Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why Marijuana Should be Legalized

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana was not made illegal in the US because it was considered a dangerous drug. Marijuana was made illegal in the United States for population control of Mexican and Black minorities in the 1930.

With a mix of racism, irrational fear and ignorance, legislators between the decades of 1910's-1930's sought ways to control minorities, afraid that they would one day overthrow the white government. According to Harry J. Asslinger, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, marijuana should be outlawed because of "...its effect on the degenerate races." and because "[marijuana] makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
Finally, after a series of congressional hearings in the 1930's, irrational fear won over science and marijuana was made illegal in 1937.

Fast forward to 2007, and marijuana is still very much illegal. Scientific evidence is mounting showing marijuana is not only harmless, but even beneficial. However, the US government is still going strong with its expensive "War on Drugs".

Here are my two cents on why marijuana should be legalized:

Medical reasons.
Medical studies of THC and Cannabinol (here's a good example) show marijuana can be used from nausea prevention and pain relief in chemotherapy patients to glaucoma. Legalization would most certainly lead to further scientific investigation

Save the money spent on the war on drugs and put it to better use.
Say education? Spending just a portion of the $20 billion spent on the much applauded albeit useless “war on drugs” (mostly war on marijuana) on education would improve the chances of younger generations to become more successful in life and decrease the chance of them falling prey of more dangerous drugs (meth comes to mind).

Control the market = reduce crime.

Dealing illegal drugs is very lucrative. Drug dealers form empires around illegal drugs, and they will stop at nothing to keep their money making empires. Legalize the drugs, prices drop, and drug empires hurt.

Stop Americans from subsidizing Middle-Eastern terrorists.

One way Islamic fundamentalists fund their organizations is through drugs. If the government controls the market, it can control where the drugs come from.

Replace extremists in the hearts of Middle-Eastern/South American rural farmers.

Instead of telling poor farmers in Afghanistan that they cannot grow hemp, buy all of their crops before Al-Qaeda does. Farmers will love America and hate Al-Qaeda. Isn’t that what we want?

Get rid of the coolness factor.

If marijuana were not illegal, would it be perceived as a cool recreational drug as it is now?

Eliminate the stigma of using marijuana…

… and chances are that more individuals will stick to marijuana instead of more dangerous drugs such as crack cocaine or methamphetamine. Eliminating the stigma on marijuana will also reduce the stigma of using other drugs, making it easier for individuals with a drug addiction to come out and seek help.

And finally…

Tax the product.
Taxing marijuana would open a brand new source of revenue for the government. Revenue that they could very well use in say….education?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lies Lies Lies!!

Now that Michael Moore is once again causing a stir with his new "documentary" Sicko, people once again start taking sides and publish information about him and about his dubious editing room ethics. I got this email from a buddy at work this morning:

As Michael Moore is coming out with a new one...Sicko...(where, I suppose, he will expose the failure of the American Health Care System because of the simplicity of black/white greedy corporate masterminds and the political stooges/lackeys that support them), and I felt that I should look around at some of his other work. I came across this on the IMDB and thought is was worth passing along. Keep in mind, I have no more supporting information for this than I suspect Moore has for his own movies but I thought it smacked of a good, well laid out set of arguments. My favorite line is "Ultimately, Moore's BFC (Bowling for Columbine) illustrates exactly what it condemns. Moore argues that media 1) distorts reality and 2) hypes fear of other Americans because 3) fear is good for a fast buck. How ironic, because Moore distorts reality, hypes fear of other Americans ("are we a nation of gun nuts, or just nuts?") and made several million fast bucks doing so" I guess the ultimate acceptance or condemnation of his work falls around this argument: If Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction. I think that we must all also assume that Bush truly believes he did the right thing in starting the war, therefore Bush believes he lied for the common good. AND Moore lies like the devil himself, twisting all arguments to suit his own ends (even to the point of editing multiple speeches together to make people say what they never did). But, we all must also assume that Moore believes that he is doing so for some kind of common good. THEREFORE Either they are both evil or are both fighting for a common good where the ends do justify the means. To support either one is to support the other. Take your pick.

