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October 31, 2004

Check 21

The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21) was signed into law on October 28, 2003, and became effective on October 28, 2004.

Check 21 speeds up check processing by creating a new "negotiable instrument" called a substitute check, which would permit banks process check information electronically, and to deliver substitute checks to banks that want to continue receiving paper checks.

In short, if you are used to paying for groceries on Wednesday with the assumption that it won't get to the grocer's bank till Thursday, and won't get to your bank until Friday after you cash your paycheck, assume no more. Check 21 allows for the paper check to be made electronic, leader to faster payments, but reducing/eliminating your ability to float checks.

Another problem with the new law include the fact that though checks will clear faster, banks have no increased obligation to make your money available to you.

Check 21 FAQ

October 30, 2004

UPDATE: A 9/11 Tribute

Only 14 months later, the DVD finally showed up today.

Rebate Record

I received my largest rebate of all time today ($400), and I didn't even have to apply for it! The only thing that bothers me about it is Bloomberg's taking credit for it. He jacked up taxes, then gave some of the money back like he's Santa.

October 29, 2004

Infestation Removal

Is your computer feeling down? Some of the link here may be useful if your computer is running slower than usual, even if your anti-virus software didn't find any viruses.

Merijn's Spyware removal tools - Tools include:

  • StartupList : A simple tool that lists all and every auto starting program on your system. You might be surprised what it finds, this is way better than Msconfig. Commonly used to troubleshoot malfunctioning systems, trojan/viral infections, new spyware/malware breed and the likes.

  • HijackThis : A general homepage hijackers detector and remover. Initially based on the article Hijacked!, but expanded with almost a dozen other checks against hijacker tricks. It is continually updated to detect and remove new hijacks. It does not target specific programs/URLs, just the methods used by hijackers to force you onto their sites. As a result, false positives are imminent and unless you are sure what you're doing, you should always consult with knowledgable folks (e.g. the forums) before deleting anything.

  • CWShredder: A small utility for removing CoolWebSearch (aka CoolWwwSearch, YouFindAll, White-Pages.ws and a dozen other names). Spybot S&D and Ad-aware tend to forget essential parts of the hijack, so until they update, you can use this to completely remove the hijack. This program is updated to remove the new variants once they come out.

  • BugOff: This little app disables a few exploits that are commonly used by browser hijackers (including CWS), thus protecting you from infection. This does not remove an existing infection! Applicable to everyone that uses Internet Explorer.

  • Kill2Me: A removal tool specifically for the Look2Me parasite. This tool removes versions 115, 116, 117 118, 120, 121 and 122 (the most recent ones) on Windows versions 95, 98, 98SE and ME.

  • KazaaBegone: A Kazaa uninstaller which scans and removes all elements of all Kazaa versions, as well as all of the bundled software that comes with it.
    Warning: This version has a bug that can cause your Internet connection to be broken when removing New.Net, WebHancer or CommonName. An update is being worked on. If you still want to use KazaaBegone, download LSPFix to fix your Internet connection (download it before you run KazaaBegone, of course).

BHO (Browser Helper Object) & TB (Toolbar ) List

SpywareBlaster

October 28, 2004

Never too Early?

Somebody is a little too excited.

Beechnut Free Stuff & Coupons

Sign-up for Beech-Nut's E-Newsletter and get:

Free Bowl*
or
Free Bib*
or
Enter the Beech-Nut Dream Baby Room Sweepstakes

*Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. And as thanks for signing up, they’ll start you off with big coupon savings.

October 27, 2004

Chase LPG

I called to request forms for 4 LPG claims, for various purchases (mostly textbooks) over the last 2 months. It's almost hard to believe the program hasn't been killed yet.

REMINDER: Lunar Eclipse

Tonight's the night!

Mr. Rebates Check

I finally earned enough money to get a check out of Mr. Rebates. $32.44 is on its way! Ironically, only $10.62 of that was eared by me directly. I got $2.50 when I signed up, and the rest is due to various purchases by just one person that I referred. I know my earnings were for Dell Small Business, and I have the feeling his/hers were, too.

Free Gas ($5 of Amoco Ultimate) and More

Win a Jaguar! ... And 1 Year of Amoco Ultimate
Or one of 10,000 other prizes

Enter online

The first 100,000 unduplicated entries will receive a $5.00 BP Gas Card by mail (limit one per household).

October 26, 2004

FINAL UPDATE: freeiPods.com

My iPod from freeiPods.com was delivered today!

Here's the time-line:

8/19/04 ... signed up
8/23/04 ... credit for completing an offer showed up
9/10/04 ... 5th offer completed by a referral
9/10/04 ... account approved
9/10/04 ... order placed
9/19/04 ... Sent to Vendor, Waiting on Product (maybe earlier ... didn't check for a while)
9/23/04 ... cancelled AOL
10/24/04 ... Shipped (FedEx records indicate it actually shipped on 10/23 from China)
10/26 ... iPod delivered!

