Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On a Personal Note

So, how much difference can a week make? As I have now learned, a lot.

Last Monday and Thursday, I made a couple of trips to visit Purdue. They have a large group of people that specialize in the field I'd like to join, computer security. I essentially made the trip to get a semblance of whether or not I had a snowball's chance of getting in. After meeting with six professors and one administrative person, I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, two of the professors strongly encouraged me to apply for admission in the spring of 2007 instead of fall! And one of them even invited me to have chocolate cake with the people in her lab. :-)

Two weeks ago, I was worried that I would not be accepted to any of my choice schools for a Ph.D. Now, I feel that I have a very strong chance of getting into one of the best security programs in the country. Of course, this is not a certainty. I still have to apply and impress the admissions committee. However, I feel much more confident now. Now, instead of spending the next eight months in a very undesirable situation where I must be apart from my wife, it seems possible that, in four months, I could be starting work toward a Ph.D. while seeing my wife every day!

The next several months are going to be extremely interesting...

Schneier on the British Terror Plot

I found this post by Bruce Schneier to be extraordinarily interesting. It wasn't that there was anything there I hadn't heard before. What struck me as interesting was his use of the phrase, "pissed off." I've been reading his blog daily for about 9 months now. He is not the type of person to toss out borderline obscenities unless something has gotten very far under his skin. In fact, I think it may be the first one he has used since I've been reading.

As he points out in his post, the timing of the arrests seem to have resulted from the U.S. government, possibly for political reasons. Yet we have heard very little of this here. Instead, we get to hear story after story about a guy who didn't kill a little girl but thinks he did.

I share Schneier's anger about the arrests. I like the term that he frequently uses, "security theater." It refers to actions that make us feel safer while adding no real security. I'm sad to say that I think that's exactly what we'll have to accept until January 2009 at the earliest.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


To my wonderful wife, Brianne. This morning, she completed her first triathlon! It was a 500 yard swim, 10 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run. I am very proud of her.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Terror in the Skies?

Remember that big terrorist plot about using some liquid explosives to destroy multiple planes? Turns out, it was highly unlikely to have succeeded.

The French

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. French diplomacy was essentially what created the resolution and led to the ceasefire in Lebanon. Now they're refusing to send more than 200 troops. I'm sure the right wingers will just cast some aspersions regarding French cowardice. I just don't know. Are they playing a game? Or trying to prove a point that the U.S. has stretched our resources too thinly with Iraq? Or is this simply a ruse that gives them an advantage heading into the planning meeting? I just don't get it.

Cool Drawings

This is very cool.

Hooray! Hurrah! Huzzah!

For the most part, I have loved Tim Burton's work. Beetlejuice was one of my favorite movies when I was a youngster. I enjoyed Edward Scissorhands, but barely remember it. That one may warrant a re-viewing. I loved Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His cameo in Singles was hilarious.

At the same time, I admire Johnny Depp. He's extremely versatile and frequently odd. Benny & Joon, Sleepy Hollow, Chocolat, Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Neverland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Odd director. Odd actor. Great pairing, yet again. Who else would you want acting and directing a musical that is subtitled, "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?" Somehow, I get the feeling that this is going to be a very gory movie a la Sleepy Hollow with a 0% chance of seeing it with Brianne...

On Radicalization

I am a liberal. Some might even say radically liberal.

But not really.

When I get into political discussions with my wife, my friends, etc., it typically seems like I am the most liberal in the group. I am pro-choice and oppose all legal restrictions, including mandatory waiting times, notification laws, etc. I believe in progressive taxation. I oppose the repeal of the estate tax. I support an increase in minimum wage. I hope that the tax cuts passed since Bush took office will be repealed so that we can have a balanced budget that includes proper funding for our troops, our schools, science and the arts. I opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, knowing that it would ultimately make the U.S. and the world less safe, destabilize the Middle East, radicalize thousands, and distract us from more pressing concerns. I support embryonic stem cell research. I believe the importance of the First Amendment. I believe in the free exercise right of individuals, but just as strongly as I believe in the establishment clause and the separation of church and state. I have the radical idea that science standards should be established by scientists, not local school boards filled with evangelical Christians. Any legislator arguing to introduce Intelligent Design into the classroom should be removed from office. I would like to see funding equality for schools at least at the state level. Local funding leads to savage inequalities. I think that No Child Left Behind is a hideous piece of legislation, in the same realm as the atrocious Digital Millenium Copyright Act. I trust the scientists who argue that global warming is real. I support increasing fuel efficiency requirements. I would like to see a tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles and on gasoline that would be directly applied to scientific research in alternative fuels. I support ending the War on Drugs. I believe in Due Process, even if it applies to alleged terrorists like Jose Padilla. I believe that marriage is a wonderful institution, built on love, and that gays and lesbians should have full marriage rights. I believe in the right to privacy. I am inclined to favor single-payer insurance, though I'd like to see more data on it. In the meantime, I would support legislation that would force big box retailers to provide a living wage and benefits, like that recently passed in Chicago.

Those are just the ones off the top of my head. I don't see any of them as being particularly fringe. If you asked, I could probably put together some decent, calm, cogent posts on each and every one of those. However, given that I support candidates like Howard Dean and Ned Lamont, I know that many would label me as part of the "angry left-wing." I have a much better understanding of how I got to this point after reading what Ezra said. After years of fame and/or power for people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Joe Scarborough, Bill O'Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tom Delay, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rick Santorum, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and blogs like Little Green Footballs, Powerline, Instapundit, The Free Republic, etc., I can't help but scream. (No links to any of those because I just can't stomach it...)

