Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Seems that all 30 GB Microsoft Zune players bricked themselves at midnight this morning (as 12/30 became the 31st).

30GB Zunes mysteriously begin to fail at 12AM, December 31st
The failures are coming 24-hours ahead of the big '09 changeover, but that hasn't stopped Zune aficionados from dubbing this unfortunate flaw "Z2K."

In other news, my iPod is still working fine :)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Back-Button To The Future

Back-Button to the Future

They had me at "manipulating the temporal web." Essentially the next evolution of the Wayback Machine, and if it works as advertised I'm blown away...

Check out the video demo.

Mouse @ 40

40 years of pointing and clicking
The original mouse was quite large, barely fitting in the user's hand, but Engelbart envisioned that you would keep one hand on the mouse at all times and the other on a special one-handed keyboard instead of a standard QWERTY-styled model.

Check out the photo with the article...that thing is a brick!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why Apple Is Great at Interfaces

Why Apple is great at interfaces when others are not
Did anyone at Microsoft think of pleasure when designing Vista's awful UAC? Did anyone at anywhere think about pleasure when designing old mobile phone interfaces, a kludge of menus, scrolling, button pressing and nested icons?

Questions of the Year

Top "question" searches of the year from (Yes, they still exist...) Top Queries
1. How do I get pregnant?
2. How do I lose weight?
3. How do I write a resume?
4. How much is minimum wage?
5. How much is my car worth?
6. How do I change my name?
7. What is the meaning of life?
8. How do I register to vote?
9. Why is the sky blue?
10. How do I download videos?

Tells you a little bit about the people who still type in full "how do I ______ ?" style quesitons into a search engine...

(via Webware)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Root Cause

Spam Volumes Drop by Two-Thirds After Firm Goes Offline
The volume of junk e-mail sent worldwide plummeted on Tuesday after a Web hosting firm identified by the computer security community as a major host of organizations engaged in spam activity was taken offline.

I, Robot

Creepy but cool...

Full article here:

The robot that can pull faces just like a human being

(via SvN)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

U.S. Government Budget Circa 2009

In case you aren't motivated to go out and vote this year, consider how and where our government is planning on spending money next year.

And it's nice to know we're spending more next year on Basic Energy, High Energy Physics, Nuclear Physics and Fusion Energy - and less on Conservation, Biomass, Solar and Hydrogen.

Maybe we will figure out how to extract energy from our garbage after all.

What's really astounding is how much of this visual depiction is dominated by military and defense spending.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Layoffs Aren't Always Layoffs

TechCrunch article on recent layoffs and why they might not all be economy related. Interesting and probably very true.

Some Of These Layoffs Aren’t Really Layoffs
Some CEOs see this as a once-in-a-startup opportunity to get rid of the deadwood in the company.

A company that has made layoffs is branded a loser, and it becomes very hard to get positive press, recruit new talent and close new rounds of financing. Until now that is. Companies that have made layoffs in the last week are generally being given a pat on the back for being financially prudent.

They just wanted to fire the 5% of staff that weren’t really pulling their weight or putting in the effort.

Clearly not all, or even most, of the layoffs are hidden terminations of non-performing employees. But many of them are, CEOs are telling me off record. It’s not like the names are being drawn out of a hat at random. The superstars tend to stay.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Owners' Manual

The funniest thing I've read in years, via the Southwest Airlines "Spirit" Magazine.

Owners' Manuals: The Owners' Manual

[I was going to post an excerpt here, but I couldn't decide which part to use. So instead I'll say the least funny part is the missing manual for the Internet, and the rest of the article (including the sidebar on manual cautions) had my sides hurting from laughter.]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shake It!

Very cool YouTube video for the new Mario Wii game:

Wario Land: Shake It – Amazing footage!

(Sorry for the link; embedding just doesn't to it justice...)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mail Goggles

When I first saw this I thought I had time traveled to April Fool's Day:

Gmail Feature: Stop Sending Mail You Later Regret
When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you're really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you're in the right state of mind?

It is clever and fills a need when you think about it. They need to find a way to enable this feature on cell phones where it would be more useful...

(via Webware)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Searching Like It's 2001

This is interesting. As part of their 10th birthday celebration, Google released a special version that searches the Internet as it existed in 2001.

Google Circa January 2001

We really used to use this thing at iNetNow?

Some interesting finds:


Apple iPhone (rumors abound)

911 (unbelievable in hindsight)

Timely Persuasion (just horses, no book)

facebook myspace (nothing!)

Tried to find a GoogleWhack back then using modern terms but came up empty. Ideas?

I was, however, able to find one that still works least until this post gets indexed:

Atnos Fitzwilly (just read the excerpt on the results page...)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Flow of Innovation

Interesting post on how a lot of innovation now integrates usability:

Why The Flow of Innovation is Reversed

My favorite quote:
The folks that built enterprise software were vaguely aware that their systems had to be accessible to the humans that used them but they had a huge advantage. The people who used them did so as part of their job, they were trained to use them and fired if they could not figure them out.

Today, no one tells you to use Facebook. There are no employer sponsored training sessions on the use of The burden is on the designer of the system to meet a need, entertain, or inform their users. They also have to seduce those users, hiding complexity, revealing one layer at time, always enticing, never intimidating, until the user one day finds they are intimately familiar with power and the pleasures of the service.

The benefits are brilliant albeit somewhat obvious. Why spend time and money training and re-training every employee you'll ever have on how to use a software system when you can build one that a reasonably savvy person off the street can teach themselves? As the enterprise starts to wake-up to the new efficiencies the web has taught us, tedious "legacy" systems will be replaced with more usable versions and everyone will win.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

System Sounds

Neat little "song" made out of an assembly of Apple's system sounds.

Also a similar Windows Version

(via TUAW)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hacking: iNetNow Style

I couldn't resist this one - reminded me of one of those long lost iNetNow questions.

Perhaps we should have started hiring hackers...

Article: Hacking Sarah Palin's Yahoo account

This article gives a first-hand account of how the hacking of Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account was performed.

An excerpt:

"after the password recovery was reenabled, it took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info, Birthday? 15 seconds on wikipedia, zip code? well she had always been from wasilla, and it only has 2 zip codes (thanks online postal service!)

the second was somewhat harder, the question was "where did you meet your spouse?" did some research, and apparently she had eloped with mister palin after college, if youll look on some of the screenshits [sic] that I took and other fellow anon have so graciously put on photobucket you will see the google search for "palin eloped" or some such in one of the tabs.

I found out later though more research that they met at high school, so I did variations of that, high, high school, eventually hit on "Wasilla high" I promptly changed the password to popcorn and took a cold shower..."

Straightforward stuff.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

6, er, 3 Degrees of Separation

Interesting article. Even more interesting typo in the headline...

The six degrees of seperation (sic) is now three
Six degrees of separation has fallen to three due to the impact of social networking and developments in technology, according to a study carried out by O2.

The term was coined by US psychologist Stanley Milgram following a 1967 experiment. The six degrees theory was upheld in a 2006 Microsoft study of instant messenger conversations. However, the O2 study reveals that within a shared ‘interest’ network (i.e. hobbies, sport, music, religion, sexuality etc), the average person is connected by just three degrees.

