March 31, 2005

The Terry Schiavo Show

Terry Schiavo died this morning. When I was told, I felt almost nothing. Not because I'm a cynical uncaring bastard, but because this was possibly the most complex issue that the nation has dealt with in some time.

This was a personal issue between the parents and the husband, and should have been kept off the news channels. I asked a friend why this media over-saturation was necessary. "Easy money," she replied. Easy news as well. Just spout your opinions, ask others their opinions, argue about it and read the daily developments as they tick across the bottom of the screen and call it news. It has turned cable news into a 24-hour reality show for the past month.

But beyond the laziness of the mainstream media, there was a public interest in this story that was undeniable. After some thought, I think I've found out why people rallied to this issue in such numbers. The Terry Schaivo case is an issue that brought together many personal and public issues under the same roof. And perhaps for the first time, some of these issues that we felt strongly about were in direct competition with one another.

Everyone has an opinion about if they'd like to be kept alive in a coma or vegetative state. Everyone has an opinion on respecting the final wishes of a loved one. Everyone would like to get behind the heroic fight of Schaivo's parents to do everything they could to save her, even if you might not agree with their reasons. Everyone wants to think that their politicians would do all they could to save the life of one of their constituents. The draw of this issue was pitting people's closely-held beliefs and opinions against one another and seeing which would win.

You may want to heroically do everything in your power to save a loved one, but what if that's not what she wanted? You may feel strongly about democracy's ability to change the laws according to the needs of the people, but do we want politicians to defy the laws of the land, in order to benefit one person, just to satisfy the mob? (Remeber Elian Gonzales?)

I feel nothing because even though I supported Mr. Schiavo, there is no triumph in her death. I feel nothing right now because the media has wrung out every emotion that I could possibly feel about this in the past month. I feel nothing, and I'm probably not alone.

March 30, 2005

The 80's Playlist

I got a surprise today. Some of you may remember my long stint working in New Jersey in December. Well, to break the monotony of working in our "War Room", I brought along a few cd's worth of 80's tunes on MP3. Since no one else brought music, thay asked me to let them listen as well. They liked the tunes, but one programmer named Pete was particularly interested, as I recall.

He said that some of the songs I picked were released a couple of years before or after the 80's, and he thought my list (about 400 songs) was incomplete. I explained that this was a list of songs that I personally remember well, and wasn't meant to be some authoritative best-of compilation. Some were pretty obscure, (Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun") and others were not hits, but were on the soundtrack of a movie I remeber (Sisters of Mercy's "Cry Little Sister" from 'The Lost Boys').

Our time in Jersey was over and I went on to other projects. I didn't think another thing about it until this afternoon, when Pete e-mailed me out of the blue with this:
Well I looked at your list and I noticed that you were missing some important songs (my opinion only). I did some research and ended up with a huge list (about 1200 songs). I filtered out most of the songs and I came up with a shorter list. It’s still very long, though. I have all of these songs (ripped from my CD’s) so I may not have been able to get some other songs not on CD.

A few of these are very old, like “Twist And Shout”, but is on this list because it hit the charts in the 1980’s, normally due to some 80’s movie, like Ferris Bueller or Risky Business, for example. Some of these were released in 1979 but bled over to the Jan, 1980. Others were released in 1989, but didn’t hit the charts until 1990.

I’m still trying to figure out how these songs made your list:

Boston – More Than A Feeling, Elvis Costello – Pump It Up, Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street, Styx – Lady, and Van Halen – You Really Got Me

Anyway, take a look at these and let me know if you agree or disagree on any of them. I can send you the entire list if you want, but it’s a much longer list. Also, let me know if want copies of any of these songs. I ripped them all to mp3 but I can also make them into m4a files as well.
He attached a list of 341 songs. Now I haven't spoken to this man since December. Someone's apparently been busy on this for a while. I see two possible motivations for his taking up his project: (1) He hadn't yet compiled a buttload of 80's tunes, and decided it was necessary, or (2) He was so dissatisfied with my list that he wanted to compile a superior one to show me what the REAL 80's songs were. Judging from my experience with him, a fairly typical type-a programmer type, I am leaning towards option 2.

