September 28, 2005

LinkNews Digest [09/28/2005]

An early edition this week, since the Kerns are off to DisneyWorld tomorrow!

NY Superintendant Used School as ATM

MINEOLA, N.Y. - For years, ex-Roslyn schools chief Frank Tassone admitted, he stole millions of dollars in taxpayer money to finance everything from his breakfast bagel to European jaunts on the Concorde. His next big journey on the taxpayers' dime will be to prison.

Tassone, 58, of Manhattan pleaded guilty Monday to first- and second-degree grand larceny before Nassau County Judge Alan Honorof in a scandal that state Comptroller Alan Hevesi has called "the largest, most remarkable, most extraordinary theft" from a school system in American history.

As part of a plea bargain, Tassone will spend four to 12 years in prison and pay back an estimated $2 million. If convicted at trial, he could have faced 25 years. Four other people have been charged. Prosecutors have said they anticipate further arrests, and Tassone will cooperate in the continuing investigation as part of his plea deal, District Attorney Denis Dillon said.

An audit by Hevesi earlier this year found that $11.2 million had been pilfered between 1996 and 2004, although prosecutors have been able to link slightly less than $7 million to the current defendants.

The $2 million taken by Tassone paid for flights aboard the Concorde for vacations in England, cruises, hotel and resort accommodations, dermatology treatments, furniture, jewelry and meals. More than $1 million allegedly was stolen via ATM cash advances, and prosecutors said the defendants even had their dry cleaning and cable TV bills picked up by taxpayers. (LINK)
He and his cronies stole $11 Million from the school distrinct, living like Hiltons for 8 years on the taxpayers dime. All the while, he told the schools to tighten their budgets and cut art & music programs. And for this, his plea deal nets him a fine and 4 years in jail? To hell with that. Seize his assets, sell them in a school garage sale and make him work as a substitute teacher in the worst NY district for 10 years. How's that karma bite you?

Prague's Pissing Statues

While they are peeing, the two figures move realistically. An electric mechanism driven by a couple of microprocessors swivels the upper part of the body, while the penis goes up and down. The stream of water writes quotes from famous Prague residents.
Visitor can interupt them by sending SMS message from mobile phone to a number, displayed next to the sculptures. The living statue then 'writes' the text of the message, before carrying on as before. (LINK)


September 26, 2005

LinkNews Digest [09/26/2005]

Italian Artists Knit 200' Pink Bunny

Kumugura!!
An enormous pink bunny has been erected on an Italian mountainside where it will stay for the next 20 years.

The 200-foot-long toy rabbit lies on the side of the 5,000 foot high Colletto Fava mountain in northern Italy's Piedmont region. Viennese art group Gelatin designed the giant soft toy and say it was "knitted by dozens of grannies out of pink wool".

Group member Wolfgang Gantner said: "It's supposed to make you feel small, like Gulliver. You walk around it and you can't help but smile." And Gelatin members say the bunny is not just for walking around - they are expecting hikers to climb its 20 foot sides and relax on its belly.

The giant rabbit is expected to remain on the mountain side until 2025.
(LINK)

China Markets "Clinton" and "Lewinsky" Condoms

BEIJING - A rubber company in China has begun marketing condoms under the brand names Clinton and Lewinsky, apparently seeking to exploit the White House affair that led to the impeachment of America's 42nd president.

He said that the Clinton condoms will go on sale in southern China for 29.8 Yuan ($3.72) for a box of 12, while the Lewinsky model will be priced at 18.8 Yuan ($2.35) for the same quantity.

"The Clinton condom will be the top of our line," he said. "The Lewinsky condom is not quite as good."

Liu said the company had chosen to use the Clinton name because consumers viewed the former president as a responsible person, who would want to stress safe sex as an effective way to prevent the spread of the HIV virus.