-------------------------------------------------------- "BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE" EXAMPLES:
1. Heston's "I have only five words for you...cold, dead hands"
statement was meant to look like it was aimed at the weeping victims. Moore then inserts an interlude - THIS PART IS VITAL! He cannot go directly to Heston's real speech because it wasn't even at the same date as what he's portraying. He separated the two segments with a visual distraction. Heston's "cold, dead hands" speech was not given at Denver after Columbine. It was given a year later in Charlotte, North Carolina and was actually referring to a present that Heston was given at a meeting.
2. Another edit deletes Heston's announcement about scaling back the convention's events (what you don't know is actually during the speech, Heston mentions that BECAUSE OF COLUMBINE, all events scheduled will be cancelled). He goes on to say "as you know, we've cancelled the festivities, the fellowship we normally enjoy at our annual gatherings." But Moore cuts this part out and goes to Heston's response to the mayor which was "I said to the Mayor: As Americans were free to travel wherever we want in our broad land. Don't come here? Were already here!" Moore actually puts an edit right in the middle of the first sentence and another at the end. Here's what Heston really said, which was a reference to his own WWII vet status: "I said to the mayor, well, my reply to the mayor is 'I volunteered for the war they wanted me to attend when I was 18 years old. Since then. Ive run small errands for my country from Nigeria to Vietnam. I know many of you here in this room could say the same thing.'" Moore cuts it after "I said to the mayor" and attaches a sentence from the end of the next paragraph: "As Americans, were free to travel wherever we want in our broad land". Moore hides this deletion by cutting to footage of protesters and a photo of the Mayor before going back and showing Heston. But the viewer thinks he's hearing Heston in a continuous audio stream. It's also important to note that every single scene involving Heston was edited in some way to sway the truth. ---the cartoon presents wrong historical dates as well as just pure lies. The NRA actually had many black people as members so that they could try to ATTACK and get rid of the KKK. (In case you didn't see the movie, Moore ties a connection to the NRA and the KKK as organizations working together, when in fact one was trying to abolish the other.) That is a HUGE difference. ---NRA was founded by Union officials in the north, the KKK was founded by confederate officials in the south. ---Moore goes to the Lockheed Martin manufacturing facility near Columbine and makes it sound like it creates WMD (loosely and sloppily connecting it to the columbine tragedy ) when in reality, that facility makes rockets for LAUNCHING SATELLITES. This explains why when he interviews McCollum and when asked "What's the difference between THAT mass destruction and Columbine's", McCollum acts somewhat confused since they don't make WMD. Yet, to the viewer and his lack of knowledge of what is going on, he sees it as McCollum being ignorant. ---Moore makes the killer from columbine's family look like they are innocent and puts the blame elsewhere. If one was to research that family, they will see that the family has had many criminal records and the kid was raised in a violent household. The violence did not originate from outside of the household, but within. ---Even the beginning scene is fabricated. The Gun control act of 1968 tightly restricts gun transfers between residents of different states. Moore was currently a resident of NY during the taping and therefore could not have purchased that gun unless he got a permit there before. The permit is issued approximately 3-6 months. This means that Moore either waited there for 3-6 months to get his permit and then shot the scene after his permit was issued, or somehow lied and was able to make his purchase (which is considered a felony). When asked about this, Moore denies spending 3-6 months there previous to the filming. So it was either completely fabricated, or Moore committed a felony. Also, in a later interview with the people who worked at the bank (in the movie "Michael Moore Hates America"), they revealed Moore's fabrication in the scene. They also mentioned that he made it sound like the Bank carried guns in their "vault". What Moore actually did was edit the scene when he asks about the guns in the vault. What the woman's actually response was "we have about 300 of them in our vault 300 miles away." The Bank only carried 1 (UNLOADED) gun there, the same one that Moore took out with him. ---Moore makes Heston sound like a racist. (Moore will do anything to bring down the people who he hates.) In fact, Heston actually was friends with and worked with Martin Luther King himself in the early '60s, becoming involved in boycotts and marches regarding the civil rights movement. Being that the viewer is an uneducated teenager, he probably is not aware of this. OK, and consider this. Ultimately, Moore's BFC illustrates exactly what it condemns. Moore argues that media 1) distorts reality and 2) hypes fear of other Americans because 3) fear is good for a fast buck. How ironic, because Moore distorts reality, hypes fear of other Americans ("are we a nation of gun nuts, or just nuts?") and made several million fast bucks doing so. "ROGER AND ME" Harlan Jacobson was editor of "Film Comment" magazine and had done some digging of the subject of Moore's accusations. When he landed an interview with Moore (note: interview with Moore are very difficult because when he gets asked questions pertaining to his legitimacy, he gets very offensive and starts ranting on yelling at the interviewer, never actually answering the initial question, claiming that the interviewer was paid by a right wing activist, in conspiracy to "get" him.)
"When did Auto World open?"
Moore: Autoworld opened July 4 1984

