Archive for April, 2005

The best pope picture ever

April 30th, 2005

The pope with optical illusion of horns This thing really makes me sorry I’m not a Catholic.

I mean, look at the guy, what a perfect picture…

And it’s not just the white collar of the priest behind him, that got captured in just the right position. It’s also the look on his face, which I suppose was meant to be an endearing and benevolent smile. Except that it’s, well, not. Heck, if someone would have asked him to put on a scheming evil smile, and if he did his best to comply, he still might have failed to do it so perfectly.

You just gotta admire the sheer amazing timing of this photo. It must have been an act of God. At least, most Catholics should think so. Because there’s no way a good Catholic God should have allowed this to happen if it wasn’t intentional. Heck, I know exactly what fanatic Muslim insurgents are going to use from now on in order to scare away little children.

Can’t you just picture it? Anyone and everyone that opposed the Church is going to love that. It’s scary if you aren’t familiar with the relevant horny-Satan image, and downright evil and nefarious if you do.

Poor Pope.

taken from Amy’s Robot.

Security clearance procedures

April 29th, 2005

A friend of mine is now in the process of passing a security clearance procedure for some company he is applying for a job at. As part of the process they require details of some friends, and he called me, which reminded me of the security clearance I had to go through myself before joining my army unit in the past.

So one quick comment about my friend’s forms, and then I’ll go on to my own story. As part of the friends’ details, they also ask the name of the father, and of the grandfather on the father’s side. That’s it. They don’t care about the mother, they don’t care about grandmothers, and they don’t care about the grandfather on the mother’s side. Don’t ask me why.

OK, back to my story. First, no, telling a few minor things about the procedure is not a security breach, and does not include revealing classified info. Everything there, after all, is shown to people who don’t yet have any clearance. So as long as I talk about impressions, and thought I had at the actual time, there isn’t possibly any problem. I will of course not mention any further things that may, or may not, have been done during the service.

Now, like any good bureaucratic and public (i.e. government managed) organization does, the forms that I was given to fill out needed to be submitted in multiple copies. Except that the usual method of putting copy paper between the pages was not allowed. I had to fill all copies by hand. And my memory is a bit vague on this, but I think it wasn’t in triplicates, but seven copies. By hand, with a pen, repeating the same info.

Worse, every field without an answer (Like the long table for family members, of which I have far less than the table had rows) had to be filled in, not left empty. And just striking it out wasn’t good enough, I had to write something. Don’t remember what it was by now, but it was the equivalent of "N/A", or "Nothing".

Multiply the several copies by the many many different fields. For example, on each of these rows on the family members table, the first name, surname, date of birth, and so on and so forth,  were all different fields and needed separate N/A. That took a lot of time, and that’s just on the parts where I didn’t have anything to write.

One of the parts was educational history. There was room for university, but I didn’t have that at this point. But they also wanted a listing of all of my schools, all the way from kindergarten. And they wanted the names of the teachers. The way lower schools work, beside the "professional" teachers for specific aspects, each class had an "educator" doing general stuff and trying to instil some general values. So they wanted the names of them all.

No, I did not remember the names of the teachers from my first, or second, or third (…) grades. This will come up later.

Another very important aspect is recommendations. People who are not direct friends, and who can recommend you and say what a wonderful and reliable person you really are. Anyone want to guess how they are picked? Simple enough, you just go over all the people your parents know, that have seen you a little bit, and call the ones who held the highest ranks in the military among the lot, or who have a solid position in the public sector. Can’t see what this gives anyone, but that’s the requirement, and that’s what everyone does with it.

And they wanted a list of friends, with all this personal info about them as well. Felt silly asking my friends for their date of birth, or the exact dates their parents may or may not have immigrated to the country. Plus, are they really going to get any info from that? This only helps them if I name a well known communist activist, or an Arab person, or something which is on the short list of disqualifies. But what sane person wanting to get a clearance would do that? Unless they’re so unpopular that they can’t even find the required 3-5 friends…

After all the forms has been filled, I had to come to an interview. The interviewer spent some time going through the forms, and started with the hard questions.

