Category Archives: Tech

Persona Non Gratia

My litany of Comcast’s misdeeds starts with their idiotic harrassment of people trying to cancel their service. This was just one of probably THOUSANDS of users they needlessly abused and then gave the usual corporate non-apology.

Blocking Cancellations

http://time.com/2985964/comcast-cancel-ryan-block/

If Dante’s Inferno had been written today, an extra circle of hell would be dedicated to dealings with cable providers.

Former tech editor Ryan Block posted a maddening 8-minute portion of his phone call with a Comcast “customer retention” specialist desperately (and aggressively) trying to stop Block from canceling his service.

Not taking no for an answer, the rep peppered Block with questions: “You don’t want something that works?”; “So you’re not interested in the fastest internet in the country?”; “I’m really ashamed to see you go to something that can’t give you what we can!”; “What is it about this other internet provider???”

But Comcast wasn’t a spurned lover deserving of an explanation. It is a cable provider.

Block maintained an impressive state of calm, cooly repeating “I’m declining to state, can you please go to the next question” so many times that if this were a drinking game, players might not survive the length of the call.

Block writes: “This recording picks up roughly 10 minutes into the call, whereby she and I have already played along and given a myriad of reasons and explanations as to why we are canceling (which is why I simply stopped answering the rep’s repeated question — it was clear the only sufficient answer was “Okay, please don’t disconnect our service after all.”).”

Block said that his Comcast was successfully disconnected at the end of the call.

Comcast senior vice president of customer experience Tom Karinshak released the following statement Tuesday regarding the now-viral recording:

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

 Political Thuggery

From Community Networks (copied in case the article is removed later) – here’s a detailed article about Comcast’s political machinations that included over half a million dollars to deny Longmont voters access to their own fiber optic network:

Longmont Votes Again, Comcast Breaks Spending Record Opposing Referendum

Tue, November 1, 2011 | Posted by christopher

Today is election day in Longmont, Colorado — tomorrow we will find out if Comcast’s record-breaking campaign of lies has scared enough voters to prevent the community from using its infrastructure to encourage broadband competition.

It looks like Comcast will break the $300,000 mark, funneling the money through the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association. Two years ago, it spent over $245,000 in a similar effort — setting the record for most amount spent on a local election in Longmont. Comcast and its anti-competition allies will spend approximately 10x as much as the total amount spent on the entire mayoral campaign. All to stop the city from having an alternative to the cable/DSL duopoly.

In a recent news story about the absurd spending level, the present Mayor struck an indifferent tone:

“It doesn’t really matter at this stage of the game,” Baum said. “It’s going to the electorate. The electorate will vote. And we will know on Tuesday how they voted – if they believe a $300,000 ad campaign, or if they believe the people they’ve entrusted their votes to.”

Both incumbents and challengers in the City Council race have unanimously endorsed 2A over the course of the campaign.

The Boulder Weekly has even weighed in on Comcast’s campaign of lies and misinformation, tying it to their efforts two years ago:

In 2009, a similar campaign called “No Blank Check” was bankrolled to the tune of nearly $250,000, primarily by the telecommunications industry. That campaign, which was successful in defeating the measure, was labeled as misleading by city officials because it claimed money would be taken from police and firefighters to fund city telecommunications services.

“It was actually just the opposite of what No Blank Check was saying,” Tom Roiniotis, director of Longmont Power and Communications, told Boulder Weekly this summer. “They were saying we were going to have to lay off police and firefighters. Nothing could be further from the truth. … In fact, telecommunications would actually generate money for those departments. But they had models dressed up as firefighters, looking very sad.”

When we say that this campaign is orchestrated by Comcast, we should be clear — virtually no one in Longmont opposes the 2A ballot initiative. And no one running for office opposes it! See the Boulder Weekly discussion about their support for 2A:

But we — along with every Longmont City Council member and candidate who responded to a Boulder Weekly questionnaire — agree that the city should be able to use its own network, despite the corporate powers’ concerns about losing market share to a new competitor. Taxpayers have already invested in this network and should benefit from it. We strongly urge a YES vote on Longmont Ballot Question 2A.
The Times-Call also supports the measure. Just how unanimous is the support? Consider this report from Longmont’s Future:

At an event at Silver Creek High School last night, according to the Times-Call,
“Carroll and Levison were joined onstage by Mayor Bryan Baum and his challenger Dennis Coombs, at-large candidate Ron Gallegos, Ward 1 candidate Suzzanne Painter and Ward 3 Councilman Sean McCoy.

