a statement and one would be criticized for not saying so earlier, but even more because anyone in a notable position in the media is fully aware that if they forward the idea today, they will be mercilessly attacked by the partisan attack dogs (closely followed by the media in general), and labeled as a partisan ultra-liberal, a conspiracy theorist, or worse.

But none of that changes the facts. The warnings were clear and in great number. The infrastructure to coordinate the information was available, and had been pointed out to the new administration. The necessary action to stop the terrorists was simple and easily achievable.

There is no good reason why this should be a discussion for future historians only.

Posted by Luis at 10:52 AM | Comments (1)

November 17, 2006



One of the drawbacks of the new Intel Macs is that you can't run Classic apps on them--at least not officially. That's where SheepShaver comes in. It's actually a Classic Mac emulator for Windows, Linux, and other OS's--including Mac OS X. And if there are Classic apps you need to run, this will allow you to get an Intel Mac. Well, probably; I haven't figured out all the kinks in the system yet. But I just started tonight...

SsguiiconI tried to use SheepShaver a few times before, but was stopped cold by one of my pet peeves: crappy documentation. As I've said before, I absolutely hate it when people go to so much trouble to build a really cool app that you'd love to use--but they write the instructions so only people who know tons about running a command-line interface can make heads or tails of it. It's like writing a really cool novel--in Aramaic. With no translations available.

Well, fortunately, a translation exists for SheepShaver, and what makes it maddening is that the instructions are so easy. Easy enough that you wonder how the app's makers could have been so brilliant as to make an app like this, and yet be so stupid as to write pages of documentation without creating so simple and easy-to-follow a instruction list as this guy did.

What it comes down to is this: you download SheepShaver. Then you download something called a ROM (don't ask). You need to have a Classic OS installer disk (OS 8.5 to 9.0.4, if you use OS X); a universal installer (not specific to the Mac you bought) would be best, but a restore disc can be used as well, as it turns out). Run the SheepShaver app, locate the ROM, create a virtual disk, and start it up.

Now why couldn't they put it so simply?

Of course, there's a bit more to it than that, but the Uneasy Silence guy covered all that the average user would need to know. And if you want it to work perfectly, then you'll still have to go to a support forum and check out fixes people have come up with. For example, I still can't get the audio to work--a big glitch if I want to use that sound editing app which works so well in OS 9. And for some reason, the screen redraw is slow as molasses if I use a large resolution.

As for overall usefulness, there are not really too many apps I need to use, but a few that I'd like to I kind of miss--old games, for instance, and the sound editing app I came to really like. I still have my G4 PowerBook, so Classic still runs on that, but sometimes I want the big screen and a more comfortable computing environment. But this would likely be more useful for my dad, who needs to run a Classic app for the work he does--one that won't ever get upgraded to Mac OS X.

Posted by Luis at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)

November 16, 2006


This from MyDD:

Democrats took nine legislative chambers, and lost none. The gains came in Indiana (House), Iowa (House and Senate), Michigan (House), Minnesota (House), New Hampshire (House and Senate), Oregon (House), and Wisconsin (Senate).
My take: Republicans have been shameless and unapologetic in how they redistrict states in non-census years. If this is upheld by the courts, then Democrats should do the same. Indiana and Iowa would be important places to make such changes, as would be Michigan.

Frankly, I think that redistricting nationwide should follow a strictly random, mathematical formula designed to be geographic and not political in nature. But until that day arrives, Democrats would be fools not to be as vociferous about redistricting as the Republicans are. I am not one to advocate unilateral disarmament in a battle where the other side goes to the greatest lengths to bend and break laws, rules and traditions to their favor. If a strategy is legal, then we should also do it. With the GOP playing the cards, if they control most state houses, they will simply latch on to that control and run with it--as we have seen. But, when we have an advantage, the Republicans will cry foul and demand a fairness measure--then we can implement it. If it is incumbent upon us to sacrifice our control in order to make the change for fairness, then so be it. That's how it has played before, and it likely will not change. But it must be bilateral, else the Republicans will never stop with the shenanigans.

Posted by Luis at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

I Forgot Something

I knew I was leaving something out of the Zune post. Another scam by Microsoft: their currency system. When you buy music from the Zune online store, you don't use cash, or even credit--you use Microsoft "points," like Disney Dollars or funny money.

How is it a scam? Well, first off, the points are not made equal to dollars or cents, there's an 'exchange rate' at play here. Microsoft never actually quotes real money amounts when stating the price of a song, they say it costs 79 "points" instead. That makes it sound like Microsoft is selling music for 79 cents, but because a $5 purchase of "points" gets only 400 points in your account, that 79-point purchase really cost you 99 cents--the same as the iTunes Store.

Of course, there are benefits to having the point system. Unfortunately, those benefits are for Microsoft, not for you. For you, it's nothing but a liability. In addition to fooling you with an exchange rate, Microsoft also does not allow you to buy exactly the number of points needed to buy music--you always must buy too many points. When you buy from the iTunes Store, your credit card is billed for the exact amount, 99 cents. But in the Zune Marketplace, you can only buy points in whole-dollar chunks, starting at $5. Since music costs 99 cents a song, you have 5 cents left over when you use up the purchase amount. Essentially, when you buy a song for 99 cents, Microsoft is not giving you your penny change. Or, at least, they're keeping it in their pocket until you buy 100 songs.

Now, to you, this may be small change. But imagine millions of customers buying less than 100 songs. Say, 10 million people buying ten songs each is an extra million bucks Microsoft squeezes out of the deal. Though you might think that a company worth umpteen billions of dollars wouldn't need to create a scam just to squeeze another million out of gullible customers.

But the scam doesn't end there: you can only buy Microsoft points in denominations of $5 or higher. Which means that you can never buy one song. You have to buy in chunks of five. Which, of course, most people will not do. Most people will either never use up all the points they have, or they will take time to do it, which means more millions of non-reimbursed dollars for Microsoft, and more time for the pre-paid cash to generate interest for Microsoft before they have to pass the money on to the music labels.

Of course, unless you read a review like this, you don't learn about it until you've plunked down $250 for a Zune player, by which time you're committed. And then you discover that Microsoft has no respect for you and believes you're just another sucker who'll do whatever they want.

Posted by Luis at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

How to Scare the Crap out of Aliens


In a publicity move (it's working, people like me are talking about it), KFC has created an image of Colonel Sanders in the Nevada desert near Area 51; the image is big enough, they claim, to be visible from space:

The KFC Corp. on Tuesday launched a rebranding campaign with an 87,500 square-foot image of Colonel Sanders in the Nevada desert which the company says makes Kentucky Fried Chicken the world's first brand visible from space.

"If there are extraterrestrials in outer space, KFC wants to become their restaurant of choice," KFC President Gregg Dedrick said in a statement.

Har! That's funny! Do you feel like getting some lard-saturated poultry for dinner now?

So as not to be a total shill for a Pepsi subsidiary, a guy once told me that Colonel Sanders was a pederast.


I also am told that the above is a publicity stunt pulled off by General Zorg's Cydonian Fried Thoats.

Mmmm... thoats.

Posted by Luis at 02:29 AM | Comments (2)

November 15, 2006

So, What's the Advantage?

Zune is now out there. Kind of. It's not exactly flying off the shelves, apparently. Not like the PS3, for example, where huge throngs of people lined up to buy them and they sold out instantly. With the Zune on it's first day out, Best Buy in San Francisco sold all of ten units in the morning--which the store's manager said was "better than I expected." That kind of sums it up.

ZunelogoThe Zune is obviously intended as an iPod-killer, but has been beset by problems from the start. First was the choice of names. I mean, really--"Zune"? Is that supposed to be a combination of "Tune" and. . . what, the letter "Z"? The logo they chose is not exactly all that spiffy, either. The Zune includes a logo sticker (again copying Apple), but who would want to slap that thing on anything they own?

What's more, the design ain't great; it's bigger and clunkier than an iPod, and though the plastic casing may be more resilient to scratches and smudges, it's also less appealing. The wheel/circle, apparently intended to be reminiscent of the iPod's scroll wheel, doesn't scroll, it just covers four buttons. And the colors include white, black, and. . . brown. And people say that the brown is the best-looking one. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but when your new product looks its best in the crap-colored version, you know something is probably wrong.

ZunecolorsMicrosoft is pushing this as being better than an iPod, touting two main features: the WiFi interconnectivity, and the larger video display. Neither of these selling points, however, live up to the hype. The screen is a touch bigger than the iPod's, but it is the same resolution--which just means that the image quality will be a bit poorer as well. Just hold your iPod an inch or two closer and the difference will cancel out.

But the WiFi "sharing" is the big thing. I remember seeing a clip from the Oprah show where all the audience members were given a Zune, and a guest (presumably from Microsoft) gave the selling point: you can send songs from one Zune to the other! If your friend has a song that you don't have, you can ask them to send it to you, then it's on your Zune! Microsoft is even using a new slogan, "Welcome to the Social!"

What the MS rep on Oprah, and MS' pitches in general fail to mention is that the "sharing" is limited by Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions. Any file sent from one Zune to another is only playable three times. If you don't use all three plays in three days, it becomes unplayable anyway. It does not disappear, though--it remains on your Zune as an advertisement linked to Microsoft's Zune music store. Wouldn't it be fun to litter your playlists with ads for songs? To see a listing and think you have music, only to have it not play, and instead urge you to buy it? Wheee!