Rodrigues finds that we are usually part of three main networks based on family, friendship and work. Outside of these we are, on average, part of five main shared ‘interest’ networks based on a range of personal interests from hobbies, sport, music and the neighbourhood we live in, to religion, sexuality and politics. It is the growth of these shared interest networks and the influence of technology on them that has led to the reduction in the number of degrees of separation.

Email and mobile phones were the technologies that had the most significant impact in facilitating the reduction of degrees from six to three. Of those participating in the study that were asked to make contact with an unknown person, the majority (98 per cent) chose to use either the internet or their mobile phone, across all age groups. Texting was also seen as a universally important technology whilst social networking sites such as Facebook were highly rated by the youngest age bracket but usage declined drastically the older in age was asked.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

It's The Software, Not You

Great, classic David Pogue...

It’s the Software, Not You
It reminded me suddenly of the touchscreen kiosks at Delta. Now, I actually like Delta quite a lot, and think they’re doing a lot of things right lately. But the kiosks–oh, man.

You come up, you swipe your credit card. That alone ought to tell the kiosk who you are, and it should therefore know what flight you’re checking in for.

But no, it plays dumb. It asks you to key in your destination. So you type in “SAN” for San Francisco. And it asks you: San Francisco, San Diego, or San Juan? Oh, I don’t know–how about THE ONE YOU HAVE A RESERVATION ON!?

(Yes, yes, I know–you might have more than one reservation on Delta. But come on. Let’s say you have flights today at 3 pm, tomorrow at 5 pm, and next Friday at 8 pm. As you swipe your credit card, today, at 1:30 pm, does it really think you’re checking in for anything but the first one?)

But O.K. You tap San Francisco. And now–I kid you not–it wants to know what time of day the flight departs!

Are you kidding me? It doesn’t know the airline’s own flight time? Come on–it already knows what flight I’m on, so what’s the point of this exercise? For God’s sake, just check me in!

Whenever I encounter badly designed software like this, I stand there, slack-jawed, mind boggling, and wonder what on earth the designers were *thinking.*

Monday, September 01, 2008


Google is releasing their own browser tomorrow, called "Chrome." And the announcement initially leaked out as a 38 page comic book.

Pretty cool, and very exciting that this could signal the return of the browser wars...

Official announcement on the Google Blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Forgot Your Password?

Almost everyone forgets a Web site password once in a while. When you do, you click on the familiar "Forgot your password?" link and, after entering your pet's name, identifying your high school mascot or answering some other seemingly obscure questions, you can get back into your account.

But there's a problem: A criminal can do that, too. With the help of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, personal trivia is getting less obscure all the time. You’d be surprised how easily someone can uncover Fido's name or your alma mater with a little creative searching.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

False Advertising?

Side by side video comparison of the iPhone 3G TV commercial vs. replicating it on the real 3G network. I love my iPhone, but these guys raise a good point...

Random aside: The use of on-screen stickies as captions is pretty clever :)

(via TUAW)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lost & Found

Thought this was pretty cool.

Just got an email from the Coachella festival. Starts off as a typical marketing "touching base" type email, but it includes this section:

Once again we have successfully reunited many people with their lost items. We still have an assortment of random stuff so please email if you are looking for an ID, Wallet or anything else and check out these links:

Keys & Misc:

Each link has a photograph to numbered items from lost and found, with a note that if it's yours to email the number and something that can prove it is yours (what's inside a bag, what photos may be on a camera, etc.)

A nice little above and beyond customer service touch.

(Though I don't know how one can describe: "Hey! That's my iPod dock and charger!" in a unique way...)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Won One!

One small step for man, one giant leap for modern technology...

FCC rules Comcast violated Internet access policy

WASHINGTON - A divided Federal Communications Commission has ruled that Comcast Corp. violated federal policy when it blocked Internet traffic for some subscribers and has ordered the cable giant to change the way it manages its network.
In a precedent-setting move, the FCC by a 3-2 vote on Friday enforced a policy that guarantees customers open access to the Internet.

The commission did not assess a fine, but ordered the company to stop cutting off transfers of large data files among customers who use a special type of "file-sharing" software.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Guessing Gender Based on Web History

Interesting in concept...

Using your browser URL history to estimate gender

...though it pegged me with an 83% likelihood of being female based on this history list:

Site - Male/Female Ratio - 0.98 - 0.74 - 1 - 1.08 - 0.9 - 0.83 - 1.06 - 1.15 - 1.33 - 1.44 - 0.85 - 0.74 - 0.98 - 0.94 - 0.75 - 1.17 - 0.77 - 0.96 - 0.8 - 0.47

Monday, July 28, 2008

Crowd Wisdom or Angry Mob?

When the 'wisdom of crowds' turns on itself: IMDB edition

Interesting article about how "The Dark Knight" became the #1 all time movie on IMDB - passing "The Godfather" in their rankings for the first time in 10 years.

People aren't just giving perfect ratings to Batman; they are intentionally tanking The Godfather's rating too...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are Google Maps good or evil?

Are Google Maps good or evil?

Thought provoking, albeit a bit sensationalistic. All new technology can have its evil uses, though generally speaking the pros outweigh the cons in the end.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Tow?

I'll refrain from getting into the whole story for the moment and put out another opinion poll:

Car partially obstructing a narrow driveway. Need to leave for work and can't get out without jumping the curb (if at all).

Let it stay or have it towed? Vote in the comments.

(UPDATE 7/22 -- see comments)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Death to Voicemail

I've felt the same way for years...

Think Before You Voicemail
"Voicemail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

User comment on the BBC News story regarding ICANN relaxing top level domain names:

"Surely this will be nothing more than very, very irritating for people who want to use the internet?"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Server Room

Hilariously awkward...and allegedly true!

Stalled Server Room

(via The Daily WTF) totally...BLIND!!!

Online service lets blind surf the Internet from any computer, anywhere

Visions of future technology don't involve being chained to a desktop machine. People move from home computers to work computers to mobile devices; public kiosks pop up in libraries, schools and hotels; and people increasingly store everything from e-mail to spreadsheets on the Web.

But for the roughly 10 million people in the United States who are blind or visually impaired, using a computer has, so far, required special screen-reading software typically installed only on their own machines.

New software, called WebAnywhere, launched today lets blind and visually impaired people surf the Web on the go. The tool developed at the University of Washington turns screen-reading into an Internet service that reads aloud Web text on any computer with speakers or headphone connections.

"This is for situations where someone who's blind can't use their own computer but still wants access to the Internet. At a museum, at a library, at a public kiosk, at a friend's house, at the airport," said Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. The free program and both audio and video demonstrations are at

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Internet Easter Eggs

I never knew about a lot of these. Some pretty cool stuff, though they aren't Gino's famous Surfboard Etch-A-Sketch or the classic "BoRyan and the Magic Sword" Site Search easter egg.

10 awesome Internet Easter eggs

I'm actually wondering why I never tried entering the Konami code on a webpage, since I secretly do it on most DVDs...

And still nobody has found either of the two Timely Persuasion easter eggs, hint hint.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sarcasm and Survival

Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill

It's also easy to imagine how sarcasm might be selected over time as evolutionarily crucial. Imagine two ancient humans running across the savannah with a hungry lion in pursuit. One guy says to the other, "Are we having fun yet?" and the other just looks blank and stops to figure out what in the world his pal meant by that remark. End of friendship, end of one guy's contribution to the future of the human gene pool.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dash Express GPS adds Twitter functionality

The Dash Express GPS has an open API. Since they opened it up a few weeks ago, several applications have come out, mostly weather and speed trap reporting. The social micro-blogging service Twitter has now been added. When you activate the application is sends out a tweet that marks your location. I think this is just a little taste of what's to come with new GPS enabled iPhone.

