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Journal: CNET "selling" freeware...Booooo! 3

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

[I know I'm probably not the first one to notice this, but I'd not seen mention of it anywhere else.]

I recently got a link from a coworker for TrueCrypt. For those who don't know what it is, it's a free whole-disk encryption program, and it looks pretty nifty. Anyway, the link I got was through CNET and offered a "secure download". This turns out to be a 3MB file.

When I tried to install the downloaded file, it kicked off a multi-step dialog sequence that assured me my download was/would be(?) secure, and recommended I add a sequence of toolbars and other media crap with pre-checked opts-in. After I passed this (i.e., unchecked these options), it "started the download", where it informed me that I needed to turn off my firewall/adjust my proxy-server before it could resume the download (i.e., for TrueCrypt).

So I cancelled the install and then went out and found the authentic download link (from truecrypt.org). It was roughly same size file, with none of the above crap-- it was just a regular install dialog with NO TOOLBARS.

I now understand why CNET was flagged for possible malware content by our upstream provider on several occasions, and am passing on the warning. CNET's download area gives the look and feel of sourceforge (here's your file, here's some info on why you should load it), but they're effectively putting their wrapper around a freeware product executable to promote their own services.

If this isn't illegal, it really should be (and sadly, I bet it isn't). Putting your ads on the webpage where one could download the program is one thing, but wrapping a freeware program in an executable that adds toolbars and media crap designed to put money in someone's pocket is the same thing as trying to collect money for it (i.e., sell it). Not to mention it can make the program inaccessible for its intended purposes, and that all this obscures the actual authors' polite request for donations for their hard work, plainly visible on their website.

Shame on you CNET.

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Journal: A new form of chocolate?! 1

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

So I'm reading in an article in Time magazine about how one of my favorite chocolate makers (Callebaut) has invented a new form of chocolate that they call "Vulcano". It's supposed to be low-fat-- about 90% fewer calories than regular chocolate-- and it melts at a much higher temperature than chocolate-- around 130 degrees Fahrenheit; however, it melts readily in the presence of saliva enzymes(!). That just sounds...weird.

http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1911921,00.html

[note that this article actually came out earlier in July, but this is the first I'm hearing of it.]

If it was anybody but Callebaut, my first reaction would be the same one that I had to Olestra (i.e., ::shudder::), which I've never consumed. Even now I'm dubious of even trying it. This is my natural reaction when someone offers me something to eat and doesn't want to tell me what's in it or how it's made. However, as someone who regularly uses good chocolate as a raw material in confections and pastry, I can vouch for the serious quality that goes into Callebaut's products-- even if I find them a bit sweet. These guys know their chocolate and I'd expect this stuff to hold to their standards.

But part of me worries at this development. Just what the heck is IN it? And if they're so hush-hush about its ingredients, how do we know it isn't just another version of trans-fats? If it's basis for usage depends on all those little bubbles in it, its crunch texture, and its high melting point, how can anybody (i.e., pastry chefs) actually do anything with it other than crumble it on stuff or mix it into other things? Will it be just a novelty that never takes? And of course it does make me worry about what else Callebaut is doing, especially if this defines any new directions away from making really good chocolate.

A small part of me sees it as a new frontier to explore. I mean, technically, if its safe and all its cracked up to be (no pun), it's a brand new ingredient to play with (squee!), with new recipes waiting to be made, new confections waiting to be created. But it's a relatively small part, since we already have a product with many of its properties (hint: it's called 'cocoa powder').

And of course I'm wondering what it's going to cost, since Callebaut may well be the one and only supplier for a long time.

Still, I'd like to try it...

[Follow-up: as of right now, 'Vulcano' seems to have disappeared without any trace. Cursory searches on the 'net show links to news articles talking about it (again, around July), but searches of the Callebaut website didn't list any mention of it. Wierd. Guess I won't get to try it. But now I wanna know: What happened?!]

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Journal: Oligopoly collusion? When did *your* text rates go up?

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

I just this: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/business/28digi.html

It's a good read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who owns a cell phone and uses text-messaging. The article is a NY-Times expose' on recent text-messaging rate increases and some uncomfortable questions the big four wireless carriers don't seem to want to answer-- from a U.S. Senator who happens to chair the anti-trust committee. The article also mentions some class-action lawsuits filed since then.

It was a total wake-up call for me! I'm re-posting links to it to help spread the word-- it's my hope that everybody with a cell-phone will read this and pause a bit, especially since all of us have friends who we can talk to on different phone plans-- to compare notes for the past two years on how all our text rates went up all of the sudden and at about the same time.