One question, on Ballot Question 2A, drew immediate solidarity from the panel.
“Everyone, on three, say yes or no on 2A,” Baum told the other candidates with a grin. “One, two, three …”

“YES!” they all echoed.

“That is the one thing we all agree on,” Baum said.”

You can listen to a local radio story about the referendum here or at the bottom of this page, where it is embedded for the future.

Comcast’s campaign of lies has gone so far as to take out a full-page ad inventing a story of impropriety, accusing the City of somehow colluded with Alcatel-Lucent to scam the public.

The Times-Call looked into the allegations and found nothing but smoke and mirrors — exactly the tactics of bait-and-switch you would expect from an out-of-town astroturf campaign:

A group against Longmont Ballot Question 2A claims city officials coordinated a push for the issue with telecom company Alcatel-Lucent, a claim the city denied, saying that early email contacts with the company were taken far out of context.

The opposition group Look Before We Leap said the charge would be part of their advertising against 2A as the election campaign enters its final week. The group spent about $2,800 to look through city emails related to the ballot question, which, if passed, would lift state restrictions on how Longmont can use a fiber-optic loop it built in 1997.

The group’s findings included three messages from an Alcatel-Lucent representative offering information and suggestions for a supportive campaign to Mayor Bryan Baum and Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis. All three were sent before Aug. 23, the date the City Council put the question on the ballot, after which city staff could not be involved for or against the issue, though elected officials could.

Roiniotis called the charges ridiculous and said there was no relationship. He said he had received many “sales calls” from telecommunications companies interested in Longmont’s fiber system; the main difference here, he said, was the offer of help.

“I made it perfectly clear to them that they could do anything they wanted to do, but that the city could not be involved in advocating for it,” he said. He also noted that the city had been aware of much of the information sent by Alcatel-Lucent since 2009, the last time Longmont tried a ballot issue to lift the restrictions.

….

In the email messages, Jennie Burgoz of Alcatel-Lucent offered contacts and information related to successful municipal telecommunications campaigns in Chattanooga and Bristol, Tenn. She also suggested ideas such as “tricking out” Baum’s campaign vehicle as a mobile fiber vehicle and working with attorney and advocate Jim Baller, who was familiar with a similar campaign in Illinois.

Comcast’s “Look Before We Leap” group has even attacked the actual grassroots pro-2A groups for how little they have spent!: [from the same article as above]

Merritt said he also had concerns that there had been no reporting by Longmont’s Future, a pro-2A website. That amused its proprietor, Jonathan Rice, who is the only person operating the site.

“It’s not really so much a group as it is ‘me,'” Rice said. Between a couple of Times-Call ads and the website, he said, he had spent $353.

“I don’t have $300,000 to work with ,” he said. “So I’ll do my $300 and see how that goes.”
Rice has invested in an online pro-2A ad on the local newspaper’s website.

Some of the pro-2A folks have responded to these trumped-up charges with the following press release:

$297,000 On A Local Election? Isn’t That A Little Crazy?

Look Before We Leap – a front group for the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association – continues to block Longmont’s efforts to partner with private industry.

In a new twist on the saga of Ballot Question 2A, which would re-establish Longmont’s right to partner with private industry to use its fiber-optic ring, Comcast-sponsored group ‘Look Before We Leap’ has now spent over $297,000 (http://www.ci.longmont.co.us/city_clerk/election/candidates/documents/LB…) on robo-calls, door-knockers, and most recently a full-page ad in the local Daily Times-Call to mock the city’s efforts to partner with private employers.

The city of Longmont, which attempted to win the valuable gigabit network from Google last year, is prevented by state law from using its fiber-optic network without a voter referendum. That is what is on the ballot this November 1st – with Comcast’s monopoly over telecommunications at risk.

In recent public comments by Google VP of Access Services Milo Medin, he specifically identified political hurdles such as these as a cause for automatically removing cities from consideration. As Google reviews additional cities to partner with, Longmont will continue to be disqualified if Question 2A does not pass.

Question 2A specifically supports the City working “either directly or indirectly with public or private sector partners.”

“Look Before We Leap have tried to pretend that this is a grassroots effort,” said Jonathan Rice, editor of the pro-2A website longmontsfuture.com

“But the truth is that not one single donation over $50 has been declared by the front group… other than those of the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association.”