For starters, he scolded me that I didn’t mention the name of my first grade teacher. To which I of course replied that I don’t remember it. He was surprised as to how can I possibly not remember it. The facts that I was 5-6 years old at the time didn’t seem like good enough a reason, and neither did the fact that I haven’t see her in over 10 years. I should have remembered. He made me sit there for several minutes trying to dredge up the name. As if.

More interesting was the questions about drug usage. When asked if I was using drugs, I answered (totally truthfully) that I wasn’t. So he started to explain that he doesn’t mean just hard drugs, but also things like marijuana, and do I want to change my answer in light of that? I didn’t. He then proceeded to try and make it clear to me that in this particular case they’re also not only asking if I’m a general user, but want to know of any single use. Did I take drugs only once? Maybe at a party? Driven for a one time experiment by peer pressure, and never tried it again? I didn’t and that’s what I told him.

He went on to assure me (An assurance that could only have worked if I was on drugs at the time, and maybe even then not) that I can admit it. Because it doesn’t matter. They won’t disqualify me for it. They don’t really care. They just want to know. If I’m a light user, or used in the past, or even using now but it’s nothing critical, then it’s no problem with them… Riiiight. In any case, I stuck to my denial.

After the interview came the long part, where they have their own people doing background checks. This could take months.

During that time they also interview some of the people listed on those forms, like our friends, and tell them not to tell us about it. Which works great, since 18 years old kids are just terrific at being grilled about a friend by big guys with sunglasses, and then not telling about it to anyone.

In any case, they didn’t mess up too badly in this case, since I passed. Even though one of the friends got confused, and gave them a different answer than I did, about how long have we known each other and when did we first meet (Yes, that was on the form as well. Those things are thorough).

Why bother placing an ad, then?

April 27th, 2005

A website I was going through put a large banner ad for Godiva chocolates, with a part of the large image even dedicated to inform me (or anyone else reading the ad) that the Godiva site in now secured by VeriSign, and is safe to purchase from. I assume it doesn’t mean anything beyond the fact that they got an SSL certificate from them, or are using them to verify credit card transactions…

Out of curiosity I decided to click the ad, and see what exactly are they selling. And I got back a 404 page, an error page telling me that “A problem was encountered during processing:
Sorry, the file you are looking for does not exist
.”

Wonderful, isn’t it? If they get paid by click-through, this is one ad that they show everyone, and will never see a dime from. And while it’s clearly the fault of the site showing the ad (The error page was on their own site, not Godiva’s), it reflects badly on the ad content. When you click on a banner of a site informing you how secure and well done it is, only to not be able to get there, well…

Oh, and of course the error page itself contains more ads. But this time for other sites.

Obvious medical complaints

April 27th, 2005

It brought back some amusing (now) memories, to read this, about a patient who came to the doctor complaining that he’s hungry before he eats. Yes, serious brain power there, probably.

I recalled similar incidents from my dad’s clinic (He works as an ophthalmologist, and there were a few years when I worked with him, part secretary and part just dealing with the terrible new computer programs that he was forced to use). We had quite a few people (I distinctly remember at least three totally separate cases, and there were probably more) coming in complaining that “my eyes hurt when I do this”…

With doing this being looking upward very strongly. Try that, look up, now look more up, now try looking even more up… See? Hurts! So they came to the doctor to get examined.

One of them didn’t just say “do this” and demonstrated, but actually said “when I’m looking all the way up, or all the way to the side, for at least several seconds… “. So my father gave him the wonderful bit of medical advice “Don’t do that”.