Oh, BTW, despite my selecting the "HP 20GB iPod (if available)" option, I actually got an Apple iPod. Now I just have to decide what to do with this thing. I took a few pictures, which I may post later, if I get a chance.

UPDATE: Here's one:

Free Digital Picture Prints

Free digital prints are always a good thing. There are two current deals:

Target - 10 free digital prints

Heads Up (Literally): Total Lunar Eclipse

FYI, (ripped from NASA):

According to folklore, October's full moon is called the "Hunter's Moon" or sometimes the "Blood Moon." It gets its name from hunters who tracked and killed their prey by autumn moonlight, stockpiling food for the winter ahead. You can picture them: silent figures padding through the forest, the moon overhead, pale as a corpse, its cold light betraying the creatures of the wood.

The Blood Moon rises this year on Wednesday, Oct. 27th. At first it will seem pale and cold, as usual. And then ... blood red.

It's a lunar eclipse. Beginning at 9:14 p.m. EDT (6:14 p.m. PDT), the moon will glide through Earth's shadow for more than three hours. Observers on every continent (map) except Australia can see the event: The pale-white moon will turn pumpkin orange as it plunges into shadow, becoming eerie red during totality.

What makes the eclipsed moon turn red? The answer lies inside Earth's shadow:


[White light from the Sun is a mixture of all the colors of the rainbow. When a ray of "white" sunlight passes at grazing incidence through Earth's atmosphere, molecules and aerosols in the air scatter blue light in all directions (this is why the sky is blue). The remaining reddish light is bent (refracted) into Earth's umbral shadow zone, giving the eclipsed Moon a coppery glow.]

Our planet casts a long shadow. It starts on the ground--Step outside at night. You're in Earth's shadow. Think about it!--and it stretches almost a million miles into space, far enough to reach the moon.

Suppose you had a personal spaceship. Here's your mission: Tonight, at midnight, blast off and fly down the middle of Earth's shadow. Keep going until you're about 200,000 miles above Earth, almost to the moon. Now turn around and look down. The view from your cockpit window is Earth's nightside, the dark half of our planet opposite the sun. But it's not completely dark! All around Earth's limb, the atmosphere glows red.

What you're seeing is every sunrise and sunset on Earth--all at once. This ring of light shines into Earth's shadow, breaking the utter darkness you might expect to find there. Turn off the cockpit lights. There's a lovely red glow.

Lunar Eclipse Schedule
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

 

Moon enters
Earth's shadow

 totality
begins

 totality
ends

Moon exits
Earth's shadow
Universal Time

01:14 (Oct 28)

02:23 (Oct 28)

 03:45 (Oct 28)
04:54 (Oct 28)
Eastern Time

9:14 p.m.

10:23 p.m.

11:45 p.m.

00:54 a.m. (Oct. 28)

Central Time

8:14 p.m.

9:23 p.m.

10:45 p.m.

11:54 p.m.
Mountain Time

7:14 p.m.

8:23 p.m.

9:45 p.m.

10:54 p.m.
Pacific Time

6:14 p.m.

7:23 p.m.

8:45 p.m.

9:54 p.m.
Alaska Time

5:14 p.m.

6:23 p.m.

7:45 p.m.

8:54 p.m.
Hawaii Time

3:14 p.m.

4:23 p.m.

5:45 p.m.

6:54 p.m.

Notes: Unless otherwise marked, all times refer to Wednesday evening, Oct. 27th. Times printed in light gray denote events that happen before local moonrise.

That same red light plays across the moon when it's inside Earth's shadow. The exact color depends on what's floating around in Earth's atmosphere. Following a volcanic eruption, for instance, dust and ash can turn global sunsets vivid red. The moon would glow vivid red, too. Lots of clouds, on the other hand, extinguish sunsets, leading to darker, dimmer eclipses.

How will the moon look on Oct 27th? Corpse white. Pumpkin orange. Blood red. Maybe all three. Step outside and see for yourself.

Warning: While you're staring at the sky, you might hear footsteps among the trees, the twang of a bow, a desperate scurry to shelter. That's just your imagination.

Prescription Madness

We called Rite Aid to request a refill on a prescription prior to our recent travel (the current prescription would have run out the day after we got back). Because it was only about 2 weeks after the original prescription had been picked up, we were told that our insurance would not yet cover it. We were therefore forced to try to pick up the prescription during the short 2-day window between trips.

When we returned from the first trip (on a Wednesday morning), we called in the refill. Well, we tried. The tech told us that the prescription had been transferred, and therefore 0 refills were available. Oddly, the tech couldn't even tell us where the prescription had been transferred to. After going in circles, I asked to speak to the pharmacist. When he got on the phone, he asked my name. I gave him my full name, then asked for his. When he gave me only his first name, I asked for his last. He hesitated, making up some excuse like "I just got on the phone, I don't know what this is about." My response was, "Well, you asked for my name, and I gave you first and last. I expect the same from you."