Update: I forgot to mention--once you've sent a piece of music to a friend, you can never re-send it to the same person again. So, no loophole there. Also, to be fair, it seems that the 'littering' of sent-but-unplayable songs will be limited to an "in-box" and not your main library--I think. So it's possible that you won't be constantly tripping over unplayable music equivalent to ads.
But let's say you don't mind the DRM or the ad-littering. Still, how often will sharing be possible? Think about it. I have an iPod. So do many people I know, fellow teachers, students, friends. And yet I cannot remember the last time I encountered anyone using an iPod at the same time I was and there was any likelihood that either of us would share with each other. Maybe some people would use it more than others, but frankly, I think that this feature will go to waste for most people.

But the WiFi feature has other down points as well. Even non-protected songs get zapped by the DRM. Even if you make your own song, when it is transferred from one Zune to the other, it again gets zapped--three plays or three days. And WiFi should be a powerful feature--it could be used to connect to the web with the Zune as a mobile-phone-style browser, it could allow you to buy songs online at hotspots, it could connect to digital cameras and other devices--but the Zune does not. Hell, it won't even connect to your own computer via WiFi! It is currently only active for Zune-to-Zune transfers, and that is limited to photos and music files with the DRMs (no videos). One imagines that MS will eventually enable the other abilities, but for them to have it so limited at launch is disappointing.

Another down point of the Zune, this one not related to the user experience, is Bill Gate's decision to sell out to the music companies. Gates decided to give a cut of each Zune sold to Universal. It is only $1 per $250 Zune, but the precedent is the damning thing. It is virtually blackmail, and Gates is caving in so he can enter the market--but by ding so he is opening the gates for more gouging in the future, weakening Apple and other makers of players who until now have resisted the media companies' demands of extortion. More on that later, in a different post.

Finally, one last screw-up: Zune is incompatible with Vista. I'm sorry, but when your two big November releases are Zune and Vista, and neither will work with the other, someone isn't doing their job right. Especially when Vista has been in Beta forever and most software by third-party vendors will work on it. Both Vista and Zune have been in parallel development for so long that for them to be incompatible is almost unforgivable. I know there will be an upgrade by January (erm, I think there will be), but nevertheless, this is not a well-played release. [Update: Microsoft now claims that Zune will be compatible with Vista "by January 30, 2007"--presumably the release date for the consumer version of Vista.]


By the way, why do people seem to be grimacing in the Zune software images? It's not just the frame above, there are a few more as well. Maybe they tried to install it on Vista. . . If this is their attempt to show people singing, their photographers did a terrible job. It looks like the woman above is in pain. And are those other two women making out? What a bizarre image.

Okay, all bashing aside: Apple should be worried. Yes, that's right, I just said that. But why? Was I insincere in all the criticism? Nope. I think it is 100% accurate, and the Zune is a piece of crap. So why should Apple be worried? Because everything that Microsoft releases is a piece of crap. . . in the beginning. MS has a history of this: release a piece of crap. Then make an improvement, And another. And then another. And by the time the piece of crap is somewhat less crappy, MS has used their marketing thuggishness and 800-pound-gorilla status in the marketplace to sell a million of them and make people feel like the piece of crap is exactly what they should be using, for some reason they cannot quite pin down. MS Word was a piece of crap. Internet Explorer was a piece of crap. Windows was a piece of crap. And the Zune is a piece of crap. Therefore, with Microsoft's deep pockets to subsidize it for many years while they work their marketing magic, it could actually be a threat.

And Zune does have some potential. The WiFi, as earlier stated, could be expanded to include some very good features. The iPod went through redesigns, so the Zune will eventually look less like a really bad remote control. And if Microsoft has shown a talent for anything, ripping off Apple is it.

Of course, eventual Zune dominance is far from a sure thing. While we all know that MS would never improve anything unless someone was nipping at their heels, we know just as well that Apple would be improving things even if no one is within a mile of them. Apple will not rest on its laurels with the iPod. If Apple does indeed soon release its full-screen touch-controlled iPod, it will deliver a crushing blow to the Zune. And while MS can copy Apple, they can't duplicate Apple's finesse and coolness.

It'll be a competition, but in the end, I think Apple will win over Microsoft on this one--just like Google has. Despite Microsoft's best efforts, they aren't even close to Google in what Google does. And likely the Zune will be a repeat of this. I don't think the Zune will be as big a disaster as some predict; I think it will still be there ten years from now, but I don't think it'll ever get to be on top.

Posted by Luis at 11:30 PM | Comments (2)

Now, This Is Cool

A science and technology story: researchers have discovered a type of molecule that can detect glucose levels in human tears. They are working on a way to incorporate the substance into contact lenses. A small, translucent dot in the wearer's field of vision would change colors depending on the glucose levels, creating a continuous monitor instantly accessible to the user. No more sticking yourself and using blood testing gear.

They are working on a way to check cholesterol levels in the same way. (But do cholesterol levels change quickly enough to merit including them in contact lenses?)

Posted by Luis at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2006

To Connecticut Democrats Who Voted for Lieberman: Do You Feel Stupid Yet?

This just in:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said yesterday that he will caucus with Senate Democrats in the new Congress, but he would not rule out switching to the Republican caucus if he starts to feel uncomfortable among Democrats.
At the very least, Lieberman is using this as a power play, telling the Democrats in no uncertain terms: treat me like a prince, or I'll pull a Jeffords and hand control of Congress over to the Republicans. At the most, Lieberman is setting the stage for a defection he plans anyway at some point. Either way, Lieberman is playing this game for Lieberman, not for the Democrats and not for the people of Connecticut. You do have to admit, it's a good setup for him: if he can blackmail the Democrats, he can steer the party like a tail wagging the dog; if he defects to the GOP, he could gain a position of power in the party and get almost as much from them.

Connecticut Republicans, who were Lieberman's main voter base, will get the most from this. Connecticut Democrats come away looking like the dumbest fools on Earth.

Of course, there is one mitigating factor that Kos points out: in 2008, Democrats stand to pick up even more Senate seats; while this is not a foregone conclusion, it is a solid probability. If and when this indeed happens, Lieberman's power suddenly evaporates. If he stayed with the Dems but blackmailed them for every last bit of power he could, then he'll likely get an instant demotion and will be sent to the doghouse, where he can caucus with the Republicans all he wants. If he defected to the Republicans, he'll be just as powerless. And if he does either one, he'll probably alienate so many Connecticut Democrats that he'll never be able to get elected there again, no matter what he runs as. So if Lieberman plays his hand too hard, he'll have two years of glory and then his career essentially ends.

Posted by Luis at 05:27 PM | Comments (2)

Republican Values Roundup: Hypocrisy, Corruption, Terror, Fraud, and Violence

Bush opposes Democratic plans to allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices so seniors will not be gouged for medication costs. The rationale: "What [Democrats] really want is government-run health care." Because private industry is doing such a great job. Democrats want to enable Medicare to have pharmaceutical companies duke it out for contracts, driving down the prices. Bush says that's bad.

At the exact same time, Bush is pressuring the British to open up their own government-run health care system to more American pharmaceutical firms. Why? Because "Allowing all new drugs to be used in the NHS would result in the companies 'fighting it out' on price," says a Bush administration official.

Somehow those two stories don't mesh right, but I can't quite put my finger on why that is....

Who's the person who likely sent white powder to liberal politicians and left-leaning media personalities? Who might act like a terrorist? One of those liberal al Qaeda lovers, perhaps? Nope. A right-wing Freeper, that's who. Wingnut Chad Castagana has been arrested on suspicion of having mailed the powder. I can only imagine the talk on the Free Republic: "Let's face it, David Letterman had it coming!"

Pennsylvania Republicans knowingly scammed minority voters, hiring 300 African-Americans to hand out bogus fliers to voters in mostly-black districts which identified the top Republican candidates as Democrats. This was not an isolated abuse, it was "calculated strategy," and an official one.

A sterling example of Republican's choice for representation: freshly re-elected Republican Congressman Mark Olson. Now arrested for beating his wife.

USA Today confirms Newsweek's poll: Bush fell 5% in their new poll to 33%. Expect other polls to mirror these results.

Though for the life of me, I can't imagine why his numbers are going down.

Posted by Luis at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

A Little Reminder

As part of their campaigning, Republicans warned America that if Democrats won the election, they would use their control of the Congress to investigate the Bush administration, and even try to impeach him. They painted this as an unacceptable outcome.

Crooks & Liars reminds us that twelve years ago, Newt Gingrich promised that if Republicans took control of Congress, that is exactly what they would do: investigate Clinton to death. And that is one promise he kept, right up to the impeachment.

Funny. A 15-year-old real estate deal and an extramarital affair justified massive investigations and a culture of abusing oversight for partisan political purposes; conservatives felt righteous in campaigning on that, and even more justified in carrying out innumerable investigations. But, a dozen years later, endless lies to start a war, endless corruption with big business and lobbyists, and endless violations of the Constitution are not cause to investigate a Republican president--and conservatives warn Democrats they'd better not even think of investigating Bush, or they'll smear them as partisan attack dogs.

Like I said, funny.

Posted by Luis at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2006

Beating the Spammers

About a month ago, somebody asked me if there was a way they could write their email address on a web page and yet avoid having it picked up by spammers. I was about to tell them it was impossible, but then I had an idea--and it seems to have been a good one. I tested it, and indeed, it did work. The best part is, it incorporates a technique used by spammers themselves, and beats them at their own game!

A little background first. Putting an email address on a web page, or for that matter, anywhere on the Internet where the public can see, is an open invitation for spam. Spammers use automated programs, called "bots," to "harvest" email addresses. The bots scour every last web page, discussion group, and other public piece of information on the Internet for anything that looks like an email address. When they find one, they add it to a list, and start sending spam to it.

I know this is true because I have tested it. FIrst, I create a brand-new email address (e.g., ""), one which has never been used before, and one which no one but me knows about. I then put the email address up on this blog's main page. To ensure that only spammers can see it, I make the address the same color as the background, rendering it invisible to the human eye. Five months ago, I put up one such address, and after a week, spam started coming through; after one month, it had drawn 41 spams; this week, it has been getting about 7-8 spams per day, and has collected about 500 spams altogether.