March 29, 2005

"The Arms of Chivas"

A college student IM's a random stranger on the internet and asks him to write her paper for $75. Little did she know that she had contacted a sketch comedian with a sick sense of humor. Some excerpts from the paper he wrote:
The caste system is based upon the principle that human society is like a huge, complex machine, with the individuals and communities being like its parts. If the parts are weak and broken, the machine will not work. The body can only work efficiently if its parts and organs are in sound and strong condition. And lubricated. But if there is pain in any part of the body, if there is disease in any organ or part of the body, this human machine will go out of order
...
The highest class is the Brahmans, the priestly class. Their dharma is to study and understand the Vedas, Hindu’s holy texts, and bring this knowledge to others. The second class is the Kshatriya, the warrior class, who acted as the protectors of the peace. I made a doody.
...
Karma, which follows you throughout your many lifetimes, determines which class you will be in for any given lifetime. You may be demoted to an animal, reallocated within the class structure, or even elevated to a deity. Your actions in each lifetime affect your karma, and if a Shudra watches dharma and greg, it will have a positive effect on his karma, perhaps elevating him into a class in which she will be allowed to study the Vedas and progress along its spiritual path.
The author sent the paper to the girl, found the school that she was attending, and e-mailed the president of the university, informing him about her plagiarism. (LINK for the full story)

March 28, 2005

Black Jellybean Haikus

black, black, black, are you
the bean of my deep red heart
(jelly, not coffee)

often picked over
in standard easter baskets
but that's more for me

The taste of anise
piquant and tongue-curling good
the tang in my breath

pile sits on my desk
purplish stains on fingers
tell like tracks on arms

March 25, 2005

LinkNews Digest [03/25/2005]

Student Suspended for Showing Principal's Hipocracy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. A Providence high school student has been suspended from school after he photographed the principal smoking on school grounds, and posting the pictures on the Internet.

Eliazar Velasquez, a sophomore at Central High School, snapped pictures of Principal Elaine Almagno smoking a cigarette outside a school door earlier this month. Smoking within 25 feet of a school violates state law.

Velasquez then posted the pictures on a Web site, and distributed fliers at school telling students where to find the pictures.

Central High administrators say Velasquez's suspension was because the sophomore had harassed and slandered the principal and was being a disruptive influence. The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved, saying the suspension raises freedom of speech and due-process issues. (LINK)


Man Arrested for Bananna-wielding

LONDON -- Robert Downey had the mask and the attitude to be a successful robber. But he ruined the effect when he tried to stage a hold-up at his local bookmaker's shop - using a banana.

Noting the suspicious bend in the so-called "weapon," the clerk calmly called the police and on Wednesday, Downey was jailed for nearly seven years for attempted robbery.

Prosecutors at the trial at Southwark Crown Court in London said Downey, a drug addict, hatched his scheme to buy more crack. Donning a mask, he headed for the bookmaker's shop, pausing only to get a banana from the greengrocer on the way. In the bookmaker's, he pointed the fruit wrapped in a plastic bag, screaming, "I want the money or I will (expletive) shoot you."

This did not produce the desired effect: assistant Peter Humphrey calmly turned to a colleague and said: "He said he has a gun, but it might be a banana."

Downey then produced a pair of scissors, "but seeing no money was going to be handed over he ran out of the shop," said prosecutor Patrick Cahill. (LINK)
How many times do we have to go over this?
Sgt.: Right. Bananas. How to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana. Now you, come at me with this banana. Catch! Now, it's quite simple to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana. First of all you force him to drop the banana; then, second, you eat the banana, thus disarming him. You have now rendered him 'elpless.


March 24, 2005

The Zombie Rationale

This week, high school student Jeff Weise went on a shooting rampage in a Minnesota school. The incident is a tragedy, but sadder still are the conclusions that reporters and lawmakers are trying to make about this. In our post-Columbine world, every high schooler that plays video games, wears a trenchcoat, or doesn't look like Chaz the captain of the football team, is a suspect for a future killing spree.

It came out yesterday that the boy drew pictures of skeletons and wrote stories about zombies:
While the writing of his postings on the neo-Nazi Web site may have been sloppy and full of typos, Weise was also able to write more polished prose for stories published on the Internet about zombies.

Weise's Hotmail address links him to frequent postings on one Internet forum called "Rise of the Dead," a site where contributors collaborate on stories about "average people attempting to survive in a zombie-infested world," according to the site.
So writing zombie stories makes you grab a gun and kill people? By this rationale, Stephen King, Clive Barker, George Romero, even my friend Phil Nutman, would have already laid waste to dozens of innocent bystanders. I admit that I haven't been keeping up on the papers lately, but I think their collective body count is still at zero.

But let's humor them and follow that twisted logic a bit further. There's actually a video game that deals with surviving in a zombie-infested world. Since you actively shoot the zombies, it should be an even better predictor of future killers, by this rationale. It's called Resident Evil 4 which sold 319,000 in its first month alone. Quite a number of suspects to keep an eye on. But wait, the "4" in the title means it's part of a series! There's about ten Resident Evil games in all, and they've sold millions of copies worldwide. Wow, that's quite a lot of suspects to round up. Hold the phones! there's a whole GENRE of video games called "Survival Horror" in which you blast zombies with guns. Hundreds of games, with millions of people playing them. So how many of these people have gone on a high school shooting spree? I'd figure about three, with the highest possible number being under 10. That’s 10 out of a few million. I'm not good with math, but I'd say that's a farily insignificant number.