After he gave me his name, I explained the situation. I then said, "If your pharmacy can't keep records accurate enough to maintain the refills on a prescription, and if you're going to claim it was transferred without identifying where, then I will be forced to report you to the New York State Board of Pharmacy." Well, apparently that was the right thing to say, because he put me on hold to look into it. Within just a couple minutes the original tech was back on the phone, explaining that they had (magically) found the refills, and that they would be filling a refill within 45 minutes.

It's hard to find good help. In fact, this isn't the first time I had a problem with Rite Aid. The last time also involved filling a prescription around vacation time. That time the pharmacy only had 25 (instead of 30) pills, so when we picked up the prescription, we were told that the next time we were in, we should ask for the remaining 5. I specifically asked if we needed any paperwork to show that we only got 25, but the tech informed us that since it was in the computer, all we had to do was show up. Since we were picking up the prescription shortly before a vacation, and because we had no other business in the pharmacy, we didn't return for a couple weeks.

When we did, we were told that there was nothing in the computer. We were also told that we could only pick up the extra pills within X days after the main prescription was picked up (X was either 3 or 7). I complained that we had been told otherwise, but they didn't seem to care. Then I argued that we had paid for 30, not 25, and the pharmacist looked up the transaction and found that we had "just" paid a co-payment. True, I admitted, but that co-payment was for a full 30 pills, not 25, and furthermore, the insurance company was paying the rest. "In fact, I'm sure the insurance company would love to hear that while you billed them for 30 pills, you only provided us with 25. Sounds like insurance fraud to me."

Well, again, that was the right thing to say. All of a sudden that 3 or 7 day limit was forgotten. They asked if we had any documentation indicating that we had gotten only 25 pills, and we did - they had marked "25" in pen on the bottle. (Of course if they were going to accept this, we could mark anything we wanted on future bottles....) When we showed them the bottle (which, unfortunately did require a trip home), they "gladly" handed over the 5 missing pills.

At this point you might be wondering why we continue to use this pharmacy, especially considering the large number of nearby pharmacies. The answer lies in their hours. While most (if not all) of the other pharmacies are only open relatively normal business hours, this one is open 24/7, a convenience we consider more valuable than the difficulties we occasionally encounter.

UPDATE 9: freeiPods.com (Shipped 2)

Yesterday the iPod arrived in "ANCHORAGE, AK." Today it arrived in "INDIANAPOLIS, IN" where it underwent an activity described as "Int'l shipment release."* As of 7:47 AM, it was "At local FedEx facility" (MASPETH, NY). We're making progress, and it looks like it might even be delivered early.

*Oddly, the "Int'l shipment release" transaction was listed as having occurred at 6:32 AM, while I was doing the checking in the wee hours of the morning. Their website is so up-to-date, it can tell me the future! This genius is similar to the details listed for the "Picked up" activity. If you have a package picked up by FedEx, wouldn't you expect that the expectation is for it to be delivered at a future point in time? Is it necessary to explain, "Future delivery requested"?

October 25, 2004

UPDATE 8: freeiPods.com (Canceling AOL)

NOTE: This post was actually written quite some time ago, shortly after I actually cancelled. Fearing that something would go wrong, and I'd look like an idiot, I held off publishing it until my confidence level was a bit higher. Now that my iPod has shipped, read on:

It's pretty well known that it's hard to cancel AOL. They tend to try to string you along by offering extended free trials or less expensive plans. Some people like that ... they take advantage of this to extend their free trials for long periods of time. I don't like AOL, never have, and probably never will. I was actually kind of excited to call and cancel, to see just how hard they'd try to keep me.

The first time I called (on 9/23), I somehow got connected to Billing instead of Cancellation. Chad (ID #62774) tried to transfer me to Cancellation, but disconnected me instead. He gave me what he claimed was a direct number for Cancellation (888-265-8008), but it took me to the same annoying automated voice answering system. I found that by saying "Agent" I could skip the menu, after it tried to bargain with me one more time.

I placed the second call at 2:25 pm, but did not reach a human until 2:29. 4 minutes wait time isn't great, but it's not too terrible either. This time I had the opportunity to speak to JR in the Oklahoma City call center, a "Customer Care Specialist". I told him I wanted to cancel, he asked for my screen name (along with some other pieces of identity confirming information). When I told him "freeipods4david" he chuckled. He then proceeded to start down a long series of questions. "Why do you want to cancel?" "I see you have a high speed connection. Do you have cable or DSL?" "Don't you like music or movies? Most people do!" I refused to answer any of the questions except why I wanted to cancel, which I answered by saying, "I don't like it." Funny thing was, he wouldn't accept that answer. He claimed it was the system he was using that wouldn't accept it. Right. Regardless, after the third time he asked it, I told him I needed to speak to his supervisor. He asked why, and I told him that he wasn't providing me with the "customer care" I expect from a "Customer Care Specialist."