Checking In Outside The Box

Hustle & Flow
Alaska Airlines' Airport of the Future makes quick work of getting passengers through check-in.

The results? During my two hours of observation in Seattle, an Alaska agent processed 46 passengers, while her counterpart at United managed just 22. United's agents lose precious time hauling bags and walking the length of the ticket counter to reach customers. Alaska agents stand at a station with belts on each side, assisting one passenger while a second traveler places luggage on the free belt. With just a slight turn, the agent can assist the next customer. "We considered having three belts," White says. "But then the agent has to take a step. That's wasted time."

Alaska, then, is likely to save almost $8 million a year on the Seattle terminal if it converts customers the way it has in Anchorage. The Seattle makeover cost $28 million, a far cry from a new $500 million terminal.

(via SvN)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad's Day

In the spirit of Anti-Valentines (and to a certain degree, Married To The Sea), check out some father's day cards from

For more:

SomeEcards: Father's Day

(indirectly discovered via CupKozy)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Google VP of Search Quality

Interesting behind the scenes interview, via Webware

At Google, a search guru's dream comes true
"I don't have to tell anybody around here that search is important. That's a very nice luxury to have,"

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Multitouch, Multiscreen iPhone Pong:

via TUAW

iPhone Navigator?

Possible surprises up Steve's sleeve on June 9?

Love the quote from the GPS president:

iPhone Nano, GPS Are More Important to Apple Than 3G: Analysis

I recently sat down with the president of a GPS navigation system manufacturer to ask him how he felt about the prospect of a GPS-enabled iPhone. "Scared [expletive]-less," he said.

Yet the iPhone has the potential to leverage true GPS functionality better than any other device. It already has a large, 3.5-in touchscreen interface, external speakers and an elegant Google Maps interface. All you'd need to add to a GPS-enabled iPhone is a suction-cup windshield bracket (sold separately, of course), and you'd have a fully-functional, pocket-portable car navigation device. People already pay hundreds of dollars in droves for this increasingly popular segment of devices, and the iPhone could essentially challenge an entire product category with one add-on feature.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Redefining Spoilers

Warning: This post contains a mild speculative spoiler for the TV show Lost. By "speculative" I mean it isn't a true reveal based on a leaked source, but it turns into a discussion on how a show like Lost may be "redefining" the concept of a spoiler. I think it's relatively tame, but read on at your own risk.

As many of you know, I'm spoiler averse when it comes to TV shows. I don't even watch the "Next week on..." upcoming episode trailers as I feel they give too much away. I can't even count the number of times I've gone running from a room with my ears covered when a commercial for an upcoming episode appears during a sporting event.

This is especially true when it comes to Lost. The show is so deeply layered that part of the fun is putting the pieces together and speculating as to where they are going with it, but actually "knowing" is a whole different story. There was a big controversy last year when the plot twists of the season finale were revealed online prematurely, and it's starting up again with alleged spoilers of this season's finale starting to crop up online as well.

One of my favorite spoiler-free Lost sites recently entered the controversy. Lostpedia is a wiki dedicated exclusively to the characters, episodes, and situations of Lost. An absolutely brilliant idea to help people keep track of the overlaps and connections between characters. It wouldn't make sense to do this for a lot of shows, but with so many overlapping flashbacks, flashforwards, and parallel storylines the site becomes invaluable.

The admins of the site do an excellent job of setting spoiler free ground rules. The actual articles can only include factual accounts of episodes that have aired. Spoilers are relegated to separate "theory" and "discussion" tabs on the Wiki, keeping the articles themselves clean for anyone who wants to catch up and/or refresh their memory.

Of course, with any community driven wiki project the site is primarily self policed. There was a recent situation where one bad apple posted finale spoilers right in the middle of an unrelated article without warning, triggering a big debate on spoilers. I respect the right of a curious public to post and seek out spoilers to their favorite shows, but only if they are in their proper place. Warnings and hidden text ensure people know what they are getting into; an ambush in a site that is supposed to be "clean" is another thing altogether.

On the main page of Lostpedia, they also post Lost-related news articles. Updates on the writers strike, interviews with the cast and creators, a synopsis of the video game, etc. All well and good since the blurbs are pretty neutral and there is a clear warning if the outgoing link to the article may contain spoilers.

Which is why I was slightly annoyed at the most recent article posted to the main page:

(This ends my preamble, and I'm now moving on to the "What is a spoiler?" question promised above. Turn back now if you want to be kept completely pure.)
Matthew Fox keeps quiet on 'Lost' ending
Matthew Fox has claimed that he is the only actor on Lost to know how the show will end. Fox confirmed the news to the Daily Mirror and revealed that fellow cast members probe him for answers: "Yes, it’s true. They understand I can't talk about it, but sometimes they’ll ask, just hoping I’ll blurt it out."

As I said I truly appreciate the job the Lostpedia folks do in trying to keep a clean environment to the best of their ability. It's a fairly well known fact that the cast doesn't know how the show is going to end. So the reveal that one actor does know begs the question of "Why does he know?," which leads me to believe it must be important to the plot and how he's playing his character NOW to set up how it will end. And since Lost is starting to introduce time travel fairly heavily into the plot, I think I know where this is heading. Awesome, but less awesome than if I were surprised by it.

But is this defined as a "spoiler" by traditional definitions? Not really, but extending the umbrella to include "information not learned from the show itself" would place it in this category. Maybe it's just how my mind works. Technically I suppose the fact that I learned that nobody knows the ending paired with the correction that one actor does is what did me in. But in today's day and age you'd really need a full on media blackout to ensure a totally pure experience. And that would mean turning off the Internet :(

Hopefully I'm wrong and this will be little more than a red herring caused by my overactive synapses. But regardless, it's interesting how a show like Lost can redefine television and redefine the definition of "spoiler" at the same time.

PS: This post is loosely based on a ranty comment I submitted to the Lostpedia Blog shortly after reading the above linked article. The admins seem to have chosen not to publish my comment (probably wise of them in hindsight if what I'm guessing does prove to be spoiler-esque), but I felt it was a thought provoking enough situation to repurpose here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've just returned from a four-day holiday in the Greater SF Bay area (where fellow TowForm contributor BoRyan was my gracious host), with the pilgrimage-like goal of exploring every rail system found there; a full trip report with all its minutiae is outside the scope of this blog, but within the scope of this blog (with 15 posts tagged 'maps') will be a later post reviewing a few of the many transit maps I collected.

While waiting for that, behold the accompanying two pictures, taken personally by me during side-pilgrimages of this trip. :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

This sounds familiar...


n. The act of using a regular cell phone to get information by calling someone who is sitting at a computer and can surf the internet by proxy.

"We are hopelessly lost. I'll just use my iPhone-a-friend and my mom can get us directions from Google Maps."