Liu said the company did not believe using the Clinton and Lewinsky names constituted a violation of copyright or other laws. (LINK)
The fact that the two never had the type of relations that would require a condom apparetnly doesn't bother them either. Kind of like marketing "Pat Robertson" brand Kosher foods, if you ask me.

JetBlue emergency landing: life imitates Snowcrash

From Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash:
[Hiro] turns off all of the techno-shit in his goggles. All it does is confuse him; he stands there reading statistics about his own death even as it's happening to him. Very post-modern. Time to get immersed in Reality, like all the people around him.

And from CNN:
The airliner circled Southern California for hours, crippled by a faulty landing gear, while inside its cabin 140 passengers watched their own life-and-death drama unfolding on live television. [...] [Pia] Varma, 23, and other passengers said the plane's monitors carried live DirectTV broadcasts on the plane's problems until just a few minutes before landing at Los Angeles International Airport. (via BoingBoing)


September 21, 2005

Somewhere I Belong

A small follow-up to my posts about finding my new job:

Today I'm cleaning out my office in Buckhead, and moving full-time into the remote office. (I need to find a good code-name for it. "My Remote Office in Melissa's Parents' Basement" is kinda lengthy. Perhaps I could shorten it to "My ROMPBase"?) As I'm taking down my personal effects from the wall, a postcard from DisneyWorld, a map of the London Underground, etc.

Then I take down a small scrap of paper with some song lyrics printed out.

I will never know myself until I do this on my own
And I will never feel anything else until my wounds are healed
I will never be anything 'till I break away from me
I will break away
I'll find myself today
-- Linkin Park, "Somewhere I Belong"

I was as surprised as anyone to be inspired by lyrics from Linkin Park, but there they were. When I first decided to break out of my old job, I was inspired by these words, and I hung them up as a daily reminder. Now, I can take it down. I've finally done it. I've made my break and changed my life.

September 18, 2005

DragonCon 2005 Trip Report

Since this post is seriously long, sports about 50 pictures and has some HTML that isn't cross-browser friendly, I've posted it outside the blog : Read the Full DragonCon 2005 Trip Report

September 16, 2005

LinkNews Digest [09/16/2005]

The ahem, "Revolutionary" Skin Treatment from China

LONDON (AFP) - A British newspaper said that a Chinese cosmetics company was using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe.

Agents for the firm, which could not be named for legal reasons, have told would-be customers that skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot is being used to develop collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments, the Guardian newspaper said following an undercover investigation.

"The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is 'traditional' and nothing to 'make such a big fuss about'," the daily alleged.

It quoted that agent as saying: "A lot of the research is still carried out in the traditional manner using skin from the executed prisoner and aborted foetus." This material, he said, was being bought from "bio tech" companies based in the northern province of Heilongjiang, and was being developed elsewhere in China. (LINK)


"Extreme Outdoor Marketing". The site is in french, but you can pretty much make out the point of the ads. (One is Borderline WorkSafe, this IS France we're talking about)

September 14, 2005

Destiny's Arrival

The paperwork is complete and I accepted the official job offer. I have a real, permanent, non-contract position now. Just one set of co-workers, one client to work with, one set of skills to learn and use.

I've been looking for this for almost two years now, and I had hoped I wouldn't have to leave the company to do it. I wanted to keep my years of service intact, and with it the nice extra holidays it afforded me. I prayed for it all along the way, especially hard when the contract work was difficult.

Last Fall, I was on a project that required me to be in Little Rock or New Jersey for a total of six weeks out of the three months. That hit me pretty hard, since Fall is the time that Melissa, Matthew and I enjoy spending time together the most.

After this dreadful assignment, I was flying to California to have the first Christmas together with my parents and brother in six years. The client I was working for fought tooth and nail for me to delay my flight out to LA until Christmas Eve, to be on-call for the whole week, and even bring my laptop with me to work, if needed. Through the proper channels and filters, I told them exactly where they could go stick that request.

