polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

A BLOG about science, technology, consumerism, philosophy, higher education, media and other bothersome stuff that makes up modern life...

20071025.0935 Fear For Your Food

Newspapers need to get sold.  Television new programs need ratings.  Fear-mongering is business as usual in these industries, but fact-checking is increasingly a thing of the past.

It used to be that you could trust the news to tell you things that are facts, or at least to report on information available and later fill in the missing facts.  No longer.

I have noticed a dangerous trend towards only trusting food that comes from large corporations - as if they held some sort of monopoly on health.  Bake sales don't happen at elementary schools anymore, ostensibly due to food allergy issues.  Was this such a major problem that they had to ban the practice?  Was it impossible for people with food allergies to take responsibility for themselves and stay away from the bake sales?

This time of year the news starts the scare-mongering about children trick-or-treating on Halloween.  Home-made treats are condescendingly referred to as a "sweet gesture" and it is universally recommended that they be thrown away.  Only "properly packaged" treats should be "trusted".

Let's set the record straight, shall we?  In the USA, over the last 40 years - there have been a total of 4 incidents related to trick-or-treating being a vector to harm children.  Two of those, upon closer examination, were found to be caused by the parents of the children themselves.

In Italy there are two other examples of foods that are being challenged in the name of "public health".  One would be the production of certain cheeses that are made, following traditional practices, in caves.  It is the unique environment that gives these cheeses their distinct flavor.  They are soon to become illegal because the practice is being labeled as 'unsanitary'.  No one has gotten sick mind you - this is just mudslinging.  The other example is the practice of cooking pizza in a wood oven.  It is very possible that by law all pizzerias in Italy may have to use electric ovens instead of the traditional wooden ovens that again have given pizza in Italy a very distinct taste.

But we are to believe that not only is is bad for us, but that we are not to be trusted to make that decision for ourselves, and that the option to ignore the priceless advice will be denied by the law.  Since the only alternative is corporate produced goods - exactly who's interests are we protecting?

20071023.1456 Is Web 2.0 Generational?

All technologies are generational barriers.  There's a list that is published every year of all of the things that the latest graduating high school class never experienced.  These are barriers between Them & the Rest of Us.  I'm starting to wonder if I've turned a corner.

I saw a recent posting on Perlmonks accusing them of being "too Web 1.0".  In some ways I agree with the spirit of it, since when I or others have mentioned AJAX in the past it was consistently put down by the ruling class.  But there's more to it than that.

 I for one, just didn't (and to some degree still don't) believe in the Web 2.0 phenomenon.   But as time has gone on and the label has stuck for >3 years now - I'm starting to at least buy in to it, if only to have a meaningful conversation with someone about the topics related to this meme.

It is perhaps something that I'm grappling with these days but I have noticed that in order to even communicate with certain people who are so deep into some paradigm that you have to buy into their ideas to some extent just to converse with them about it.  It's the difference between drinking the Kool-Aid and swimming in an aquarium full of the stuff in that it provides all the context for your living environment. (1)

So there is certainly an age-group/demographic that this stuff is aimed at.  I think I'm pushing the high water mark in that target.  A lot of it misses the mark with me.  For example, I don't need a MySpace page to give me a sense of identity.  The number of friends listed there is NOT a real reflection of my personal popularity in reality and so it doesn't make me feel important.  The same goes for Facebook.  The publishing of the details of my life on the internet doesn't empower me in any way.  If anything it is a weakness. (2)

I had an interesting conversation recently with someone who works in HR and does a lot of interviewing for job applicants.  It seems that there's a generational clash in the works as people are trying to get jobs today.  The Web 2.0 Generation hasn't learned that Free Speech comes with the price of accountability.  People get fired for trash-talking their jobs and their bosses online.  People don't get hired because background checks include sticking your name into Google to see what kind of things you routinely post.

This is why my friends who know me well, think this blog is de-fanged.  I try to skate on the edge of that NSFW barrier.   