So, I know these bots are constantly surveilling my web site. I know that any email address posted in such a fashion will be picked up. So how could I post an email address and not have it be picked up?

The idea came from a technique I saw spammers use themselves. When spammers send email, they know that certain words will trip spam filters, and that will send their spam to the waste pile, where it will never be read. One key word, for example, is "Viagra." So spammers who want to use this word will try to disguise is. One way is to misspell the word, for example, "V1@gra" or any other of a hundred variants. But the technique I saw spammers use years ago works to foil the spammers themselves.

It involves the use of HTML code. HTML is the language used to write web pages. If you go to the "View" menu of your browser and choose the "View Source" command (or anything that promises to show the "source"), you'll see the same page, but as it appears originally, the source code. You will see that it is filled with stuff inside <angled brackets>. On a web page, anything in angled brackets is considered a command for the browser. As a simple example, "<b>" is a command to make text bold. One "harmless" command is <!-- text -->. That is a comment command, an exclamation point followed by double-hyphens within a set of angled brackets. It doesn't do anything, it's intended solely as a comment in the code. Because it's an HTML command, it does not "render," that is, it does not get shown to the viewer on the web page; it is "edited out" by the browser.

Now, spammers used to use this as a way to break up a word so it would get past the spam filters for email. For example, instead of writing "Viagra," if they instead wrote "Vi<!-- text -->ag<!-- text -->ra," the spam filters of the time would not see the word "Viagra," but since an email reader will render HTML code, the stuff in the brackets would disappear for the person who was looking at the email, and they would see "Viagra" in the clear. Clever! Until, of course, the email spam filters were updated, and it no longer worked for spammers, so they stopped doing it.

But apparently, the spammers never updated their own bots to filter out their own trick! I tried writing an email address in the clear, broken up by this old spammer's trick, and it has been a month, and not a single spam has been generated! In all other tests where I put up email addresses, spam started coming within a week, and dozens had come by the end of the first month.

So if you want to post an email address so that people can see it but spammers (who are not people, after all) cannot, then add those comment commands within the HTML code on your web page. Look at this new email address I just made:

Now, I didn't really type that in the HTML code. You see it as being in the clear, but if you were to look at the HTML code for this page, you would see that it really looks like:

spa<!-- toy -->mm<!-- blue -->erss<!-- bottle -->uck@blo<!-- phone -->gd.<!-- box -->com

Note that in the HTML comments breaking up the email, I inserted random common words--another spammer's trick, to throw off filters. But really, you could probably put anything in the comments, it likely doesn't matter.

Now, will you be safe by doing this forever? Hard to say. Spammers might never pick up on this, or they might write a fix for this tomorrow. Heck, they might read this blog regularly, and I might be tipping them off. My guess is that they won't bother changing their code to account for this trick until a significant number of people start using it. So if you're forced to put your email address up on a web page anyway, and you don't have access to complex coding that might protect it, then you might as well give this method a try.

Posted by Luis at 10:37 AM | Comments (3)

November 12, 2006

Behind the Curtain

Yet another of my Internet peeves: stuff like this.

Now, I could have gone ironic and left it at that. But my point is that the post consists solely of a link, but does not describe at all what the link is. This TPM post is more egregious than usual, as it only consists of the word "Yep," which is a link to a Daily Kos story. Josh Marshall is a repeat offender with this.

There are three reasons I don't like it when people have links and yet give no clue as to what they are. The first reason is that I don't like jumping around. If I am on a page where many entries might appear and I haven't finished all of them yet, I might not want to leave the page to look at something and then have to come back.

The second reason is that I don't like being led blindly about. I want to know where I am going to before I go. For me, a blind link like Marshall's is equivalent to someone holding something I can't identify up to my nose, and without explanation, saying, "smell this!" If you write a post about something, it stands to reason that you should make clear what you are talking about. If you don't have time for that, maybe you don't have time for writing the post. Take a minute and at least write a short note about where you're leading people and why. If the mystery was intentional, I like that even less; being coy may be fun for the writer, but it's a lot less fun for the reader. Maybe the article is one I'd like to read--but maybe not. People who have slow Internet connections and have to wait a while for pages to load must be really annoyed by stuff like this.

The third reason I am uncomfortable with this is because links go bad. If the post's archive is kept, people will find it with Google--but the link the entry points to could disappear at any time, especially news stories, which often have a very short lifetime. Without any exposition in the blog entry, the reader will be mystified at what the blogger is talking about. Broken links can also nullify the point of an entry by making key data or evidence inaccessible; ergo, bloggers should take the time to copy and paste the relevant portions of the page they are linking to, so the pertinent information is preserved.

An associated peeve often appears in comments left by readers, usually combative ones: some will make a vague argument ("I disagree with what you said"), and for a riposte they will link to an article--but they do not explain which part of my argument they disagree with, nor why, nor what it is in the article that supports their point. Unless the entire article is their point (which it almost never is), then I am left to read through an often lengthy piece (usually an annoying diatribe by a right-wing pundit), and then guess as to which part of the article the visitor was referring to; essentially, I have to do all the work of creating the visitor's argument for them, and even then, I am not sure if I understand what they were thinking about. In such cases, I usually ask for specifics and refuse to respond until they are given.

Long story short, it's best to be specific, and not count on links to tell a story that you should be making yourself.

Coming soon, another pet peeve: people who constantly whine and complain on their blogs. I hate that.

Posted by Luis at 10:28 PM | Comments (4)


The first post-election poll results are out, and Newsweek has Bush at (for them) an all-time low of 31%. It will bear watching for more results; Newsweek, while no a total outlier, is usually on the low end of results. Bush, having rated 35-41% in the week before the election, may not get a score higher than 36% this week, if the previous range of figures holds. No one is missing the fact that the poor showing in the midterm elections and the Rumsfeld resignation are mostly responsible for scoring palpable hits on his popularity (what little of it he has left). Both of these are bound to hit Bush hard, as both are things that will upset his base as much as, if not more than, anyone else.

Posted by Luis at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2006

Why Can't They Just Leave Us Alone?

One of the down sides to living in Japan is the loudspeaker trucks--as you know well if you are a long-time reader of this blog. True, we don't get robo-calls during an election, and I admit that this could be worse than loudspeaker trucks. But only marginally. At least you can avoid the robo-calls by leaving your house.

My location has turned out to be pretty bad, in fact: there is a spot on the road just outside my building which all the loudspeaker trucks favor as a staging area for long rants and raves. They'll stop there, deploy their banner-toting crew, and do their schtick for ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes at a go. During heavy election season campaigning, we sometimes get one or two of these every day. The are, of course, scheduled for times when the most people are at home trying to relax in peace and quiet.

There seems to be an election on right now; I haven't heard of this in the news, but I sure can hear the loudspeaker trucks. Yesterday, as I tried to teach a lesson, no fewer than three trucks drove past the school, almost drowning out my lecture. As for the people pictured below, I honestly can't say whether they are a political campaign (I couldn't see the side of the truck where a candidate's name would usually be plastered, though the lack of a name on all sides is a hint they may not be campaigning for a particular candidate). All I know is that this is an election season of some sort, and these people blared away for 15 minutes as I tried to do my morning blog-reading.

The caravan parks and begins to unpack their wares; the speakers waste no time, shouting their message from the moment they arrive

Getting the banners out

The first of several speakers

The Banner Brigade, fully deployed

Two weeks ago, I caught some audio of a guy with a loudspeaker truck; the audio is here (800KB wav file). This guy was on an anti-American kick, and at one point even shouted, "America dai-kirai!!" ("I despise America!!") The significant thing about this audio was that I never actually saw the guy or his truck--when he made this speech, he was at the very least a few hundred meters away, maybe more. And yet I could hear him blasting away with my windows closed.

Posted by Luis at 01:48 PM | Comments (4)

More of a Mandate Than It Seems

Brad DeLong makes an excellent point: 32,100,000 Americans voted for Democratic candidates, while 24,524,000 voted for Republicans. That's 57% for Democrats and 43% for Republicans (which shows the influence of Republican gerrymandering at the state level--Democrats get 57% of the vote, but win 53% of the elections in the House). Now, remember, Bush supposedly had a "mandate" in 2004 from winning 51% to 48%, and many Republicans even argued he had one in 2000 after losing the popular vote by half a percentage point.

Clearly, "mandates" aren't all they're claimed to be most of the time. Winning by more than 10% would seem to me to be about the minimum for a mandate, though a much greater margin would be more defensible, of course. I don't believe that there is an actual mandate out there, but if you want to claim that anyone in politics has had one in the past six years, Congressional Democrats have it now. Certainly, if you ever claimed Bush had one, you'd look pretty silly trying to say that the Democrats don't now, having won a greater margin of votes than Bush ever did.

Posted by Luis at 02:56 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Same Ol' Same Ol' from Bush

Deja vu from 2000: Bush says he will be bipartisan, then gets as partisan as you can get. After trying to give the impression to the press that he heard the voters' message and will work with the Democrats, he immediately turned around and pushed a stridently partisan agenda, urging the lame-duck Republicans to push through legislation on oil drilling, the Bolton nomination, warrantless surveillance authorization, and a host of other hot-button issues that he thinks will not pass before a Democratic Congress. Right out of the gate, Bush is in his default lying, back-stabbing form.

Posted by Luis at 11:35 AM | Comments (6)

Moonbats at Midnight

Some conservative pundits are acting even more bizarrely than usual, which is to say that they are meeting my expectations of them. Rush Limbaugh out-and-out admitted that he was lying to his audience about the Republican candidates (Olbermann video here), and that in fact, he hated the Republicans he was supporting (he calls what he did "support"?), but that he lied to everyone because "the stakes were high."