Amazingly, the guy was a bit fazed. Usually my father’s bedside-manners are very good, though, so he didn’t leave it at that, but gave an overly polite and detailed explanation about the physiological range of movement of the eye, and what not…

I seriously think it’s a pity doctors aren’t allowed to treat patients like the imaginary Dr. House does on TV. There were quite a number of times I know I really wanted to. And I pity all the actual doctors, who have to go through these things all the time

We had another one who complained that her eyes started to water if she looked in the direction of the sun. I kid you not.

Please don’t ever let the boredom stop

April 26th, 2005

This is fun, seeing how consistent press releases from the TV world are.

Take for example, the star of Joan of Arcadia, Amber Tamblyn. Less than a week ago, when it’s unclear if the show will go on for another season, or will be cancelled, she expresses her preferences quite clearly:

“We deserve a chance for one more season,” Tamblyn says. “I want it so bad I can taste it.”

Not too many different ways to read this. She likes the show, and really wants the show to go on, and to keep playing Joan. Right?

Flash back three months, and you’ll see that Tamblyn again expresses her opinion about the show quite clearly. This time when the season is still in full swing:

“Joan of Arcadia” star Amber Tamblyn is so bored with the CBS series that she’s threatening to quit. “I like to be challenged,” she tells TV Guide’s Mary Murphy. “If I am not challenged, I get bored. I am here today and I could be gone tomorrow. That could be my choice.”

Gotta love that consistency.

BTW, I do think she’s an excellent actor, and does a wonderful job there. And she’s not the only one of that show’s cast who does. Not the kind of series I normally see, but it’s very well made, and well acted, so I do.

Paying child support for someone else’s kid

April 26th, 2005

Another fine example of American law at it’s best, this guy is required to pay child support for a kid that DNA tests prove are not his.

They said Geoffrey Fisher owes about $11,000 in child support to cover the time from the child’s birth until paternity tests proved that Fisher was not the father.

So from the moment it was proven he’s not the father, he’s off the hook. But for all the time until then, he should still pay. Because… hmm… the test is inconclusive about the past duration, and it’s possible he was the kid’s father, and only stopped being so before the test?

Hat tip to Derek, who summed it up very succinctly – Stupid.

Bloglines search problem

April 26th, 2005

Well, I think it’s fresh news. Tried to run a search on some feeds in Bloglines, and got back the following:

There is a problem with the database. Please try again later

This happens both when searching only on the feeds I’m subscribed to, and when running a general search. I do hope they’ll sort it out soon, they provide an excellent service, and it’s a pity that they have such problems.

Good luck on sorting it out.

Hotmail against identity theft

April 26th, 2005

Hotmail occasionally send to members (Hotmail mailboxes) these notification messages explaining the many virtues of their new offerings, and miscellaneous stuff.

This time I noticed a part of the message giving some tips under the heading of “Telltale Signs of Identity Theft Scams“, including this one:

Scroll over the URL. If you see lots of numbers, or a different URL, it’s probably fake.

Which is, by itself, quite sensible. It isn’t foolproof, and there are legitimate addresses that look like that, but can usually serve as a decent indication for people without too much technical knowledge. And a little below they provide a link for more information, with the text:

For more information, go to http://safety.msn.com.

And, well, guess what shows up when you scroll over the URL? Let me tell you, the URL showing up on the status bar is http://g.msn.com/3HMHEN/1892

And, as you may notice, it is a different URL (g.msn.com instead of safety.msn.com). I know it’s the same domain, but it may not be entirely obvious to the average Joe who actually needs those explanations. More than that, it has some odd letters and numbers that don’t make sense, which the same average Joe could clearly identify as lots of numbers.

So someone paying attention would have to conclude this is an attempt at identity theft…

Technical specs please

April 26th, 2005

Sometimes PR speak is so bad, that it prevents any actual info from showing. Well, alright, that sometimes was a bit gentle, it happens a lot with PR speak. But still , this is one of the more amusing cases I encountered lately.