Logic has gone entirely out the window in the past decade and "Zero Tolerance" laws have set us back to the steam age in terms of legal standings. In Kentucky, a boy was arrested and thrown in Jail for simply WRITING a story about zombies in a high school.
Poole said that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.


The new rationale is that non-conformists who fit these stereotypes are under suspicion and kept under watch, or in Mr. Poole's case, arrested outright. Think back to high school, and think about all the people who wore black trenchcoats, played violent video games, drew pictures of skeletons or guns, or wrote horror stories. How many of them went on shooting sprees?

Apply this set of traits, and even I would be a suspect for my actions back then. When I was in middle school, I wrote a Halloween story for my English class about my classmates and me finding a secret passage in the library, and all of us meeting gruesome and untimely deaths. I played loads of video games, watched horror movies, and drew pictures with guns in them. I even checked out the Satanic Bible from the local library (yes, they carried it), just to satisfy my curiosity. All of these warning signs, but have I killed anyone? No. (Well, I did have a hit-and-run, whose body I left in the ditch, but that was a Possum.)

America should stop looking for the easy answers to tragedies like this. Real life is not CSI, where you find one odd thing that exposes the root of the issue, and wrap it all up with a bow at the end of an hour. While it's a good idea to look for ways to prevent future crimes, there are a certain number of tragedies that we have to accept as unpreventable, and this is one of them. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but a far greater evil would be done to this country if actions were taken against scores of innocent people, simply because they share single traits with killers.

March 22, 2005

Bush ex Machina

I knew it was only a matter of time before we saw Bush do a flip-flop of his own. Amidst the politcal grandstanding of the Terri Schiavo case, where President Bush took a red-eye to attempt some last-minute legislative attempt to save her, word came around that the president held quite the opposite position when serving as Texas Governor in 1999.
In 1999, then-Gov. Bush signed the Advance Directives Act, which lets a patient's surrogate make life-ending decisions on his or her behalf. The measure also allows Texas hospitals to disconnect patients from life-sustaining systems if a physician, in consultation with a hospital bioethics committee, concludes that the patient's condition is hopeless.

Bioethicists familiar with the Texas law said Monday that if the Schiavo case had occurred in Texas, her husband would be the legal decision-maker and, because he and her doctors agreed that she had no hope of recovery, her feeding tube would be disconnected.

While Congress and the White House were considering legislation recently in the Schiavo case, Bush's Texas law faced its first high-profile test. With the permission of a judge, a Houston hospital disconnected a critically ill infant from his breathing tube last week against his mother's wishes after doctors determined that continuing life support would be futile.
Bush's response to this: That there was no inconsistency on this position, that the laws don't affect one another.

Right. In 1999, he signs a bill that allows a spouse to disconnect a loved one from life support, and in 2005, he makes a grand Deus-ex-machina act to try and prevent that same thing from happening. I would at least respect his decision if he admitted to changing his mind, but to deny that he's wavering just shows how in denial the man is.

So if Bush Succeeds in making a law to prevent the same decision-making power of spouses in regards to terminally ill family members, the two acts cancel each other out. So what from the Advance Directives Act are we left with? The frightening prospect that Texas doctors and hospitals can decide to pull the plug if THEY declare a patient hopeless (or unable to pay their bills), but a spouse cannot do the same. Isn't that what we sent Dr. Kevorkian up the river for? Only difference was that in his case, the people actually wanted to die.

So the moral of the story appears to be this: It's wrong for you to take a spouse off life support, out of respect for their quality of life. However, the HMO's reserve the right to kill you off, purely for financial reasons. (Like Tessio in "The Godfather" :"Tell Michael it was only business.")

If anything good comes out of this, there will be a surge in Living Wills in this country, so that people's fate is not left up to politicians.

March 21, 2005

Buckhead, Here I Come

I, along with the three other people in my department that couldn't telecommute full-time, moved into our new office in Buckhead, in the middle of Downown Atlanta. Surprisingly, the drive is only a few minutes longer than the old drive to Alpharetta. The others in my department aren't even on my floor, so there's no one around me that I know, have heard of, or will ever work with. I'm reminded of the book Snow Crash, where people end up living in Public Storage compartments hooked up with Internet connections.

