Monthly Archives: January 2005


i got a piece of spam today with an initially broken image (that loaded only the second time i looked at the email), an unsubscribe link, and the following text:

crucible guernseyconfusion contributor geoduckawake amity documentthesaurus shaggy directorateadditional egan arcturussceptic vegetate appriseclinch effectuate chairmannightgown visual whomevernguyen waterside cradlemagna

i know i’ve said this before, but who falls for this stuff? i mean, could your spam be much less effective? actually, they could. i got another one today, with the subject line "vacuum pumps – cause deformed pen1s." the content of the email was for cheap prescription drugs. maybe the only way they get anywhere is by people clicking the unsubscribe link (which unfortuantely then verifies that their email address is valid and has a human being at the other end, which then causes them to send even more spam).

for some reason, it all reminds me of an exchange between Beavis and Butthead, where Beavis experiences a moment of deep reflection:

  • Beavis: "uhhhh….hey butthead, if it’s dark inside your butt, how do the turds find their way out?"
  • Butthead: "uhhhh….i think they can like, see in the dark….like bats."
  • Beavis: "Ohhh….yeah…yeah…that makes a lotta sense…yeah."

if this kind of logic obtains for spammers, then their tactics make a whole lot of sense.

apple apologists

i’ve noticed there is a certain class of people out there who love Apple, and are willing to accept (and defend) just about any product Apple releases, without question. if Steve Jobs released a machine without a CPU, saying that he didn’t want to bog people down with the whole central processing thing, the Apple apologists would say, "yeah, i guess i could just use it as a beautiful paperweight; who needs a CPU?"

this has come up several times in the last week, specifically in relation to the iPod shuffle. it’s a really neat piece of industrial design, and has a lot over the competition, but it’s got no display. it seems that in reviews i read, and with people i talk to, there is some measure of acceptance regarding screen omission: "i really want a screen on my portable music player, and can’t really imagine not having one, but this is Apple, people…it must be fine without it. let’s get on with the shuffle!"

if someone else released a music player without a (coupled) user interface, i suspect it would languish on the shelves and then wind up being sold as a portable disk drive instead. but with Apple, there seems to be some sort of tacit belief that they know best when it comes to industrial and user–centered design. maybe they do, but i don’t think i’ll be shuffling anytime soon.

ps: just in case there was confusion, i really love most apple products. i’m a believer, just not an apologist.

those sticky labels on stuff you buy

we went to IKEA last weekend (again). even though we went to look at a chaise lounge extension for our karlanda sofa, we wound up buying dishes. this always happens to me at IKEA. it’s like the whole store is one big impulse buy; i rarely buy what i go there to get.

we got home with our IKEA365 dishes, and realized that our snazzy new glasses all had white sticky labels on them, each with a bar code and a product identifier. of course, these stickers had to be removed before use, but it’s always a crap shoot with these things. they seem to fall into two categories:

  1. "quick release" stickers that peel right off, leaving none of their gummy poo behind
  2. "engineered–by–NASA" stickers (EBNS) that seem like they’re holdovers from the space program, engineered to withstand re–entry through earth’s atmosphere without showing the slightest hint of coming off

i’ve got no issues with labels in the first category. that’s the way things should be. it’s the EBNS labels that make my blood boil. of course, you can’t look at a sticker and tell in which category it belongs. one needs to proceed as if they’re all of the EBNS variety, and then be pleasantly surprised if they turn out to be quick–release.
for me, the sticker removal process usually goes something like this:

  • sneak up to the sticky labels in question, preferably when they’re not looking; act nonchalant — they can smell fear
  • start at one corner, digging a nail underneath to get a starter edge; i dig up enough of an edge so i can get a good grip, thus avoiding immediate tear–away (a rookie maneuver)
  • i gently tug at my starter edge and slowly start peeling; i’m going after the holy grail of label peeling at this point – the perfect, intact–label peel, where you get it all in one pull without leaving anything behind
  • as i gain confidence that this is a quick–release peel, i speed up the pull a bit, or start acting like i’m the boss (clearly not the case)
  • as the label comes up, i hear a slight tearing noise as the paper begins to separate from the adhesive
  • the paper part of the label (or a small fraction of it) tears away, and i’m left with a mix of adhesive goo and paper left behind (along with the rest of the sticker)
  • i scream
  • elaine tells me to calm down, it’s just a sticker
  • i spend the next five minutes manually scraping at the remnants of the sticky label and the goo it’s left behind
  • the sticky label laughs at me from the grave — a nice gummy film is left behind as monument to its memory

at this point, i usually drag out either the cotton balls and nail polish remover, or i crank up the hot water in the sink, and scrub the adhesive scum off with soap. i probably should have done these things from the outset, but because there’s always the possibility that the label is a quick–release, i try to take the easy way out.

now, i realize the label makers are in a bind. they have to engineer labels with the perfect balance of stickiness: sticky enough to stay attached under normal operating conditions, but not so sticky that you can’t pull them off. it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. i mean, engineers at 3M solved this years ago with the Post–It note, right? we put an unmanned probe on Titan, for heaven’s sake, why can’t we make the perfect label? is it that there’s just too much variation in the stuff we stick things to, or are people just being lazy with their adhesive label engineering?