The organization has spent more than ten times what the rest of Longmont’s elections put together will spend, and flies in the face of elected public officials’ opinion.

“Every single candidate for office and every incumbent, in every race, supports this measure,” continued Rice. “But Comcast and its friends are more interested in profit than progress, and continue to run a smear campaign to spread misinformation and outright lies – they recently posted Mayor Baum’s name as an opponent of 2A when he is actually a vociferous supporter.”

With Longmont reeling from the loss of hundreds of local jobs over the last few months, it could badly use a shot in the arm from a major employer – but without 2A passing, that won’t be Google.

“We tried our darnedest to get them to come here,” said Rice. “But without access to the fiber optic ring, they just couldn’t quite bring themselves to be part of Longmont’s future.”

Question 2A is a battle between the rights of citizens and local businesses versus the desire of out-of-town corporate interests to maximize profits at their expense.

Gouging

Literally the day that NextLight announced that their installation schedule was being accelerated, Comcast began implementing data caps on their customers – our monthly bill nearly doubled! I heard the same complaint from neighbors. The city was told, nothing was done. I let it slide because I KNEW Comcast’s days were numbered.

Flat-Out Lying

Less than a week after we made the switch to NextLight, two very nice young gentlemen wearing XFinity-logo shirts and tasteful khaki pants showed up in our neighborhood and tried to push Comcast’s service.

Among the bald-faced lies they told me were:

  1. “NextLight is already having trouble maintaining their network”
  2. “Fiber optic isn’t as reliable”
  3. “We have our own fiber optic”
  4. “The fiber optic service is interfering with other city services”
  5. “Fort Collins had a disaster with it”

and more.

This is sad and shameful and I reminded the nice young men of Comcast’s political adventurism and how angry it had made me at the time. The older of the two immediately tried to mollify me by saying: “Don’t get heated” – and at that point I politely asked them to move along.

To the shiny-suited shits at the top of the Comcast foodchain:

Goodbye assholes, your days are numbered. You are officially Persona Non Gratia in our home.

Commuting Kills

From WordFence.

Every year we lose up to 10% of our electricity purely due to resistance during transmission. If you’ve ever wondered why a room-temperature superconductor is sought after, this is why. Thinking about superconductivity reminded me of the problem I have with companies who don’t allow telecommuting. The way I see it, remote-workers are like work-place superconductivity: Brain power and productivity arrive instantly where they’re needed with zero transmission cost.

I decided to do the math on what the health and environmental costs are related to commuting to work every year.

Moving people from home to work is surprisingly expensive in many ways. The average commute time by car in the United States is about 25 minutes each way. The average commute time by other means is also just over 25 minutes each way. [Source: US Census Bureau and wnyc.org data from census.gov] The average number of work days per year is 261. [Source: OPM.gov]

This gives us a total time spent commuting by car (or other means) per year of 217.5 hours, or 9 days. That’s 9 days (without sleeping) per year of your life you spend in a car, train, bus or other means of getting to work. That assumes you’re the average and not stuck on the I405 in California for 4 hours per day. I worked with a friend who had that commute.

If “sitting is the new smoking” [Source: Mayo Clinic and Dr James Levine], a phrase coined by Dr James Levine which has gained a groundswell of support of late, spending 9 waking days sitting in a car and pushing pedals, or on a bus or train per year has a profoundly detrimental impact on our health.

Read the rest at WordFence.com

Basics of HTML

HTML stands for ‘HyperText Markup Language’ and it’s the lingua franca of the web. Nearly every page you’ve ever seen on the web is crafted from HTML code, excepting those built using Flash but even those are delivered inside an HTML shell.

Many users on the web have been creating blogs using tools like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. and have been spared learning HTML by great graphic user interfaces like TinyMCE. However, to really master your content, you need to understand what’s happening ‘under the sheets’ so that you can make adjustments and add special formatting to set your work apart.

HTML is over twenty years old and is currently transitioning from version 4 to 5. For the purposes of this article I’ll only be discussing HTML 4 and will offer some hints about HTML 5 and its improvements.

Apple’s Hypercard program in 1980 set the stage for the invention of HTML but it was lacking in the ability to link to files on other computers. The web was just getting off the ground at that point and HTML’s creation is tied directly to the inventions that form the foundations of the web we know and rely on today.