"When are you going to get a real iPhone, you cheap ass?"

via UrbanDictionary

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Ask Us Anything

Yet another iNetNow:

Found this on Wikipedia (via nested tangents, read below for that...also, in the following quote, material between [] is added by this post's author for clarity and amusement):

Since May 2008, 118118 [a British directory assistance provider, coincidentally a subsidiary of InfoNXX] has introduced a service where you are able to call and ask any question you want and their info team will find you the answer. From "How tall is the Eiffel Tower?", to "What Bars are open late at night?"

Sure is described here:
When it comes to finding numbers, we’re the professionals. But that’s not all we can do for you. We can find as many numbers as you need in one call and we’ll put you straight through if you don’t have a pen. We can even tell you what films are on at your local cinema and give you show times. We can tell you what time your next train leaves or let you know what the nearest tube station to your destination is.
In summary, we can
  • give you all the numbers you ask for during any call
  • find you the business you want and tell you how close it is
  • expertly search for business numbers or addresses even if you only have a small amount of information
  • put you straight through to the number you want
  • tell you what’s on and locate your cinema, give you the times and even tell you who’s in each movie
  • give you departure and arrival times from the national train timetable
  • tell you the nearest train or tube station to your destination
  • give you directions over the phone to wherever you need to go

And if you call us from a mobile, we’ll always text you the numbers you need and for free, so there’s no extra charge and you don’t have the usual scramble for a pen and paper.
It’s no wonder we’re the most called number in the UK every day.

I wish them well. I like this idea wherever it appears, which is why I enjoy AskMeNow, and mourn iNetNow and Voce.

For your amusement (perhaps I should make this a separate post) I found all this through one of my famous mental/wikipedia nested tangents:
  • I was listening to the first track of Vico C's Vivo, which begins with appears to be a short sample of the same song as used as the background music of the commercial I'd previously known as 'that Honda Rube Goldberg commercial'.
  • I suddenly wanted to watch this commecial, since I never get tired of it, so I googled 'honda rube goldberg', and found it has a Wikipedia article, where I found out:
    • Its name is 'Cog';
    • That song is "Rapper's delight" by The Sugarhill Gang
    • It's inspired or been spoofed by other commercials, including one for 118118.
  • Naturally, I went to the Wikipedia article for 118118, where I found out about Ask Us Anything.

I should put a dummy entry in my HOSTS file for so I get work done.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Democrats Launch McCainpedia

Politically I think this is slightly dirty but necessary.

Comedically I think it's hilarious, and the irony that the Democrats are taking the democracy out of the wiki only makes it funnier.

The web connoisseur in me says either call it something else, or make it a standard, fully editable wiki with a slightly stronger registration policy in place and zero tolerance to ban users by IP who vandalize or violate terms.

And while you're at it, do one for Hilary and Obama too that can be cross linked between parties and issues. Equal time for the 21st Century, and let the smart mobs shake out the true facts.


PS: For the record, I predict someone will put up equivalents for the Democratic candidates by the weekend.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How Apple is changing DRM

Cool article on how the insistence on DRM by record labels drove Apple to dominance, and how Apple might change the rules to stay on top now that the labels are leaning towards no DRM.

How Apple is changing DRM

Friday, May 16, 2008

Location-based services may be coming to an iPhone near you

There is a lot of independent evidence circulating that the 3G iPhone,
rumored to be coming this June, will include and take advantage of a
lot of location based services. One service already out there but in
beta is BrightKite. Seems to be a robust form of the old AT&T friend
finder. The whole idea of a location aware, truly web connected device
opens up some enormous possibilities. Location based
Google AdSense anyone?

[Via Ars Technica]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

True Fans

Neat article on the secret to thriving as an independent artist.

1000 True Fans

Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artist do to escape the long tail?

One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Adventures in Public Transportation

We went to see Mason Jennings play in Santa Monica last night. (Actually at Barnum Hall on the Santa Monica High School campus...odd venue.) Since my wife works in Westwood and we live on the east side, it made more sense for me to take the bus to her office than to go crosstown in two cars.

I know that public transportation in LA (especially the bus) has a bad reputation, but I was pleasantly surprised. Got on at Vermont & Sunset and arrived in front of UCLA 55 minutes later. The bus has a tv screen showing news, trivia, games, and ads. There's also a map (powered by MSN) with GPS that always shows you where you are and announces the next stops. It was on time and relatively clean, though the comfort of the seats left a little to be desired. Riders were mostly students, though that probably had more to do with the route and the time of day (I rode at 4:30pm).

The trip planner on the website was also relatively impressive. Granted it could have a little better error correction and navigation, but not having to enter a city and using a / between intersections is pretty brilliant. I'm surprised the mapping engines haven't picked this up as the standard instead of fumbling around with thethe mishmash of &/and/+ that they always have. Also surprised we didn't pick this up for the surfboard, as for me it's much more fast and natural to type a / without looking than & or +.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

International Harassment, or Why AT&T Still Puts $$$ Ahead of Customer Service

Warning: Rant ahead...

Woke up at 6:30 this morning to a call on my cell. It was too early, so I let it go. Immediately rang again, but had stopped by the time I got to the phone. Immediately rang again in my hand. I noticed an unfamiliar 503 area code. Though normally I let numbers I don't know go to voicemail, I figured three in a row might be an emergency so I picked up anyways. The caller said something in Spanish. I said "wrong number" and hung up.

Mildly annoyed at the early hour, I figured I could still salvage some sleep. Seconds later it rang again. "Numero incorrecto. No hablo español" I barked in elementary Spanish that I hoped was pretty close to accurate. 10 seconds later it rang again.

Now both angry and intrigued, I got up and Googled the area code. Portland, OR.

I tried Googling the full number to get a name to go with my prank caller, at which point I realized something was odd. The number had too many digits. It wasn't Portland. It was an international call from El Salvador!

After a total of 7 calls between 6:32 and 6:35 (2 answered, 3 ignored, 2 sent to voicemail with a minute plus of silence and background noise as the message) it finally stopped and I went back to bed.

It started up again at 8:02am with 9 in a row, a short break, then 15 more between 8:25 and 8:50. These again had a mix of long blank voicemails, hangups, and long pleas to leave me alone obtained via Google Language Tools.

I thought I finally got through to them with the phrase: "Si usted llamar a este número de nuevo, estoy llamando a la policía. ¿Entiendes?" (which translates to "If you call this number again, I am calling the police. Do you understand?"). Nope. 13 more from 10:11 to 10:13. 1 more at 11:06. 8 more from 1:46 to 1:49.

When the phone rang at 1:59 I answered it ready to explode, but it was my sister asking if I knew anyone who wanted her extra Red Sox tickets. The text message to my Boston friends was only half composed when another call came in. I repeated my Spanish phrase about calling the police from memory before the caller started laughing at me.

Ready to jump out a window, I finally decided to call AT&T and have them block the incoming number for me via the switch. We used to have to call Cingular/AT&T and other carrier partners to have this performed quite a bit at Voce. It usually required a trouble ticket with a 24 hour turnaround time and tier 2 assistance, but it was definitely doable. At the rate this was going I'd be able to deal with the possibility of a long turnaround time if I knew an end was near.

After navigating an overcomplicated phone tree and waiting on hold for slightly less than I anticipated I was connected to Christina. I explained my tale to her and asked if she could have the number blocked; she said she'd certainly figure something out and diligently started her research. After a few minutes I decided to reveal that I used to work for an AT&T MVNO and it was fairly standard to do this via tier 2 but it wasn't a function of the Telegence system. She said she was reading something about it but thought they might not have that ability anymore.