And then I hope that people will join in contacting their legislators in Congress and the Senate, to bring this topic up for "active" discussion. And then pass the story along!

I didn't actually get a cell phone until somewhat recently, on a pay-as-you-go plan. I saw this a win-win, as text messages were a nickel, phone calls were ten cents a minute (plus $1 any day I phoned). It seemed like a fair deal, since-- unlike my friends-- I was using it once in a blue moon, mainly for texts, and was spending an average of about $5-8 a month (on average) for my cell use. And I wanted to keep my land line. I figured it was a good deal for all involved.

Within two months, my text rates doubled to ten cents. Well, I figured that might happen. Then a few months later, they jumped to 20 cents, coinciding with a new "cost-saving" program where I could get unlimited text-messaging for $5 a month. Hello, my rates just doubled...because of text messages? So I looked at the other phone plans and talked to my friends and...hello? They all went up at the same time?

I was a little curious why text messaging got so expensive all of the sudden, especially since the world at large was already paying less than us for the same services. I did a little research and discovered that pretty much the rest of the developed world (and many third-world countries) were paying less for cell than we were. England and Japan in particular pay far, far less than we do for comparable services. This seemed counter-intuitive.

Then I dug a bit more and discovered a curious nugget: most of the rest of the world doesn't support or allow the exclusive contract plans for cell phones without a pay-as-you-go option available. In fact, in a few places, pay-as-you-go is the only way they'll allow business.

So... 1.) Why do the carriers in the U.S. all play by a different set of rules domestically? 2.) Why would they-- when already making huge profits domestically-- suddenly (and collectively) quadruple their text rates at about the same time and rate over 2-3 years, then "coincidentally" all offer monthly text rates over that same time "as a cheaper option"? And almost right about the time Senator Kohl started asking his questions about this practice?

Please, if you own a cell phone, and this cheeses you off as much as it does me-- especially if you're struggling to make ends meet-- consider contacting your congressman. This is just the kind of thing they'll jump on rather quickly (and thereby likewise these wireless companies), once enough people spread the word.

And please, spread the word!

User Journal

Journal: Am I hum-buggin'-out or just dyslexic? 2

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

This morning, the top of CNN's website has a frame that reads:

Santa is on the move. Track him here.

For some reason I read "Satan" instead of "Santa", my eyebrows popped up, and part of me briefly thought it was an actual breaking news item. I think it comes from having talking heads on the media spending so much time talking about evil empires and evil incarnate.

I still don't know if I really believe in evil as a concept. Not that I don't believe people can do some really bad things, but rather the idea that we should be able to blame really bad things on external causes. I see people use "evil" as a label (and implicit cause) frequently, and (in my humble opinion) it lacks a certain amount of facing up to reality.

I think that people are both capable of great good as well as great bad, and can (and should) take credit for both. Er, in the latter case not so much take credit so much as...well, you know what I mean-- face up to it equally and not blame someone else for it. And heck, I do believe that real people are capable of really, really good things-- you know, things like mercy, compassion, self-sacrifice, and charity. And love.

I definitely don't believe in Santa.

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Journal: I hate stupid people... 7

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

So I'm listening to the radio (a rock station by chance-- I surf every time I hear commercials). And I hear a little call-in contest; they're doing a "challenging" math problem. My ears perk up. And I'm impressed that they'd actually do something mathematical, but then again, college is back in session.

So here's the problem:
A can has a diameter of three inches. It's seven inches tall. What is the volume of this can in (cubic) inches?

I chuckle, because that's not exactly rocket science, but then again, it's a rock station with a goofy DJ. And sure enough, the calls start coming in with stuff like "21 inches", and "10 inches", and the guy repeats the problem again. And again. Nobody seems to be getting this. And I start thinking about it in round-offs, then in fractions, and then thinking about 22/7 versus 3.14159 for accuracy and quickness... And surely it's not worth the time to call, because someone'll get it before I get through!

Then, finally, a guy calls who mentions decimal places, and says it's 198[garble] and the DJ says, "Close enough-- I've got 198 cubic inches written down right here".

HUH?!

So I do a sanity check... this 3-inch wide can will fit in a 3x3 box that's 7 inches tall, and that box would come out to...63 cubic inches. 198 is too big.