So again - I think one generation older than myself - no, these people probably have never heard of Wikis nor RSS, and probably know the word "Blog" only because it's all over CNN and Fox News every day.

Footnoted Rants:

(1) - You don't actively think about it.  If you don't actively think about something - it can never be challenged.  IMHO, that creates a blind spot in your thinking process...

(2) - I can do an entire rant on the concept of User Generated Content alone, and though I've mentioned it before,  I probably will again soon. 

20071019.0950 Genius

I'm a little slow on the uptake with regards to "popular culture".  Usually I can feel my brain cells popping if I catch myself watching "reality" shows or TV dramas, etc..  I have never seen Dancing with the Stars, for example - I just heard about it a couple of months ago for crap's sake.

So it took me a little while to catch up with Miss South Carolina and her now infamous speech.

For those of you, like me, with LIVES and intelligent interests and that ever more unpopular thing called 'sophistication', there's a transcript:

[I tried to leave in the words that we mostly cut off by the microphone at the beginning and at the end.]

 Aimee Teegarden: 

"OK, Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can't find the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?"

Miss South Carolina:

"I personally believe that
US Amercians are unable to do so because
some people out there in our nation
don't have maps
and I believe that our education
like such as in South Africa and the Iraq
everywhere like such as
I believe that
they should
our education over here
in the US
should help
the US
or should help South Africa
and should help the Iraq
and the asian countries
so we will able to build up our future
for our children"

You just can't make something like that up.  I think she has a bright and shiny future as a member of the GOP.


20071018.0841 Don't Growl At Me

I have to say it.  I like Firefox.  It is my default browser and I install it for everyone I know who doesn't use it yet.  I also like Gmail.  It's OK.  The ads aren't obnoxious nor overwhelming.  While it's not my main account - I do maintain a gmail account as a fall-back.

Somewhere along the line, I tried to do something in the Gmail system & the following message popped up:

Dude!  "Grr!" !?!?!?!  Are you kidding me?

Disable my popup blocker?  Are you insane? Just to run your site?

 Why not maybe only disable the blocker only for that site?  Doesn't that make a little more sense in terms of "good advice"?  What teenaged punk wrote this error message and what coffee shop can I find them hanging out in so I can stuff an venti iced chai latte up their nose?

And in case you think I'm overreacting - consider this:  Growling is universally accepted as aggressive mammalian behavior.

"Are you threatening me?" - Beavis

20071016.1035 V838 Mon

If you are into astronomy or all things space-related like I am, then you might get a kick out of this.  I've been watching video podcasts from Slacker Astronomy, which is pretty cool stuff in it's own geeky way.   My own personal favorite is The Story of V838 Mon which arguably has the best production value of any of their segments so far. 

Aside from the very accessible way that they explain what's going on - the subject itself is really interesting.  

V838 Monocerotis is a double-star in the Constellation of Monoceros the Unicorn.   For a brief period in 2002 it became the brightest star in the Milky Way Galaxy.  But what really makes it interesting is that it has gotten brighter more than once.  What makes it truly weird is that it is exhibiting Light Echoes.

20071012.1154 iPhone Notes

Apple loosens grip on iPhone apps

This can only be good news.  This means that the mod-scene has shown them that people want MORE than just AJAX enabled web sites.  Something along the lines of Google Gears at least would be more palatable. 

Man arrested for using iPhone on plane

This guy is so close to being me that it is truly frightening.  If you read it through - you can see where he's being a jerk by challenging the flight attendant's authority directly.  If it went to court - that's where his case would fail.  However, the flight attendant was obviously feeling the rush of power provided by the law wherein the public must Obey Their Orders.  By citing FAA regulations that don't actually exist - he invalidated his credibility.  I've heard other regulations made up 'on the fly' like - no one may use the bathroom at the front of the plane unless you are flying first class.  Again - they say so - and the law is you have to obey their orders - so Anything they say becomes enforcible by Law.

That the flight attendant was a clueless punk who can't tell the difference between talking on the phone and watching a movie is unfortunate.  Had he stopped and listened to the explanation instead of being a rule-crazed tyrant then the entire situation could have been defused very quickly.  But the Age of Reason is over apparently.