Tim Berners-Lee, 2005

Tim Berners-Lee, starting with SGML (Standard Generalized Mark-up Language), devised a language that was independent of the tool that viewed it. The inherent simplicity of HTML is what made it such a hit and why it was adopted so swiftly and widely. One of the new elements Berners-Lee devised was the anchor tag – the ‘link’ functionality that allowed authors to ‘hyperlink’ to other pages. This was the springboard to the future.

He defined a set of ‘tags’ that when placed into standard ASCII text gave commands to rendering programs (browsers) to generate headers, paragraphs, bulleted and numbered lists, tables, etc. Here’s the basic tags that users really need to know (loosely organized by function):

h1 – 6 Headers. H1 largest. Secondary function – highlight information for Search Engine Optimization.
p Paragraph. Line height, leading and trailing margins can be assigned using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
ul (and li) Unordered List. Bulleted lists for arbitrarily-ordered items.
ol (and li) Ordered List. Numbered lists for sequentially-organized items. Numerous numbering schemes available including lettered and roman numerals.
blockquote Block quote. Indentation for quotes or highlighted material.
br Line break. Carriage return – no extra space as in end of paragraph. Used to force content onto new line. Also can have special uses with CSS.
a Anchor. Linked item – can be text or image. JavaScript commands can also be triggered using this block element. Anchors are often combined with unordered lists and CSS formatting to create navigation structures. Anchors can also point to specific locations within a page.
div Division. A segment of a document. Divs can be given specific ids and used to apply visual formatting from CSS. These replaced tables in design methodology.
hr Horizontal rule. A non-graphic line. Thickness and width can be set.
i Italic. Current standard calls for ’em’ for ’emphasis.’
b Bold. Current standard calls for ‘strong.’
img Image. Images can be sized and made clickable to display a larger image (thumbnails). Images can also be links to other pages.
pre Allows preformatted text to be displayed as-is (for example for code segments or free-form poetry)
table (and th and td) Table. Tabulated (rows and columns) data. Table headers can be called out with th tags and table data (cells) make up the bulk of a table. In early years of web design tables were used to structure pages. This has been supplanted by CSS-based design using divs.
span Span from arbitrary location to location. Used to apply custom formatting inline.
sub / sup Subscript and Superscript. For inserting references.

I’ve purposely omitted tags for creating forms since there’s many tools for creating them and even a brief discussion of them is prohibitive here. Suffice to say forms open a whole new door into interactivity and require skills not usually considered ‘basic.’

So, as you can see, the ‘rock bottom’ basics of HTML are indeed very basic. The artistry comes in how you combine the elements. Also, the serious bang comes from Cascading Style Sheets – but that’s another article!

Cheers!

Human vs Pet Age

Human/Pet Age Analogy
Adult Size in Pounds
0 – 20 21 – 50 51 – 120 > 120
Years Feline Canine
Pet Age Human Equivalent Age
 3  28 28 29 31 39
 4  32 33 34 38 49
5  36 38 39 45 59
6 40 42 44 52 69
7 44 46 49 59 79
 8 48 50 54 66 89
 9 52 54 59 73 99
 10 56 58 64 80
11 60 62 69 87
 12 64 66 74 94
 13 68 70 79
14 72 74 84
15 76 78 89
16 80 82 94
17 84 86
18 88 90
19 92 94
20 96
Adult Senior Geriatric

Cheesehead hackers

1 failed login attempts (1 lockout(s)) from IP: 208.66.135.190

Last user attempted: admin

IP was blocked

IP Address Country (Short) Country (Full) Flag Region City ISP Map
208.66.135.190 US UNITED STATES WISCONSIN MADISON 5NINES DATA LLC

Hm.

If anyone in the Madison, WI area knows the owner of 5 Nines, would you mind reminding them that the Department of Homeland Security really frowns on hackers?

Makes me really question their ‘technical specialist’s claim that they “…strive to make technology your trusted partner” – someone trying to hack my personal site’s password really makes me not trust someone. A lot.

10 Simple Words

10 Simple Words Students (And Everyone) Screw Up

from EDUdemic

OMG U Guyz, Grammar among kidz the$e days be terribllle! So does speeling! There is a big problem unfolding around the world right now. Lucky for you, The Oatmeal has spelled it out, literally. The guy behind the hit comic strip has laid out the top 10 words everyone probably misspells. Hilarious stuff. Enjoy!

1 MeV

JEOL-1000 High Voltage Electron Microscope

One of my favorite places at the University of Colorado was the High Voltage Electron Microscope lab in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology building.