i suspect the best course of action at this point is to follow elaine’s advice — calm down, it’s just a sticker.

hooray for Huygens!

the Huygens probe landed successfully on the surface of Titan yesterday — hooray for Huygens! from 750 million miles away, it transmitted data with all its heart for almost four hours, and then went silent as its batteries died. here’s the first color image of the surface of this magnificent moon:

it took 15+ years (planning + flight–time), $3.26 billion, and the cooperation of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian Space Agency, and people from 17 nations. it’s one of the most amazing things done in the history of human space endeavors, and it’s just one part of the larger Cassini–Huygens mission to study Saturn and some of its moons. check out the following for the complete 411 and lots of cool stuff:

i don’t remember the last time my geek buttons got pushed this hard. i basically spent most of this afternoon reading, learning everything i could about the mission. during my wanderings on the Web, i collected a few facts and some random observations. read on for more…

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it’s official – no WMDs!

the US has announced, officially, conclusively, finally, on–the–recordly, that no weapons of mass destruction were located in iraq. they’re calling off the search and reassigning the 1700 people who’ve been scouring the desert for the past 112 years with magnifying glasses and specially designed bioweapon dowsing rods.

it’s nobody’s fault, mind you, that we didn’t find anything. i’m happy our president is above going around assigning blame or admitting we made a mistake or doing any of that accountability stuff. that’s just stinkin’ thinkin’, and this administration is more about gettin’ things done; there’s lots of hard work out there to be done, after all.

i will sleep better knowing for sure, with absolute certainty, that there are no WMDs out there in iraq. it was keeping me awake, really. i’d lie there thinking, "we went to war because there were WMDs…where did that sneaky saddam hide them?! are they stashed in bunker–buster– proof caves in the mountains of afghanistan? did he ship them to libya disguised as funny red hats, and now khadafy is gonna lay waste to our freedoms after gaining our trust?"

but no.

i don’t have to think these things any more, because there are really, truly, no WMDs in iraq. never had ‘em (after 1991), never had a workable plan to get ‘em — wanted ‘em, hell yeah — but just couldn’t get their sunni salami together to build ‘em or buy ‘em.

so, i’d like to take this opportunity to say, "thank you george bush, for making the world a safer place for democracy. we look forward to the result of the upcoming iraqi elections with great, great anticipation. since you have stated with certainty that the elections will be held and they will forge a democracy in that poor country, i can sleep well about that issue, too."

PS: for those worrying simultaneously about rathergate and WMDs in iraq, the Poor Man has put together a nice quantitative comparison of the two searches.

PPS: i’m not finding fault here with the dedicated legions of people in the ISG who conducted the search, nor am i saying that there was never a possibility that iraq had WMDs after 1991. i’m finding fault with our president’s complete inability to admit having made a mistake of grand proportions (something that David Kay admitted openly before the senate armed services committee). i’m finding fault with an administration that has taken this long to admit something that everyone has pretty much known for a long, long time.

don’t take my word for it; take the word of David Kay (quoted by AP). he knows a lot more about it than i do:

"It is like dropping a shoe a little late. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone who follows it very closely has suspected anything else over the last year. It was a matter of when the obvious would be done."
  — David Kay, former head of the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) charged with finding WMDs

NOTE (01.18.05): an astute reader suggested that i would be wise to read david kay’s report, that it in fact showed that iraq had WMD programs that were in violation of various UN resolutions. while i think it’s clear that iraq was in violation of numerous UN resolutions, it is not at all clear that iraq had ongoing and viable chemical or biological weapons programs. the open-ended language of kay’s report showed that no clear conclusions could be drawn (cf., intentions of the iraqi government and possibilities that things could have happened had UN sanctions been withdrawn). my primary conclusion from reading the kay report is that UN sanctions after 1991 worked, for the most part — saddam hussein’s regime was thwarted in its desire to obtain WMDs. for addition analysis, you can read slate’s commentary on the kay report and kay’s final testimony before the senate armed services committee.

and one final PS: the thing that burns me even more about this is that clinton, for his frisky sins, got impeached, whereas bush will probably be remembered warmly as a proactive, no–nonsense president. outage experienced a service outage due to the unfortunate fact that i let my domain expire. as a result, the site went down for anywhere between 24-72 hours (depending on your ISP).
in a previous entry (digital dead letters), i announced the demise of my old email address, and mused about the consequences of its death. the temporary death of my domain was one of them — my account profile at my registrar had the old email address as my contact point. so, when they sent me a bunch of emails about the fact that my domain was about to expire, those letters went into the digital ether, the equivalent of the digital dead letter office…oops.
anybody know what this will do to my stature with google’s bots?

natural disasters as an engine for social change

NPR ran an interesting piece on All Things Considered today about disasters and how the changes they wreak go beyond physical devastation. in particular, they examined the 1976 Tangshan earthquake (north-east of Beijing, China), an 8.3 temblor that killed at least 240,000 (this is the official chinese estimate; outsiders estimated the number could have been as high as 750,000).

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