My boss was checking possibilities for a new computer, and noticed a very cheap option from some seller. So he asked me to take a look at the spec. The computer was a barebone Asus Terminator C3. As a barebone system, it has the CPU as an on-board component, and is pretty weak, but I wanted to see exactly what is it and what can it do.

Which brought me to this amusing paragraph from their site:

Instead of meaninglessly looking for high frequency processor, ASUS Terminator C3 brings you into a new world – it is strong enough to do your office/school job as well as fulfill your multimedia needs. ASUS Terminator C3 is built to be silent, space-saving, and cost effective.

Or in other words: Instead of looking for something that can prove it’s good, trust us, this one can do what you want it to, and we don’t even need to ask what you want to do with it in order to know that.

Very reassuring, isn’t it? Why check for specifications? Why check how fast a computer is. This one would do the job. It’s a wonder the big companies are releasing different kinds of processors, isn’t it, if you can just make one that always fit…

And that’s not even the best part. I found another site selling it, which had even more to say:

Confused about all those CPU naming rules? Do you really have idea about
530, 540, 550, 560 or the difference from them to 2600+, 2800+, 3000+?
With on-board CPU, ASUS Terminator C3 offers you enormous DIY fun while
sparing the trouble over CPU selection.

Yes, you read that right, they just plain go out and say: Confused about the names and models that big CPU manufacturers use? Don’t worry, we don’t give you any name or model details, so you have nothing to be confused about.

Which is the same thing, but put even better. How does this solve the problem? If getting names and models of CPUs doesn’t help their intended audience avoid confusion, why would no info at all be better? With no info at all (except for trust us of course), I’d expect people would be even more confused, no?

And what about poor people like me, who are actually not confused with all these name? People who want to know what their computer is. Are they saying this one is bad for them? Because, you know, if it has to be bad for the people with technical knowledge, it doesn’t inspire the rest that it would be good for them. And, well, DIY fun?! That surely isn’t what people who don’t get these names and models would be interested in, doing it themselves.

Odd.

Hotmail junk folder and mailbox size

April 25th, 2005

Recently the spam messages reaching Hotmail accounts turned into large messages with large attachments (100k-350k).

I know this isn’t only my problem, since when mentioning this to other people with Hotmail accounts, they knew about the large spam messages straight away.

And it definitely has something to do with Hotmail, since my other email accounts (of which I have far too many already) don’t get these sort. Other sorts of spam, yes, sure, but not these ones.

Their spam filter does catch all these messages, and transfer them to the Junk folder. But unlike some other email providers, their junk folder counts toward the account limit.For a mailbox size of 2MB (Since I don’t live in the right places), this means that it’s quite possible to leave an empty mailbox, and come back a day later to find out you maxed out… Not fun.

In any case, in the automatic message sent, notifying me that I maxed the account, they gave an email address for questions. So I decided to ask about that. The process is interesting, you start by sending an empty message (or not, I didn’t pay attention to that as first, since it’s so uncustomary), and they send you a link to a page where you can fill the comment/suggestion/complaints…

So, I sent a message about it. The women answering said several things (apart from the excessive formal politeness):

  • She will pass it over to the development team.
  • I can set my junk filter to automatically delete messages.
  • They intend to convert everyone to 250MB mailboxes. They do it in batches, so it will take time, but they will.
  • The message came with a notice (inserted inside the text, like it was a personal message) that I can upgrade for a paid account to get eight times my current account size.

Which is all fine and good, except that I still may lose messages until then. They say that there are five days grace period until the actively delete messages, but they may bounce incoming messages even during that time.

And the junk filter is far from perfect. So it’s lose message if it doesn’t delete, and lose messages if it does.

The idea of paying for 8 times my account (That would be 16MB), on the same message telling me I’m going to get a lot more for free, is especially ludicrous.

So I sent back a reply with these concerns. And got a reply back from a different person, saying basically the same things, and including similar commercials inlined in the personal message. I was impressed by how much they all really cared deeply about what I had to say, and would give it the utmost priority. Yes, I didn’t take that too seriously either.