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg wrote a concise narrative on what Bush should do. The final scene: Bush stands in front of the press corps dressed in nothing but a loincloth, his face bloody and his torso bearing the claw marks off a bear he just killed, as he throws the bear skin over Helen Thomas. And, no, I am not making that up.

Ann Coulter, meanwhile, shows no change from normal as she criticizes the Democrats for not assailing the Diebold company after their "paltry" win. Apparently, she's not paying attention to what we're saying, though she never does anyway. She then uses the "sixth year" of Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford's tenures to show how the pickups by the Democratic Party were "the death throes of a dying party." Seriously, you can't make stuff like this up.

Michelle Malkin backs up Coulter's assertion that just because the Democrats won control of both houses, that means Democrats don't think that Diebold machines are objectionable. What neither she nor co-moonbat Coulter realize is that Democratic candidates won these races despite all the election fraud, not because of it. What, they actually believe that Diebold machines are solid and unimpeachable, or somehow actually helped the Democrats this year? Yeah, right.

Among most conservatives, however, the party line is that Republicans deserved to be taken out to the woodshed and maybe this will beat some sense into them, that this is cathartic and will be a rebuilding term for them, while the Democrats really didn't win, they just benefitted from the Republicans' loss. Not entirely inaccurate, but it's also not much more than the best attempt to put a shine on the turd Republicans laid this year.

Posted by Luis at 11:13 AM | Comments (1)

November 09, 2006

No Casualties

Bob Harris points something out:

• Not one Democratic incumbent lost in the Senate.
• Not one Democratic incumbent lost in the House of Representatives.
• Not one Democratic incumbent lost in any state Governorship.
That's something.

Posted by Luis at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)


Virginia is looking like Webb is going to take it; with 99.88% of precincts reporting, Webb is ahead by 7000 votes, just above 1/4 of a percent--but enough to make a recount unlikely to reveal a change. [Update: AP has called it for Webb. NBC has too, and both say Dems control the Senate.] Rumors are flying that Allen is being advised to concede the election and not call for a recount. Meanwhile, Montana is looking more and more like a lock; many have called it for Tester, and with virtually all of the precincts reporting, Tester leads by .8%, or about 3000 votes. Burns has so far not conceded yet, but even a paid recount won't be possible; Burns or the canvassers would have to come up with compelling reasons for a recount beyond the fact that the vote was close.

So it is looking pretty certain now (though not absolutely certain) that the Democrats have beat the odds and run off with both houses of Congress--a clean sweep. The majority is only marginal, filibusters could still be easily managed by Republicans (so long as they don't mind being flaming hypocrites, which has never been a problem with them), dissent among moderates could still swing votes their way on some issues, and there is always the presidential veto--something Bush has only used once in 6 years, but is likely to use a lot more from now on (obstructionist!).

However, the shift is big enough for two major changes: first, the shock of the change and the shift of public support away from Republicans, while not exactly worthy of the term "mandate" (I am not prepared to wield that term as casually as conservatives have been), is still a clear indication that "stay the course" is not what the people want. And second, and this is really the big one, the Democrats will now be in full charge of the agenda of Congress--committee heads and leadership--which means that they, and not the Republicans, will now decide what comes up for a vote and what does not. Not to mention oversight: Dems will now be able to call for investigations, and you can bet there will be a lot of them. And about time.

Rumsfeld is icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the bow on the package, the pièce de résistance. (Though here's a question: was the timing of the announcement arranged so as to take the edge off of the inevitable weakening of Bush? Had Rumsfeld waited another week, polls might have showed Bush taking a palpable hit; Rumsfeld's resignation now will either help Bush's numbers in the wake of the election, or can be used as an excuse for low numbers, thus blunting any claim that Bush's emasculation has any support in the public as a whole.)

And there is another bright point for Democrats: as you may recall, Republicans made dire predictions were the Democrats to win even just the house. We would raise your taxes through the roof. We would appease the terrorists. We would crash the economy. We would bring ruin and devastation, a veritable plague of biblical proportions.

Bush once noted that he is a "master of lowered expectations," and he was correct: Republicans have often played on "misunderestimations" before elections, but this time, they have unwittingly played that exact card for the Democrats. Just like Bush in presidential debates where simply not looking like a moron would be perceived as a "win," all the Democrats have to do is not bring about the apocalypse, and they will be a success to anyone who feared that any of the right-wing's dire warnings had anything to them. This is reinforced by the fact that, in fact, many did not vote for the Democrats as much as they voted against the Republicans; if the Democrats do even marginally well, they will suddenly appear to be palatable alternatives, and may build on this week's victories in the next election.

Posted by Luis at 10:59 AM | Comments (1)

November 08, 2006

Montana Getting Close, But Looking Good

With 99% of all districts reporting in, Tester still leads Burns, but only by a slim margin: 48.92%-48.51%, with Tester leading by only 1,586 votes. In Montana, if the vote between two candidates is closer than 0.25%, a free recount can be asked for; if the vote is within a half percent (as it stands now), a party can request a recount, but must pay for it if the recount shows he indeed lost. It is also of note that Montana requires paper ballots, so no electronic skullduggery is possible here.

But with 99% of precincts reporting, it is looking better for Tester, as only a few thousand votes are left to count.

Posted by Luis at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

More of a Gain Than It Seems

One thing that should be noted about the Democrats who didn't win this time or had close races, this does not necessarily mean they did not perform exceptionally well. One has to consider that the Republicans in these races were often in seats considered "safe," and had large leads going in. Webb, for example, is a Democrat in a Southern state, and started off 31% behind Republican George Allen less than a year ago. Democrats made much greater gains than many of the close races made apparent.

Howard Ford may have lost Tennessee 48%-51%, but you have to remember that it used to be Bill Frist's seat, who won it in 2000 65%-32% over the Democrat then; for Democrat Ford to do so well in another Southern state, especially when Republican Corker and the NRCC played so vile and dirty a campaign, is quite an accomplishment, and a sign of how badly Republicans are doing in that state.

In Rhode Island, Republican Lincoln Chafee had high approval in the polls and had won his seat in 2000 with a 57%-41% landslide; Chafee lost to Whitehouse today 47%-53%. And Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona may have won over Democrat Pederson 53%-44%, but in 2000 he won with 79% of the vote, with both of his competitors scoring only in the single digits. A 9-point win after that is stunningly bad for Kyl, representing a loss of confidence in him by a full quarter of the state's voters.

There are more examples of this type in the House and Governorships, but the point to make here is that the shift was much greater than it may seem from the number of seats Democrats picked up. If the Democratic Party can perform well over the next two years, especially if the economy does better and Democratic issues (minimum wage, balancing the budget, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, funding stem-cell research, and letting Medicare negotiate for better prices on medicines), then the gains made this year could be a stepping-stone for further gains in 2008. Also helpful could be the oversight Democratic control will enable, reigning in the out-of-control Bush administration, and shedding light on a myriad number of fiascos and crimes that the Republicans have used their majorities to cover up.

But first, let's see what happens in Montana and Virginia, and then see how far Pelosi and the Democrats can get with the first-100-hours agenda.

Posted by Luis at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

Democrats Win House, Senate Still Open


Democrats take the House and maybe the Senate. No matter what happens from now, the Democrats have already exceeded expectations, especially in the Senate.

Before the election, the numbers were:


Democrats: 201
Republicans: 230


Democrats: 45
Republicans: 55

There are 435 seats in the House, so 218 is a controlling majority. The Democrats have pretty solidly won 227 at this time (Republicans have 191), and 17 seats are still in play. Some see the Dems as having 231 seats at least, which is more than the Republicans had before today. Democrats probably won't have a rout; they will probably win with 5 or 10 more pickups than most people expected, so it'll be a big victory, though not a huge one.

The real surprise is in the Senate. Very few, if any, expected the Democrats to win there--but now, it is still in play. The Democrats won key races in:

Pennsylvania (Casey beat Santorum, 60%-40%)
Ohio (Brown beat DeWine, 55%-45%)
Rhode Island (Whitehouse beat Chafee, 53%-47%), and
Missouri (McCaskill beat Talent, 50%-47%).

That gives Democrats 49 seats (assuming Lieberman doesn't pull any funny stuff), with two more needed to win control of the Senate. Ford lost to the Republican Corker in Tennessee (that's the one with the racist "call me, Harold" Playboy-party ad). Democratic long-shot Pederson did not win the Arizona seat from Kyl.

But two races are still in play. Virginia is neck-and-neck, with Democrat Jim Webb leading George "Macacca" Allen by a sliver, 49.56% to 49.24%. CNN reports that Webb has a 7,500-vote lead out of more than 2.3 million votes cast; we'll probably see a recount there, which may string out the announcement of a winner for days. The second race in play is Montana, where Democrat Jon Tester leads Republican incumbent Conrad Burns 50%-48%, but only 74% of the vote is counted, and strongly Republican districts may swing the vote the other way.

So it's a nail-biter for the Senate--but because a Democratic takeover was such a long-shot to begin with, the Dems will be counted as performing strongly even if both Virginia and Montana fall to the GOP.

But a full takeover of both houses of Congress would not only be a huge win for the Democrats, it would be a tremendous slap in the face for Bush. Right now Republicans can, at most, stem the damage by hanging on to a 51-seat majority, or at least retain a 50-50 Cheney tie-breaker in the Senate; anything less for them is a much greater loss. But anyone who calls anything from this point onward a Republican "victory" is blowing smoke--like Ann "I'll say anything to piss Democrats off" Coulter claiming that anything less than a 67-seat pickup in the House and an 11-seat pickup in the Senate is a defeat for the Democratic Party. Talk about "lowering the bar."