A few minutes later I got to speak to Jeanette. She proceeded along a similar path of questions, which I continued to avoid answering. We argued a lot about whether I had any obligation to follow their "procedure for canceling" (e.g. answering a bunch of marketing questions), and eventually she seemed to proceed. Then she said, "I notice your screen name mentions freeipods. Did you sign up for AOL through that offer? It's a great deal, I would participate if I could." She then proceeded to claim that if I didn't remain an AOL member for 90 days, I would not receive credit for signing up. 'Gee, that's odd,' I thought to myself, 'because I've already gotten credit.' She suggested I stick with AOL if for no other reason than to get the iPod. She then informed me of their low cost plans (which they don't seem to publicize anywhere) that include a $9.95 plan and a $4.95 plan (3 hours/month).

After I turned down all of the discount plans that she offered, we finally got through cancellation. I was provided a cancellation number, and was informed that the cancellation would be effective immediately, but as a "courtesy" I would have access to my account through the end of the billing cycle, which in this case was 10/11. At 2:42, 17 minutes after I called, Jeanette transferred me to a prerecorded message with the "fine print" of the cancellation. Basically it informed me that I would get a confirmation of cancellation letter in 7-10 days, and that other charges (like online purchases) would still be my responsibility. (Duh?!)

Though I got through the process, it may be easier for others to use the road less traveled, e.g. canceling by fax (904-232-4879) or mail:
America Online
PO BOX 17100
Jacksonville, FL 32245-7100

You must include the following:

1) Request to cancel
2) Full Name
3) Phone Number
4) Address
5) Signature
6) One of the following:
A) screen-name
B) last 4 digits of credit card
C) answer to the Account Security Question

Oddly, AOL says "If you cancel near the end of your billing period, you may be inadvertently charged for the next month's fee. In that event, contact AOL billing at 888-265-8003 to have the charges reversed." Hearing this only made me enjoy the fact that I had signed up with a temporary credit card number (with a spending limit of $1) all the more so.

As a follow-up to the cancellation, AOL sent me two letters that both came in early October. One was a cancellation confirmation letter that reiterated the points brought up during the call such as the availability of low cost plans. The second letter was a "Priority Upgrade Authorization" for AOL for Broadband, one of the largest scams, second only to AOL itself. For $1.05 (on top of the regular $23.90 monthly fee), AOL gives you access to all kinds of software features (firewall, spam filters, pop-up controls, e-mail anti-virus, a "professional" email program, etc. that should be there in the first place, plus various bandwidth hogging options like Radio and Video. Yay ... not!

UPDATE 7: freeiPods.com (Shipped)

I just got an email:

David, your order from freeiPods.com has been shipped!

Thanks again for ordering. You should receive your shipment within approximately 1-2 weeks. Please allow appropriate time for delivery.

WHAT NOW?
Refer more friends!

Thanks again,
-freeiPods.com

(This is an automated, 1-time mailing. Please do not reply.)


The FedEx tracking information indicates it shipped on 10/23 from "SHANGHAI CN," with an expected delivery date of 10/28!

Pained Cheese

Gee Amazon, this sounds appetizing:

Bel Paese - Sundried Tomato - 1 Pound
Price: $9.99
Features:
  • A sweet, buttery, mild cheese

  • First created in Italy, now here in the USA

  • Available pain or flavored

  • Pair with light-bodied red wines

  • Made in the USA from pasteurized milk

Product Description
By popular demand, we bring you Bel Paese. Invented in Lombardy in 1929 by the Galbani Cheese Company, Bel Paese is now made in the U.S.A. Literally meaning "beautiful country," Dante used these words to describe Italy which in turn inspired Galbani to name his cheese Bel Paese. It is a semi-soft, uncooked, pressed pasteurized cow's milk cheese with a wax rind. Made in small discs, it's appearance is pale, creamy yellow with small holes dotted amongst its interior. Bel Paese has a mild, buttery flavor, similar to mozzarella but with more body and tang. It's a marvelously versatile cheese suitable for snacks or as a dessert cheese, but also melts well making it perfect for casseroles or as an alternative pizza topping. Enjoy Bel Paese paired with a light Chardonnay or a Barbera.

Cell Phones

I hate cell phones.

They're annoying in public places, the reception is unpredictable, and even when there is reception, the sound quality, well, isn't. And while most people know these facts, they ignore them, and worship their cell phones, because they think cell phones give them independence, convenience, etc.

While I'm the first to admit there are useful applications for cell phones, for me, these are far outnumbered by the drawbacks. I don't spend that much time away from home or work, where I can be reached easily. And when I'm not in a fixed location, I like my freedom. I like the fact that it can be hard to reach me.

So, when the sales guy starting talking to me about cell phones while I was making a return at Radio Shack recently, I was ready. I floored him by telling him that not only do I not have one*, but that I don't want one. He asked how I could live without one. I informed him that somehow I had managed this far along in my life, and I had faith that I could keep on going. He started in with his sales pitch ... great phones ... low prices ... etc. I told him he could talk all he wanted, but I wasn't buying a phone, and left the store.

*I do have an old, charged cell phone (without paid service) in the car, for calling 911 in emergencies.