The new cubicle is 1/3 smaller than the old one, with no lockable storage and one tiny, under-desk file cabinet, on wheels. Very European, but I have no place to put my personal effects or my legal-size files. I called the person listed as the contact for furniture, to request a legal-size file cabinet, and was greeted by her voicemail message, saying that she was on leave. Looking down the sheet, this woman was the only contact listed for seven other support areas. The receptionist that was supposed to greet us and help us get situated has still not arrived at her desk (at 12:30 PM), so I have no badge to unlock the doors.

The cubicle walls are only half-high, with the top section being plexiglass. I'm on the end of a row, and have two printers right behind me. This means absolutely zero privacy. I'll have to be careful blogging and harvesting my Magic Nose Goblins. Just to mess with people, I've put mt Tokyo DisneySea suction cup Mickey-eared submarine on the plexiglass right behind the printers, so no one can miss it.

March 18, 2005

LinkNews Digest [03/18/2005]

Lawyer Accidentally Sues Self

Alton attorney Emert Wyss thought he could make money in a Madison County class action lawsuit, but he accidentally sued himself instead. Now he has four law firms after his money - and he hired all four.

Wyss’s boomerang litigation started in 2002, when he invited Carmelita McLaughlin to his office at 1600 Washington St. in Alton. Acting as her attorney when she bought a home in Alton and when she refinanced it, on both occasions she had chosen Centerre Title--a company that Wyss owned--to close her loans...
(Full Story)


McDonalds to Offshore Drive-Thru Clerks

Somebody please tell me this is a cruel hoax.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp. wants to outsource your neighborhood drive-through. The world's largest fast-food chain said on Thursday it is looking into using remote call centers to take customer orders in an effort to improve service at its drive-throughs.

"If you're in L.A.... and you hear a person with a North Dakota accent taking your order, you'll know what we're up to," McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner told analysts at the Bear Stearns Retail, Restaurants & Apparel Conference in New York. Call center professionals with "very strong communication skills" could help boost order accuracy and ultimately speed up the time it takes customers to get in and out of the drive-throughs, the company said.
(LINK)
First off, if you can't find one person that speaks English in the place besides the magager, this is not going to fix the root problem. Second: A North Dakota accent? Riiiiight. If this goes through, I give it a year until it's a Bangalore, India accent.

"What's That Smell? Christ!"

You can find candles with just about every fragrance imaginable, from blueberry to ocean mist to hot apple pie. Now there's a candle that lets you experience the scent of Jesus, and they've been selling out by the case.

"We see it as a ministry, " says Bob Tosterud, who together with his wife came up with the idea for the candle. Light up the candle called "His Essence" and its makers say you'll experience the fragrance of Christ.

"We wanted people to be able to experience Christ in new ways and to be able to read a bible and have that scent and that candle as a reminder that he is with us all the time." (LINK via BoingBoing.net)


AOL *Gasp* Does the Right Thing

Last week, the blogs were abuzz with the discovery that the AOL Terms of Service (ToS) agreement had a loophole that would possibly allow AOL to monitor your AIM messages and consider them "public". Well, the company surprised us all this week by clarifying their ToS with AIM Messages EXCLUDED. Good for them.
(LINK)


Bowlers to Sniff More Balls in 2005

MILWAUKEE - Odors associated with bowling traditionally include smelly feet, cigarette smoke and beer. But what about grape, amaretto and cherry? One bowling ball manufacturer — Storm Products Inc. — is putting fruit and other popular scents into its mid- to high-end bowling balls, resulting in a steady increase in sales.

More than half the bowlers on the Professional Bowlers Association tour last year used them, including four-time PBA champion Ryan Shafer. Shafer, who has a contract with Storm, said he may have won a match two years ago in Kansas City because an opponent was distracted by his black licorice-scented ball.

Storm Products' first scented balls — green apple and citrus — came out in the spring of 2000. Since then, the company has produced about 40 scents. The current scents are black cherry, chocolate, lemonade, plum, blueberry, grape, banana, cinnamon, orange, amaretto and cherry. (LINK)


The Motorcycle Whisperer

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Environmentally minded British motorcycle engineers have produced a zero-emission bike that ticks all the right boxes except one -- it's too quiet. So quiet in fact that its designers are looking to introduce artificial vroom to keep potential customers happy.