A few more minutes went by and a brief time on hold, after which Christina came back and told me it was not possible to have it blocked on the switch, but I could subscribe to a new Smart Limits parental control product they had that would allow me to restrict incoming calls. Her suggestion was to activate Smart Limits for the number in question, but only for a couple weeks hoping they'd get the idea and/or get bored of pranking me. I said that would work for me so long as she could credit my bill for the prorated $4.99 for the new feature, deciding not to point out that the existence of this feature contradicts the "it's impossible to block a number" statement, instead changing it to "It's impossible to block a number for free."

She said that wasn't within her authority, but she'd ask a manager and under the circumstances it would probably be possible. After a brief stint on hold she came back to tell me unfortunately the fee couldn't be waived since I do have the free option of ignoring the call, thus it wouldn't be reasonable to provide me the credit. Personally I could care less about the 5 bucks (actually more like $2 if I only kept the feature for 10 days), but on principal I wasn't going to budge. Also, ignoring the calls wasn't really a "Free" option, as AT&T dings you for airtime whenever you check your voicemail. She agreed and went back to the manager...and was promptly shot down again. This time I was told that the option was free since I could check my voicemail from a landline free of charge (even though I don't have a landline), and thus policy couldn't be broken in this case. (In full disclosure, I also thought that I was docked minutes when a call was sent to voicemail even if I didn't answer, but she corrected me that this is only true when roaming internationally, not domestically.)

I told Christina that I appreciated her help and knew she was just doing her job, but found it ridiculous that AT&T cared more about making $5 then helping out a loyal customer with perfect payment history and no complaints on an overpriced plan. She asked me if I was asked to take a survey would I say she solved my problem; I told her I'd say she was excellent but her employer was questionable as usual.

I understand policies exist for a reason. And I know that a good number of customers will try to game them anytime they can. If I had a recurrent prank calling problem involving multiple numbers or if I was complaining about a stalker or a jilted ex who wouldn't stop bothering me I can see the company holding firm to a degree. But there is gray area in everything, and each example should be viewed on a case by case basis. 60 calls from the same international number in 6+ hours sounds like extenuating circumstances, and you won't waive less than five damn dollars off of someone's bill one time for them to try out a brand new cash cow of a feature for 2 weeks? You've got to be kidding me.

PS: Ironically, it's now 3:30 and I haven't received a call from the bad number in over 90 minutes. Maybe Christina did block it for me afterall...

PPS: Why am I protecting the identity of a foreign prank caller? The number in question is 50379118478

PPPS: Looking at my AT&T account and looking at my live bill, it's dropping the last digit from the number to make it appear to be domestic. Ironically enough, in this configuration it's also labeled as a free Mobile to Mobile call :)

PPPPS: And yes, I do feel better after writing this.


Trapped In An Elevator

Not meaning to go blog crazy, just finding a plethora of cool stuff.

Check out this time-lapse security camera video of a guy trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. Keep your eye on the box at the upper right.


I love the very end when they presumably put up an "Out of Order" sign.


Fascinating NPR story on the conspiracy of footwear, and why we don't need it.

Feet Hurt? Stop Wearing Shoes

Most interesting bit of trivia:
"In the Middle Ages, people began wearing shoes with higher heels to avoid stepping in other people's excrement. Today, high heels are considered sexy."

Full, multipage version of the article here:

How We're Wrecking Our Feet With Every Step We Take

Monday, April 21, 2008

Roll Your Own CNN Shirt has this weird new store where you can order a t-shirt with a news headline on it.

SvN points out that you can screw with the URL to make it say whatever you want it to say. So...

Anyone remember which website we used to be able to do that with? Was it Pronto, or maybe Lycos411?

My first (clumsy) Apple Store purchase: Airport Extreme (N)

While most readers will know that I am far from being a MacOS convert (though I do appreciate the fact that MacOS X is now Unix-like, as opposed to proprietary previous versions), I do actually own Apple products:

An older (B/G) Airport Express, which I originally bought (not at an Apple Store, but [I think] at Fry's) because I'd read it could extend my Linksys-powered home wireless network, but then saw extensive use with AirTunes first by the developers at Voce, then by me at home;

An iPod shuffle, given to all Voce employees at Christmas 2006, which saw heavy use as my PMP until succeeded by my BlackJack II (see my previous post).

However mildly unenthused I may otherwise be about Apple, kudos to them for one of the least expensive and most user-friendly implementations of 802.11n, namely the latest generation of Airport.

As my first step into the 802.11n world, I went on April 5 to my local Apple Store and got an Airport Extreme (N) and another (newer) Airport Express (N).

First, for your amusement, a description of this first-ever visit to an Apple Store (I'd walked by, of course, making various gestures): I'd read the reviews and made my mind up, so I just had to pick up one of each and pay. Due to the well-laid-out store, the former was easy. The latter is where I came out as a clumsy Apple newbie. I looked this way and that for the cashiers. After two full rotations, a salesperson came over and asked if I needed help. 'Yes, where is the checkout, please?' 'Here on my belt!' and produced a small hand-held touch-screen POS. I didn't examine it too closely, but it was clearly neither an iPhone nor an iPod touch. It would be sweet irony if it were a Windows-Mobile-powered Pocket PC. 'Would you like your receipt printed, or emailed, or both?' 'Both please, apple(at)' At first, the same blank stare as when Borders cashiers look up my Borders Rewards account by its email address borders[at] Catch-all email isn't quite catching on, pun intended. Finally, I couldn't figure out how to carry the bag. Once I did, I thought it was a really cool bag.

Now the reviews:

Airport Extreme: Setting this up was simplicity itself. It was never going to be my main router (nor indeed even route); I was going to just use it as an ethernet switch and 802.11n(-only) access point. The configuration wizard had a 'path' for precisely this need. I soon added a USB hard drive, which it also then quickly and easily (but securely) shared out. Fortunately, it exposes any drive[s] as Samba shares, so you don't even have to have the Airport software installed to use them (but if you do have it installed, it thoughtfully automatically maps them for you).

Airport Express: Since I didn't have anything else supporting 802.11n (though I'll soon upgrade the internal cards in my laptops), and I didn't want the Extreme to be like the first person who had a telephone, I also got an Express. This is where the wheels came off (a little). I configured it to join the Extreme's new N-only network, and after it updated and rebooted, it had the happy green light, but could be seen by neither the configuration utility nor AirTunes on computers on the separate (but all-bridged-together) G network unless the Extreme was in N(G-compatible) mode. But I wanted the Extreme on 5Ghz (N5 or N[A-compatible]) mode (to take advantage of the less-crowded new airspace), so I gave up and joined it to my existing Linksys-powered G network. Otherwise, it works great, just like my Express 'G' I know and love. It even accounts for latency, it seems: I tried sending audio from iTunes (via 'Multiple Speakers') to the new Express, connected to my stereo, the old Express, connected to a pair of computer speakers, and my laptop's internal speakers, and the audio at all three was in lock-step. Whole-house audio, anyone? I admit a little disappointment at the N-vanishing issue, but still, it's a killer product, with a new feature I might eventually use, for no more than the original cost.

I recommend them both.

Samsung BlackJack II, and a related mild indictment of AskMeNow

When, for reasons well-known to some readers of this blog, I suddenly needed to find a new mobile carrier on February 1, I decided to return to the AT&T fold.