I wonder though - is bringing your own entertainment going to be curtailed slowly but certainly on planes where they sell entertainment services?  I have noticed that on some airlines the flight attendants get commissions on what they sell.  A side effect of hawking headsets in this way is that you MUST close your windows - and NOT look at nature - so that others can watch the in-flight movie without a glare on the screen.  This is true if anyone is watching it or not.  I was recently instructed not to look at the Grand Canyon so that all of the people around me could better ignore Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer.  I'm wondering when the coin-operated peep-show style sliding door over the windows will be installed.  Likely it will take a credit card though...

20071012.1024 RSS Update

Some of you already have, use and understand RSS feeds.  You don't need to read any further.  Everyone else has to get their news from someone else.  

So first off RSS is a set of different protocols (based on the version number) that allow news stories to be syndicated.  You can use certain programs to browse through these news threads looking for headlines you might be interested in.  A lot of this functionality is build into the Firefox web browser, for example.

Anyway - those of you who go this far haven't made it work for you yet.  So in case you ever wondered where I find all that weird info that I share with everyone, here's a sample of a raw list of articles that I, for the most part, haven't even read yet, but plan to.

Normally I'd just distill it down to a rant with a bunch of links.  Today you get the links only and are encouraged to reach your own opinion.  WARNING: The topics are totally random, just based on things that I found interesting.  Your mileage may vary.

My office is a cave

404 funnies: Making 'file not found' work for you

Video: Tasmanian Devil Cancer's Secret Revealed

Fireball in the Sky Spotted in Minnesota, Iowa

Information Philosophy Day

Sun patches multiple flaws in Java

10 Signs Of Web 2.0 Overload

Undocumented Bypass in PGP Whole Disk Encryption

Scientist invents computer pillow to stop snoring

Boy beats Reaper at 20,000 feet

Managing Your Boss

Photo in the News: Comet Loses Tail in Space Collision

Monster Study Reveals Organizations Not Adequately Prepared for Impending Employee ?Brain Drain?

The Future of Computing, According to Intel
Massively multicore processors will enable smarter computers that can infer our activities.

After criticism, Sun changes Java updates

Larry Ellison Doesn't Dig the Net

Picture of the Voyage Mountains from Cassini

SCO Blames Linux For Bankruptcy Filing

Three To-Do Lists For Building An Innovative IT Department

Get a life: 10 tips for achieving a better work/life balance

Compuware Announces Support for ITIL Version 3 Continual Service Improvement

Managed Objects Provides Fast-Track to ITIL v3

ITIL Gets the Hard Sell -- by IT Execs

Not Sold on ITIL? Alternatives Exist

Want close friends? Best log off the Internet

New Social Sites Cater to People of a Certain Age

IT skills shortage costing Europe 'billions'

Firefox extensions for tab addicts

Mac e-mail showdown: Which program delivers?

Nothing Says ?Buy? Like ?Free Shipping?

Why I Won't Buy an iPhone

Thunderbird in Crisis?

Why Would Anyone Buy VMware?

CIOs Rank IT Talent Their No. 1 Worry, SIM Survey Finds

Indian IT Outsourcing Companies: Up to the Challenge

Disposable PCs

Why We Can--And Should--Teach Leadership

Where Have All the Leaders Gone? (Part II)

Best neighborhoods to retire

Virtual worlds catching on in workplace

Alienware First to Deliver Desktops with 64GB Solid State Drives

Top Java SE 6 Features

Zend Announces Zend Studio for Eclipse, Pre-Release Version Available Under Code Name Neon

IT Employment Continues Move Sideways

Where the jobs are: Hot startups for techies


20071011.1341 Nihongo no Benkyo Shimashita** [Studying Japanese] 

I have mentioned my fascination with and continued study of the Japanese language.  I have been furthering this recently by listening to podcasts from  I thought I would pass this along since I rarely say anything positive and I think what they're doing there is great.

