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...

20071128.1454 Insanely Shocking

I just can't believe this one.  It's super cool.  Apparently, the next time you're out camping and need to recharge your iPod - all you need is an onion and a cup of gatorade.



20071118.1219 Shocking Development

It would seem that people who actually use a product are the ones who discover all of the design flaws.  I am no exception.  I'm on my second set of Apple iPhone ear-buds and I'm just about ready for another one.  I'm averaging about 5-6 weeks per headset now.  This is ridiculous, especially at US$29 a pair.  Furthermore there still isn't a wired stereo headset available with switch & microphone that is not of the in-ear design.  I, and many others, absolutely hate in-ear buds.

What I have learned recently:

  • The microphone switch will freeze up - making them useless to wear while snowboarding unless you turn on your music in the lodge and leave it on all day.  You can just forget about answering the phone.
  • The rubber around the edge of the speaker becomes brittle and tears when cold.
  • Once that rubber tears, you had better be VERY careful when putting them into your ears - because there is a metal contact that will electrocute the inside of your ear when the rubber isn't there to cover it.

20071113.0905 Follow the Leader

It is clear that we now officially live in a 'new day and age'.  FEAR is the order of the day and all decisions apparently flow from this brave new center.  Authority is no longer to be questioned.  For that matter nothing is to be questioned.  For the sake of expediency it is considered better to just accept how things are and go with it rather than to expend energy actually thinking.  This is reinforced by the fact that when you actually stop to think about things today your brain starts screaming.  It is painful and difficult to face the truth of what the world is becoming.... a Truly Scary Place.

This trickles down to society in weird ways.  In the case of technology - people no longer question the efficacy of a given technological approach.  They simply blinding follow a pattern of behavior set down by someone else.  People are using tools now instead of conceiving new ones.  Furthermore the Cult of Success is in full swing.  By that I mean that anything that is popular or successful is emulated without analysis.

Recently I was listening to a podcast of the Java Posse wherein comments were made about Apple's iPod and how iTunes is the "killer app" in the iPod equation because "no one wants to manage their music on the device - you do that on the computer."  This was followed up by another voice chiming in that on a cell phone you don't want to manage your address book and that should be done on the computer too.   This strikes me as a rationalization for why a product is successful when it is clearly lacking core features.

If you bothered to think about it, one could easily draw the conclusion that iPods and cell phones are popular with non-technical types because of the cool-factor, and not a lot more.  Trying to infer some deep design wisdom about missing features in some kind of learning-disabled-less-is-more interpretation is ridiculous - unless you don't bother to think and instead assume that the product sells well because it is 'perfect'.

Perhaps that is why more and more often on television I hear the words "you've got to have faith".  It is the New American Mantra apparently.  Faith is a lovely thing, but in my opinion is it only to be resorted to when you lack certainty, or when you simply can not disprove your working theory.

"I just think it's better to have ideas.  A belief is hard to change.  People die for beliefs.  People kill for beliefs." - Chris Rock, Dogma


20071112.1044 Cyber-Warfare Call To Arms

 There is no such thing as a free lunch.  While the computer industry assumes that getting everything "assembled" in China simply costs less - there are hidden costs that are only now becoming apparent. 

The first one is obvious and predictable: quality goes way down.  Poison pet food, tainted food for humans, and toys for children that turn into Roofies when swallowed are in the public's eye now and are likely just the tip of the iceberg.

But the other is far more insidious.  Apparently trojan spyware has been making it's way onto hard drives as a pre-installed feature.  Plug in that nifty new hard drive and watch your computer report back to its new masters in Beijing.

I have said it before:  When exactly did the Communists stop being the Bad Guys?  They consistently block our initiatives in the UN, they persecute Buddhists in Tibet and protect a junta practicing similar behavior in Burma (a.k.a Myanmar).  But if we can save a couple of bucks at WalMart, that's OK with US, right?

After all, our president is having the Chinese government pay for his crusade in the middle east with loans that currently will cost every American $8,000 to pay back.  Far be it to issue War Bonds, or use some other similar measure that might boost the American economy over the long run.  As long as the oil companies and military-subcontractors that his family is in bed with keep reporting record profits, who cares about the poor and the shrinking middle-class?