Right on, Target

Stopped by Target this morning to pick up some cough drops, and figured I'd do a return while I was at it. Handed the clerk my receipt and the item, she scanned both, hit about 2 keys, then a new receipt showing the return printed out. Now that's how returns should work!

Then I picked up the cough drops and headed for checkout. Ahead of me was a woman with a package of 101 lollipops for $1.50 (18 ounces), and another of 285 for $4.50 (51 ounces). She was trying to figure out which was a better deal, and was speaking aloud. After the clerk and I watched her and waited, I finally chimed in to tell her the smaller bag was the better deal. She didn't get it, so I explained it, and she finally understood. She then proceeded to preach to us about how most other people didn't have me standing next to them to help them save. She then remembered that she had seen another woman buying the large bag, and debated going to tell her about the better deal, then decided the other woman probably wouldn't want to go back to switch bags. Well, that ruined what could have been my most efficient trip to Target ever.

October 24, 2004

OT: Serpents, Parasitic Worms, and Copepods

When a Popular Science article (Worst Science Jobs II, 11/2004) claimed that the treatment (grabbing one end through a cut in the skin and wrapping it round a stick; by winding the stick over a period of days, the worm is gradually drawn out) for Dracunculosis, (caused by the Guinea worm, Dracunculus medinensis) "is so old that it inspired the ancient snake-and-pole aesculapius symbol of medicine," I questioned it. Nevermind the fact that the parasite is a skinny worm, not a snake. I had learned that the symbol was taken from the bible, in Numbers 21:8-9:

And the Lord said to Moses, "Make yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who was bitten will look at it and live." Moses made a serpent of copper and placed it on the pole; so it was that if the serpent bit a man, he would stare at the copper serpent and live.

As I spent a few minutes looking into it, I found that I was not the first to question the article. Specifically, Nick Wilshere asked:
Number 2 in a list of worst science jobs is Worm Parasitologist:

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/article/0,20967,713466,00.html

"When the thousands of babies make their joyous arrival, they blister the skin and pop through, leaving Mom behind. The traditional way to get rid of her is to wrap her head around a stick and twist very slowly—one turn of the stick per day—for weeks or months, depending on how long she is. (This treatment is so old that it inspired the ancient snake-and-pole aesculapius symbol of medicine.)"

Is this aetiology correct? If so, what is the source?


The only reply to the thread that was on (my) topic was Ricky Torrey's:
It seems that the bronze snake Moses raised on a pole and was reputed to have healing powers (Num. 21: 4-9) must be related to this ancient symbol or image, too.

Has any scholarly study been made of this emblem - or whatever it is - that could be cited?


To which there was no answer given, but I found one. In answering an apparent flurry of letters regarding their first article, The Symbol of Modern Medicine: Why One Snake Is More Than Two (Annal of Internal Medicine, 138:8 673-677) Robert A. Wilcox and Emma M. Whitham write:
Several correspondents noted the resemblance of the Asklepian to the biblical "serpent of brass," which Moses used to miraculously cure snake bites (5). Indeed, plague medals that depicted Moses holding the brass serpent became popular religious icons during the 14th century. They were worn in the hope of evoking the protection of Jesus and God against the bubonic plague, just as the Greeks and Romans of antiquity had used charms to evoke the protection of Asklepios (6). The brass serpent of Moses was a very popular Renaissance motif and was prominently depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Schouten wrote, "In my opinion, this emblem, the brass serpent, greatly influenced the 16th century renaissance of the classical Aesculapius and his attribute, the rod and serpent, when Humanism infused new life into a number of antique motifs" (6). This symbol is known as the Tau cross and is featured on the coat of arms of the Royal Society of Medicine of the United Kingdom, where it is often mistaken for an Asklepian.
5. Numbers 21:9.
6. Schouten J. The Rod and the Serpent of Asklepios. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 1967.
(The Symbol of Modern Medicine 140:4 311-312)

On the religious front, I also found numerous claims of a relationship between the snake on the staff and Jesus on the cross. In contrast, Jewish tradition states, "Does a serpent cause death or life? Rather when they looked upward and subjected their hearts to their Fatherin Heaven they were healed, but if not, they died" (Rashi on Talmud Rosh Hashanah 29a). The next useful source that I identified was an article by Frank Heynick in The Jewish Western Bulletin (published in British Columbia, Canada). In The serpents of Exodus, Heynick states, "The traditional symbol of the medical profession, the serpent on a pole, is commonly known as the staff of Asklepios. This was the name of a semi-divine Greek physician of the ninth- or eighth-century BCE. Yet the roots of the serpent and pole symbol go back farther - to the Exodus from Egypt around 1200 BCE." Interestingly, based on his assignment of dates, the bronze snake was destroyed by King Hezekiah when the people began to worship it coincided with the adoption of the symbol by the Greeks.

Coming full circle, Heynick reasons that one possible explanation for the use of such a symbol (when normally the Jewish people were prohibited from making idols) was to serve as a visual aid for the treatment of Dracunculosis.