Because, from their point of view, it would be a new contract, I was entitled to new-customer pricing on devices, so I decided to rediscover my madness for Windows Mobile with a Samsung BlackJack II, which I quite recommend unless one has a need for an esoteric feature it doesn't have.
For me, the coolest feature was the built-in GPS, which works out of the box with (for example) Google Maps Mobile. Since I was actually more interested in more technical GPS information than moving maps, I soon installed GPS Skinner, and later gpsVP. The GPS feature has now become just about my favorite toy ever.

How does this relate to AskMeNow?
Early in my GPS experience, I was motionless in downtown LA and one or the other of those applications reported my altitude at several hundred feet, which seemed high to me (in retrospect, I think because it hadn't fully triangulated).
I decided, instead of Googling, to Ask AskMeNow Now.
Me to AskMeNow, 3/11 5:54pm: 'What is the altitude of Los Angeles?'
Me to AskMeNow, 3/11 6:47pm: 'What is the altitude of Los Angeles?'
I guess their NLP didn't get the point. I almost repeated it, prefaced with 'Cmon, this is easy, ', but waited until:
Me to AskMeNow, 3/12 3:26pm: 'What is the altitude of Los Angeles?'
And at last, AskMeNow to Me, 3/12 3:29pm:
Los Angeles, CA
Elevation: 5ft/1m
73.1 ?F / 22.8 ?C
...and that seems a bit low (but probably is just the minimum altitude for LA, which is horizontally huge), but the mild indictment is that it took three questions over two days to get the answer.
I suspect some sort of AI fields easy obvious questions, sending the others to humans (cf. Pronto and iNetNow), and this happened to all three questions, the first two getting lost in the 'human queue'. AskMeNow, GetTheAnswerLaterIfAtAll. I *love* automation, but some things just need a human touch.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Crawling The 'Deep' Web

Interesting and valuable, though I'm surprised it took someone this long to try...

Google Spiders to Start Crawling The 'Deep' Web
For text boxes, our computers automatically choose words from the site that has the form; for select menus, check boxes, and radio buttons on the form, we choose from among the values of the HTML. Having chosen the values for each input, we generate and then try to crawl URLs that correspond to a possible query a user may have made.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Single Click Directions

Never thought I'd be giving Microsoft kudos for a mapping feature (I've been a little resentful since they killed Line-Drive directions when they bought MapBlast), but here's something so obvious it's brilliant:

One-Click Directions to a business from common starting freeways and/or cardinal directions.

The ending text of "This is the last intersection, and this next one is too far" is also a nice touch.

(It still has that impersonal Microsoft feel to it though. I mean, have you ever heard anyone call it the Rosa Parks freeway in real life?)

How long until Google and Yahoo copy this? I say before May 1 for Google. Yahoo is a tough call; they keep saying they don't need Microsoft in these merger talks, making it a slippery slope to steal the feature.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Disagreement Hierarchy

How to Disagree

DH0. Name-calling.
DH1. Ad Hominem.
DH3. Contradiction.
DH4. Counterargument.
DH5. Refutation.
DH6. Refuting the Central Point.

via SvN

Burn the Rope!

Awesome videogame. The song after you win is the most rewarding game ending I've ever seen.

You Have To Burn The Rope

Thursday, April 03, 2008

ATA Bankruptcy

I found the contrast between the celebratory anniversary banner at the top of the website and the content immediately beneath it to be quite amusing:

ATA Airlines Discontinues All Operations

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

ChaCha Adds Call In Service

ChaCha looks to be going Pronto on us...

ChaCha lets you, literally, ask a question
To use the new service you can call 800-224-2242 (which spells "chacha") and specify the information you want to an automated attendant. ChaCha then sends you a text message with the answer. You can access your questions and answers on the Web as well.

I tried it out and found it accurate and fast. Within a few minutes of me asking where I could get a veggie burger and a margarita in downtown San Francisco it came back with an answer: Perry's Downtown, 185 Sutter Street "They have a full bar, it's casual and good ratings." Bravo!

Gmail Custom Time

The annual event continues, this time with time travel (sort of...)

Gmail Custom Time

(courtesy of Chris)

Update: Google seems to have gone wild this year with the April Fools magic.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Worst Swear Word

Why Kids Curse
Max asked in a hushed voice: "Dad, do you know what the worst swear word of all is?"

His son then went on to explain that "damn" must be the worst. When Bloom asked why, his son said, "I listen to my babysitter talk on the phone, and she uses the 'f' word, and the 's' word, but she never says 'damn!'"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Stumbled onto our rating at tonight:

Towform at Blogged

All things considered it's not too shabby. It says the rating calculation judges:
Editor reviews are provided by professional editors who evaluate a blog based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style.

Wonder which ones we got marked down for... :)

Political Genealogy

Totally random news story:

Study finds Clinton related to Jolie and Obama to Pitt

Best part was the disclaimer at the end:
Having famous cousins makes for interesting conversation but it "should not influence voters."

Friday, March 21, 2008


Found this neat little iPhone/iPodTouch eBook reader called TextOnPhone. Over 25,000 books, including a decent catalog of recents and classics, all for free.

They also have a Facebook App that emulates the iPhone experience on a desktop.

Thorough video review here showing off some slick features:

Shameless plug: Guess which recent novel is included?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sox May Boycott Japan

Interesting standoff going on down in Florida right now. The Red Sox are threatening to boycott their season opener in Japan and not board their plane this evening upon finding out that the coaching staff will not be receiving a $40,000 travel stipend as previously promised by Major League Baseball.

More details:

Gotta love and respect the players standing up for the coaches like this.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jury Recap

I had planned a post at the conclusion of my epic 6 week jury duty, but then got so caught up in getting Timely Persuasion out the door that I never got around to it. Thought about scrapping it altogether since so much time had passed, but since I still get asked about it quite a bit I figured it was still worth blogging about for the record.

I'll try to keep this somewhat abbreviated, but here we go:

I served as a juror on a toxic tort case for 6 weeks from January 2 through February 21. Plaintiff was a Caltrans worker who used to spray herbicides on the sides of the freeways. He did this in various capacities from the early 70s through the early 00s. One of the pesticides he used in the 70s was called Paraquat, which at the time was sold by Chevron. The man went on to develop pulmonary fibrosis and subsequently died, so his family was suing Chevron claiming that Paraquat caused his illness and death.

During the trial it came out that this was a retrial, though we weren't privy to what happened the first time around. We were also barred by court order from discussing the case or doing any online research about things related to it. This drove me crazy as you can imagine, but I was a good citizen and upheld my civic duty for the long duration. (The night the trial ended I'm surprised I didn't manage to single-handedly crash a Google server with all of my pent up questions, but we'll get to that in a bit...)

Complicating matters, the plaintiff also had some other medical conditions that may or may not have played a role in his fibrosis, primarily something called GERD. This causes excessive heartburn and acid in the esophagus, which can theoretically lead to one inhaling small amounts of gastric juices and developing pulmonary fibrosis.

Further complicating matters, the plaintiff sprayed Paraquat from about 1972-1979, then never used it again because the EPA made it a restricted use pesticide that required special training and licensing, so Caltrans decided to stop using it. He was perfectly healthy until at least 1987 and possibly 1997 (different experts interpreted his medical records differently) before developing the disease. The evidence showed that Paraquat is very toxic, but it tends to kill you quick or not at all. Linking this 15-25 year delay to the disease was the key question for us in the jury room.