At the very least - something should be done about and .  Where are the white-hats now?  Playing Halo3?  Shouldn't we be returning the favor or something?


200711108.1003 Writers?  What Writers?

I am all for the writers' strike.  They haven't renegotiated since the advent of DVD's and they're getting shafted.  But on the other hand, would we actually miss them?  What exactly has come out of the media factories in the last decade that is worth watching?  Penny Arcade did a panel that pretty well sums up the kind of rubbish that we've been spoon-fed for years now, but the ironic part is - I would characterize that as the kind of nonsense we get with writers, not without.

So who is the cause for that?  Should I blame the writers?  Nah.  I read a lot, even if print is dead.  That's because there's good stuff there.  

I blame corporate interests for eroding the freedom of expression in favor of imposing an artificial morality system.  This is not to say that corporations have morality on the brain - they have liability on the brain.  WallMart sells 1 out of every 3 DVD's sold in the USA.  If you have nudity at all in the movie, it will never see the front shelf.  THAT is the reason why when you watch films from the 70's there is a stark contrast in the language, drug references and sexual content from those made today.

One dimensional characters playing good guy vs. bad guy where the good guy always wins is what we are supposed to find entertaining...  Transformers anyone?

20071107.1407 Blogus Annum

After doing my monthly maintenance on the blog, I noticed that I've been doing this for over a year now.  I missed the actual anniversary, 5 days ago because I'm traveling for business and haven't been updating regularly recently.  Oh well. <shrug/>

So if you have read from the beginning - first of all, wow - you'd be one of the very few - but secondly you'll know that this entire thing started as an experiment to see just what Google's technology stack had to offer.  A year later and there has been some organic growth - a few new features here or there.

I think the acquisition of Blogger has cooled the development of the service I use to generate this blog.  That's a shame but not totally unexpected.  I have noticed that Google offers a lot of support for mobile devices like the iPhone - where gmail and a few other services have been tailored to automatically detect the device type and to display a page better designed for that medium.

While Blogger is supported - GooglePages is not.  So I still can read this blog, but I can't write it from my on-the-go device.  If they've taken this long I don't think we'll see it soon, if at all.

So that brings me to the next question - how long until this goes away and I have to move it to an ad-based-revenue-driven environment?  Well that's actually two questions, since I'm particularly against forcing ads down the throats (or optic nerves) of my audience.  (small as that may be)  In particular if the ads are making someone else money and not me.  

So the first part is - I don't know.  Google does retire projects that don't work out in favor of those that do.  Therefore I think it is inevitable.  But as for Blogger - I'll only use it if there's no ads.  Period.  Otherwise I'll move all of this content to my own web server and host it myself.

20071107.1256 Caller Beware

One thing about the iPhone that is clear - if you own one and you travel - you need to pay special attention to it. While the 300 page phone bill and the $3,000 international roaming debaucles are well published now - I have stumbled upon another bug in their system... or so I was initially led to believe.

I have recently traveled from the Eastern time zone to the Mountain time zone. Under my calling plan I am supposed to get unlimited nights & weekends. But I've been charged for calls during those periods.

So I called to find out why.   This was a very interesting experience.  At first, I was told that the charges apply to the time zone that I am physically in.  We stepped through the call log for the duration of my being in the Mountain Time Zone and made a list of the questionable calls.

Next they called their internal technical support to track down why this was happening.  That took quite a while.  In the end, the result is that in fact the plan works based on where calls originate.  Therefore when I got a call from New York at 6:15AM, which I received in Colorado at 4:15AM - I was charged for it.  Had I originated the call - it would have been free.

Since this was completely unclear not only to myself but also to the customer service representative, they credited me for the calls anyway.  So I add that credit against the rollover minutes I lost previously when my automatic payment failed and they didn't notify me about it - and I'm still behind about $10.

All in all I still can't stand AT&T.  Their plans are so confusing that their own employees can't keep track of them.  The instant that the iPhone user-base is 'allowed' to use T-Mobile I am switching carriers.  I have had nothing but trouble with them all along and I know for a fact that I am not the only one.  Unfortunately since this generation of iPhones uses the older networking technology, T-Mobile is my only other choice - but not until Apple's exclusive contract with AT&T expires...


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