I spent a lot of time there helping my father and the techinical team while in high school, then later when I worked at CU as a lab technician I ran a project that used the HVEM – full circle!

Sitting at its console, looking into the vacuum behind the viewport at the phosphor screen, my hands on the controls for the sample stage and the magnification I literally could see the unseen on the glowing surface. Being fully aware that there were million-volt x-rays bashing around just inches from my treasured brain, held back by inches-thick leaded glass and metal added to the thrill. The click of relays and the faint chugging of vacuum pumps mixed with the curls of vapor from the liquid-nitrogen oil trap completed the atmosphere of super-super-high-tech. And I was driving!! Hard to forget being at the controls of a building-size microscope.

Heady stuff for a young man very taken with science fiction – this was science fact! I’ll never forget the faint, high-pitched whistle the high-voltage system generated. I’m sure it still echoes in the walls even though the massive machine itself has been disassembled and gone for years now.

Rayode

I regularly see posts from a local here in Longmont touting the idea that we could all have nuclear reactors (yes, reactors) in our front yards – among other whacked-out concepts. Aside from this being an astoundingly bad idea just on general terms it begs the question of what sort of other stupidity Americans would attempt if we didn’t have careful regulation of radioactives.

This advertisement should tell you pretty graphically just how stupid we as a nation can be.

Courtesy of spuzzlightyear at LiveJournal

Read more scary stuff here – these were ‘doctors’ of the time .

Vanadium nitrogenase

From Slashdot: Gasoline from thin air

An enzyme found in the roots of soybeans could be the key to cars that run on air. If perfected, the tech could lead to cars partially powered on their own fumes. Even further into the future, vehicles could draw fuel from the air itself. Quoting: ‘The new enzyme can only make two and three carbon chains, not the longer strands that make up liquid gasoline. However, Ribbe thinks he can modify the enzyme so it could produce gasoline. … [Perfecting this process] won’t happen anytime soon… “It’s very, very difficult,” to extract the vanadium nitrogenase, said Ribbe.’

Gaming no fun anymore

From those wonderful folks at Slashdot (News for Nerds. Stuff That Matters):

Frustration and Unhappiness In the Games Industry

Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander recently wrote an editorial about the atmosphere of irritation and dissatisfaction that pervades all aspects of the video game industry. Developers are often overworked and unfulfilled, gamers have no qualms about voicing their disapproval (sometimes quite warranted, sometimes not), and the media, in trying to please both groups, often fails to satisfy either. Why is there so much strife in an industry ostensibly focused on having fun? From the article:

“More and more developer sources I talked to suggested that fatigue, hostility, being at odds with one’s employer and questioning one’s career course is frighteningly common in the game industry. That being the case, it seems natural that elements like emotional detachment, anxiety and a lack of fulfillment make their way, even subtly, into the products the industry creates and into the ecosystem around the industry and its audience. ‘Because of the secrecy and competition, a lot of development teams end up having a siege mentality — batten down the hatches and refuse to come up for air until the game’s done,’ says [an] anonymous developer. ‘Game development has a way of taking over your life, because there’s always more that can be done to improve perceived quality. I’ve seen a lot of divorces in my time in the game industry. I feel like it’s much greater than average, but I have no statistical evidence.'”

I think the problem is this simple: greed. The people running the companies aren’t in it to have fun – they’re in it to make money and live out their vicariously violent fantasies. Fun, craftsmanship and contribution to society are a far-distant second. It’s one of the reasons I don’t play video games – I don’t want to support a morally-bankrupt industry that causes people so much pain.

Young brain again

Seen at Slashdot:

German neuroscientists made a breakthrough in ‘age-related cognitive decline’, a common condition that often begins in one’s late 40s (especially declarative memory — the ability to recall facts and experiences). Their new study identifies a genetic ‘switch’ for the cluster of learning and memory genes that cause memory impairment in aging mice. By injecting an enzyme, the team ‘flipped’ the switch to its on position for older mice, giving them the memory and learning performance they’d enjoyed when they were young. Now the team ultimately hopes to recover seemingly lost long-term memory in human patients.” The video, which explains the gene flipping mechanism, is worth a watch (2:18).