Powered by a high pressure hydrogen fuel cell, the Emissions Neutral Vehicle (ENV) produces the equivalent noise of a personal computer fan belt. Not only is that distinctly wimpish in the eyes of many bikers, it could also be dangerous. Makers Intelligent Energy are looking at ways to produce an artificial engine noise that will alert people to its presence, making sure the machine is not silent and deadly. (LINK)


March 17, 2005

Wil Wright's Next Game

Wil Wright is the creator of The Sims, possibly the most lucrative franchise of games to date. So everybody is clamoring to know what he'll do next. THe title: "SPORE". Not exactly the most intriguing title, but here's the concept: "...nothing less than a game about the past and the future, the evolution of life, the development of intergalactic civilization." (Screenshots of "SPORE")

Basically, you start of as a micro organism, fighting for dominance in the primordial soup of evolution. Then you grow a spine and battle for survival with other phyla. Then you manage a tribe of nomadic huinter/gatherers, a village, a city, a country, and eventually a planet and a galaxy. Wil has experience with each level of complexity, having created SimAnt, SimEarth, SimTower, and dozens of others. The hook is that it's not linear, and your species and civilization are not preset. Whatever traits that your species has becomes dominant, and your evolution is fairly open. A cool concept, but it remains to be seen that the gameplay is as addicting as The Sims. (Likewise, Ascendancy was a huge hit, but Logic Factory's follow-up, The Tone Rebellion dropped off the radar faster than David Caruso leaving NYPD Blue because you just couldn't control it.)

But after hearing the plot, I can't help being reminded of a character in Orson Scott Card's book "Lost Boys, who creates a similar game under the unfortunate title "Hacker Snack". I'm not saying he stole it, just hearkened me back to this. Let's face it, Wil Wright doesn't have to steal any ideas, he probably gets 200 or so a day.

I Want to Work for Pixar

THIS is my idea of a work paradise.
He led us through the section of the building where the animators actually work. Here’s where the Wonka factory comparison felt strongest. Instead of cubicles, each of the animators has a customized space. There was one guy who had this groovy corner office that was open on two sides, and he had no chair at all. He had the entire office set up so that he could work standing

A lot of the animators decided early on that they didn’t want cubicles, so instead, Pixar found these groovy little cottages that they bought for them. Walking through the animation department is like walking through a neighborhood for dwarves. Lots of little houses laid out along “streets,” each one with an address on the door.

The animators also have lounges set up so they can congregate and relax, including a jungle-themed lounge with piƱatas hanging overhead.

Link AintItCoolNews)

March 14, 2005

Customer Service Not Skin Deep

When most of us see the words “Customer Service” on a sign or attached to a telephone number, we feel a sense of dread overtake us. What are the chances that we’ll actually get what we want? How long will I have to wait? Bad customer service stories circulate almost as fast as urban legends these days because, let’s face it, when service is bad, it’s usually monumentally bad. However, I can’t place the blame entirely on the Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) because there are other factors at work in each bad service scenario.

First thing to look for is the customer’s frame of reference. Sure, some bank might have snapped an answer to this friend-of-a-friend, but was the guy being rude to the bank teller to begin with? There might also be a customer pre-disposition or bias against the company that escalated the incident. Perhaps the customer had a bad incident in the past with a swindling car dealer, which made him/her openly hostile to the present salesman. While the slogan goes “The customer is always right”, it’s understood that not all customers are completely innocent when dealing with a business.

The second hidden factor in a bad customer service story is management policies. This is more important than the CSR to the outcome of any customer scenario, because management policy is the framework that the CSR must work within. Almost as common in conversation are stories about sympathetic CSRs whose hands are tied by management. I’ll cite a few examples:

Maddox booked a flight on Orbitz.com with a connection through San Francisco because it was $30 cheaper than the other sites. However, the fare neglected to include a connecting flight between San Jose and San Francisco. Not only would cab fare between these cities total more than the $30 he saved, but they sold him an impossible itinerary. Even if he took a cab, still he would have to check in 2 hours before departure, since it was an international flight. He called customer service, and while the rep was sympathetic, management policy did not allow a refund for the error.

Justin received a notice that his February mortgage payment was not paid, even though Bank of America sent out a statement that noted his next payment wasn’t due until March 10th. He provided both statements to a BofA rep, who agreed it was the bank’s error. But when the rep called up the chain of command, management refused to waive the late payment fee and remove the delinquent payment status from his record. Apparently, they already waived a late fee for him in October, and had a policy of waving fees once per year. (Attempts to instruct this person that October, 2004 and February, 2005 are actually different years were fruitless.)

I don’t doubt that bad customer service is sometimes the fault of rude representatives. My plea to the masses is this: Make the distinction between a bad service REP and a bad company service POLICY. Most of these reps are making next to nothing, and have to parrot the company handbook in full knowledge that it’s wrong. Any disheveled-looking guy in a loosened tie at the bar is likely a CSR. They have to do it, just like lawyers have to defend criminals that they know are guilty, because it’s their job. So please try to make this distinction the next time you have a complaint go unheard, and follow the proper channels to complain on the company, not just the rep.

March 11, 2005

LinkNews Digest [03/11/2005]

Israel Bans D&D Players from Army

Thousands of youth and teens in Israel play D&D, fighting dragons and demons using their rich imaginations. The game has also increased in popularity due to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

However the IDF does not approve of this unusual hobby and prevents D&D players from being considered for sensitive army positions by labeling them with low security clearance.