"And when did it close?"

Moore: January 6, 1985

"The Hyatt?"
Moore: The Hyatt opened in 1982.
"The Pavilion?"
Moore: December of 1985.
All seems fairly innocuous until you realize that the big layoffs that decimated Flint occurred in May and December 1986 - at least A YEAR AFTER many of the above events Moore described as the city's "responses" to the crisis. In case that doesn't make sense in your little brains, just like Bowling for Columbine, the major thesis of Moore's documentary was based on fabrications and his own invented timelime. Moore's interview with Jacobson quickly went downhill after this. More truths were revealed: Ronald Reagan's visit had been in 1980, as a candidate rather than a president, and the cash register was actually stolen two days before. The televangelist had been brought to town in 1982. Moore's feeble justification: "I didn't say it was done happened during the same decade..." Moore admit later: "Okay, so you can say that the chronology skips around a bit...This movie is about essentially what happened to this town during the everything that happened, happened." FEHRENHEIT 911: EXAMPLES: Watch "Fehrenhype 911", read the "59 deceits of F911" because I don't feel like typing anymore lies and those sum it up pretty well. And consider this, if there are 59 deceits, that's about 60, and the movie is 122 minutes. Let's round that down to 120, now what would that mean kids? It would mean that there is a lie/fabrication/deceit every 2 minutes. That's pretty deceitful for calling a movie a "documentary" and having stupid hopeful teenagers believe every second of it.

Blah Blah Blah Michael Moore is bad blah blah a liar....

So this is what I think: Michael Moore's success is a child of the times we live in, where shock and awe sells and the public takes whatever they hear or see in the media as face value, not bothering to do the research or take it in with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, 99% of the population (well...maybe 95%, I still have some faith in society) believe anything media networks (and individuals such as Michael Moore) publish or release. Well... here's a reality check: media corporations are here to make money, if that means distorting the news, then they will do so... and of course they are not going to tell you that they are lying. Politicians simply jump on the bandwagon of whomever's lies are better and the crowd believes more. I am sick and tired of both sides arguing that the other side is lying to the people... THEY ARE BOTH LYING!!! WE JUST PICK THE SIDE THAT LIES THE BEST.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cracker Gabriel (Possibly?) Spoils Harry Potter 7

Warning: Possible spoiler for the upcoming Harry Potter 7:

I do not know if I want to believe this, but Gabriel (cracker) seems to have hacked into the publisher's servers and gotten a copy of Harry Potter 7. I do not know if he managed to get a copy of the novel, but he seems to have read it and summarizes the plot. I am not going to publish what Gabriel has posted, out of respect for J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter novel series (I'm a big fan). Here's the link to Gabriel's website. Do not click the link if you do not want to know what (possibly) happens in Harry Potter 7 before the book is published.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hack How You Study: Web 2.0 Style

In the past couple of years computer technology has become more mobile than ever before. The line between online and offline life is fading. Lighter, faster laptops, ubiquitous high speed wifi, web applications have made online life portable. Portability of the computing environment brings new tools to the classroom environment that we would have only dreamed of a few years ago. Far from distracting, as critics claim, these new tools allow for a more holistic approach to studying. Long gone are the days where the only tools of the trade were your pen, notebook, and class textbook. Here are a few of my personal favorite hacks to improve studying, web 2.0 style:

1. Create your own custom note paper with the Cornell Note Paper Generator. If you do not have a laptop, or computers are not allowed in class (distraction), this is the next best thing. The Cornell note taking method divides the page into 3 sections: a left column for cues or questions, a lower fourth for summarizing the notes, and the rest for notes. Even if you don't want to use the Cornell method, I suggest you use this if you want to become more organized. The engine allows you to customize your note paper with name, date, class. It even allows to you choose between ruled paper, blank paper, and graph paper (you get to pick how many squares per inch!).

2. Rewriting or retyping your notes is a great way to review what you've done in class. If hours of retyping serves a higher purpose, even better. Enter mynoteIT. This is one of the coolest, most complete online study hacking tools out there. It goes far beyond any other online note-taking web applications. that I've tried. Not only does it allow you to type your notes online, it allows you to upload note files in a variety of formats, and organizes everything into classes (that you can archive once they are done). It also has a spot to enter assignments, set up your schedule, and a calendar. But the coolest part is that it allows you, true to the web 2.0 spirit, to join groups, search forums, share and exchange notes with your classmates, and access your notes from anywhere, including your cell phone. If I sound excited about this web application, it's because I am.

3. Upload your homework/projects/papers to Google Documents. This Google application allows you to keep your assignments available everywhere and anywhere, so no more forgetting your paper at home. Google Docs' most powerful feature, however, is document sharing. Ideal for group presentations and papers, it allows a group of people to collaborate simultaneously on a document from different locations, and best of all, tracking each person's edits. You can even publish your paper online to prove to your professor that you really did finish your paper!

4. Create your own wiki. Re-typing or re-writing your notes helps refresh what you learned in class. An even better way to file what you've learned in your long term memory is connecting new information with old, researching what you've learned (Google, of course), and relating what you've learned to previous lessons or classes. What better way to do this than to create your own wiki! This is the most difficult tool to set up. It does require a bit of time and a bit of computer know-how. Mediawiki is my wiki software of choice, I've tried others, but Mediawiki is simple, to the point, very configurable, and very easy to use. I host my wiki on an intranet web server at home. No one outside my home network can access it. There are other, more portable possibilities. You can use WOS portable a portable web server that you can set up in a USB stick (haven't tried it myself), or you can publish your wiki on the web using a free web host to access it from anywhere. However you chose to set it up, you will find it to be one of the best study tools you'll find. Links between pieces of information on the screen will translate on to connections between pieces of information on the brain.

5. Finally, this one's an oldie with a tech twist. Podcast your class. Students have been tape-recording lessons ever since minimally portable tape recorders were available. We are audio-visual beings, we remember by seeing and hearing. Now we are in the 21st century and we no longer use tapes, but this is still a very powerful tool. If your professor allows (please ask), record the class, create an mp3 (or ogg) of the lesson, and replay it when studying. Inflections in the professor's voice, and time spent on topics might give you a hint as to what the exam questions are going to be. There are a bunch of free sound editing tools (one example is Audacity), and tape-less digital audio recorders that you can plug to a USB to grab files are not too pricey.

Monday, June 18, 2007

10 Favorite Windows Admin Tools

Let's face it, we live in a Windows/Microsoft world. As much as the online community likes to bash Microsoft and their products, they still retain the lion's share of the Operating System business. For most medium and small businesses, at least in the U.S. Windows is their operating system of choice, both as servers and workstations. Capitalizing on this monopoly, there is a vast array of software (free and commercial) meant to expand windows network administration capabilities. A lot of these applications are actually useful, most of them, however, not so much. Having a bit of experience managing Windows Networks, I found these to be my top ten choices (not in necessarily in this order):

1. Process Explorer: Process Explorer, developed by Sysinternals (who later on was bought by no other than Microsoft) is a very useful expansion of the Windows Task Manager. Among the things I love about this application the most are its versatility, customizability and simplicity. It's versatile because not only does it show you what processes are running in your computer, it tracks dependencies, dynamic libraries, and footprint of the processes among other things. It's also extremely customizable. It allows for a large array of running and viewing options, which makes finding your rogue process of choice easier than with other process explorers, including the built in Windows Task Manager. Finally, the Process Explorer is so simple that there is no need for installation, it's a single executable file that can be carried in a handy dandy USB stick.