Steve Austin Lives

Solar Powered Augmented Reality Contact Lenses
ByronScott writes “Want eyesight that could put your neighborhood cyborg to shame? Well, University of Washington professor Babak Amir Parviz and his students are working on solar powered contact lenses embedded with hundreds of semitransparent LEDs, letting wearers experience augmented reality right through their eyes. If their research proves successful, the applications — from health monitoring to gameplay to just plain bionic sight -could be endless.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Geekspeak March 2010

logo_geekspeak

How I learned to stop worrying and love writing on the web

All my life I’ve kept journals ― at first loose pages in a three-ring binder (remember THOSE?), which led to spiral-bound notebooks, hard-bound journals and finally as electronic files. Once I made the jump to the computer I thought, “Great! Now I’m really saving time and space.” But the further I got down the digital path, the more I realized I’d traded one set of limitations for another. Paper has a lovely random-access nature to it. You can leaf through a book and find an entry quickly, but not so with digital files. Folders of word-processor files are overwhelming and I didn’t dare keep it all as one big file. One mistake and I’d lose everything! So… what to do? About that point I started working on the web and fell in love with HTML and hyperlinked text. Now I was cookin’! Off I went building websites, linking pages and cranking out tons of content. Ultimately, I found the biggest obstacle to finding things was navigating to them. My navigation schemes got more powerful but were harder to maintain. There had to be a better way. That way turned out to be Web Content Management Systems (WCMS).

What’s a WCMS?

It’s a system for organizing information on the web by applying a navigation scheme/appearance to it. The navigation scheme/appearance is called a ‘theme’ and can be changed, essentially redesigning the site. The core of the WCMS is expandable via software plug-ins that add new features or change the behavior of core features.

What’s a blog?

First, it’s a neologism and a portmanteau word created from “web log,” which is a system of posting material organized by date and subject category. Readers are generally allowed to leave comments and some sites moderate user remarks while others just allow everything but investigate reports of bad behavior. So blogs now are very common and have spawned other forms of social media such as Facebook. There’s a lot of CMS systems out there – the ones that I considered using were Drupal, Joomla, MoveableType and WordPress.

Who needs a WCMS or a blog?

First, a brief overview: WCMSes create both pages and posts. The pages are what most people consider the website and there are parent and child pages, so information can be organized by the user rather than by date and category. So pages are the part of the site that’s more-or-less static and has fixed relationships, while the regular articles/announcements/etc in categories are the blog posts. CUAlum.org has blog postings in these categories:

Posts enable, for example, your company’s event team to announce upcoming events, the communications team to publish their newsletter, the travel group to publish their upcoming trips and so on. It’s just dated material in categories. All these groups can enter new posts or update their information pages at the same time. It’s all done through the web. You surf to a page, enter credentials and step behind the curtain where you can edit the site’s content or appearance. Heady stuff.

RSS – Really Simple Syndication

One of the features of WCMSes is RSS. Sorry for the series of sequential sibilants. It’s for a website that has an audience (however small!) that wants to know when there’s something new to read. E-mail was the usual way until some bright person thought up aggregation and suggested that site operators have their CMSes produce a file ― the RSS file ― containing a standard list of the latest posts in their blogs. Then browsers like Firefox and aggregating programs can collect new post listings, alerting the faithful that the Wall Street Journal has a new article or their favorite cartoon superhero has a new adventure. It’s more of a user pull method than a provider push using e-mail. You get the news faster and have the ability to monitor many news sources at once. It’s created a whole new breed of netizen: the news junkie. So if a friend tells you about a great new way to get your news, beware. You may be on the road to news addiction! Here’s a little taste of RSS to help you get hooked started:

Note, you might want to investigate an RSS ‘aggregator’ like NetNewsWire for the Apple Macintosh or FeedDemon for IBM-PC. While your browser can aggregate RSS feeds, these programs provide some great features. I encourage you to check them out. So, ’til next time, keep your passwords obscure and your cache files clean when I’ll be talking about webcams. Doug Wray is the webmaster for the CU-Boulder Alumni Association.

Death Chemistry

From Bifurcated Rivets and orginally from Corante:

Things I Won’t Work With: Dioxygen Difluoride


Posted by Derek

The latest addition to the long list of chemicals that I never hope to encounter takes us back to the wonderful world of fluorine chemistry. I’m always struck by how much work has taken place in that field, how long ago some of it was first done, and how many violently hideous compounds have been carefully studied. Here’s how the experimental prep of today’s fragrant breath of spring starts:

The heater was warmed to approximately 700C. The heater block glowed a dull red color, observable with room lights turned off. The ballast tank was filled to 300 torr with oxygen, and fluorine was added until the total pressure was 901 torr. . .