Ironically, the manner in which humans become infected is through the ingestion of (unfiltered) water containing infected copepods (Dracunculus medinensis larvae are consumed by copepods). Graphic descriptions of the process are available here and here. As was widely reported, Jews in New York City recently began to filter the drinking water due to the discovery of copepods. Had Moses (and the biblical Jews) filtered their drinking water, the iconic snake-and-pole may have never been needed.

October 22, 2004

WinXP SP2

Windows XP Service Pack 2, which has been downloading in the background ever so patiently over the last few weeks (what can I say, dial-up is slow), finally finished, and I installed it successfully tonight. Now that my life is complete, I can sleep soundly.

October 21, 2004

TV-B-Gone

I heard about TV-B-Gone on the radio yesterday. It's a simple device that has one button which, when pressed, emits the power codes for just about every remote controllable TV out there. The intent is to be able to turn off any TV, although it also turns on any TV that's off. It's so popular that the site has been overloaded. Wired Magazine and AP (via Yahoo News) both have interesting articles about it.

Those with evil minds have contemplated spending an otherwise boring afternoon at Circuit City, turning off the TVs when the mood strikes.

For $14.99, I'm not sure I'd join in the fun, but it'd certainly be an interesting toy.

What: TV-B-Gone™ universal remote controls, is an amazing small handheld new gadget that has the power to turn off virtually any television set.
How: TV-B-Gone™ universal remote controls generates the 'off' power codes for every model of US, Asian and European televisions. Hangs discreetly on a keychain.
Why: Because a tv that is powered on is like second-hand smoke. It fills the room with its sights and sounds, impinging on everyone in the room. If someone were smoking a cigar in a public place, you would probably leave or ask them to extinguish it. With TV-B-Gone™, you have the power to turn any tv off, with others' approval.
Who: TV-B-Gone™ universal remote controls is produced by Cornfield Electronics, Inc., a San Francisco technology firm. 'I consider TV-B-Gone a personal safety device,' says inventor Mitch Altman.

Can TV-B-Gone hurt my TV? TV-B-Gone™ is just a remote control. It works on the same principle as your tv's remote control. It cannot hurt your tv or anyone else's tv.
What's different about TV-B-GoneTM? Other universal remotes turn off the television, but they can cost up to $250 because they also turn on the television and adjust its settings. TV-B-Gone™ costs only $14.99 and only provides the most important remote control function: the OFF switch.
How can I get one? TV-B-Gone™ is available by mail order on the internet at www.TVBGone.com and in selected retail locations stores.

Cornfield Electronics, Inc., based in San Francisco, is dedicated to the use of technology for something useful. TV-B-Gone™ is our first product and is, in fact, one of the first truly useful uses of technology. We hope you will enjoy it, as well as the vast amount of energy that it opens up in your life. Mitch Altman, Inventor

Need a Job?

If you're looking for a web development job, let me know. My employer is looking to fill both a full- and part-time position.

You should have experience with:
Dreamweaver
ASP
Content Management

Batteries

Batteries aren't the typical PM item, but why not? Pathmark will have 4-packs of C and D batteries for $3.99 starting Friday. Staples charges $6.29. After PM, the price is only $3.76.

Image Data Recovery

A friend came to me with a problem. A memory card of his (Sandisk compact flash) stopped working - it showed as corrupt/unformatted in his camera (and though a couple folders showed in my card reader, as soon as I tried to open one, I was informed that, "The disk in drive E is not formatted."). I tried a free data recovery program, PC Inspector Smart Recovery v4.5 from CONVAR. Though it succeeded in recovering some pictures off my own memory card that I had deleted (for testing purposes), it was not able to recover anything from my friend's.

Next, I tried PhotoRescue v2.1 from DataRescue. They have two versions, a Wizard version, intended for the novice user, and an Expert version, intended for the power user. Each version has a free demo download that lets you see thumbnails of the images that the program guarantees to recover, but doesn't allow you to save the images. Feeling powerful, I tried the demo of the Expert version, which produced 198 thumbnails, prompting my friend to purchase the software ($29).

Of the 198 images that PhotoRescue was able to restore, only 9 images were partially corrupt (missing part of the image and/or suffering from color distortions).

Yankeeeeeeeeeees Lose. Theeeeeeeeeee Yankeeeeeeeeeees Lose!

And like that, baseball history was made, and the Yankees were spanked! Pure glee for me!

October 20, 2004

Baseball: The Slap Heard 'Round the World

I'm not a big sports fan, and generally don't enjoy watching sports much. However I do tune in every now and then, like for much of last night's Game 6 between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Though I live in NY, I grew up in California, so my allegiance is certainly not with the Yankees (or Mets, for that matter). The fact that NYers are a bit too boastful of "their" team doesn't aid in gaining my acceptance.

So it doesn't bother me a bit when they lose. In fact, it gives me a bit of sick pleasure. Last night's defeat was particularly fun to watch.