And it turns out that I wasn't the only one who noticed-- someone actually called in and told the DJ the correct answer (er, at least the answer that I was getting). The DJ answered that their math expert gave them the correct answer, and he'd google'ed the problem off the 'net. And when the guy tried to explain further, the DJ chided him for talking about geometry on their station.

Dude, you started it.

So either their "math expert" cribbed the right answer the wrong way, or their source was wrong from the get-go. I figure s/he probably confused radius and diameter, since, working backwards, you get (about) 198 cubic inches for a 6-inch wide can that's 7 inches tall. For a 3-inch wide can, you get...well, a LOT less than 198 (radius 1.5", etc.).

Feel free to check my math.

And you know, I don't care if a headbanger DJ doesn't know geometry off the top of his head. But passing off someone else's mistake as "right" just because he's supposed to be an expert, or (worse) because he got it off the 'net? That I care about.

Why?

1. Because math (and this also goes for science) is the great equalizer. If you get the right answer, and you can back it up, it doesn't matter if you're a Nobel prize winner or a 63-year-old janitor-- you will get mad props (at least, generally speaking). Science and math are cool like that.

2. Because these days(IMHO), people are doing too much of this [crap] with otherwise straightforward math and science. And I think our society's going to the [crapp]er because of it.

3. Because I really hate stupid people. I have nothing against someone who doesn't know better. Make an honest mistake in front of me, and I won't hold it against you. Hell, even if you repeat a mistake you've made before, if you actually try to fix it, or even just fess up to it, you'll earn a heaping measure of my respect just for that.

(In the interest of full disclosure-- it also bothers me that stuff like this gets under my skin. I'd rather it didn't...but it does!)

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Journal: Anybody else notice this one sneak by? 5

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

I just heard an announcement on the radio that some legislation just got passed approving food-irradiation of raw spinach. The folks supporting this claim it's in response to the rash of e. coli incidents of the past few years.

Boy, that was a rather stealthy play!

They've been trying to pass food irradiation onto more and more things for *decades*-- the radioactive treatment of foods to preserve them, that is. What's more, some food producers would like to use irradiation for everything from increasing juice yields in citrus to inhibiting sprouting to "softening" certain foods(!).

I think food irradiation is a horrible idea, and so has most of the country for various reasons.

Food irradiation was first introduced around the time right before incidents at Three Mile Island, Love Canal, and when we were having serious reservations as to the practical future of working with radioactive materials and just what constitutes "safe enough" doses and guidelines. People didn't like the idea then, and I'm quite certain if it was made public that our legislators were considering this stupid idea again, they'd roar it down again.

Now, before anybody thinks otherwise, I'm not saying nuclear power and radioactive materials are some evil thing. But ponder this:

The same food agencies and inspectors that weren't able to stay on top of any of the recent e. coli outbreaks-- or hell, even get straight what food they were coming from-- are now expected to collaborate their efforts with the same government agency that oversees our nuclear reactors.

Oh yeah, this bodes well.

The technology for keeping cow poo out of spinach crops is a hell of a lot less complicated by comparison, so why should I believe this will fare any better?

And I'm pretty PO'ed that legislators are pushing crap like this through-- it's not the kind of idea to just slap on as a bandage. I say we make getting more food inspectors and agencies a priority, instead of trying to cop out with some half-assed unknown "fix-it".

Remember DDT, Thalidomide, and more recently Vioxx? All of these (and many others) caused deaths and damage (and deformities) that could have been prevented, yet we were assured they were safe, that they were "thoroughly tested", curiously always through heavy marketing campaigns. I still vividly remember seeing footage of little kids in playing in a swimming pool getting sprayed with DDT "to demonstrate its safety".

I still find myself wondering if those kids are okay.

It's pretty damned easy to keep e. coli out of the crops and food if the people who grow and process them are properly trained and this is regularly checked. That's all I'm sayin'.

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Journal: The new Apple iFrustrated, and TMI... 1

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

So the new iPhones are out, and once again Apple demonstrates the simple principle that being an innovator in one part of your product doesn't make up for being woefully ignorant in another (already established) part of your product. Apple made this mistake the first time on phone price (Ever hear of Nintendo, Mr. Jobs?), and now on mishandling the network used to entrap-- er, enroll people in their indentured servit-- er, monthly contracts.

First off, it's a phone. Even if it can do all kindsa interface-y things, it still has to be able to do what a cell phone does, and if you want to indenture folks through cell contracts, you have to be able to do it at least as well as every cell phone maker out there.