I was looking out the window and wondering how long it might take to find that new job. While I was pondering this, we passed over the Rockies and I thought about time scale to the mountains. A few years was nothing, in the grand scheme. And the more I thought about the mountains, the more I realized that patience and persistence were required, in addition to effort, for both mountains and men to become what they are.

As I came to this bit of wisdom, it crystallized into words:
"The mountaintops did not achieve their great heights by lifting themselves up from the earth alone. They also had to remain steadfast and endure while other ground around them washed away."
Now I'm not saying that God spoke to me directly, or that Buddha's finger touched me with enlightenment. But once I had this in words, I knew what was required of me. I had to be patient and my path would be shown to me.

A few months ago, a friend that I worked with until 2001 recommended me for a contract position in her department. Today, I accepted the offer to work with them permanently. Indeed, my path was shown to me, and my prayers had been answered.

September 13, 2005

Ten Commandments Sale

Remember last year, when a picture of the 10 Commandments were forcably removed from the Barrow County, GA courthouse after a big legal batle? Well the framed commandments in question are being sold on ebay to recoup court fees. Current bid: $3000.

Personally, I like the 10 commandments, but they have no place in a court of law. Some people say it belongs there because it is considered to be the basis of the laws of man. A few points on that:

(1) Only three of them are actually laws (perjury, stealing and killing) and the rest have to do with religion (no other god, keeping the sabbath holy--which is broken every week in courthouses).
(2) I think it's safe to say the laws have come a LONG WAY since then. We don't cut children in half during divorce custody hearings, we don't stone people for saying the lord's name in vain ("All I said was that the meal was good enough for Jehovah!").
(3) Yes, it might be an artifact of the basis of law, but it's no longer relevant in our modern law system. Would we tolerate a British crown and scepter in the White House because our country was created in response to kings? Hardly. If you're christian, and in the law profession, you're free to admire history and be influenced by the universal simplicity of the 10 commandments and think back to a time when everything you needed to know about law could be put on fifteen TEN lines. Today there are whole libraries on the laws governing pet ownership. I actually had to testify as a Character Witness for two dogs many years ago. You tell me what Wise Old Solomon would think of that.

The AOME Shop

I was very pleased with the response some of my designs got at our DragonCon table. Everybody loved the buttons we gave out, (and were more than willing to sign up for our mailer in exchange for one), and the members liked the t-shirts and stuff. So we've put some money down and purchased a premium shop at Cafe Press:



All designs courtesy of the twisted mind of yours truly, with help from Justin and Photos from fellow AoME members. Let me know what you think.

Hope for New Orleans

FYI, the culture of New Orleans and the spirit of it's people are apparently made of stronger stuff than most people realize.

New Orleans Strip Club Eager to Open

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) -Friday night on Bourbon Street, usually a throbbing artery of the party-going French Quarter, was pretty grim this time around in what has become a foul-smelling ghost town partly covered with a swamp of filthy water. Police patrol cars and military Humvees made up most of the traffic on the street.

But Big Daddy's general manager, Saint Jones, and a band of helpers defied an evacuation order by arriving to clean up their premises in the historic French Quarter, which escaped largely unscathed from the floods.

Jones told Reuters he would open for business as soon as he could get electricity, water and dancers. He was already had electricity from a generator, which was moving a pair of robotic woman's legs, in stockings and pink high heels, waving invitingly on the street by the sign for Big Daddy's. He also had plenty of bottled water.

But his former employees had been evacuated, so his main problem was convincing girls to come to a town without services and supposedly off limits to most civilians. "It shouldn't be too hard. Everyone's going to come back in town and want to work. You know, if you've got 50 dancers in Houston and they're not making money, they're going to spread out," he said.

Judging from the number of military and police vehicles which stopped or slowed passing Big Daddy's, they'll have plenty of customers. It didn't seem to occur to the men in uniform to enforce the evacuation order in effect on the city -- they preferred to ask when the strippers would be back.