"We have discovered that some of them are simply detached from reality," a security source told [us]. Game enthusiasts are aware of their problematic image in the army and prefer to maintain their anonymity. Many of them are from the former Soviet Union, where the game is very popular.

In Israel there are thousands of players, between the ages 16 to 35, and include lawyers, high-tech workers and businessmen. Matan, 22, and Igor, a 21-year-old IDF soldier, organize activities for groups of players. Soon hundreds of fans are expected to meet in a forest in the southern part of Israel for a two-day game of pure fantasy. (LINK)


Pentagon Dodges Audit Scrutiny with 'Future Combat Systems'

As Inside Defense notes, under Defense Department rules -- specifically, Federal Acquisition Regulation 12 (FAR 12) -- everyday, "off-the-shelf" items can be bought with a minimum of paperwork and oversight. Filling out endless forms just to buy new copies of Microsoft Word doesn't make much sense, after all.

But neither does applying FAR 12 to Future Combat Systems (FCS), a program which encompasses everything from fleets of new robotic vehicles to a whole new architecture for battlefield communications to new uniforms for the troops.

"The FCS system is being included in the fiscal '06 budget as a commercial off-the-shelf item. That means that they are relieved of the obligation to [give] cost and purchasing data to military auditors," Sen. McCain told Army Secretary Francis Harvey during a March 3 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Tell me, Mr. Secretary, where might I be able to purchase such a vehicle commercially?"

"It's not -- it's certainly not off the shelf," Harvey replied. "Senator, you know that. It's a very heavy technology development program."

"I really think we’re going to have to change this designation," answered McCain, who's already planning on holding hearings on FCS. (LINK via DefenseTech.org)


This Year's Hot VideoGame Property: Emily Dickinson

SAN FRANCISCO -- In this era of first-person shooters, successful video games seem to require lots of shooting, explosions and other assaults on the senses. But who says you can't write a game about the poetry of Emily Dickinson?

That was the question put to some of the biggest names in gaming during a special panel discussion Wednesday at the Game Developers Conference here. "The Sims" creator Will Wright, "Black & White" designer Peter Molyneux and "Splinter Cell" lead designer Clint Hocking were set the task of developing a game concept based on the reclusive poet.

Splinter Cell's Hocking, the first to present, said his initial thoughts had been an Emily Dickinson poetry slam. That, he joked, would pit Dickinson against fellow writers "Mark Twain, aka Fathom," and "Robert 'Iceman' Frost."

Then came [Wright's] idea to put the player in the role of Dickinson's therapist. The game, he said, would be stored on a USB flash drive. "As you interact with her, you start with a cordial relationship," he said. "She (either) becomes romantically obsessed with you, or goes into a suicidal depression, and at the end, she can delete herself from the memory stick." (LINK via Wired)


Technology Mimics Harry Potter Magic

Microsoft introduced many "New" ideas in their annual TechFest, but this one has a striking resemblance to the Weasley's Clock from the Harry Potter books:
The people-tracking clock is an idea out of Microsoft's research laboratories in Cambridge, England. Technology in cellphones these days can easily track a person's location, and that information could be sent to the clock to be seen by those at home.

"It sounds very trivial but it has very nice properties," said Andrew Herbert, the managing director of the Cambridge lab. "You can glance at it and know where everyone is." (LINK)


CNN Refuses to Show Controversial Land Mine Video

The scene opens on some neightborhood girls playing soccer, when one of them steps on a land mine.
The explosion appears to kill and injure some girls, sparking panic and chaos among parents and other children. Shrieks of horror are heard through much of the spot, and a father is shown cradling his daughter's lifeless body, moments after celebrating a goal she had scored.
It closes with a tag line reading: "If there were landmines here, would you stand for them anywhere? Help the U.N. eradicate landmines everywhere." ( Video)
I whole-heartedly support the cause. A good part of Hawaii's islands are still inaccessable today because of Land Mines that the army planted there as a deterrent to invasion in WWII. It's sad to see huge chunks of that beautiful land just fenced off, and I can't imagine what it would be like to live in fear of them randomly scattered on the landscape.

Plague Resitance key to AIDS Prevention

Europeans who survived the Bubonic Plague usually developed a specific gene called delta 32, and hopefully passed it on to their children.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, tricks the immune system in a similar manner as the plague bacterium, targeting and taking over white blood cells. Virologist Dr. Bill Paxton at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City noticed, "the center had no study of people who were exposed to HIV but who had remained negative." He began testing the blood of high-risk, HIV-negative individuals like Steve Crohn, exposing their blood to three thousand times the amount of HIV normally needed to infect a cell. Steve's blood never became infected. Paxton began studying Crohn's DNA, and concluded there was some sort of blocking mechanism preventing the virus from binding to his cells. Further research showed that that mechanism was delta 32. (LINK)
Since this plague never infected Africa or India, this gene never appears in their indigenous populations, which provides some insight into their unusually high mortality rate.