Other effects of what we've seen happen so far: Pelosi is the new Speaker, and gets credit for leading the Democratic Party to a win, and Howard Dean wins a lot of respect for his 50-state rebuilding effort, which will be credited with helping Democrats win where we frankly did not expect to do so strongly.

Posted by Luis at 04:29 PM | Comments (1)

So Far, So Good

Am watching CNN (the only U.S. news broadcast available to me) and watching the counts on web sites. And so far, Democrats are doing incredibly well. So far, three and perhaps four of the six necessary Democratic pickups in the Senate have happened--and so far, the Democrats have completely swept the key races. So far. Cautiously hopeful, but very hopeful.

Posted by Luis at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

More Irregularities

Already there have been more than enough reports from more than enough places to raise serious suspicions about electronic voting machines. Machines switching people's votes to Republican candidates have been reported so far in Colorado, Arkansas, Missouri, Broward and Miami Counties in Florida, and in three places in Texas including San Antonio and Dallas.

Obviously, vote-hopping is not happening on every touch-screen voting machine, and it's not happening to every voter on machines that are affected. So, what is happening?

Jamie Holly on Crooks and Liars gives a clue when reporting on her own voting experience. On her county's ballot, there is a referendum ("State Issue 1") that was disqualified but was too late to remove from the ballot. However, an odd thing happened:

I just got back from voting and we suffered from a "glitch". As I was voting, my ballot started off with governor and then worked down through the list. After voting for all the politicians, up next were the issues. My first issue was State issue 1, an issue dealing with Ohio's Worker Compensation. I was expecting to see this, but knew my vote didn't count on it...

So after my voting experience went smoothly, the person I went down with had her turn to cast her ballot. She had the same ballot, the same ballot (iso) card, and the same machine, but her ballot did not appear the same. Instead her ballot started out with a blank blue screen and then went onto the candidates and the state issues, but issue 1 was not on her ballot. She called the poll worker over who said that "this has been happening on some machines". Well our polling place only has three machines and she was on the same machine as I just got done voting on, and this problem did not happen for me. ...

The most interesting thing I kept thinking of was Ken Blackwell on CNN this past weekend saying the machines do not have any problems, it was the poll workers. Well this poll worker did everything the same as she did with me (programmed the card for ballot 84), yet our ballots appeared differently. This machine was a Diebold touch screen machine, and as a programmer I can tell you that it is a definite software glitch. The poll worker did the exact same thing she did for me and all the end user variables were the same.

If the same machine, programmed in the same way, using identical ballots, one right after the other, acts in two different ways, that's an indication that someone has been dicking around with the programming.

One machine acting the same way with all voters will get shut down or fixed. But have the machines switch things around at random, and it can be explained away as a transient glitch. If it is reported more than once, poll workers are trained to identify it as some mere mechanical problem and follow a handbook set of instructions to "repair" the machine.

The reported vote-hopping incidents may indeed be a glitch, but not because of the vote-hopping. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don't believe that the confirmation screens always show what is really being recorded on the machine--a machine which leaves no paper trail. Maybe when the vote-hopping is shown on the confirmation screen, the glitch is that the vote hopping should have been recorded and not shown to the voter for confirmation.

There is no hard evidence for this. Nothing except massive irregularities. Poll workers taking home voting machines. Voting machines being consistently proven to be wide open to hacking. Nationwide instances of voting machines acting in ways they have no business acting. The voting machines made by a company run by politically involved Republicans dedicated to delivering votes to the Republican Party--a company that fights tooth and nail to keep their machines from issuing a paper trail which can be compared to the electronic vote count. And a political party which has demonstrated an open contempt for election laws: sabotaging Democratic phone banks, illegal fake robocalls that masquerade as Democratic politicians but harass voters, illegally telling Democratic voters they will be arrested/deported if they vote, handing out bogus instructions to lead Democratic voters to the wrong polling place and on wrong dates, illegally impersonating election officials and calling Democratic voters to tell them they are not registered, "mistakenly" striking legitimate Democratic voters from voter rolls by claiming they are "felons," the list goes on and on and on.

Yep. No hard evidence, none at all. Call me wacko paranoid conspiracy theorist. I got nothin'.

Posted by Luis at 02:10 AM | Comments (2)

November 07, 2006

Virus Author Admits Mac Is Hard to Hack

While Symantec yet again rang the bogus virus bell, trying to alarm people about Mac security to get them to buy Symantec software, the person who actually wrote the proof-of-concept code admitted in the source code itself that he had too much trouble making the virus work in the real world.

...the author had expressed what appears to be frustration at trying to make the virus effective on Apple's platform.

"In the source code, which is a mish-mash of stuff, there is a comment where the author says 'so many problems for so little code'," he said. "So it does look as though virus writers, fortunately, still have a way to go before they are able to write Mac viruses with the proficiency and fluidity that they can for Windows."

The Macarena "virus," despite the author's efforts, resulted in nothing more than the source code, with no "vector," no workable method of spreading the virus. The malicious code simply exploits an old UNIX flaw, but the author apparently could not get the exploit past Mac OS X's defenses.

In order for Macarena to work as written, one would have to deliberately find a web site with the source code, download it, compile it, and then run it in order for anything to happen. No wonder Symantec rates the code's "Threat Containment" as "easy" and the "Distribution Level" as "low."

Posted by Luis at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

Firefox Fixed

For some of you, this site has not been displaying correctly for a week or so: the header and sidebar remained intact, but the main body of the page with the blog entries disappeared. If that's what you experienced here, then the problems started when you upgraded to Firefox 2.0 and had a certain screen size. You might have found that decreasing the text size would have brought it back into view, but might have made the text too small to read comfortably.

It took me a bit of work to hunt down and fix the problem--an old bit of css coding (which Movable Type put in the stylesheet years ago) that told browsers to hide "overflow"; Firefox 2.0 must have redefined "overflow" in some way. I removed the offending code, and all should be as it was before. If not, I hope you'll let me know.