If you want to learn Japanese, any Japanese at all - just go there & hang out for a while reading the articles.  Sound the words out - they're consistently pronounced at least - and then listen to and use it as much as possible.

Using it, or at the very least imagining scenarios where you are using it, or how you might use it, is the key to remembering it & actually pulling off any kind of primitive conversation.

Of course it helps to have someone to talk to.  Usually a local sushi chef might know a few words from their training.  But then you should never assume anything.  Be careful not to insult anyone.

Nihongo no wakarimasu ka?**

[ ** - My romanji is weak!!!  If someone has a correction - PLEASE email it to me. ]


20071011.0829 Farmer = Peasant = Normal:

[ Yesterday I promised you a rant on this topic.. here it is ] 

Once upon a time people couldn't see at night.  We rose and slept in rhythm with the sun.  But then candles and electricity banished the darkness.  Japan looks like it's on fire at night from orbit because of all the streetlights today.

But we cling to the daylight schedule as though demons still lurked under our beds. As if they were ever there to begin with...

Maybe in primal animal memory we have some uncharted instinct not to be predated upon that still haunts us as children.  We are supposed to grow out of that, no?

Yet we burn gas sitting it the car going nowhere during rush hour every single day because flextime and alternate hours are frowned upon like telecommuting.  It is OK if you are in India but not in the US... To US corporations anyway. 

All we do is to follow a tradition set down by farmers, trying to maximize the use of sunlight to optimize the work day.  Our cultural holidays are based upon traditional feasts in accordance with harvest calendars.

So the electric grid takes hits every day due to the mass patterns of synchronized  behavior.  The same is true of the sewer system.   All of us have to wait in line for breakfast and lunch and parking spots and any kind of commonly used resource.  If you work in a cube forest then you can't hear yourself think when the place is full.  We all suffer when we all show up at the same time.  But we do it over & over & over again.

In a 'globalized' economy we should treat time globally.  Flex-time shouldn't mean 7-4 or 8-5 or 9-6 only.  It should mean 24 hour coverage.  Three 8 hour shifts.  Fresh coffee and bread any time of day that you want it.  Freshly restocked shelves in any store you go to at any time.  Convenience!

Think of the implications for working families.  A three-shift day would allow parents to work staggered schedules never leaving the children unattended.  Problems like Day Care evaporate.  Further, by 'distributing' society you don't create the rush-hour security risks that everyone is always going on about these days.  A lot of social issues might be eased this way.  

Hey, but what do I know?

20071010.1015 Hotels and the Farm Schedule:

What is the deal with hotels?  Based on my previously mentioned definition of civilization I generally find them wanting.  If you are staying somewhere, you usually are there all night.  Not during the day.  But room service, pools, gyms, saunas and basically anything beyond sleeping & watching television is usually restricted to certain hours.  Those being in the day.  So why have them at all if I am not able to show up jet-lagged and have a swim at 4am?  Or use a treadmill?  Or eat something.  For the purpose of luring me here under false pretense?  Because I wouldn't stay somewhere without a pool?  Wouldn't repeat business figure into this ever?  Or is it for the price conscious only?  Is it aimed at people with lower expectations?

What is this inherent bias that people have against alternate schedules?  

I guess I'll save that one for another rant... 

20071009.1205 Treat Everyone as though Stupid?

Not so long ago a friend of mine explained to me that American culture is written at the High School mentality level.

This one observation explains so much about us as a people and as a nation that it is truly frightening to contemplate.

Mind you based on this idea, that last sentence was aimed a little over everyone's heads, now wasn't it?  But then again, so is everything I've written so far.  If you're reading this - clearly you're exceptional in terms of literacy.  Take a minute to do the Superior Dance.

I've remarked about how I can't stand how marketing material had bled into technical documentation in recent years and how it muddies the water and slows your progress when you're trying to do some research.

It occurs that this is just another way of treating people like they are stupid by default.

