NSA helps man save money on long distance

(via tingilinde)

Humor site The Onion has a funny spoof news article titled “NSA Wiretap Reveals Subject May Be Paying Too Much For Long-Distance.”

The director of the National Security Agency announced at a press conference Tuesday that the ongoing phone surveillance of Cincinnati resident Greg Wyckham has yielded “overwhelming and incontrovertible” evidence that the 37-year-old high-school teacher and married father of three is wasting money on a long-distance plan that does not suit his calling needs.

. . .

“We have stacks of logs showing phone calls placed on weekdays before 9 p.m., as well as calls made with flagrant disregard for the per-minute rate,” Alexander said. “In addition, not once did Mr. Wyckham ask his out-of-state friends and family members with the same long-distance carrier to join him in a money-saving service plan.”

Added Alexander: “Bear in mind that this is a man who earns only $43,220 a year. With both a Dodge minivan in desperate need of repair and the upcoming vasectomy to pay for, he should be more concerned about these expenses.”

NSA analyst Lawrence Reinhard, who headed the team conducting the wiretapping, said Wyckham has several cost-cutting plans to choose from.

I may not like the NSA spying, but it can make for some entertaining satire, I suppose.

[tags]NSA, Long distance, The Onion[/tags]

Senator opposed to free speech

(via Dan Gillmor’s blog)

In a move sure to confound many, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has taken the side of those who wish to institute a ban on flag-burning in America.  Understand that I think burning the flag is a stupid thing.  However, like many others, I believe that it is an act which is protected as free speech.  I don’t have to agree with what someone does to feel they should have the freedom to do it.  In the case of flag-burning, I don’t agree with the people who do it, but I do believe those people should have the right to burn the flag.  Of course, I can particularly see the irony here of people protesting America by taking part in an act which is not widely protected outside of America.  And I would have no qualms telling those people they are free to go live elsewhere.

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke on the floor of the United States Senate in support of the flag protection amendment. In her remarks, Senator Feinstein expressed her belief that the current debate on this amendment is about conduct, not speech, and that the flag protection amendment itself is content neutral. She also argued that she believes the American flag is a monument to the spirit and values of this country, and should be protected as such. The following are her remarks, as delivered:

[tags]Flag burning, Free Speech, Dianne Feinstein[/tags]

Senator “gets it” – geeks everywhere shocked?

ArsTechnica has the details on this one. The article talks more about the network neutrality debate that has been popping up in Congress recently. In particular, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has stated he intends to stand in the way of a current proposed communications bill if an amendment guaranteeing network neutrality is not included.

Next up for the telecom bill is consideration by the full Senate… maybe. Net neutrality proponent Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced via e-mail yesterday that he has placed a “hold” on the legislation, due to its lack of an “effective policy” on net neutrality. “The days of unfettered, unlimited and free access to any site on the world wide web, what I call net neutrality, are being threatened,” said Sen. Wyden. “Those who own the pipes, the giant cable and phone companies, want to discriminate on which sites you can access.”

Without such an amendment, we face a very near-future likelihood in which telecommunication providers can easily limit how accessible web sites and services are to consumers by requiring payment from service and content providers for assured bandwidth and/or latency guarantees. This would mean, for example, that your Vonage phone connection would be of poor to unusable quality unless Vonage paid the baby balls and cable company providers. VOIP consumers could then choose to use an unreliable service like Vonage or a more reliable and more expensive service from their internet provider. Read the above-linked Wikipedia article for a better explanation of why network neutrality is a “good thing.” Wyden has tried unsuccessfully to get such an amendment added before. Here’s hoping this go around is more successful.
As something of an aside, check out the extra unusual move of a Senator not caving to the entertainment industry:

Other amendments may also be tacked onto or removed from the bill, with Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) on record as saying he may try to strip the broadcast flag from the legislation.