Posted by Luis at 12:23 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

100 Things

I have seen these lists before (they've been around for years) and was sometimes tempted to do one, but knew it would be a bear of a job. But then Shari did one on the 1st, "Roy" got his done by the 2nd, and Sean turned his in on the 3rd, and I kind of figured, why not jump on the bandwagon. Paul, you're next.
  1. I was born in Mountain View, CA, but grew up initially in Cupertino, not far from the future site of Apple Computer headquarters.
  2. Half of my left ear was bitten off by a Saint Bernard when I was seven years old; plastic surgeons reattached the ear, but skin grafts left scars behind my ear and on my abdomen (don't ask me why the latter, I don't know).
  3. During childhood, I wanted to be an astronomer; I owned two telescopes, including an 8-inch reflector.
  4. As a child, my favorite color was yellow, but now it is green (preferably dark green).
  5. As a child, I was a birdwatcher and a member of the National Audubon Society.
  6. The first movie I ever saw was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  7. I was a huge Star Wars fan when I was a kid and saw the movie more than 18 times in theaters.
  8. I was voted "Most Creative" in high school.
  9. I was badly bullied in school, and once even had to transfer to another school due to the problem.
  10. When I was 13, I burned my retina in my right eye looking at the sun too long (it's a small spot and doesn't appear unless I look only with that eye).
  11. I was quite non-social in high school, from being both socially shy and more than a bit goofy.
  12. In high school and early college, I used to paint and do other creative stuff; not so much any more.
  13. To this day, I hate going to discos or dance clubs (especially because of the sound levels).
  14. During high school, I worked part-time at Green Library at Stanford University, and as a Stanford worker, was able to submit several political cartoons to the Stanford Daily newspaper.
  15. My favorite candy is See's (a West-coast chocolatier), and in high school, I used to scarf down about a pound a week.
  16. I began studying Japanese language in college partially because of an interest in Japan, and partially because a Japanese major did not involve Math.
  17. My usual part-time work during college was in movie theaters, which didn't pay well, but gave me lots of free time between shows and got me free tickets to any movie theater in the area.
  18. I once sued an employer (a shady movie theater operator) for unpaid overtime in small claims court; I won the case and successfully had the money (about $600) removed from their bank account by a deputy sheriff.
  19. My first trip overseas was to Japan in 1983 when I was 19 years old.
  20. I was the president of the Japanese Club in college, which is to say that I was the least non-motivated of three people in showing Japanese movies to the local community (but it looks good on my resume).
  21. During college, I shared a car with my brother: a tiny, underpowered Datsun L1200 which actually made us money because people kept rear-ending the car and the insurance paid more than we spent on repairs.
  22. My most serious traffic accident was when an 80-year-old man ran a stop sign in a giant Cadillac and I broadsided him; the Caddy was only slightly dented, but the Datsun L1200 was totaled.
  23. I first went to live and work in Japan in 1985.
  24. I have lived in Japan for a total of fifteen and a half years; the first two of those years I lived in Toyama (a countryside area on the Japan Sea coast), and the other 13 1/2 years have been in Tokyo.
  25. I have lived in five different apartments while in Tokyo (in Asagaya, Tachikawa, Koganei, Nakano, and Inagi).
  26. I have climbed Mt. Fuji to see the sunrise three times.
  27. My first job in Japan was with a local branch of the YMCA, where I was cheated out of 70,000 yen of earnings.
  28. I decided to pursue a college career in Japan when I saw the job possibilities while I was in Toyama.
  29. I studied and got a special drivers license for small motorcycles (up to 125 cc) while in Toyama, and toured the mid-Honshu region on a Honda motorcycle.
  30. I have an A.A. and B.A. in Japanese, and an M.A. in English (concentration in TESOL).
  31. I presently work as a professor in an American college in Tokyo.
  32. Two points which are very obvious to anyone who reads this blog: I am an avid Mac user and a liberal Democrat.
  33. When I go to eat sushi, I only order tuna (maguro or toro).
  34. I have recently started birdwatching again (also obvious to blog readers).
  35. I enjoy digital photography and digital movie editing.
  36. I love the smell of coffee but not the taste.
  37. Since August 2, 2003, I have blogged every day (1192 days to this date), making this my most persistent hobby.
  38. I am a pack rat, but once every year or two manage to get myself to throw out large amounts of stuff.
  39. I don't like living in small, crowded apartments, even if it means a long commute to avoid them.
  40. I am not a great fan of classic literature, and have not read very much.
  41. I hate loudspeaker trucks (common in Japan, even not during elections).
  42. My favorite drink is root beer; my favorite snack is sunflower seeds, though the salt is too much for my tongue if I eat too many.
  43. I am mildly diabetic (type 2); when I found out in January this year, it was after a junk food binge and period of inactivity that made my doctor believe I was about to keel over because of my blood sugar levels (I had an A1C of 9.9; it's now hovering around a healthy 5.3).
  44. For the last two years, I have been immobilized by illnesses at Christmastime; two years ago, it was a serious nosebleed, and last year, it was a broken foot; everyone is wondering what it will be this year.
  45. My musical tastes include classic rock and movie soundtracks, which predominate the 3500 or so tracks I have on iTunes.
  46. I have a fairly good musical sense, but cannot play any instrument or even sing very well.
  47. With very few exceptions, I don't like horror movies.
  48. Before buying any expensive items, I try to make myself wait for two weeks to protect myself from impulse buying.
  49. My Japanese language skills have reached a plateau where everyday conversation is possible but it would take a lot of effort to improve.
  50. I have ideas for writing several stories, possibly books, but never get around to writing them.
  51. I hate entertainment based upon the humiliation or exposure of others.
  52. I love Akira Kurosawa films, especially his earlier funnier ones; my favorite movie is The Seven Samurai.
  53. It's hard for me to start new habits or try new things; it's also hard for me to get started on projects, though once I get started, it's hard to stop me.
  54. I have a horseshoe (conjoined) kidney.
  55. When alone, I am a night owl, often staying up until three or four in the morning; around others, I conform to their sleep schedules fairly easily.
  56. I no longer even miss newspapers or magazines.
  57. With very few exceptions (e.g., butterflies), I absolutely hate insects.
  58. Every few years I experience an ocular migraine.
  59. I hate wearing neckties, and avoid doing so at every opportunity.
  60. I wear clothes more for functionality rather than style; as an example, I don't wear suspenders because they look good (they often draw ridicule, in fact), I wear them because on my body type, a belt doesn't do the trick.
  61. I have a terrible memory for faces and names, not that my memory in other respects is stellar.
  62. In my younger days, I used to be frightfully nervous about speaking before groups; teaching cured me of that.
  63. While taking care of me one time when I was about ten, my grandmother gave me a hit off her cigarette; I took a puff but (wisely) did not inhale. That was my one and only experience with using tobacco, and I despise the stuff today.
  64. I have well over 500 VHS tapes in my apartment, mostly aggregates of tapes sent by my father over the years (he used to record all the favorite shows my brother and I liked and sent them to Japan); as I now have most of the media on my DVD collection and never watch the VHS tapes anyway, they are all headed for the trash.
  65. I have trouble reading almost all political fiction; even when I agree with it, it tends to come across as simplistic and too heavy-handed.
  66. I could care less about people's sexual activities and preferences; I care more about how they treat other people.
  67. I don't wear hats or caps, but will if someone asks me and I feel like it.
  68. I try not to collect things because I never do anything with them.
  69. I love small gadgets but ironically have very few of them.
  70. I love having a view out my apartment window.
  71. I hate entering text information using only a numeric keypad.
  72. The white-collar job I would least want to have would be selling something I don't like; after that, any repetitive, mindless task.
  73. I have been bumped up to business class twice, to first class never.
  74. With the exception of a trip when I was an infant, I have never been anywhere in the continental U.S. save for the three West Coast states (although I have traveled extensively in Japan and have visited China, Korea, Spain, and Hawaii).
  75. When I was younger, people thought I was a lot older than I was; now, people think I am a bit younger than I am.
  76. I hunt-and-peck pretty quickly, and can't touch-type.
  77. I am an agnostic with leanings toward deism; there are, however, some religious concepts that I confidently disbelieve in, such as the existence of hell, god having human form, or that the Bible is the literal word of god.
  78. I save my favorite part of the meal for last on my plate so I can enjoy it at the end, and hate it when people assume I don't like that part and grab it without asking.
  79. Dave Barry once wrote about excruciatingly embarrassing moments in life that pop unwanted into your consciousness at random times; that happens to me a lot.
  80. My experience with non-prescription drugs is limited to relatively sparse and sporadic alcohol consumption and two attempts at smoking marijuana as a teenager.
  81. I sweat way too easily.
  82. If I receive really bad service, I usually forsake the company involved, at least for a few years' time and sometimes longer.
  83. When I leave my apartment, I usually have to come back up half a flight of stairs and make sure that I really did lock the door.
  84. You know how most people in Asia seem to be able to squat and have their heels touch the ground? I can't do that.
  85. I can be calm and patient about a lot of big things, but accumulated small stuff gets to me, as does anyone who I can see is purposefully trying to scam me.
  86. I have a very low opinion of people who want to widely distribute their work but are too lazy to provide proper documentation.
  87. I like chocolate and I like nuts, but not together.
  88. I have no tattoos.
  89. If you're still reading this list, you've earned the right to know that I have bathroom shyness; happy?.
  90. I have passed the age where I can go a night without sleep and not fall asleep during the middle of the next day.
  91. If I had to get a car, any car, cost notwithstanding, I think I'd like a Prius.
  92. I love time travel stories, but there are too many where a guy crushes a bug and it turns out to be him in the end, so don't do that one again.
  93. My favorite food is bacon, if you can legitimately call it "food."
  94. During a three-month period early in college, I developed a case of persistent hives--on the soles of my feet.
  95. An eating weakness: if it's in the house and I want to eat it, it gets eaten.
  96. My first year in Japan, I hosted a half-hour infomercial for a local technical college, and later did radio ad voice-overs and even a modeling job for a car commercial on TV.
  97. I have trouble listening to radio; there are too many commercials, like TV, but with TV you can see visually when to turn the sound back on.
  98. I have big feet. I shall allow you to deduce the rest.
  99. When I write, I tend not to do drafts, but rather write everything in one chunk, and then proofread; this is a habit from pre-word-processor times when I had to type essays on an old-style typewriter.
  100. I'm a sucker for science fiction.

I found that it's more interesting reading other people's lists after you have done your own, since you then have a much better understanding of what is involved. While the ones written by this local cluster of blogs have been very good, the ones I found searching the Internet (you get desperate for inspiration (not stealing!) after 70 or 80 list items) were spotty, and all too often lazy--like cutting up one item into three or four, or making comments on list items into list items themselves (good example of that here). Had I done that, I probably would have twice as many items on my list. It's hard to keep off the list anything which would be a near-universal experience for people of your age (I have one or two in there I guess), and make the list only consist of things that distinguish you from others. The personal history and experiences are a good source of material, but only last so long.

One interesting point: a lot of people mention The Matrix in their lists. Weird. Another note: if I did intend to steal anyone's list items, the one I would most likely steal would be, "There! Are! Four! Lights!" Though you have to be somewhat of a Star Trek fan to get that one.

Posted by Luis at 06:47 PM | Comments (6)

Yet Another Not-Virus

Symantec is crying "Wolf" again, this time about a virus it has named "OSX.Macarena." It is more of the same as before--a proof-of-concept release of source code. It does not carry a malicious payload, nor is there any evidence that it was released in the wild. Symantec's "detailed" report is curiously undetailed; as usual, they don't simply say it doesn't exist in the wild, instead they only say there were "0-49" infections, the virus was on "0-2" web sites, and that "geographical distribution" is "low." Which makes it sounds like it exists in the wild when it doesn't.

As usual, people are interpreting this as yet another harbinger of the impending release of the first-ever harmful virus in the wild targeted at Mac OS X. Since it is proof-of-concept, the idea goes, it will be easy for someone to take that shell and pack a harmful piece of code inside. I can't speak to that intelligently as I have zero experience with coding, but it occurs to me that these proof-of-concept shells have been around for the better part of a year now and none have been re-engineered to carry malicious code, as was predicted every time. What's the hold-up?

As before, there's still no need to rush out and buy anti-virus software, unless you want to be really, really safe.

Posted by Luis at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

Comment Comment

A note on a milestone: this blog received its 5000th comment last night. More than 900 of those comments are for my post on Eyelid Twitching.

That number, of course, does not include any of the spam comments that regularly shower the site (more than 7000 have gotten past my spam filters and had to be manually removed; the filters have caught and blocked hundreds of thousands more--and no, I am not kidding or exaggerating about that number).

5000 comments may sound like a lot, but it averages out to between two and three comments per post. Not too bad, but not as many as blogs with smaller readerships. I think one of the reasons for this is that I am not very good at responding to comments; if readers feel that the blog's author is not reading the comments, they will be less likely to write more comments. Many prefer conversation of a sort, instead of just leaving a note.

Actually, when you leave a comment on this blog, it generates an email to me, and I read every one. I'm just not good at correspondence, is all. Most times I read it and agree, and have nothing to say. I should respond more, though. My apologies if you commented and I said nothing in response.