March 08, 2005

FFX - Endgame

After giving up on it a while back, I gave Final Fantasy X another go. Mostly it was because I was stuck on the replacement game I bought. Well, just as I reported earlier, levelling up your characters in the end is a needlessly huge ordeal, both complex and frustratingly repetative. Even after I completed tasks that should have unlocked the big weapons, some glitch still prevented me from getting them.

But last night, I finished the game, mostly because I found a method of fast levelling. Of course, we're talking RELATIVELY fast, which means I only took 20 extra hours of mindless fetching and tweaking, rather than the 30 or so that it might have taken. The ending was satisfying. But after weeks of constant battles, I find that it's crept up into my conscious life. Kind of like this video .

March 07, 2005

Buster vs Bill O'Reilly

I'll preface this rant by saying that Bill O'Reilly is, by and large, a good journalist and I agree with some of his opinions. However, his "ignore it and it'll go away" stance on homosexuality makes my skin crawl.

By now we should all know about the PBS "Buster the Bunny" fiasco: A cartoon bunny visits Vermont, shows kids where maple syrup comes from, and introduces a kid with two mommies. Then new secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, threatened to pull PBS' funding if the "offensive" show wasn't removed.

Now Bill O'Reilly sounds off on how this was corrupting our nation's youth:
It is well known that many in the communications business believe that a subliminal "gay is OK" message is imperative to foster tolerance in America. On paper, the theory looks good, and is good if the child is mature enough to process the situation. But introducing homosexuality into the little kid culture angers many Americans who believe sex in general is an inappropriate topic for small children, and that is a legitimate point of view whether Barney Frank or PBS likes it or not.

The sexualization of children is one of America's great scandals. Kids today are blasted out of a G-rated life far too early thanks to a greedy, irresponsible media and fanatical special interest groups.


"The Sexualization of Children"? Hardly. The word "Lesbian" was never used, there was no talk of sex, just a cartoon bunny informing kids that some kids have two mommies instead of a mommy and a daddy. Buster was not showing them pictures of what two mommies do behind closed doors or anything, this was introducing kids to a concept of family that some of them might not be familiar with yet. Just like children's programs introduce kids to the idea that other kids in their class might have darker skin than they do, and that's okay. If little Billy went over Johnny's house to play, and met his parents, Debbie and Julia, he would be "exposed" to this. And he would be corrupted...how?

Just as traditional couples first introduce kids to the mommy/daddy family concept long before having the "birds-and-bees" talk, kids today should be introduced to the concept of mommy/mommy and daddy/daddy families. That's all this program is guilty of. For a party that claims to be for "family values", it never ceases to amaze me how much effort they put into harming other kinds of families than their own.

Even as adults, the concept of same-sex unions is all you need to understand. Once you have that, you'll probably never have to think about it on a deeper level. I've had many gay friends over the years, and not one has sat me down and talked graphically about what they did to their partner the other night. Come to think of it, no straight friend has ever described his sexual history to me either.

Actually, most people are repulsed by the idea of other heterosexual couples in bed. From your parents to your co-workers to people on the street, most people just don't want to think about other people in bed, even WITHOUT the parties being gay. This is fairly normal. I, personally shudder to think about what Mr. and a former Mrs. Rush Limbaugh did in the sack, but you don't see me calling for him to be pulled off the air. (Okay, bad example, but you know what I mean.)

There is a distinct difference between sex and lifestyle, for all walks of life. Most rational people agree that sex should be kept off the television. However, simply showing people who have an alternative lifestyle is not sex. Buster the Bunny was not introducing sex to the PBS audience, he was introducing a family. The two-mommy family is just an alternative, like the family in which the Mom works and the Dad stays home, or even the family where the mom stays home and the dad is a long-haul trucker/National Guardsman/travelling salesman and isn't home that much.

Let's make something perfectly clear: Buster and other same-sex union supporters are not introducing "Homosexuality" to kids, because sex doesn't enter into it. We're just talking about families. There are two cartoon women on the TV, doing nothing but smiling. The kids probably didn't think anything about it until the O'Reilly Scool of Parenting started raising a fuss. I find no small amount of satisfaction in the irony that technically, these parents are the ones bombarding kids with the sexual images, not the "fanatical special interest group" that is PBS. The kids thought they were just watching a cartoon about maple syrup and mommies.