We were nearly hung after several days of deliberation, mainly due to the fact that a lot of the documents referenced in the case were not "in evidence" so we weren't allowed to see them, and partly due to some confusion over jury instructions on how to answer certain questions if the answer was "the evidence did not prove it." In the end we had a 9-3 verdict for the defendant. Everyone was in agreement that there wasn't any evidence to support Paraquat as the cause, though the 3 on the plaintiff's side were basing their vote on reasons why the evidence may not exist. I fully understand and appreciate their positions and if I could find anyway to vote that way myself I would have, but playing by the rules and relying on the facts I just couldn't make that leap. (Personally, I do feel that Paraquat is bad and should probably be further restricted or outright banned both from what I heard at the trial and things I found out on my own afterwards. But even with that hindsight, I still don't think Paraquat had anything to do with the death in this particular case.)

At this point, it'll probably be helpful for me to introduce the cast of characters via the power of the Internet (thus keeping this post somewhat on topic for the theme of our blog...). As a disclaimer before I start, keep in mind that the following analysis is just my opinion (and sometimes the opinions of my fellow jurors) based on our experience listening to these people firsthand or discussing it privately in the jury room after the fact. It should not be held up as "fact," only personal impressions based on a limited window of exposure. Had the same cast of characters been involved in a different case with different facts or different evidence, the opinions reached may have been different. Also note that I didn't view or even know of the existence of any of these websites until after the conclusion of the trial.

With that out of the way:

The Lawyers

Raphael Metzger -
Co-counsel for the plaintiff who tried a small portion of the case, though it seemed to come out during the trial that he was the primary attorney the first time around. The main point he was trying to get across in his questioning was that nobody knows if Paraquat can't cause fibrosis after such a long delay because nobody has ever done a study to investigate it. I agreed with that logic and that fact, but he also wanted us to then go in the opposite direction and say "because a study hasn't dis-proven it then it must be true" which I had trouble buying. Can't have it both ways.

He was also the source of some unintentional comedy throughout the trial when his wife would loudly whisper questions for him to ask, pass him notes, or otherwise interrupt when he was speaking. Probably well intended, but as I told his partner when the trial was over it was extremely distracting and seemed to undermine his credibility. A few of us even saw the Court TV guy rolling his eyes and smirking while this was going on. The benefit of the doubt side of me wants to say this was part of an act to play up the "David vs. Goliath" analogy of a worker vs. a big corporation, but I can't quite convince myself of that.

One last note on Metzger: For whatever reason I got a strong ambulance chaser vibe off of him during the trial, and when I was finally allowed to Google and looked at his website it seemed to confirm my hunch in both the chosen URL and the content. Oh my...

Allen Stewart -
Co-counsel for the plaintiff who tried the majority of the case for that side. Website is a heck of a lot classier, though the audiovisuals at the top are a little over the top, especially since I can't figure out how to turn off the sound.

Website aside, this guy was just a dynamite lawyer. Passionate, energetic, smart, personable (with a little bit of a forgivable Eddie Haskell streak), and a heck of a lot of fun to watch in action. A lot of times (especially in his closing argument) he almost had me revved up and swayed onto his side, but when I took a step back and saw it was all heart and no substance logic prevailed.

I would love to see what Stewart could do in a case where the evidence even slightly leaned towards his side, and if I or anyone I know is ever in the unfortunate position of having a legitimate toxic tort claim I'd recommend him in a heartbeat. Only criticism I have is that he always made a big deal about how much money expert witnesses were being paid for their testimony, when from my perspective this was a little hypocritical since he came across as a hired gun for the retrial and was probably earning a comparable if not greater fee for his expert lawyering.

Lawrence Riff -
Primary counsel for the defense; tried virtually the whole case by himself. Another great lawyer. Seemed like a respectable, stand-up guy throughout. He was big on facts and getting the science explained which was helpful to the jury. Putting him head to head with Stewart was interesting, as it played up the "Lost" themes of man of science vs. man of faith. Similar to what I said about Stewart, I'd be very interested to see what Riff would do in a case where the evidence wasn't in his favor. Would he still be a likable, stand-up guy, or would he play dirty and give me a different opinion? I'll probably never know.

I can't really comment too much on his website since it's the site for his corporate firm and not him as an individual, but I do really like his little essay on defending toxic tort cases toward the end of the page. Going with my concern on what he'd do in a different case, reading this after the fact put me at ease that my perception was the real deal and I hadn't been conned or taken.

The Experts

Dr. Ronald Crystal
Plaintiff's expert. Brilliant man. Likable and well spoken. Comes across as a touch arrogant at times since he was so confident and self assured in his opinions. Only problem was he didn't really back up any of his testimony with evidence or studies, though this may not have been his fault as most of the studies referenced were not admitted into evidence by the judge anyways.

Robert Wabeke
Plaintiff's expert. One of the few things the jury unanimously agreed on was that this guy was a terrible witness. There were at least three different times where Stewart asked him a softball of a question and he answered in the opposite as to how you expected, which led to "Are you sure about that? Let me repeat the question.." after which he'd quickly change course. It was almost like he was caught not paying attention while in the witness chair.

One other note: His email address starting with "chemriskman" reminds me of that infamous guy who applied for a job at iNetNow and had "" as his email address ON HIS RESUME! Fastest way to look unprofessional...

Dr. Talmadge King
Defense expert. I liked this guy, but a lot of the jurors thought he crumbled under cross examination. I agree he was less elegant under cross, but my interpretation was he was being asked vague questions and being forced into an "only answer yes or no" game that he just didn't want to play.

I found it interesting how it came out during witness questioning that many of the witnesses and lawyers have crossed paths before in previous cases. Made me wonder why they didn't anticipate some of the questions/tactics that would be used on them and take the time to anticipate how to answer them. You'd think it would be more of a chess match and less "I don't recall."

David Garabrant
Defense expert. Another really smart guy. The jury put him toe to toe against Crystal and they came out more or less at a draw, putting enough doubt in each others opinions in an "agree to disagree" sort of way. Unlike King, he came out swinging in cross examination with a stern yet professional push to give full answers that went over fairly well.

Dr. Carlos Pellegrini
Defense expert, and primary proponent of the GERD/Fibrosis connection and theory. What I liked most about this guy was that he was honest enough to say "My theory has not been proven to scientific certainty. Everyone agrees there is something there and it warrants more research. Some support it, some don't. But I believe it, and I'm going to prove it one day." This was quite refreshing after so many other witnesses on both sides would say "I'm right, everyone else is wrong" to have someone give an honest answer that acknowledges the gray area.

The plaintiff's lawyers worked so hard during the trial to write off this GERD theory as made up pseudo-science that it became an important part of the case. In the end a number of us felt that we were being asked to choose one unproven theory (GERD + Aspiration = Pulmonary Fibrosis) vs. another unproven theory (Paraquat + a long, slow smoldering effect on the lung = Pulmonary Fibrosis decades later). Given that choice, the only viable answer was "not enough info on either, could be one or the other, not proven either way."