The most talked about play of the game has been the Arroyo/Rodriguez interference call. Surprisingly, Yankees fans have somehow convinced themselves that the final call was wrong. Well, after a quick look at the Official MLB Rules, it seems the fans are the ones who are wrong:

Official Rules: 2.00 Definition of Terms

INTERFERENCE
(a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules. In the event the batter runner has not reached first base, all runners shall return to the base last occupied at the time of the pitch.
(b) Defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch.
(c) Umpire's interference occurs (1) When an umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher's throw attempting to prevent a stolen base, or (2) When a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder.
(d) Spectator interference occurs when a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball. On any interference the ball is dead.

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner. If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

Based on these two definitions, it is quite clear that Arroyo (Red Socks defense) was not guilty of Obstruction, while Rodriguez (Yankees offense) was guilty of interference.

Once interference is called, 3.15 states that the penalty is up to the discretion of the umpire:

No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club. In case of unintentional interference with play by any person herein authorized to be on the playing field (except members of the offensive team participating in the game, or a coach in the coach's box, or an umpire) the ball is alive and in play. If the interference is intentional, the ball shall be dead at the moment of the interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference. NOTE: See Rule 7.11 for individuals excepted above, also see Rule 7.08 (b). [These rules, though unrelated in this case, are included below, for your reference.] The question of intentional or unintentional interference shall be decided on the basis of the person's action. For example: a bat boy, ball attendant, policeman, etc., who tries to avoid being touched by a thrown or batted ball but still is touched by the ball would be involved in unintentional interference. If, however, he kicks the ball or picks it up or pushes it, that is considered intentional interference, regardless of what his thought may have been. PLAY: Batter hits ball to shortstop, who fields ball but throws wild past first baseman. The offensive coach at first base, to avoid being hit by the ball, falls to the ground and the first baseman on his way to retrieve the wild thrown ball, runs into the coach; the batter runner finally ends up on third base. The question is asked whether the umpire should call interference on the part of the coach. This would be up to the judgment of the umpire and if the umpire felt that the coach did all he could to avoid interfering with the play, no interference need be called. If it appeared to the umpire that the coach was obviously just making it appear he was trying not to interfere, the umpire should rule interference.

7.11:
The players, coaches or any member of an offensive team shall vacate any space (including both dugouts) needed by a fielder who is attempting to field a batted or thrown ball. PENALTY: Interference shall be called and the batter or runner on whom the play is being made shall be declared out.

7.08 (b):
b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball; A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not. If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire's judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out. If, in a run down between third base and home plate, the succeeding runner has advanced and is standing on third base when the runner in a run down is called out for offensive interference, the umpire shall send the runner standing on third base back to second base. This same principle applies if there is a run down between second and third base and succeeding runner has reached second (the reasoning is that no runner shall advance on an interference play and a runner is considered to occupy a base until he legally has reached the next succeeding base).

Credit Cards

There's an interesting offer from MBNA (one of my preferred credit card companies), similar to the Citi Dividend Platinum Select. The offer, only valid through the end of June 2005, is for 10% back on all purchases (up to $25 per month). The interesting thing is that many FWers have gotten multiple accounts, raising their earning power to several hundred dollars per month. To get approved for so many cards, some FWers have gotten creative:

MBNA: Sir, I see you already have 4 of the MBNA World Point cards. May I ask why you want another account?
FWer: I like to track my spending by each day of the week.
{pause}
MBNA: Are you serious?
FWer: Definitely. I'm very particular about using only certain cards on any given day.
{another pause}
MBNA: Sir, I can appreciate that . . . but wouldn't that require 7 cards - or do you abstain from spending for the days that you don't have an MBNA card?
FWer: You're right - I will need 7 cards. Can you make that happen right now to save me an additional 2 phone calls?
{another pause}
MBNA: Um . . . no sir - I can only approve 1 card for you right now. That will make 5 of our cards that you will be carrying.
FWer: I'm one of your biggest fans.
MBNA: I can see. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
FWer: Nope. I'll have to try again tomorrow.
MBNA: I wish you luck. Thank you for calling MBNA.

There are a few drawbacks, however. First, any returned items are "charged" a 10% fee (they take back the 10% they paid) - even if you spent more than $250. Second, it seems that the deal is no longer available. Though it took a while, MBNA finally killed the offer (or it expired on its own).

Some have used the card to buy gift cards at grocery stores and dealpass.com, where gift cards are sold at 80% of face value. (Read about it here and here).

You can read more about it at FW.

October 19, 2004

UPDATE 6: freeiPods.com (Still Waiting)

From the FreeiPods.com FAQ:

My order status still says “Sent To Vendor”. Please be patient. We TOTALLY understand your frustration. The process of shipping is complex and we have recently switched vendors so that we can get products out of the door faster. Please be patient. We apologize that we cannot provide you with more detailed information but please rest assured; you will be receiving your free item.
Yeah, they totally understand. They're not waiting for their referral money....