But in any case, that’s it. Annoying, but hopefully will improve soon. 

Moving the blog

April 23rd, 2005

Due to some serious problems from TypePad, where this blog was hosted until now, I’ve moved it to WordPress, on a ‘normal’ hosting provider.

For the last four days or so I was practically unable to post anything on my TypePad blog. According to the TypePad support team (as explained by a nice lady called Brenna) this is because of problems with DST.

Yes, that’s right, due to daylight savings. Something to do with the way they generate archives. So yes, stopping the archives seem like a working workaround, but it’s ugly. It’s broken. And it took them too long to even get that far.

So I moved this away for now. The design and behaviour were of course changed, but I tried to at least start with relatively similar look and feel, and make sure that not too many things are broken. Still, if stuff seems too odd, this is a work in progress, but please do leave a comment instead it’s a problem I’m not aware of.

Hopefully I could straighten out the kinks soon enough.

That insane casino is still at it

April 18th, 2005

Remember the casino that bought the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich for an outlandish amount of money, on eBay?

Well, turns out, they’re very eBay happy (happy as in trigger-happy) over there, and are buying odd stuff all over the place.

A Doritos chip that looks like the Pope’s hat

The rights for the name of a woman, which then had to change her name to that of the casino.

The names of three newborns, similar deal.

and more… I’m
not sure who is more crazy, this casino, or the people selling this stuff… On the other hand, as long as they pay, and everyone is happy,
what’s the harm? Can’t say why it bothers me so much to see the casino
and the silly eBay sellers reach satisfactory Pareto-efficient
agreements.

Crediting inbound permanent links

April 18th, 2005

A few days ago I noticed an incoming link from Evan Schaeffer, who runs the Notes from the (Legal) Underground blog. He seems like a nice person, despite being a lawyer, and very often manages to be interesting, funny, and entertaining.

Before I start, thanks, Evan. Seriously.

Now let’s start. The incoming link wasn’t for a particular post here which he found
interesting, however, but as a round-up of other blogs that had a
permanent link to his own. Which got me thinking (ergo this post) about
the concept. Of course, I don’t really have this as a concrete problem,
since nobody has any permanent links to me on their blogrolls (yet?),
but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t form an opinion.

On a side-note, he’s been on the blogroll here for months, and he has been doing these thank you posts for quite some time (this one is #16), so I’m not entirely sure why he got to me now. Not that it matters, either way.

What interests me is why is it interesting for him at all. Had he
been linking to me, that would have been interesting for me. My blog is
quite small, nobody knows about it, and I’m (happily) a very small fish
in the pond. And while he doesn’t quite run the most famous blog on the
planet, he’s much bigger and much more well known than me.  So
from my POV, a permanent link
there may mean something, as unexpected as it may be. But why should he
be interested enough in anyone linking to him? I’m tiny, I won’t get
him almost any hits, and we’re far enough apart in our areas (He has a
legal blog, I have a general mishmash sort of things) that it will
probably not even benefit any of his readers that may follow his post
to here. Linking to the small legal blogs I can somehow get, but not
quite me.

So this is a matter of policy, or principle, then. Acknowledging a
permanent link, because it’s proper, or something. Which I don’t quite
get from this angle as well. I’m not adding anyone to my blogroll in
order to be recognized, but because I think they’re interesting. That,
by itself, is really no reason for them to pay attention, or care, at
all. I don’t mind or anything, of course, quite the contrary, but it
doesn’t mean I agree with the rational behind it. Someone specifically
saying something about you, sure, pay attention, in the cases where
what’s said has some added value. But someone just thinking you’re
interesting? When it’s not a matter of the specific someone being a
somebody? Next thing you know, I’ll get mentioned by Volokh (had to pick at least another legal one, of course), Schneier, or Raymond Chen.

OK, enough with that, onward to the story. Yes, there’s a story.