2. Cygwin: What can I say about Cygwin that hasn't been said already. Cygwin is essentially a port of the Linux command line environment to Windows. It blurs the Windows and Linux Universes to the point where you can run DOS and Bash commands on the same virtual console. For those not familiar with the Linux shell (Bash) it is one of the most powerful computing tools out there.

3. Python/Visual Basic/Shell scripting: OK, fine, this is not an application, but knowing Python, Visual Basic, and shell scripting has saved me hours in automated tasks that would have otherwise taken too long and killed too many braincells to perform manually.

4. UltraVNC: The best VNC Server/Client out there, period. If tried most of them, including RealVNC, TightVNC, or Remote Administrator. UltraVNC I found is the fastest, most complete, and easiest to use of the lot. They even have a standalone client and a standalone server that do not need to be installed. The Java web client has also come in handy a couple of times.

5. Partition Magic/Gparted: Gparted is not technically a Windows application, but it saved my life when a user's hard drive started to fail and I had to copy its content onto a new hard drive. Partition magic is Gparted's commercial counterpart, and although it does offer a couple more tools, I like gparted better. Besides, I like the possibility of running Gparted from a live CD, and not need to install an additional application.

6. Ultra-Edit: Best text editor ever. It will open almost anything you throw at it.

7. PsExec/BeyondExec: Really nifty couple of programs. PsExec was developed by sysinternals, which, like I mentioned earlier, was bought by Microsoft. BeyondExec is based on PsExec. PsExec/BeyondExec. The best way to describe these two applications is they are SSH's lesser cousins. They allow you interact with a remote system via console, send commands and run processes. Beyond Exec has a few more utilities than PsExec has, including an interactive SSH-like DOS prompt, but I have found it to be slightly less robust than PsExec. I personally use both, depending on whether I need to send a single command or if I need to run a full DOS prompt.

8. Angry IP: I first found Angry IP Scanner while looking for a tool that would help me track down a static IP conflict in the network. Angry IP will ping IP addresses in the range that you determine. It can also be configured to scan NetBIOS information, DNS, logged in users and ports! Used properly you can determine IP/DNS conflicts, which IP addresses are in use and which ones are dead, get a list of logged in users, MAC address, or ports open in a particular server or workstation! The best part about this application is that it's another standalone that you can carry in your trusted USB drive.

9. OpenVPN: A fast, powerful, easy to use and install, platform independent virtual private network server and client. Best of all, it's open source, which means it is free (as in speech AND beer)! Now someone needs to figure out how to make it a portable client....

10. VMware Server: I want to mention VMware as a pose to other virtualization tools like Qemu or Parallels, because I've found that, regardless if VMware is not the fastest virtualization tool, regardless if its a closed source application, I have found it to be the most reliable and stable virtualization software out there, ideal both to deploy virtual servers on the fly, or sandboxing when testing new/unstable software.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A couple of linux tips for newbies

Being a GNU/Linux newbie, having only switched completely to Ubuntu GNU/Linux from Windows about a year and a half ago, I am still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't for me, and how I can fix it. Ubuntu is my distro of choice, not necessarily because it's an easier distro, but because I like the Debian way of doing things, I like bleeding edge, and I like being backed up by the huge Ubuntu community. Having said that, most of these tips are from the point of view of a Debian/Ubuntu user, however, they can be applied to other distros:

1. Backup Script. It's usually good to backup at least your /home directory every once in a while. However, backing up manually can be a pain, and most of the scripts I found out there where too complex for what I needed, so I wrote my own:

compress(){ #compress backed up files
tar cvvf $backup_path/backup$(date %d%m%G).tar $HOME
exit 0

if [ -d $backup_path/backup ]
mkdir $backup_path/backup

exit 0

What I'm doing with this script is backing up my home directory and saving it as a compressed file with the name "backup[daymonthyear].tar"
I suggest you not save the backup files in the same hard drive as the original; if the hard drive fails you might be in trouble. You should mount to an external hard drive or a file server. If you want to get more detailed and run backups from only on a list of files, you can substitute the compress function for:

tar cvvf $backup_path/backup$(date %d%m%G).tar -l file.list
exit 0

where the list of files is in a text file called "file.list" (remember: one file path per line and be careful with white spaces).

2. One thing that I miss when I use the command line is not being able to undo mistaken deletions. In Windows, or Using the Desktop manager ( I use GNOME), when I delete something, it goes to the "trash" folder, where I can go to retrieve it if i deleted it by mistake. When I use the rm command in the command line, whatever is gone, is gone for good. That's why I use a nice little trick: I use a "trash" function in my .bashrc file instead of "rm" when what to get rid of a file, but I am not sure if I am going to need it later. The trash directory (.Trash) is hidden in your home directory, so you just need a command that will move unwanted files and directories to the .Trash directory:

trash() { mv "$@" /home/$USER/.Trash;}

I call my function "trash" so when I call it I just type "trash [filename]" on the command line. Notice that I actually use the move command instead of the remove command, to move my files to the .Trash directory. Notice also that I use the $USER system variable instead of the actual home folder name - it's slightly more elegant since I can run this function under any username and the system will recognize what home directory to look for. Also, I'm lazy and my username is longer than the variable name. This function also allows me to attach move options as well as pointing to the file that I want to "trash". Copy this function to your .bashrc (in your /home directory). and you have yourself a new "delete" command!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

10 Tips on How to be an American and Survive In Spain

1. Expect chaos at arrival. Unless you arrive to Spain from another European Union country, immigration is complete chaos in Madrid. Your plane from the U.S. will arrive with another 16 other planes from boisterous, rowdy, South American immigrants.

2. No, surprising as it may seem, no one in Spain walks around in everyday life wearing funny hats and dressed as "toreadors".

3. Yes, Euros look like Monopoly money. Don't make fun of them, they are worth more than the U.S. dollar.

4. When you order coffee, you will get a tiny cup (even cups in Starbucks are smaller). Do not be fooled. That shot of espresso holds more bang than 2 or 3 large cups of American coffee.

5. Do not discuss politics unless you know that the person you talk to agrees with you. Be warned: regardless of your political views 50% of Spaniards will agree with you, and the other 50% will try to stone you. A discussion about politics can turn into a heated argument in seconds. If you are caught between 2 Spaniards arguing about politics, smile, nod and back away slowly.

6. Spaniards talk with their hands. You might have the urge to back away so as to not get your eye poked out during normal conversation. Do not fret, Spaniards have perfected hand flailing with years of practice. Unlike on the previous example, backing is a bad idea. The irritated Spaniard will corner you and flail harder.

7. People will try to speak to you in very fast Spanish, even if you do not speak the language. When you express to them that you are not able to understand what they are saying, they will nod, and agree as if understanding; then proceed to continue to speak in Spanish, only slower and much louder. After all English is just Spanish spoken slowly and very loud.

8. Be careful how you order food, and be sure you know what you order. My wife once thought she was ordering lamb ("oveja") when she had really ordered "oreja" (fried pig ears).

9. Criticize a Spaniard's soccer team at your own risk. Likewise do not criticize a Spaniard's city of origin (this is specially true with the rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona). You will get hurt. My brother-in-law almost got mauled by my 87 year old grandmother when he dared say that he preferred Barcelona to Madrid in front of her (and the rest of the family, myself included, would have looked the other way while she skinned him alive).

10. Finally, about the running of the bulls: The only reason why you hear about Americans getting killed every year during the running of the bulls in Spain is because the only people that run in front of the bulls are 1.) experts with years of experience who know what they are doing and 2.) drunk Americans. The rest of Spaniards just laugh at the drunk Americans.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Front Fell Off??

