Website to help you contact your congresspeople

January 25, 2008

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CommitteeCaller.com uses open source software to let you call every member of a congressional committee in sequence. In this day of email communication, I'd wager getting a phone call from an individual has a little more weight. Some additional pondering: - On average, how many individual phone calls from constituents does it take to equal one meeting/call with a corporate lobbyist? - What carries more weight when received from a constituent: a phone call, a typed physical letter or a hand written letter?


Commentary on the idea of reading everything online

January 24, 2008

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Bruce Schneier has a new entry up on wired discussing Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell's desire to monitor everything that happens on the net. One thing that he doesn't mention is that the vast majority of this monitoring would take place in the U.S. on American citizens. I highly doubt that China, is going to allow us to drop our government monitoring packages inside their Internet Service Providers. The concept of our government trying to read everything done on the net (including emails, IMs, posts to private web pages, etc…) is scary enough. But when the overwhelming majority of what they are looking at is communication between American citizens it really makes you question the motivation. After all, aren't the Terrorists supposed to be "out there"? Seems to me that our Government acting as Thought Police is in direct conflict with our stated national principals. Of course, if something like this passes there are some ways to help combat it. High quality, open source encryption tools exist that can at least secure direct communications like emails and IMs. I don't know enough about the math to verify this myself, but I have a decent amount of faith in the fact that there are enough people who do and can look at the actual source code to confirm this is the case. The main issue with this, though, is adoption. After all, the Government has had programs like carnivore and ECHELON for a while now and no one I know encrypts their email or IMs. I think part of the reason for this is that we don't detect that something has read our messages. If someone sends you a physical letter that gets open, read, and stuffed back in the envelope, you're immediately aware of it and will likely feel at least a little of your privacy was violated. Since there is no evidence of the interception in email or IM we don't get this reaction. Even if we see a very public case where someones emails is put on display, I'm not sure that would help. We'll see. Or maybe we won't and there will just be a knock on the door.


Kids TV Nostalgia

January 23, 2008

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If you watched these, I don't know how you can help but grin:


The Electric Company


3-2-1 Contact!


another from The Electric Company


In the last one, the dude on the left is Morgan Freeman who played Easy Reader on the show. Who knew?


Touch

January 22, 2008

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A few months ago when it seemed like I was on the road more than I was at my house my several year old MP3 player finally gave up it's digital ghost. I hadn't really looked at MP3 players in long time so I checked out some reviews and was just going to get a relatively basic one that could also play some video. While checking our reviews I saw one for the iPod Touch. It wasn't really on my list for consideration because of its price, but there's an apple store pretty close and I wanted to at least check it out. I'm not a big name brand guy. I'd prefer to have something that does a good job than has a good name. And, if all things are equal, I'd rather not pay a premium if all that gets me is a name. Since MP3 players are almost a commodity good at this point, I really didn't think I'd end up being sucked in to the purchase. That was until about 10 seconds after I picked the thing up. Apple is so very good at Industrial Design. The iPod Touch is an excellent example of their expertise in the field. If it was just an MP3 player, I probably wouldn't have made the jump, but the screen on it is huge for a hand held which makes watching video on it quite nice. A bonus is the fact that a photographer can carry around a pretty high quality portfolio of as many images as they are likely to want. Obviously not as good as an actual book, but something like the touch is way more portable and therefore likely to actually be with you most of the time. Of course, you could step up to the iPhone as well and get all this along with cell phone stuff. I'll admit I was pretty tempted on this front, but the contract requirement for the iPhone was more than I wanted to get into at this point. In the mean time, I'll settle for carrying the Touch and my cell. I've got a few minor gripes about the iPod Touch though. 1) There is no external speaker like there is on the iPhone. Most of the time, this is no big deal, but it would be nice to play a video that multiple people could watch and listen to at the same time. 2) There should be physical buttons to control the volume. Same probably goes for skipping tunes, but definitely the volume control. If you have the thing in your pocket, you have to take it out, punch one of the physical buttons to wake the display up and then unlock the touch screen by sliding your finger across it before you can finally see the volume up/down options. 3) They want $20 for a software update. Are you kidding me? The thing is only a couple of months old and I spent a pretty penny on it and you want to up-sell me for $20 to get the latest features that have nothing to do with the hardware and are just new software that you've added in. And by the way, people who today pay the same price that I did a couple months ago get it without the additional fee. I hate it when companies pull this shit. Still, they thing is a bit of a marvel. When I was traveling around the holidays I was in the air on a flight watching a tv show I recorded with my DVR and then transfered over the personal screen of my iPod Touch. Thinking about this along with the fact that my grandmother was born before there was either television or commercial flight and fun to think about what the future has in store if we manage not to blow ourselves out of existence.


Smash Lab - Not good

January 22, 2008

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Discovery channel has a new show called "Smash Lab" that's in the same genre as "Mythbusters". Watched what I think is the first episode on the DVR tonight and I'm highly disappointed. The tag lines in one of their ads is that you can tell your friends you are watching it for the science, but we know why you are really watching it. The implication being that the real reason is to see all the stuff that gets blown up, smashed or otherwise destroyed that you see in the underlying video. The problem here is that their science is poor. In the episode I watched, the cast were testing two methods to see if aerated concrete could be helpful in preventing cars from traveling across a highway median into oncoming traffic. The first thing they did was to gather some control data where they rammed one car at 60 miles an hour into five other stationary ones to simulate a highway crash. Big problem here is that unless it's gridlocked on the other side (which is not what they said they were testing) the cars on the other side of the road would be moving as well. At another point, they were trying to see if a bed of the concrete would crumble enough underneath a car to slow it down before it entered oncoming traffic. In their original setup they defined the average highway median as being about six feet. For their aerated concrete bed though, they had what I'm guessing was about 150 feet. Even crossing at an angle this is way more than they originally defined. Not to mention that when the car shot all the way through it, they thought that it was maybe because it was too light so they decided to use a bus. Once again, moving away from the original purpose of keeping a CAR from crossing into oncoming traffic. There were a few other things too, but you get the idea. All this doesn't even touch on the over-intense, suspenseful feeling they try to get going including some thumping heart-beat background music when they are building up to test. I'm all about showing neat sides of science, but when it feels like an over acted nickelodeon show and they present crappy science, that's a disservice to just about everybody.


Another ATL trip

January 17, 2008

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Took another trip to Atlanta yesterday. Left my house about 6am and made it back a little after midnight. Two flights, and several hours of meetings make for a long ass day. It was almost a lot longer. A couple hours before we left for the airport, it started to snow. Atlanta Snow Thankfully, we made it out. We were delayed about an hour and a half, but managed to get past the de-icing line which would have taken another two hours. I haven't seen snow in years, but I wasn't too excited to see it. Worked out okay though.


On the way to Aliens

January 15, 2008

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With a title like "Strap-on robot suit takes the pain out of backbreaking farm work" you know you want one even if you're not a farmer. I mean STRAP-ON ROBOT SUIT! Even if you're not a complete geek, that's gotta sound at least a little awesome. Countdown to a real life version of Ripley's Loader has begun.


Sarah Connor

January 15, 2008

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I'm just catching up on some shows and finally watched the first two episodes of "TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES". They were pretty awesome. I was afraid it would be like the remake of Bionic Woman which left me pretty unimpressed after a few episodes. Good news is that with the first two, that doesn't seem to be the case. Summer Glau is in it as well. I always love seeing folks from Firefly back in the mix. So far, the show looks pretty good. With luck, it'll stay good and Fox won't kill it.


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