March 04, 2005

LinkNews Digest [03/04/2005]

That's No Hood Ornament!

INKOM, Idaho - Torri Hutchinson's cat might just have one less life to live. Hutchison was driving along Interstate 15 one day recently when a motorist kept trying to get her attention and pointing to the roof of her car.

She had driven about 10 miles with the cat on top of the car, and didn't even notice the feline when she stopped for gas.

Hutchinson said Cuddle Bug, or C.B. for short, had climbed into the back of her car as she was getting ready to leave. She put him out, but he must have jumped on the roof while she wasn't looking, she said. (LINK)
This remind anyone else of a certain Chevy Chase Movie?

Gamers Can Order Pizza In-Game

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sony has built the ability to order pizza into its latest online multiplayer game. Type the command "/pizza" while playing Everquest II, a fantasy game with 330,000 active players, and get the Pizza Hut Web site, where you can place orders for delivery.

Chris Kramer, spokesman for Sony Online Entertainment, said he believes this is the first time a game accepts orders for real-world items. Sony plans to integrate the pizza function more tightly into the game, so players can charge pizza to their monthly game subscription bill.
(LINK)

If you can't leave the game for three minutes to call out for pizza, then you must admit you have a problem. If this trend continues, it will do for Internet Addiction what Drive-thru liquor stores did for drunk driving.

Crows Threaten British Monarchy

(My crow-loving Mother-In-Law will probably disown me for this, but here goes...)
LONDON (Reuters) - If legend is to be believed, the future of the British monarchy lies in the hands of one warder at the Tower of London.

For the six ravens who roam one of Britain's landmark fortresses are under threat from up to 200 crows who have invaded their royal domain, spreading disease and stealing food. So every Sunday at dawn, before the daily tourist invasion begins, Yeoman Warder Derrick Coyle roams The Tower with his .22 air rifle to cull the crows.

For the beefeater, it is a weighty responsibility securing a haven for the ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens leave, The Tower of London will fall and so will the monarchy.
(LINK)

I can hear the movie-of-the-week announcer now... "The future of Britain lies in the hands of one man, one gun, and 200 bullets. 'A Murder of Crows' starring Jeff Speakman and Helena Bonham Carter. Sunday night at 8 on TNT."

Teacher/Mother of the Year Nominee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A California high school teacher was arraigned on Monday at a Sacramento court accused of having sex with a student in a car as her two-year child was strapped into the back seat.

Margaret De Barraicua, 30, a teacher trainee, was charged with four counts of unlawful intercourse with a minor, a 16-year-old student. The married woman was caught having sex in the late afternoon last week in what was apparently a consensual agreement, officials said.

"We received a call about a suspicious parked vehicle at a school here in Sacramento," said local police spokesman Justin Risley. "They got there and observed two people, windows-steamed-up type of thing." Her two-year old son was strapped by a seat belt in the back of the car during the time, he said. (LINK)


Bubba the 22-pound Lobster

(AP) He's Bubba, a 22-pound leviathan of a lobster pulled from the waters off Nantucket, Mass., and shipped to a Pittsburgh fish market. On Tuesday, Wholey gave the lobster to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, which will send him to an aquarium at a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum. Based on how long it typically takes a lobster to reach eating size about five to seven years to grow to a pound Bubba may be 100 years old.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent Wholey a letter asking him to work with the group to release Bubba back in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. Another group calling itself "People For Eating Tasty Animals" reportedly offered Wholey a hefty price for the lobster. At Tuesday's price of $14.98 a pound, Bubba would retail for about $350. (LINK)
UPDATE: Bubba T. Lobster, Dead at 100. He survived the Reagan Administration, but a slight temperature and saline level drop was too much for him. And now, a moment of silence for Bubba.

March 02, 2005

Cavity Search

This will be a poitless post, but I have to get it off my chest.

Did you wear braces in middle school? Remember how much fun that was? Can you imagine having them now? I can't either, but it looks like I need them. I also need a "drill & fill" or two, since I went a year between checkups.

I had braces in middle school because there was no other choice. I sucked my thumb until I was twelve, and that made my front teeth sitck out 45 degrees fom the rest. My dad knew no girl would want me, and no business would hire me, except as a copy-boy for comic relief puropses. So I got braces on the top, and a retainer later on, before I was admissable into normal society again.

Now, at age 30, I might need them on the bottom as well. My teeth don't set properly, so my jaw muscles never get to fully relax, and that leads to a lot of pain. I'll discuss the alternatives with the Dentist on my next appointment, since braces run about two grand. he mentioned a "Bite Splint" that I put on an night, but that sounds a bit ominous, and I picture what Lisa Simpson had to wear...