If you like Monty Python, you need to watch this Australian video. I will not spoil the experience with comments...please view on!!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Boldly Go Where No Human Has Gone Before?

Shuttle Atlantis launched today in what will be one of the last missions of the U.S. STS program. It's crew will install another piece of the ISS puzzle, while picking up Sunita Williams and dropping off Clayton Anderson.

NASA plans to retire the space shuttle by 2010, wanting to lift off 13-14 more times in three and a half years. I cannot help feeling a bit of nostalgia as I realize that this amazing piece of technology, that I consider the end-all in space travel technology for many years, is going to be retired soon. And it's successor is not the long promised X33 space-plane, but the 1960's technology in the form of a revamped, jumbo Apollo. I know that Apollo design worked, it took man to the moon and all that, but it is a 40 year old design! You would think that since the first space -shuttle mission (shuttle Columbia) in 1981, NASA engineers would have come up with a better design. But I guess this is just a fruit of the times we are living in. The President promises a man on the Moon again, and then to Mars, and then goes on to cut NASA research funding.

Now, I know that we are just trying to be money and resource conscious, and trying to play it safe with true, tried and tested technology, but I still miss the time when NASA was young and bold, and would show off and one-up the Russians with technological breakthroughs regardless of cost. I caught the tail end of that space age, wounded by the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, and dead on Saturday, February 1, 2003, with the tragic death of the crew of the Columbia.

I just hope that the “wow” factor that NASA has lost, is picked up by privately enterprises such as Scaled Composites, or SpaceX, even if their ultimate goal is boring but profitable space tourism, and not the exciting science oriented NASA space program.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Are you going to get an iPhone?

So it has finally been confirmed, after much speculation, the iPhone is coming out on June 29. The iPhone is probably the most talked about gadget this year. It's a high tech smartphone and ipod all rolled into one sleek, cool looking gadget. If there's a gadget out there that can get you laid, this is it. However, if you want one, you are going to have to break that piggy bank. To get the 4 Gb iphone, you'll have to pony up around $500.00, and if you want the 8 Gb... that will be around $600.00. For that price you can buy a PS3, an XBox 360, or a couple of Wiis. I am sure, however, that it will be one of the fastest selling items this year.

...and who doesn't like apple?...

Well, I am not getting an iPhone. Why? First off, it is not the latest technology. Japanese cell phones can kick iPhone's ass anytime. Japanese (or European) cell phones are at least a generation ahead of American phones. I am not going to pony up $500 for a technology that is going to be out of date in six months. Second, OS X is amazing software (my wife has a mac, and I love it) but that's about the extent of my love for apple software. It's not that it's bad software, it's that there are usually better, cheaper alternatives to apple software. As a matter of fact, I flashed my ipod mini with RockBox fimware, and it rocks my world (cheap pun intended). Not only does it allow more customization, but it is plugin based, open source, and I swear I think the damn thing sounds better now.

iPods bring me to apple's historical weak spot: hardware. Apple's infamous for selling crappy hardware. I've heard stories of Macbooks falling apart at the seams, iPod nanos getting scratched, even the mighty mouse having issues. Honestly, I cannot complain personally about apple produced hardware. I own a 3 year old iPod mini, and it runs fine. I own 2 mighty mice, one Bluetooth and one corded, and they run like they are expected to run. My wife has a Macbook, and except for a gray screen of death the other day, she loves it, and after a few months it is still in (almost) mint condition. So even though I cannot argue against apple's hardware quality from personal experience, I really do not think that all of the stories I've heard are made up. Finally, the main reason why I am not getting an iPhone is because I have my eyes set on another beauty. I have to admit that I have become addicted to open source software. I cannot live any more without the freedom that open source has brought to my experience with technology.