October 18, 2004

Taxis in Rio de Janeiro

Taxi transportation, like car service transportation, is always a bit iffy. The passenger, often in an unfamiliar city (and sometimes country), is at the mercy of the driver's decisions. Recently, we tried to take a taxi from our hotel in Rio to one of the tourist attractions. As the car began to move, I noticed that the meter wasn't. I asked the driver if it was broken, and he replied that "In Rio, we don't use meters." OK, I'm game. "How much do you plan to charge us then?" I asked. He proceeded to offer two choices: either a round-trip ride to the top of Corcovado for 150 reais (Brazilian currency, 2.7-2.8 to $1), or to the train station for 35, one way. Considering we wanted to go on the train ride, and that we were told the ride should be about 20, we weren't very enthusiastic about this driver's games. I then informed him that he to either turn on his meter, or we would get another taxi.

It seems he either wanted to call my bluff or was only interested in a highly profitable fare as he offered to hail another taxi for us. He didn't have much success, so we walked the few feet back to the hotel and got another taxi who was willing to use his meter. Total fare: 16 reais.

We encountered a similar scenario on the way back. The new taxi driver wanted a flat fee of just 30, but when we asked him to use the meter, he did, and it cost 12 reais.

Car Services

As you should know, I was away this weekend. I took car services to and from the airport. As coupons come in the mail (e.g. Valpak), I save them. I called a few of the places for prices before I left, and found one that was at the low end of the range, and accepted competitor's coupons. I called to book a car, confirmed that they accept competitor's coupons, and headed to the airport. When I handed the driver the coupon and payment (minus the coupon amount, of course), I could see that he wasn't pleased. He then claimed that due to the number of people (3) and bags (a trunkful), there was a $2 surcharge. I wasn't pleased, or in the mood to fight, so I gave him $1, and told him to take the other out of his tip (which had been $2).

On the way back, as "luck" would have it, I got the same driver. This time when I paid, he claimed that they don't accept competitor's coupons. I pulled out the coupon from his company, showed him where it said "We accept competitor's coupons" in big bold, underlined, letters, and that the phone number on the coupon matched the phone number on the back of his car.

He still argued with me, and I handed him his tip ($2), which matched the coupon amount, and told him he could do what he wanted with it.

I later called the dispatcher back, to complain. She again confirmed that they do accept competitor's coupons, and said she'd speak to him, but suggested that I just avoid him (#73) in the future. I said I'd probably do that - by avoiding the company.

I'm Back, Again

Well, I was away for a few more days, but I'm back again, and this time, for a while, I hope. The promised blogs are coming....

October 13, 2004

I'm Back

I was on vacation for a few days, but now I'm back, and I'll have a bunch of new posts shortly....

October 3, 2004

Which World?

In case you're curious about what a third world country is, and how many worlds there are, read on. All definitions are from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

first world
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized F&W
Etymology: after third world
: the highly developed industrialized nations often considered the westernized countries of the world

second world
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized S&W
Etymology: after third world
: the Communist nations as a political and economic bloc

third world
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized T&W
Etymology: translation of French tiers monde
1 : a group of nations especially in Africa and Asia not aligned with either the Communist or the non-Communist blocs
2 : an aggregate of minority groups within a larger predominant culture
3 : the aggregate of the underdeveloped nations of the world
- third world·er /-'w&r(-&)l-d&r/ noun, often capitalized T&W

fourth world
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized F&W
: a group of nations especially in Africa and Asia characterized by extremely low per capita income and an absence of valuable natural resources

Speeding Up Adobe Acrobat

If you ever access PDF documents on the web, you've probably noticed that it takes a while for Adobe Acrobat Reader to load. Using either of the following utilities should speed things up. One of them was discussed in a FW thread.

Adobe Reader SpeedUp 1.29

PDF SpeedUp for Adobe Reader 1.32

Another method seems to be holding down the SHIFT key when opening PDF files.

Free Engineer's Level Pen

Your engineer’s level pen will be mailed to you within 6 to 8 weeks.* Please be sure to include your full address if you would like a pen.

*Due to customs regulations the engineer's level pen is only available to persons living within the U.S.A. One pen per person, per mailing address.

Click here.

CC Offer: Fine Print

It's always important to read the fine a print. As was the case with a recent credit card offer I received from a company called "Upfront Rewards." The outside of the envelope read:
FREE* Dell Notebook Computer
Yours Free.* Yours Now.
This is a straightforward offer with no hidden cost.
* Please see details enclosed.

Besides the fact that any straightforward offer should have no asterisk* laden text, it was pretty hard to find the "details enclosed." When I finally did, I discovered that the offer required a $5,000 balance transfer at a rate of 9.99%. And, you must keep a balance of at least $3,500 for 18 months, otherwise you are "assessed a one-time $600 fee." That's a pretty expensive "free" computer. To be exact, 18 months of interest on $3,500 is $524.48. However odds are the first month you'll be charged interest on $5,000, or $41.63, for a total cost of $537.

BTW, the specs on the Dell Insprion 1000 are: 2.2 GHz Mobile Celeron, 30 GB HD, 256 MB shared RAM, 24X CD-RW/DVD, 90 day warranty.

Not that great an offer. If, however, you're interested, visit or call 888-214-1427