One army Humvee, carrying a team of Puerto Rican troops, stopped so that a soldier could pose with his M16 rifle by a life-size picture of a naked blonde while his buddy took a photo. Jones gave them vodka on the rocks in plastic cups, which they enjoyed before hopping back in the Humvee. (LINK)
Yes sir, nude women and government employees drinking at the wheel. No matter what happens to the buildings, the New Orleans spirit will live on.

September 12, 2005

LinkNews Digest [09/12/2005]

India Offers $5M to Katrina Relief

Disaster is a great leveller. In a reversal of usual roles following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, India has offered a comprehensive assistance package to the US, the world's largest relief donor. The offer was formally communicated to the White House by Indian ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, on Saturday.

Tapping into its experience in combating large scale disasters, India's three-pronged package attempts to export a combination of materials and expertise. Apart from a $5 million contribution to the American Red Cross, India has offered to fly across Army medical teams to New Orleans. Army, rather than civilian, relief teams are being offered keeping in view the worsening law and order situation in the city.

India reckons water purification will be urgently required in a city where contamination would be rife, causing water-borne diseases. As a leading producer of bulk drugs, India is sending across a large consignment of medicines. After attending to numerous large-scale disasters, including last December's tsunami and last month's Mumbai flooding, India now has acquired considerable expertise in combating such large-scale disasters. (LINK)

Piss on MY grave, will you?!?

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An inebriated Belgian woman died in a freak accident when she ended up beneath a heavy grave stone at a cemetery, local news agency Belga said Wednesday.

The 33-year-old was on her way home from a bar in the Belgian town of Pulle in the early hours of Saturday when she took a short cut through the cemetery. But she urgently needed to relieve herself and crouched down between two gravestones.

As she lost her balance, she grabbed one of the stones which gave way and landed on top of her. The public prosecutor's office said she died of suffocation as she was unable to lift the heavy stone. (LINK)

September 09, 2005

Reporters Speak Out

I haven't posted about Hurricane Katrina because I don't have anything new to say. You don't need my opinion, it's the same as everyone else in the world, I'm not special in that regard. It's probably the worst natural tragedy in our nation's history. Never before has a large metropolitan area been evacuated outright, and never before has mismanagement had such dire consequences.

I can hardly bring myself to watch the news, reading about it is hard enough, but we have to keep looking at this, as Americans we can't look away. And in this age of corporate ownership of news media, I've often wondered if any real reporting could ever happen that wasn't along the controlling corporation's party lines.

Salon.com has a highlight reel of reporters like Anderson Cooper laying it on the line, speaking from their heart and tearing any excuse-making politician a new one. It's a 21 MB video, just click on the option to the right, to view a short commercial first, and then you'll be allowed to watch it.

September 08, 2005

The Interview

I posted for that permanent position last week. Today, my semi-boss Suzanne called me for teh interview. Well, it wasn't really an interview. We had talked over all the facts, this was just a bit of procedure. Such as "Are you still interested in this position? Since we talked last week?" I absolutely was. I am ready to get on with my career and out of this body shop.

As an added bonus, this new job comes with a "bump up" in pay scale. I don't know what that will amount to yet, because this company has a tendency to pay higher initial salaries and more slim percentages as you go on. But a raise is a raise, and this one even comes with a promotion! I'm back to being a Business Analyst, after three years of programming exclusively, and I'm all for it.

Suzanne said the paperwork will probably take a couple weeks to process, and she'd tell me once it's finalized. Oh, and they found someone to fill the lead position in Jacksonville that I turned down, and they're a much better fit that I would have been. No hard feelings at all.

I called Melissa once the call was over. "This is great," I told her, "No more working contract to contract. Finally, I have some real stability in my life."

"Stability?" Mel replied "Oh, yeah, like Matthew and I are just...fleeting, I guess?" We both laughed. "Yeah, you could come home one day and we'd just be gone. Poof!"