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    Videoblogging Made Darn Easy

    How easy is it to put video on the web? Very, very easy. I was at WalMart today and saw a webcam for less than twenty bucks. That sounded like a cheap experiment to me, and I wanted to try out Google Video Chat anyway. Once I got it working, I went over to YouTube and recorded some video.

    It works! Now let’s watch a real expert at work: our first YouTube President (-Elect), Barack Obama.

    Apple is the Devil

    People like to think of Bill Gates and Microsoft as the devil, but if the devil was real, he’d be pushing Macs.  You see the devil is suave and seductive, not lame and clunky like Microsoft.  The digital devil makes offers like the hot new MacBooks, the iPod Touch and the sexy, sexy iPhone 3G.  Tempting.  Very tempting.  And “everybody” is using Mac.  Especially people who are hip and happening, like our President-Elect.  (Who is not the devil-give it up, haters.)  But there’s a nasty catch in this Faustian bargain, and I’m not talking about the price premium: it’s DRM, in all it’s sundry forms.  Of course there’s iTunes.  But don’t forget that Apple decides what you can run on your iPhone and can and does deny applications that might compete with their own.  The latest gotcha is what Apple’s done with HDMI.  Now studios can decide which devices you can and can’t use with your HD content.  Devices that work today may not work tomorrow: no guarantees.  The devil giveth and he taketh away.

    So as much as I covet a Mac Air slim enough to fit in a manilla envelope or a MacBook milled from a single seamless block of aluminum, I’ll pass for now.  My computer is mine and the data on it is mine to do with as I please.  I’ll be very reluctant to give money to anyone who thinks otherwise.

    Adventures in Time and Cyberspace

    Here are some computer symptoms.  See if you can guess the cause:

    • You can’t log into GMail using Chrome.  Google claims you have an unsupported browser, then gives you bizzare circular http redirects.  Firefox is fine.  Clearing cache and cookies does nothing.
    • Google Reader shows that you have umpteen new items, but when you click on “All Items” or any of the categories, it says “no new items”.  Same behavior in Chrome and Firefox.
    • AVG Antivirus (free edition) complains your virus definitions are out of date, even though you just updated.

    Pretty whacky, eh?  What could be causing it all?  Turns out it’s all due to having the system clock set one month into the future.  

    And how could that have happened?  Easy!  Suppose someone in your family (who shall remain nameless) wants to look at a calendar for December.  They double-click on the clock in the lower-right corner of windows and advance the month so they can see the calendar.  Then they forget to click “cancel” and the time resets.  It’ll be a while before Windows time synch kicks in and fixes things (or somebody notices).  Until that time, all the symptoms above will persist.

    (Sigh.)  Why must my computers be so difficult lately?

    “Operation STFU” is a Success!

    That’s “Shut The Fan Up“, BTW.

    So I used the procedure recommended here on my old Dell and sure enough, it’s a lot quieter.  I still hear a bit of fan noise, but I can totally live with it.  Speedfan says my processor is nice and cool, too.

    To celebrate, I present you with Bjork singing “It’s Oh So Quiet”

    Canned Air is for Pansies

    In my ongoing struggle with computer noise, I decided to attempt to drive all the dust bunnies out of my case.  Stopping off at Best Buy, I got a couple of cans of air and started puffing.  Lots of dust came out (all over my desk) but more remained in vents, fans and nooks throughout the machine.  Then I got serious and brought the upright vacuum into play.  With the hose and corner attachment, my vacuum devoured dust that the canned air couldn’t touch.  I don’t claim to have it all out, but the case is a lot better and I think the noise may have gone down a few decibels.  Next time I’ll save my money and skip the canned air altogether.

    I also found this recipe for hushing a Dell XPS Gen 2, which I’ll try out tomorrow.

    We Don’t Understand What We’re Doing

    There’s a lot of finger pointing going on in regard to the banking collapse, the government takeovers, and resulting market turmoil.  If blame is to be assigned, then I think it needs to be assigned broadly.  We’re in this fix because when it comes to finances, almost nobody really understands what they’re doing.  This applies to bankers facing illiquidity as much as it does homeowners facing foreclosure.  A lot of very tricky deals got created in the 90′s and 2000′s.  People didn’t understand them so they believed what they were told.  Sometimes the dealmakers were crooked but sometimes they were unwitting accomplices to the destruction that followed.