[tags]Network neutrality, Broadcast flag[/tags]

Virtual LEGOs on your Mac

Well, until the company that controls the name comes in and forces a change to the description, Bricksmith is described simply as “virtual Lego modeling for your Macintosh.” And checking out the pictures, you can see that the description pretty well covers it. It’s a legally free application for developing LEGO look-alike buildings on recent model Macs.  After you get done building your virtual world LEGO-style, be sure to download and use L3P to convert the model into a POVray description file.  This will give you some extra-pretty images (after running them through POVray) that look more realistic than non-L3P converted images.

[tags]LEGO, Virtual LEGOs, POVray, L3P[/tags]

Virtual keyboard

(via Gadget Bloggers)
virtual_keyboard.jpgI’ve written about this before, somewhere, sometime, somehow. I can’t find it in the current blog contents though, so I’ll post it again. If you’ve ever wanted a more portable keyboard than what you get lugging around a full-sized, you could certainly carry around a flexible keyboard (I have one that rolls-up about the length of a hot-dog and about 2.5 inches across). If you want to appear cooler around your geeky buddies (for geek-values of “cooler”), though, you’ll get this bluetooth virtual keyboard instead. Sure, you have to have a bluetooth device to use this sucker, but that’s becoming more common on many geek devices.  And how many of your friends will have a laser projected virtual keyboard of any sort, anyway?

An amazing glimpse of this promised future has just arrived at ThinkGeek in the form of the Bluetooth Laser Virtual Keyboard. This tiny device laser-projects a keyboard on any flat surface… you can then type away accompanied by simulated key click sounds. It really is true future magic at its best.

in a size a little larger than a matchbook.

Tiny, isn’t it? And they say size doesn’t matter? Ha! I say.

[tags]Virtual keyboard, Bluetooth, Geeky gadgets, gadgets[/tags]

Sony continues work on making people not want PS3

(via Dubious Quality)
In an apparent attempt to get the whole world ready for excessive game prices to accompany its excessive console prices, Sony has announced that games probably won’t be $99.99 at release. OK, so it isn’t really an announcement of excessive pricing just yet, but check out the quote and see if you don’t read it the way I (and Bill) do.

SCEA president Kaz Hirai isn’t promising a $59.99 price tag for PS3 games this fall. In an interview with PSM, the Sony leader explained. So, what I can say now is, I think it would be a bit of a stretch to think that we could suddenly turn around and say “PS3 games now $99.99.” I don’t think the consumers expect the software pricing to suddenly be double,” he told the magazine. “So, if it becomes a bit higher than fifty-nine bucks don’t ding me, but, again, as I said, I don’t expect it to be a hundred bucks.”

So Sony is not announcing $100 games, but it certainly seems a setup for games costing more than the $60 XBox360 owners are already paying.  This is on top of the extra (at least) $100 a PS3 will cost over the XB360.  Maybe I’m seeing too much in that quote, but it does look to me like preparing a table for $70 and possibly $80 games for PS3.  This console will have enough trouble fighting the 1 year and $100 price lead of the XB360 since Sony has saddled the thing with a next-gen drive that so far gives shows no value to me (but then, I’m like many others who don’t see the value in next-gen video discs anyway).  I hope I’m wrong, but I see Sony working hard to make consumers not want this console.
[tags]PS3, Playstation, Sony, OMGWTFBBQ?[/tags]

Avoid grammatical errors when blogging

(via Blogging Pro)
I make mistakes all the time – grammatical, factual, and spelling mistakes at least. And I’m guessing a lot of other people do (and that’s guessing as in – I read other sites enough to know that many people are even worse than I am). In an attempt to help bloggers (and others) reduce or avoid making so many grammatical errors, ZDNet has published an article entitled “10 flagrant grammar mistakes that make you look stupid” for your edification. As the host of Blogging Pro said, I don’t think these mistakes necessarily make you look stupid, but they can make you look careless, poorly educated, or something along those lines. And for bloggers, those kinds of impressions will typically lead to fewer return visitors.

#3: They’re for their for there

No: The managers are in they’re weekly planning meeting.

Yes: The managers are in their weekly planning meeting.

No: The techs have to check there cell phones at the door, and their not happy about it.

Yes: The techs have to check their cell phones at the door, and they’re not happy about it.