So before spending my hard earned money on a slick, sexy apple phone, I will bet my money on the dark horse, the OpenMoko project. Not only does their phone look amazing, it will also be fully customizable to fit my needs. I can make it look like an iPhone if I want to. I can have whatever utilities I want, even write my own applications if I want to!! Oh, and one final reason why I won't buy one of those iPhones: I don't need the latest gadget to get laid... ask my wife.
**Update: After reading this article on Forbes I am further determined not no get an iPhone. Sexiness does not beat no 3G, no GPS, no battery life (and no ability to switch batteries), price, and AT&T.

Saturday, June 2, 2007


We've just switched insurance companies at work. The new insurance company we are going with (I am not going to name any names, because this is not pertinent to to the topic) has been shoving High Deductible Health Savings Accounts (HSA) down our throats for the past week. This is a relatively new form of insurance that the US government has been pushing to regulate inflation of healthcare costs.

With this type of insurance, you pay a lower premium to the insurance company, but the deductible is very high, in our case, individual deductible was $2,500 and $5,000 for a family (legally it has to be upwards of $1,100 or $2,200 for a family). Insurance does not kick in until you have covered your deductible, so essentially you have to pay everything out of pocket until you cover your deductible. Unlike standard insurance, everything that your insurance covers, including prescriptions, visits to the E.R.count towards your deductible, and after insurace kicks in, most healthcare costs are 100% covered by the insurance. To offset the out of pocket expense, you have a Health Savings [bank] Account (with debit card, checks) where you have the option to put pre-taxed money every pay period. Your employer will also put a dollar amount every pay period towards your Health Savings Account every pay period. There is however, a limit on how much money you can place in the HSA every year (around $2,800 in 2007) but the money you do not use during the previous year rolls over for use the next year.

There are several benefits to using this insurance. First off, you have more control over your money, since you are paying out of pocket until the deductible is met. Second, even though you are paying out of pocket, you are paying with pre-taxed money, so depending on your tax bracket, you can save a lot of money. Also, like any savings account, the money in your HSA compounds interest, and if you have several good years, it can amount to a big chunk of money. If you are healthy, single, and you know you are not going to need prescriptions or doctors' appointments, this is a good plan for you because the HSA becomes a good investment. Also, if you know you are going to have medical expenses well over the deductible, it might be a good choice, since once the insurance kicks in, it covers 100%, and the money that you pay out of pocket, if you pay using your HSA account, is tax free.

However, it seems to me that you are severely penalized if you have a family, or if you are in the middle of the road when it comes to medical expenses. Under this plan, a family is considered to be a single unit, with a single deductible. The family has to meet the deductible before the insurance kicks in (and can be covered by a single individual). The problem is that the deductible for the family is usually double that of an individual, and it can amount to a lot of money to pay out of pocket for medical expenses (in my case, I'd have to pay $5000 before my insurace covers anything). If your family is healthy, but maybe only need a couple hundred dollars in prescription (you pay full price) a month (say you need allergy medicine, or pharmaceuticals for which there are no generics), there is no way you can actually cover the amount of the deductible in a year, and you end up paying for all of your medical costs out of pocket, and no significan money in your HSA account.

Warning about Pidgin

So I just found out that my beloved "Pidgin" (formerly "Gaim") instant messenger client was saving my user names and passwords as plain text in an XML file!! I went to the developers' site to see if the team was doing anything to fix this issue, but their official response (click here to see) is that they are not going to fix it any time soon. Their reasoning behind this is that IM programs are by default unsafe, so why bother....
This team just lost a lot of points in my book.
If you use gaim/pidgin and you want to see this with your own eyes, just go to the .purple directory (if you use linux, it's in your /home/$USER directory, if you use windows, its in C:\Documents and Settings\Application Data folder), and look for accounts.XML... you will find your passwords there.
Now, since it seems that the team is not going to change this any time soon, and since I like my "false sense of security" (I'm quoting the "Pidgin" team) I went ahead and switched IM clients. I'd heard a lot of good things about Kopete, and even though I am not a big fan of KDE (you've probably realized by now that I am a GNU/Linux person) I am willing to give this application a shot. I just installed and it seems to run smoothly in GNOME. I just started using it yesterday, and I haven't really done much with it, but so far so good, even though it is very "KDEee".

Who Needs Internet Explorer?!!