Oracle for one is a company that is just bursting with technical documentation - all of which seems to be written on the level of a junior programmer.  This leads to hours of time wasted distilling the pulp down to the essential facts that make the world go around for any of use who've been at this professionally for a long time now.

In that case, treating everyone as though they are stupid keeps them that way.  It's a lot of work to learn it all.  It requires a lot of thought to see through the hype and what is real.

Since the two things in apparently infinite supply are laziness and stupidity, then working and thinking is what is logically and conversely in short supply, is it not?

Remember the old adage about "the bigger the lie the more people believe it"?  The Lie is that you have the Right to an Education in this country.  The Lie is that you actually get a Choice when you go into a voting booth.  Let me be the one to point out that a piece of paper on the wall doesn't prove that you can think, nor do two candidates who stand for the interests of the same powerful few over those of the people en masse make a Democracy.

The key qualification to vote in this country aside from age is Literacy.  You must be able to read in order to vote.  You must be able to read a bumper sticker that says "Vote ____" and then cast your ballot - without any REAL motivation for doing so.  Voting in this country is NOT based on campaign promises - no one believes any of them anymore.  Voting is not based on where candidates stand on the issues - they don't talk about them with any substance lest they be nailed down on a technicality.  Voting in this country is based on Bias.  "You're either with us or you're against us." is the battle-cry.  Winner takes all.  And I do mean they take it ALL...

"The world's just as big - there's just less in it" - Jack Sparrow, PotC 3: At World's End


20071008.1146 iPhone Developer HTML tip

I've recently complained about two missing iPhone features.


 I guess this is a 'less is more' situation?  Or is it a 'make due' situation?  Or is there a difference?


20071003.1554 Buggy Upgrade Anyone?

I keep pressing the Check for Update button in iTunes, hoping that they've realized how badly they've screwed up the video podcast playback system.  But no.  Try as I might, it's very difficult to coax the system into not forcing me to download the same podcasts & marking them as new over & over again.

Podcasts are low quality by definition - the smaller display area is the new Vaseline-on-the-lens.  So the idea of watching them over & over doesn't really appeal to me.  The problem is that it's not very intuitive how to pick the videos that you want to keep around to show everyone (for example Askaninja's review of Pirates of the Carribean 2&3) and which ones you never ever EVER want to see again (like the pilot episode of Big Bang Theory).  

I think the thing about the iPhone in general is that it's not terribly self-contained.  The upgrade gave us the ability to access the iTunes Store over wi-fi without a computer.  That's nice for Apple, but how does it help me?  When I need to do all of my organizing on the computer and then sync it with the iPhone to get it set up the way I want - for example if I'm about to go on a trip & want to load up full of back episodes to kill the time - it's a total hassle.  Is the phone an extension of the computer, a smaller version of it that roams around, a portal into your computer, or just a gimmicky consumer toy meant to make you spend more and more money receiving less and less?

I'm almost afraid to put it in my pocket in case it wants to try to sleaze up to my wallet and cut a deal with my credit card, cutting me out as the middle-man... 

20071002.1015 Remember When?

Remember when we surfed the net instead of looking things up?

Remember when Search Engines actually returned what you were looking for?

Remember when you could order something online & expect it to show up the next day - or even THAT day?

Remember when you could start your own company with just a Good Idea?

Remember when upgrades actually gave the user something useful instead of only making it better for the company that sells it?

Remember when you could afford to invest in the stock market?

Remember when telling someone that you worked with computers earned some kind of respect?

Remember when The Future was all bright & shiny?

Remember when Star Trek looked high-tech?

Remember when Science Fiction was about science?

Remember when anyone gave a crap about NASA?

Remember when people used to take science seriously?

Sputnik was launched on October 4th, 1957. What the hell have we been doing since then? In retrospect it was just a basketball sized object with antennas attached that would send a simple signal. But the point was - people were trying to do things back then.

Nowadays what are we doing?  Busy blogging away on and about our new phones and a 1,001 shallow new products meant to impress everyone.  Who's creating anything?  Who's writing Powerful new software to give people new capabilities?  What was the last invention that inspired or even impressed you?