Final Footnote

After everything was over and I started Googling in full force, I looked up the old trial online. You can do so here, using case number BC256293. (Sorry; won't let me deep link)

I about fell out of my chair when I saw that the first time around the plaintiff sued over 40 different companies, seemingly Caltrans and the manufacturer of every chemical they ever used. It also appears that everyone settled out of court except for Chevron. Finding this both solidified my feeling that we reached the right verdict, and made me lose a little faith in our legal system that such a blatant abuse of the system would be allowed to occur. At least it answered one pressing question I and several other jurors had during the trial: Why aren't they suing Caltrans, as it would have been a slam dunk.

Thus concludes the short version of my experience and the longest ever Towform post. Remember, it's just one man's opinion and thought process during and after his jury service. Happy to answer questions in the comments if any.

Daylight Savings Time: Why?

Almost time for my favorite rant again. But this time there's something new to contribute:

Study: Daylight Saving Time actually raises utility bills
...While lighting bills were reduced, air-conditioning units had to run more often, because people were home on hot afternoons when they'd otherwise be still at the office. Heaters had to be run on cool mornings, too, when people got up and it was still dark outside.

You also have to love the bold statement contained in this quote:
Professor Matthew Kotchen, who pioneered the study, noted, "I've never had a paper with such a clear and unambiguous finding as this."

I'm all for killing DST, as it makes for a tidy end to my pet peeve. But that would mean 2 less Towform posts per year...

Monday, March 03, 2008

1000 Hours

Ever wonder what would happen if you ran your iPhone stopwatch for 41 days and almost 16 hours?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Travel Supplies for Time Travelers

I was at a dinner last night, and a fellow mentioned that he'd been in Echo Park a few weeks ago where there was a new "time travel" store.

I then randomly came across this posting on Gizmodo. I believe they are one and the same:

My favorite item was the Time-Freezy Hyper Slush.

Not an Employee

I saw this site and virtually swooned. I'm going to hang their manifesto on my wall. Considering the title of our blog, I know you all will appreciate....

"We’ve escaped.

Escaped the office, the factory, the regimen, the rat race, the vultures and that goddamned rock.

And all the more, we collaborate.

Independent, but never alone."

Web 2.0 vs. Web 1.0

"Please go to the following URL..."

7 Things you don’t see in Web 2.0 from Web 1.0

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why can't Apple and Microsoft play nice?

Having issues with iWeb formatting text that had me up most of last night:

Took me 90 minutes to figure out that it wasn't playing nice with copy/pasted text from MS Word (even if reformatted in iWeb). Probably a better way to work around this, but best fix I've come up with is copying, pasting into TextEdit, recopying to convert to plain text, re-pasting into iWeb, and reformatting. Not sure who's fault it is (Microsoft, Apple, or mine), but it sucks when I thought I was done and now having to reformat 70+ pages. Guess it's time for me to really learn how to code...

(I do find it hilarious in a painfully ironic way that Google's contextual ads look at this mess and decide to offer up "Download Adobe Acrobat 8")

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1.1.4 & Starbucks Connection

Apple just dropped iPhone 1.1.4 moments ago; I'm upgrading as I type this.

Also, another story is floating around that Starbucks is closing all of their stores tonight at 5:30pm local time for a special 3 hour employee training session. Coincidence?

Coffee chain to close all 7,100 stores for employee training.

One BILLION Dollars

Analysts at Marketwatch speculate Apple is losing buckets of money due to iPhone unlocking:
Sacconaghi estimated that between 25% and 30% of the more than 4 million iPhone units already sold have been unlocked to work on other wireless networks, and that each unlocked iPhone results in Apple's missing out on $370 in earnings over the phone's two-year contract period. If Apple were to hit its 10 million-unit sales target, the unlocked devices would cause the company to forgo between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion over two years, he said.

But a blogger at disputes the math with much aplomb:
Which is why -- and, jeez, how many times does the Macalope have to say this? -- it makes absolutely no sense to say that Apple is losing this money. If these phones are in countries where Apple has no contract, the only thing you can say is that Apple should get an exclusive contract there faster (easier said than done). If they're being used by people who just don't like the exclusive provider Apple's signed with, then these are people they'll never get anyway.

(Quick little postscript: I'd never noticed the "live updating" stock quotes inside a story at MarketWatch before. Pretty slick.)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Danger Dogs

Interesting (and entertaining) LA Weekly article on street vendors, guilty pleasures, and governmental double-standards.


Be sure not to skip the comments. My favorite:
In Germany you can get grilled hot dogs at every hot dog stand and at many corners from carts. Especially in Berlin. What is the matter with the Americans... so many are fat, probably from boiling hot dogs, but won't allow any one to have a well tasting hot dog. This country is getting duller by the minute. And to jail people for broiling hot dogs... what a country. In the meantime Bush and his cronies, who have and still are killing thousands, are strutting around like peacocks, when they should be jailed and sent to Guantanamo forever, demonstrating the joys of Waterboarding for a paying public.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Benefits of eBooks

March 2 - March 8 is "Read an eBook" week. Timely Persuasion is scheduled to be released February 29 (jury duty permitting.) I think I smell a connection...

In the meantime, I like how this article on eBooks acknowledges (and actually hopes) they never replace paper books, but still manages to give a long list of compelling reasons why both can live together side by side.

30 Benefits of Ebooks

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Put the Consipracy Theory Down and Walk Slowly Away From Your Computer...

Hey team. Just to counterbalance my previous comment on the possibility of something fishy going on with the communication cables being cut, here's another take on what could be happening over in the Mid-East. I am still leaning towards malfeasance of some kind but I think this is a pretty even-handed look of what's going on over there. From Wired.

"As a security guy, I'm paranoid, but I don't understand the threat model here. On the other hand, four accidental failures in a week is a bit hard to swallow, too. Let's hope there will be close, open examination of the failed parts of the cables."

My favorite among the comments:
"I really don't care what they find when they pull those cables up... long as it isn't bite marks."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Text Toilet

The US probably isn't quite ready for this yet, but with Finland's cellphone penetration up over 100% it's a brilliant idea.

Use SMS to Unlock Public Restrooms
If you need to use the facilities, people just need to send the word "open" to a short code listed at the bathroom, and the door is unlocked remotely. If the room is vandalized, a short-term record of the phone number that unlocked the door prior to the vandalism can help authorities track down the vandals.

(via 4Info Mobile Search Blog)

The Internet is Down!

Shows what a fragile world of technology we live in...

Internet failure hits two continents

-Extensive Internet failure has affected much of Asia, the Middle East, north Africa
-Two undersea cables believed damaged, possibly by a ship's anchor
-It has caused major disruptions to business, television and phone services
-Several reports say damaged cable in the Mediterranean could take a week to fix

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spinning Woman: Left or Right Brained?

I was listening to someone say today that there's this cool new visual test that will tell you if you're a left or right-brained thinker.

Herald Sun Story
(read this first)

So, I took the above test and low-and-behold it tells me I'm a right-brained thinker, which didn't really jive with the descriptions they give. I definitely share more in common with the left-side.

As a natural skeptic, I found it preposterous that a "test" could tell you something like this.

So, I found a more scientific explanation and of course it's muddier than some "simple minds" would have you think:

Science Line Explanation

And lastly, I still can't see the spinning woman go counter-clockwise. So, I used this to help me:

The Answer

Ah, much better!

What brain side are you?