Posted by Luis at 01:14 PM | Comments (2)

Oh, So Now They Recognize Savings on IT

One of the Mac's selling points over Windows for business users has been the relatively low cost to maintain. With no viruses, adware, or spyware, and with the system so relatively easy to maintain, one could save a lot of money in IT costs alone by switching to Macs.

Somehow, this message never got across--probably because IT departments are the ones to advise businesses on which systems to purchase and employ. A stupid move, that--it's like asking your auto repairman which car you should buy. Unless he can be trusted implicitly, you're begging for him to recommend a lemon to you so he can make a mint off of you in repairs. Ask him if you should get a high-rated foreign job, and he'll tell you no--not because the car is bad, but because he's not familiar with it and you'd have to take your repair business elsewhere.

But now, with Microsoft looking at possibly dismal sales when Vista is released this month to businesses, they're claiming that businesses can save a ton of money with the switch-over, because Vista will "allow companies to sharply cut the amount of time it takes to maintain PCs." In fact, MS is stating that businesses could save $320 per PC per year--despite the fact that Vista machines would still require more IT maintenance than Macs would! What a savings you can get with Macs!

IT managers are quick to disagree:

"We manage 6,000 desktops and 1,500 laptops," Taylor said. "At $300 per PC per year, that should add up to $2 million in savings. The only way we could actually save that would be to eliminate 30 people, which we're not going to do."

On the other hand, Taylor, whose staff has been testing Vista on 100 PCs for more than 18 months as part of Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program, agreed that many of Vista's capabilities will boost automation and manageability, freeing up his staff's time for more valuable projects.

It's hard to see how to take that: this guy could be lying to save his budget. Note how he talks about retasking his people to other work instead of making cuts in his own department.

However you read his interests, it's clear that he thinks Vista could save time on maintenance. Which means that Macs could save even more, and could have for a long time. So why not make the Big Switch? Well, in the case of the two parties quoted above, it would profit neither. It would only profit the businesses who use lots of computers. And hell, screw them.

Posted by Luis at 12:02 AM | Comments (8)

November 05, 2006

Here We Go Again

Remember how Republicans wanted "every vote to be counted"? Well, there's a difference between saying it, and doing it.

The standard Republican policy in any election is simple: keep Democrats from voting. Get police (or people pretending to be police) to knock on doors and patrol streets in minority neighborhoods and intimidate people on election day. Send out mailers telling minorities and immigrants that they'll be jailed, deported, or otherwise penalized if they vote. If possible, create "felon lists" (filled with non-felon Democrats) and revoke their voting rights without informing them (in Florida, of course, they kept Hispanics off the list to protect Cubans who vote Republican). Rig the voting machines across the country to switch votes for other candidates over to Republicans (and never the other way around; keep track of these stories here), and call it a fluke. Undersupply voting machines in strongly Democratic districts to cause long lines and delays to discourage voters. And on election day, send armies of Republican operatives to polling places, demand that all voters be asked for restrictive IDs (while at the same time, hypocritically opposing voter-motor registration laws), and challenge as many Democrats as possible to scare people off and create logjams in the lines of voters. And more. One Republican in 2004 even talked openly about suppressing the vote in mostly black neighborhoods.

It has become so open, so blatant, and so common that it defies belief that nothing is done about it.

Republicans then have the gall to accuse Democrats of cheating--but what it comes down to is unsubstantiated claims, mostly based on bogus Republican challenges to suppress votes, a very small number of individuals or small groups with only the most tenuous connection to the Democratic Party committing fraud that only affects a handful of votes, and "signs" of voter fraud, like more people registering to vote in Democratic districts. Virtually no hard evidence, never systematic, and never claims about police, voting machines, or other officials or equipment directly involved in election matters.

Look, when one voting machine switches votes from one candidate to another, it's likely an error. When voting machines across the country consistently switch votes exclusively from non-Republican to Republican candidates, that's no coincidence. If one election official is found to be doing something fishy, it's an isolated incident; but when police, election officials, and candidates themselves are caught in illicit activities that overwhelmingly favor Republican candidates, it's a pattern. And sorry, but Democrats registering to vote is not "election fraud."

There is a massive amount of evidence of election fraud committed nationwide to win elections for Republicans, but it seems that people are unwilling to prosecute or even believe it because of what it would mean to the legitimacy of our Democracy. This attitude came forth in the 2000 elections, when we were willing to overlook egregious election fraud in order to maintain stability and avoid a constitutional crisis--and Republicans have been running with it ever since, using that fear of chaos as a tool to rig elections.

There is a point where "maintaining stability" costs far too much.

Posted by Luis at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

Just Like Professional Soccer

Remember that blogger who was violently grabbed, dragged, and thrown and pinned to the ground after he asked Senator Allen a question? The men who assaulted him were, to the best of my knowledge, even asked anything by the police, much less arrested or charged.

Well, it seems that the blogger (Mike Stark) tried to see Allen again, and Allen's supporters formed a human chain to stop him. When the blogger tried to get past, he "brushed" the side of one of the people, who, apparently just like those soccer players who feign torturous pain at every contact from an opposing player, promptly fell to the ground. Several sheriff's deputies immediately handcuffed and dragged away the blogger.

Not hard to see who the local constabulary backs. Unfortunately, this might even work for Allen; had the blogger not tried to do anything again, the one violent incident may have made people see Allen as surrounded by thugs. For the blogger to do something like this again will paint him, in the eyes of most people, as the one responsible for any trouble.

Posted by Luis at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

Success Has a Thousand Parents But a Political Liability Is an Orphan

Remember how Enron's Ken Lay was George Bush's best pal and biggest contributor in Texas, until the Enron scandal, and the Bush had never heard of him? Remember how Abramoff was the kingpin of Republican lobbyists, until he was indicted, and then no one in the Republican Party, especially the White House, ever recalled meeting him? (In fact, some Republicans whispered that he was actually serving Democrats.)

Now Merle Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader, has been implicated in a drug and sex scandal. (Haggard is credited with rallying conservative Christians behind Bush in get-out-the-vote rallies, and is said to be included in weekly phone conversations with Bush.) So far, Haggard has admitted only that he bought crystal meth but didn't use it and never had sex with that gay prostitute. Which probably won't go over well with conservatives, who have practically made a mantra out of criticizing Bill Clinton for his statements that he smoked pot but never inhaled, and never had sex with that woman.

But here's the inevitable reaction from the White House, which has close connections with Haggard:

He had been on a couple of calls, but was not a weekly participant in those calls. I believe he's been to the White House one or two times. . . . But there have been a lot of people who come to the White House.
Who would like to take the side of any bet that Haggard was part of only 2 or 3 calls and not more?

I know that it's a natural political reaction to distance yourself from a political liability, but how many times can you claim that you had never heard of a close friend, ally, or advisor who has fallen from grace before people start to wonder?

A side note on the affair: it seems like the media has finally gotten a juicy story (read: sex and/or drugs involved) to replace the Kerry non-story. Strange, I would have thought that the Bush administration publishing how-to documents on building a nuclear weapon on the Internet and keeping them there for weeks for terrorists, rogue states and dictators to read would maybe have qualified--but then, I'm not a news editor, so what do I know?

Posted by Luis at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2006

When Will Bush and Congressional Republicans Apologize for Spilling Nuclear Secrets?

Last week, Kerry misspoke and unintentionally said something that could be interpreted as a slight on the soldiers. After protesting that his intent was clearly and provably different, within a day or two, he apologized to the soldiers and the country, yet the media still makes a huge deal out of this.

Now it seems that the Bush White House, in a political election-year effort to make the Iraq War seem legitimate, released documents on the Internet from around the first Gulf War when Iraq was actually engaged in nuclear research, as well as more recent documents given to the U.N. in 2002 to ensure that Iraq was not building an atomic bomb then. The documents were not so relevant to Bush's war as they were to the first war; it is a common Bush tactic to try to confuse the two, as Hussein was a much more legitimate target back then.

The problem? The new documents publicly released on the Internet contain information on how to build a nuclear weapon.

According to the New York Times article:

The documents, roughly a dozen in number, contain charts, diagrams, equations and lengthy narratives about bomb building that nuclear experts who have viewed them say go beyond what is available elsewhere on the Internet and in other public forums. For instance, the papers give detailed information on how to build nuclear firing circuits and triggering explosives, as well as the radioactive cores of atom bombs.
These documents contained sections in the clear which had actually been redacted when given to the U.N.!

One can be assured that these documents have been downloaded by any number of rogue nations, aspiring nuclear dictators, and terrorist groups, putting them that much closer to developing an atomic weapon.

And yet, this story is not stirring the media nearly as much as the bogus Kerry non-story.

Nevertheless, we have the president making public dangerous nuclear secrets, at the urging of Republicans in Congress. Yes, it was an error, but then so was Kerry's statement; the difference is that Kerry's statement only bruised some feelings, and then only because the president, the GOP, and the media whipped up a frenzy about it.

So, when are President Bush and the Republicans in Congress going to apologize to the whole world for putting it into mortal danger?

I don't see Wolf Blitzer asking that question three dozen times a day.

Posted by Luis at 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

November 03, 2006

Kasai Rinkai

I haven't been birdwatching much in the past three months--other things on my plate, as it were. But I had a chance to get back to it, a bit, with Sachi today, as we went to Kasai Rinkai Park. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my zoom lens, so the photos aren't very good--but then again, today's visit was less about photographing and more about enjoying.

However, I do think I might head back, maybe on Monday; there seemed to be a lot of good birds around. One blind was crowded with birders, as a Eurasian Jay had made an appearance; I'm sorry I missed it, but then again, without the telephoto, I wouldn't have been able to get a good shot of it anyway. Other uncommon birds were in attendance as well, but even without hours of waiting and superior photographic equipment, Sachi and I still saw a long list of birds, including Snipes, Azure-winged Magpies, a Kingfisher, Coots, a variety of ducks (though they aren't there in full numbers yet), as well as the usual Egrets, Herons, Bulbuls, Starlings and so forth. A good dozen and a half species that we could identify, at least.