    I’ll be the first to admit I’m part of the problem.  When I went to buy my home in 2000, I got a call from my agent telling me to come to the closing and sign papers.  I asked if I’d have a chance to read the papers first.  My agent (sighing at my newbie question) told me that the papers were a stack three inches tall and that there would not be time for me to read them all.  I’d have to sign them blind or there would be no house for me.  So I came in, sat down, and signed and signed for what seemed like three hours.  The lawyer gave me one-sentence summaries of each document as I signed, but there wasn’t much I could do to check up on her.  At the end, I had a stack of papers three inches high and some keys to my house.  I trusted the lawyer.  I didn’t know what I was doing.

    I own a number of ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds) which are supposed to simulate stock market index performance.  How they accomplish this, I don’t know.  But if the index goes up, my shares go up.  I also don’t know the compositions of the indexes beyond a one-sentence summary.  Once again, I don’t understand what I’m doing.

    Add in some malfeasance and you get cases like this one, where a homeowner in foreclosure thinks she’s making a deal to stay out of foreclosure, but in fact she’s giving away her house to the crooks.  She didn’t understand what she was doing.

    Banks bought bundles of mortages without being able to determine what the default rate would be.  They treated these vehicles as “good as cash,” but they weren’t.  Not even close.  They didn’t know what they were doing.

    I install software all the time without reading the EULAs.  Even if I read them, I doubt I would understand them.  I don’t understand what I’m doing.

    So why is anybody really surprised that after doing things we don’t understand, we get results we don’t expect?  I’m not sure I know what the answer is.  Can we live in a modern society and truly understand all the underpinnings of everything?  Maybe this is a user interface problem in disguise?  Maybe we don’t need to know everything about all our investments and contracts, but just the basic properties they exhibit.  Perhaps this is what regulators aim for with “transparency.”  Or maybe we just all need to be a lot more cautious.  Even if we have to engage in deals we don’t fully understand, maybe we should keep those deals as simple and as standard as possible, understand as much as we can, and hire advisors on our own dime to check the fine print.

    Fighting Aging by Taking out the Trash

    Aubrey de Grey has a theory that there are exactly seven factors that cause organisms (people included) to age and eventually die.  One of them is the buildup of toxic proteins that accumulate as a byproduct of metabolism.  The theory states that if you clear the toxins, then the organ can work better longer-maybe even indefinitely.  It seems there’s experimental support for de Grey’s idea.  Genetically modified mice with superior ability to clear toxins from their livers have the same liver function at 22-26 months (the equivalent of eighty years for humans) as do mice a quarter their age.  Toxin buildup is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease as well as Parkinson’s disease.

    Wonder is Alive and Well

    An urban legend has it that president McKinley advocated closing the patent office in 1899 because everything that was going to be invented already had been.  Sometimes I feel that way about scientific discovery.  When you’re young and you learn about DNA and relativity and black holes, it’s a huge rush of novelty and the world expands before your eyes.  But even if you keep up with the scientific literature, sometimes it seems as if scientists are just nibbling around the edges instead of biting into big, meaty questions.  Maybe everything cool has already been discovered or invented.

    Bollocks!  For one thing physicists have no idea what will happen when they finally cross the beams on the Large Hadron Collider.  And today the venerable Hubble space telescope has discovered something far outside any known galaxy and we have no idea what it is.  On top of that, Dean Kaymen invented prosthetic limbs far more advanced that anything we’ve seen before.  Don’t even get me started on dark matter and dark energy which may or may not exist at all.

    The world is still more interesting than I thought and it’s getting richer all the time.

    Modern Home Plans

    Modern architecture seems to be the unwanted, outcast style of home builders these days.  Very few modern homes are being built where I live.  Instead we get derivitive colonial oddities like the Atlanta White House.  One refuge for modernism in my neck of the woods is the Northcrest neighborhood, which is far older than I am.  In Atlanta, modern homes are historic but new homes look like history.

    This bias towards traditional homes trickles down all the way to the checkout counter at the local supermarket.  You can find a half dozen thick home plans magazines on the rack without breaking a sweat.  But few of them have any plans that could be considered “modern” or “contemporary.”  So I wanted to give props to a new online source of modern home designs: High Modern Homes.  Their plans aren’t the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and their selection is sparse at best, but at least they’re trying!

    Even Very Smart People Don’t Read Long, Boring Documents

    There is much kerfuffle about Google Chrome‘s EULA.  Long story short: it says that anything you make using Chrome belongs to Google and they can do what they want with it.  Lately, they’re revising the EULA to be “less creepy.”  Their explanation is that the language was boilerplate taken from another product. They didn’t read it.  Still, with so many things right about Chrome, it’s kind of funny that this one is so wrong.

    I’ve never read a EULA in my life and I probably never will.  Life is short and the chance of enforceability (let alone enforcement) is vanishingly small.   One thing I try to convince people of at work is that when a document gets too long, people stop paying attention to it.  Therefore, short documents are almost always better than long documents.