And yes, what happens next is just what you think happens: you run a mixture of oxygen and fluorine through a 700-degree-heating block. “Oh, no you don’t,” is the common reaction of most chemists to that proposal, “. . .not unless I’m at least a mile away, two miles if I’m downwind.” This, folks, is the bracingly direct route to preparing dioxygen difluoride, often referred to in the literature by its evocative formula of FOOF.

Well, “often” is sort of a relative term. Most of the references to this stuff are clearly from groups who’ve just been thinking about it, not making it. Rarely does an abstract that mentions density function theory ever lead to a paper featuring machine-shop diagrams, and so it is here. Once you strip away all the “calculated geometry of. . .” underbrush from the reference list, you’re left with a much smaller core of experimental papers.

And a hard core it is! This stuff was first prepared in Germany in 1932 by Ruff and Menzel, who must have been likely lads indeed, because it’s not like people didn’t respect fluorine back then. No, elemental fluorine has commanded respect since well before anyone managed to isolate it, a process that took a good fifty years to work out in the 1800s. (The list of people who were blown up or poisoned while trying to do so is impressive). And that’s at room temperature. At seven hundred freaking degrees, fluorine starts to dissociate into monoatomic radicals, thereby losing its gentle and forgiving nature. But that’s how you get it to react with oxygen to make a product that’s worse in pretty much every way.

——–

Holy shit. Read this. Here’s an excerpt:

“…gas mixture was heated to 700°C and was then rapidly cooled on the outer surface of stainless steel tubes. The tubes were refrigerated by a liquid oxygen..”

Children starve and die while we make these horrors? I lose hope for mankind.

The Future will be Padded

This is the inaugural posting of GeekSpeak, a monthly snapshot of web technologies (existing and brand new) as well as advice on how they can benefit you as a netizen.

This month I’ll be discussing the new Apple iPad and my thoughts on it.

When I was growing up information came in only a few channels: word of mouth, print and broadcast (tv and radio). The “information superhighway” wasn’t even a rude trail in the forest yet.

By the time I graduated from college the internet had appeared along with some new information channels: websites, e-mail and chat rooms. Computers went from being rare curiosities to commonplace fixtures.

With the rise of the internet came the decline of newspapers and magazines, rudely shoved aside by news sites and a wave of web logs (blogs). Consumers of this “new media” insist on up-to-the-second information and use specialized monitoring programs (feed readers and aggregators) to watch scores of sites for any tidbits that might appear.

For content-hungry consumers the smartphone isn’t quite enough (too slow, too small) and a laptop is too much (too bulky, too heavy). Apple’s “Air” portable sought to address those issues with an ultra slim design and improved battery life but was just slightly wide of the mark. Users wanted something compact, fast enough for general use and light enough to take everywhere – and I mean everywhere – remember the shower radio?

Enter the iPad.

A tool for web browsing, email, video and data entry, the iPad is a LCD touchscreen with a proprietary Apple chip driving it. The iPad eschews ungainly hard disk drives, using compact chip-based “flash RAM” instead. The all-solid-state storage has some excellent advantages: size, higher efficiency (i.e. longer device battery life), superior durability (no head crashes) and fast read/write speed. The primary drawback is price – roughly 10x the price of hard disk storage – so the advantages come with a hefty price tag.

However, once past the wallet-clubbing troll you’re over the digital bridge into a world where all the major newspapers are literally at your fingertips. A tap opens a story, a pinch-open gesture enlarges and a hand-swipe pans or scrolls. Video and music are simple and fun. You can video conference with a friend while you’re riding the bus to work thanks to the device’s 4G network connection. In short, it’s lighter than a laptop, nearly as fast (faster in some cases) and big enough to read like a folded-up newspaper – and no ink stains!

Oh, did I mention e-books?

Apple’s online store lets users download music, e-books and video effortlessly. Hear of a great new novel on a website? A few taps, pinches and swipes and you’ve got it in your hand. Love the book? Drop the author a kudo via e-mail. Did I mention you’re still on the bus? Reach your destination, drop the iPad into your briefcase or messenger bag and it will sleep (power save) on its own, ready to jump back to  work when you pull it out at coffee time or lunch.

We may just be seeing the beginning of the end for paper-based content.

My only question is: where’s all the content for this brave new world coming from?

We’ll talk about that next time when I discuss blogging software and content management systems.

Till then, keep geekin!