OK, I admit that #3 there is a big annoyance for me. Of all the mistakes I make, mixing up they’re, there, and their is rarely one of them. But when I see others mix them up, it does disrupt my reading of what they’ve written.

#8 Lay for lie

No: I got dizzy and had to lay down.

Yes: I got dizzy and had to lie down.

Yes: Just lay those books over there.

Ooops. I frequently screw up on #8. I’m trying, but man, do I ever mix those two up. Sorry about that, folks.

[tags]Grammar, Writing errors[/tags]

MAKE molecules from balloons

(via MAKE ezine blog)

molecule-01.jpgUseless party trick? I don’t know. But this gallery of balloon molecules (at balloonmolecules.com, oddly enough) looks neat to me. The site has a gallery of finished molecules, a brief write-up of what’s behind the build, and links to more instructional bits on how to build some of the molecules.

We would like to show you some of the balloon molecules we have built. The estimated time to build the molecule is given but advanced balloon sculptors will soon need less time. For most of these sculptures we also offer a detailed construction manual.

molecule-02.jpgAnd so they do. The guides provided start at the basic balloon tying beginning steps, and show how to section things off, separate parts, and all that jazz. There is probably enough information on the site to even learn something about balloong animal/structure building with no previous experience.

And for my favorite:


molecule-03.jpg This two-and-a-half-metre-model of the DNA-helix with a diameter of 1 metre shows that a lot is possible. If the PO4-units and the sugar are adjusted correctly, the helical structure will form without any pressure. For understandable reasons a construction manual is not available.

The motto of the DNA-helix-sculpture is “look and enjoy”. Construction time: the first try (picture) took about ten hours.

Check all the cool (larger) pictures, the mini-guides, and everything else offered there.

[tags]Balloon molecules, Balloon art, Balloons[/tags]

Harsh penalties on tax evaders

Here’s a story from CNN that should just make you feel warm inside. An Argentinian man, accused of tax evasion, has been hit hard by his country’s government in an attempt to collect back taxes. Just 2 days before Argentina is due to play Germany in the World Cup semi-finals, tax officials took away the man’s large screen plasma TV. That’s a heavy penalty in a soccer-obsessed country.

It was the latest move in a “shock” campaign by Santiago Montoya, the top tax man in Buenos Aires province, the country’s biggest, to curb rampant tax evasion in Argentina.

Tax officials carted off the new big-screen television from a man who owes some 6,100 pesos ($2,000) in back taxes.

“We’ve taken the plasma as a guarantee against the debt he owes,” said Juan Manuel Prada, a provincial tax official.

[tags]Tax evasion, Soccer, World Cup, Argentina[/tags]

Why hi-def DVD formats have already failed

(via boingboing)

Interesting piece over at Audioholics on why the next-gen high definition disc formats are already failures.  In a nutshell – little improvement over current gen, greed by media companies, confusion over competing formats, and more.  There’s more to it, and the list of reasons is worth checking out.

For years we’ve heard about the evils of MP3 and illegal downloading. All the while the RIAA and music industry had two formats that could have prevented any illegal copying – at least for all but the most dedicated crackers: DVD-Audio and SACD. These formats proved to be higher quality than CD, presented much enhanced copy protection schemes and were easily used as alternative formats to CD. Yet both formats failed miserably to achieve any significant market penetration. Why? Without an artificial “shove” from the record industry – which never materialized – technology alone is never enough to push a new format into the hands of consumers. In terms of convenience and ease of use, DVD-Audio and SACD offered nothing to consumers. In fact, they made listening to music more complex, since most hardware was unable to correctly decode and provide adequate bass management for the new formats.

Could these formats have succeeded? Absolutely. If the recording industry had presented a plan to phase out CDs and the “format war” had been avoided (simply by the industry picking one format over the other) we would all be using DVD-Audio players and illegal downloadable music would be mostly confined to analogue rips or older music. Is this a stretch? Perhaps, but only because history shows us that corporate greed causes most companies to miss the long term economical gains over a short term loss of licensing revenues.

[tags]DVD format war, Hi-Def video, Next-Gen video[/tags]