A few I was able to get shots of: a Bull-headed Shrike...


That Kingfisher in action (lower right, see lower shot for detail)



And something I thought was a Goldeneye, until I saw the detail on my computer at home--and figured that it must be a female Greater Scaup, still not too common a sight (but a lot less rare than the Goldeneye).



Let me end with this unusually tall photo of an Egret on the shore at sunset.


Posted by Luis at 10:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

Arts Day 2006, Part 2

In the second half of the show, we've had some dance groups, who have been pretty good--impressive for kids who don't do this much.

"OK," a cheerleading-style dance group (with one odd member...)

The first set of "Studio B," a 9-person dance team

Studio B did several sets, with costume changes for each one

The Drama Club put on a performance

...and finally, "Voices of America / Japan" did some singing for us.

Posted by Luis at 03:21 PM | Comments (0)

Live from Takanoya, It's Arts Day 2006

Every year, my college has an Arts festival in early November. It's a 4-day weekend for the school (tomorrow is Culture Day), and so we celebrate by getting many of the students to show off their talents by singing, dancing, and performing in various arts media. My own contribution is to edit together a 15~20-minute video to start off the festival; this was the 4th consecutive year I've done this.

I am blogging this live from the (appropriately named) "live house" where we hold the festival; for some reason, they have a high-speed Wi-Fi node here, so I can blog as the festival progresses. I won't do too much, but perhaps a few times I'll give an update on what's going on.

The video featured a parody of the TV show "24" along with some other musical bits

The first group, "Mediterranean"

Roger & Friends--this friend is Miyuki, a very talented student and a great singer

Roger & his other friend, Masa

Masa going solo


My setup for showing the video

More later...

Posted by Luis at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

Conservatives = Spammers & Con Artists!

Five months ago, I started a fresh version of an experiment I sometimes carry out to catch spammers and con artists. I put a virgin email address on my main web page, but I made it the exact color of the background--in essence, it is invisible to the naked eye (unless you select the text, highlighting it). Why? Because spammers and con men use a technique where they create a "bot," or an automated program, that "harvests" email addresses from web sites and other public text areas on the Internet. These bots look at the code of a page directly, and suck up anything that looks like an email address. Making it invisible to the naked eye assures that it was harvested by a bot. Doing this experiment gives me a window onto how it works.

Sure enough, within five days of putting up the address, a Nigeria con email came through the door, and the email has been increasing for the address ever since.

One interesting point I have discovered: the harvesting method is used predominantly by con artists. If my email address gets on a spam list, only about one in a hundred spams--if even that many--are con games. But the emails from the harvesting method are almost all con artists, perpetrating cons including the Nigerian scam, European "lotteries," and Bank/PayPal/eBay account "update" scams. The lion's share of the rest of the spam is from alleged stock brokers trying to sell shares--another scam, of a different type. Taken all together, bot harvesting seems pretty much dominated by criminals.

And now, Republicans.

I have started getting emails from right-wingers trying to spread their message, and they have come through the spam-catching email account. The most recent is from a web site called "," a right-wing advocacy site, which sent me a spam titled "A Conservative Plan for Iraq."

The fact that it came through the spam-catcher account demonstrates that either they use the same bot-harvesting technique as the spam-scammers, or they bought their email lists from the criminals. Either way, it's clear what company they are keeping.

Not that any of this is much of a surprise...

Posted by Luis at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2006

"You've" Got to Be Kidding Me

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
The GOP is trying to avert some attention away from their multiple scandals and massive mismanagement by trying to turn the spotlight on Kerry. the above remark was included in a session where Kerry was joking about how bad things are under the Bush administration.

Actually, Kerry mangled the line. According to his script, he was supposed to say, "I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq." In other words, it was supposed to refer to Bush himself, not the troops.

But Kerry did mangle the line--it came out as something else. But let's consider for the moment as if Kerry had actually intended to say what he said.

The criticism is that, the GOP is claiming, Kerry was essentially saying "all soldiers are stupid." Which, of course, is an intentional misreading of even the misstatement, for maximum negative play. And once again, the GOP is using the honor of the soldiers as cover for their own sorry political asses--as if Republicans weren't knifing soldiers in the back while using them as political props.

The fact is, in "you get stuck in Iraq," the "you" does not even apply to soldiers: it applies to Bush. Bush gets stuck in Iraq. But hey, let's run with what the conservatives have played the line into, and assume Kerry was talking about the troops.

It is fact that the military is discarding virtually all qualifications for recruiting, and that they commonly target people who have no good options after they graduate from high school; it is similarly accepted that if you have no good options, the military might be one of the only ways out for you. None of this means "all soldiers are stupid," nor does it even mean that people who fail in school are poor soldiers--the military trains you well, and gives you ample motivation to become a lot more than what you were. The "uneducated" part applies only before the military trains you, not to active soldiers in the field, which is what the GOP is hoping to play this into.

So, the conservative misreading of what Kerry was misspeaking in jest was about having so few options that the military--previously a good alternative--is now a terrible one because you're likely to be jammed into the streets of Baghdad. And if that were such an attractive option, then why are so few MIT and Harvard grads signing up for duty?

What Kerry is made out to have said has real applications in practice--and the irony is, it's because of Bush's stretching the military beyond its limits that this is true.

The Republicans are excellent at taking remarks out of context and vilifying them. Look at Al Gore's "inventing the Internet" comment. He never said that, but did that stop conservatives? The guys credited for actually inventing the Internet said Gore's statement was accurate, and he deserves lots of credit. Gore's political contributions were in a large part even responsible for the multi-trillion-dollar Internet boom of the 90's; Republicans rewarded his efforts by taking a single statement, misquoting it, re-interpreting it, and then ridiculing him for it.

And if the Republicans have to take an intentional misinterpretation of an unintended misstatement by someone who's not running for office nor is a party leader, in order to try to smear the whole party in an election, you know they're low on ammo. That the press is running with this non-story (damn that liberal media!) is simply testament to their attraction to flash and not substance.

Short version: Kerry was right, in every interpretation of what he said. Doing poorly in school can leave you fewer options, one of the least favorable is to get sucked into the Iraq conflict. If that offends conservatives, they should consider why it is true.

Posted by Luis at 02:33 AM | Comments (2)

Noisy Neighbors

This time, actually, it's kind of the reverse of noisy neighbors; instead, I have acquired a neighbor who is incredibly sensitive to noise.

As I've mentioned before, I live in a building which has excellent soundproofing. A couple moved in several years ago with an infant, and I don't hear a thing from them. If the person upstairs vacuums, I don't hear the machine; I just hear the knocking sound it makes if it bumps on the floor--vibrational sound like that. The fact that the loud motor of a vacuum cleaner is stopped says something for the floor-to-ceiling sound cancellation. The only time a neighbor got out of hand was when a kid two floors down got it into him to let loose with an electric guitar with his amps turned up full blast--and even then, it was very, very muffled in my apartment. It took an hour of it to get me annoyed enough to look into it--and I am easily annoyed by sounds like that. That's how good the soundproofing is.

Now, several weeks ago, a couple with a kid moved into the apartment below me. Before, there had been a woman who lived there, and though I had asked her repeatedly if I made any noise, she said "no" every time. Maybe she felt intimidated or something, but I did my best to say that I was a noisy person (I sometimes watch TV till very late at night), and welcomed any report of noise, saying I'd be glad to turn it down. She insisted that she couldn't hear anything.

When the new people came in, they came around with a small gift (a hand towel), as new neighbors in Japan often do. I gave them the usual invitation to let me know if I was being too noisy for them. The very next night, the husband came up and complained about the TV noise. OK, I thought--I was using speakers on the floor, and it had been pretty loud. So I stopped using them, and started using my headphones a lot more; otherwise, I used much smaller, desk-mounted speakers, and not nearly as loud.

The other day, the guy came up again to complain. This time, he said that I was making loud noise constantly from 1 am to 6 am--and I could honestly tell him that (a) I was not making that much noise, and (b) I had gone to bed at 3 am. He seemed puzzled, and maybe like he didn't fully believe me.

Now, tonight, he came up after midnight and complained about noise from my apartment. This time, it was me--but the noise he complained about was my laughing. I was watching a video (volume down), and it was funny, so I laughed--but for no longer than 1 or 2 minutes, and certainly not continuously. Now, keep in mind that the noise of a vacuum cleaner cannot penetrate the same barrier from the apartment above. This guy has to come up and tell me to knock off laughing? I laugh a little loud, but not that loud.

What's more, he said (unapologetically) that he had found the source of the noise that kept him up all night recently--it was from the apartment above me, he said. Now, remember, going through two floors, it took a kid playing electric guitar full blast to get me to notice. And the person in the apartment between us absolutely heard it, too. But now the guy below me says the people above me were making a racket that kept him awake--and I didn't hear a thing.

If this goes on, I am going to have to have a talk with this guy. I mean, I am all for keeping the noise down. But if I am going to have to walk on eggshells because he has better hearing than your average dog, then we have a problem.

Posted by Luis at 02:09 AM | Comments (3)


I love stuff like this:

Venusmoon Eder Med
Click to see the whole image

From NASA, this photo struck me as interesting. I expected that it was a way zoomed-out photo of the moon, with some large, strange cloud formation mimicking its shape.

However, that large crescent in the photo is the moon. The small crescent is Venus, which can not only appear in the daytime sky, but even shows phases. Go ahead and click on it to see the full-sized image.

Posted by Luis at 12:52 AM | Comments (1)