See, I didn’t notice it in the first place because I was searching
for inbound links, or because I got a hit from there (Though that what
clued me to the exact source. I did get several hits through since, and
nobody seemed interested enough to be a returning customer, which just
strengthen my point). It’s because I got a hit from del.icio.us (note to self – try to add another post of del.icio.us and Furl
sometime in the near future, and put my links some place, just in case
someone may care for the things I find interesting, but not interesting
enough to post).

A hit from an on-line bookmark service (social, or otherwise) means
someone finds me interesting enough to keep the link. Since I’m quite
small and totally unread (sorry to my two regular readers), I do care.
At least, care enough to see if it’s easy to know who, and what else
they find interesting. So I went to take a look what else the
del.icio.us user called TES is interested in.

Lots of law-related blogs, it seemed, and I didn’t know how my own
blog came into it. What seemed odder was the cataloguing system. You
can assign various tags/keyword for stored links/bookmarks. And these
tags are supposed to be relevant to the site, and help you find it
later. But the tags there seemed too artificial, like someone was just
grouping links, by order. My first thought was that it was a very
clueless person, that totally missed the idea behind tags, and is just
trying to give sequential numbers as some peculiar way of keeping
order…

So I shrugged, and moved onward, only to later see two hits, from
the same address, one from the same del.icio.us user, and one from Notes from the (Legal) Underground. Aha.

Now, that way of saying I linked to you, by posting a link
and then following the link, is quite common. I don’t do this myself,
due to the same reason that often I don’t think whoever on the other
side would be interested, and in my case it feels like a cheap way of
pushing busy people take a look at my drivel. Sometimes I do, though,
but only if I think what I wrote is relevant, and if I can’t do
something like send a trackback (when it’s about a post, not a blog, of
course. Can’t trackback a blog). But it’s legitimate, and in this case
it certainly served it’s purpose.

Which just leaves me wondering, does TES stand for Thanks Evan
Schaeffer ?  Or a mistyped attempt at an initial TEST of
del.icio.us that got reused? Or something else?

OK, this is getting to be too much rambling even for me, so that’s it on this subject.

Healthy Cookie Monster?!

April 17th, 2005

Sure, the local version of Sesame Street isn’t quite identical to the
US one. And sure, I haven’t seen the show for years and years (and
years). But we had a cookie monster here, just like there. And they’re
now turning it healthy.

The Cookie Monster – Healthy… Imagine that… It’s not supposed to be
healthy! It’s supposed to eat cookies! The traditional chocolate chip
cookies!

But not any more. It will recommend moderation, only eating cookies
occasionally. And it will switch to healthier kinds of cookies.

Yea, sure, the Americans keep complaining that they become more and
more… metabolically challenged. But what, are kids really eating
cookies like crazy, just because the cookie monster does? Give me a
break…

On a side note, 36 seasons, that’s impressive.

The Ultimate Warrior, not so ultimate on legal or brain departments

April 17th, 2005

This is hilarious. If things of the sort were not becoming more and
more common in the US, it would have been very hard to believe it’s a
true story…

This is what happens when a stupid racist (Remember folks, it’s not
libel if it’s true) ex-WWF
champion gets his "Director of
Communications" to threaten a website that made a little fun of him.

Yes, I’m not sure what "Director of Communications" mean either. Probably
like barbers are called hair-stylists, and gardeners are called
landscape-engineers, so this is the guy who speaks for Ultimate
Warrior. Not because he’s any good at it, but (what a scary thought)
because the Warrior is even worse.

Getting offended when you’re called racist, is legitimate. Asking
someone to remove a post saying that, is also legitimate. When it’s a
satire site, and when you really meant what you said that got you
labelled a racist, not so much legitimate. Getting into scare tactics,
telling the person that you know where they live, hinting on use of
physical violence, and harassing they website owner’s father on the
phone… Big nono.

And some more discussion on this, and on the Ultimate Warrior guy.