Second, the iPhone is only going to be wildly profitable as long as it's the First and Only(tm) phone to do the things it does, because in less than a year, your competitors will be offering similar (and cheaper) functions. Yeah, nobody started making MP3 players seriously until the iPod came along, but now practically every phone has this functionality, and there's lotsa competitors catching up. However, the cell phone business is already in existence, and they're already way better at setting up new service and locking in customers than you are. Get a clue if you want to stay ahead.

In other (related) news, sometimes people say (or quote) the darnedest things. Concerning his recent purchase of his new iPhone, this fella in Japan had the following tidbit: [http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/ptech/07/11/iphone.sales.ap/index.html]

"Just look at this obviously innovative design," Yuki Kurita, 23, said as he emerged from buying his iPhone, carrying bags of clothing and a skateboard he had used as a chair during his wait outside the Tokyo store. "I am so thrilled just thinking about how I get to touch this."

Dood, I did NOT need to know that...touching bit of information. You need to get out and meet PEOPLE. Like, in person. Get a girl/boyfriend, or whatever, and not one of those electronic ones. And no more of that Touching thing. Seriously.

To quote a old favorite, it's okay to love your electronics, just don't love your electronics, 'k?

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Journal: Yeah, but now we'll never know...

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

Taken from a wikipedia entry (:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctica_islandica)

In October 2007 researchers from Bangor University in North Wales determined that an ocean quahog clam, dredged up off the Icelandic coast, was aged between 405 and 410 years by counting rings on its shell, making it the longest-lived animal on record. The clam, nicknamed "Ming" after the Chinese dynasty in which it was born, was young when Queen Elizabeth I came to the end of her reign and Shakespeare was writing his plays.[1][2] The researchers are uncertain how long the clam may have lived had it been left on the ocean floor.[3]

On the one hand, we'd never have known about this critter if not for the dredging that found it, in the name of research. On the other hand, gee, we're never going to know how long this critter might've lived.

It makes my head spin to contemplate this.

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Journal: Irradiated Foods, and the FDA... 1

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

According to a recent news item (http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/04/03/irradiated.food.ap/index.html), the FDA is considering relaxing the rules concerning irradiated foods.

I'm a bit concerned, because even that isn't an accurate description. According to the proposal, they want to relax the rules concerning how it's labeled; the proposal is to call all irradiated foods that do not "have their structure or properties changed" (and those terms are a bit losely defined) as "pasteurized".

What do you think?

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Journal: Thoughts on a quote... 2

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

I saw a .sig on an email today:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -MLKjr.

And my first thought was that the irony of this being a quote from someone who was gunned down for his beliefs is not lost on me. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Though the early bird gets the worm, it's the second mouse that gets the cheese."

Now I'm not discounting that great efforts sometimes require great sacrifices; I'm just all too often reminded of the dangers of putting principles before, say, the laws of physics. Life isn't always as simple as worms and cheese.

I think I woke up on the snarky side of bed this morning.

But then I saw the following:

"You may be gone tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that you weren't here today."

Yeah...be the change you want to make in the world.

And be wary of the free cheeses.

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Journal: Buzzwords and Misnomers... 5

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

I was reading in a recent article how the GOP talking heads are making much ado about "fascism" as a new buzzword-- all the kewl neo-cons are saying it (much to my ironic shagrin).

Anyway, one rather interesting view in this article pointed out that the phrase "war on terror" is a misnomer, as terrorism is a tool and not an ideology. This individual then went on to say it should instead be "war on radical Islam". I strongly disagree, because most people are just going to hear "Islam", etc. However, his first point is an apt one that got me thinking.

So I'm tossing it out there-- is there a more accurate term than the frequently-bandied "war on terrorism"?

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Journal: Reality is, therefore...I think? 4

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

Sometimes I think myself a fool for wanting to see the good in the world that seems full of dissappointment. Sometimes I think myself a fool for not remembering that a bright outlook enables me to prepare for the good in the world when I see it. Sometimes I wish I could choose one and rip the knob off.

Which would you rather be-- a hopelessly deluded (but very happy) optimist, or a reality-centered (and very aware) pessimist who was prone to bouts of depression?

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Journal: Finders...? 6

Journal by Pancho Pistolas

You find a wallet with a FAT wad of cash in it. What do you do? What if it was just a plain envelope with cash in it, crisp clean 100's? What if it was just a $100 bill? What if it was just a $20 bill? A $1 bill?

Now, suppose and of the above were yours, and you lost it. What would expectation of any given person to do in each of those situations?

Think of your family tonight. Try to crawl home after the computer crashes.

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