When I started this post, I had intended simply to link to the two posts by Ezra Klein. As usual, though, my passions got the better of me and I had to go on and on. In summary, I would simply say that I was not always like this. I viewed myself as a moderate, and felt that I typically had a temperate disposition. However, since November 2000, it seems like fate and the Republicans have done all they could to make me cynical and disillusioned. I hope that 2008 brings hope of a new direction of leadership. Until then, I guess I just have to continue yelling.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Greatest Icon Ever

I have to post this here, because it is great. I blatantly snagged this from another blog (can't remember which one...):

Monday, August 14, 2006


No, not the yummy stuff. I mean the new phone from Verizon Wireless. I just upgraded my phone to it the other day, and I'm developing some pretty strong opinions. So here's my review:

The Good

Ignoring everything I describe below, I love this phone. It's Bluetooth enabled, which means you can get all sorts of wireless goodies (such as an ear piece) for it. It has an MP3 player, though you have to buy the memory chip separately. The camera takes the best pictures I've seen on a phone. The navigation touchpad is sleek. You don't have to press, just lightly touch. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it's great. The phone slides open to reveal the number pad at the bottom and the camera at the top. This is especially nice because it'll prevent scratches to the lens. The battery life seems pretty decent so far, which is good. I'd hate to wipe out my phone battery after listening to three songs.

So, as I said, the phone itself is a great little piece of electronics.

The Bad

The main bad thing I've found about the phone itself is the new proprietary interface, of which it only has one. That means my old car charger is out the window. As are normal headphones. It does come with an adapter for a 1.5 mm ear piece plug, but standard headphones use a larger 2.5 mm plug. Since it has the 1.5 mm adapter, I can still use my old ear piece. But I can only use that until the battery runs low, because there is only one port for both types of input. I understand the reasoning, as they're trying to push the Bluetooth capabilities. However, that means, in addition to the phone, I have to buy a new $30 car charger, a $30 "music essentials" kit (more on that in a second), an $80-$100 Bluetooth ear piece, and possibly another $100 Bluetooth set of headphones (so I can listen to music in both ears, not just one!). Of course, it also comes with almost no built-in memory, so I had to buy a $100 2 GB Micro SD chip.

The other bad thing about the phone is the volume factor. [I know this is going to make me sound like an old fogey, but c'est la vie.] The MP3 player has 15 volume levels. I am currently listening to the lowest level, and it's a few decibels louder than I would like it. Doing a very unscientific comparison (Chocolate ear bud in the right ear, iPod ear bud in the left), the lowest level on the Chocolate is roughly comparable to having the iPod volume at 1/3 of the total capacity. The upper half of the volume capacity on the Chocolate is excessive and frankly dangerous. Apple has faced a lot of criticism regarding the risk of hearing loss with the iPod. LG should have heeded these critics. Instead, they produce a louder player. That is utterly irresponsible.

The purchase of the "music essentials" kit is another annoying factor. If you buy the phone as-is with no accessories, you have no way to transfer music to your phone and no way to listen to it even if you could. Enter the kit, which contains driver software, USB cable, and some earbud headphones with built-in microphone. Of course, the driver software is proprietary and only works with Windows Media Player. So remember all those songs you bought from iTunes? Can't use 'em. Your laptop is a Mac? You're S.O.L. There's no way in hell I'm going to get it to work with my Ubuntu laptop without some serious reverse engineering. The proprietary issues that come with MP3 players are such a headache and do nothing but punish legitimate users. Hackers will always find a way around it. But that's a rant for another post.

So the net sum of the bad is that you better be ready to toss in a few hundred more dollars in accessories, and you better have a computer running Windows XP.

The Ugly

How can it get worse than the extra cash you have to throw in? Customer service. Or lack thereof.

The wife and I started at Best Buy, thinking the prices for Micro SD may be cheaper there. Um, no. They had the 1 GB chip for $79, but no 2 GB, which would have been over a hundred. So we were on to the Verizon store in Westfield. After waiting in line for close to 30 minutes, I finally got to the front of the line. They were out of 2 GB cards. So we were on to the Verizon dealer in Circuit City in Clay Terrace. We've previously had bad service there before, but we decided to give them a try anyways. We look around and see that they do have the chip. So we stand in line.

After about 10 minutes, a Verizon rep explained that they were doing training, so they were down to one terminal. We would have to stand and wait 15-20 minutes just to buy the chip. There were a few people getting in line behind us, as well. So how much of a moron do you have to be to force potential customers to wait exorbitant amounts of time while you ignore them to do some training? Anybody with an iota of common sense would put the training on hold for a short while and actually serve the customers that want to give you money. Disgusted, we left. An hour and a half trip (including waiting and driving time), and we get home empty-handed.

Then comes my lunch break today. I head to the Circuit City Verizon in Castleton. Waiting in line again. One person is helping customers. The other is doing inventory and checking e-mail! After 10-15 minutes she decides that it might be worthwhile to offer to help a customer. After checking, they're out of the 2 GB chip. She calls the other Verizon in Castleton, and asks for the 2 GB *Mini* SD chip. Note to salepersons in technology fields: It is important to know the difference between your own products. Mini SD and Micro SD are different. You know that brand new, hot product you're releasing? It only uses Micro SD! She says that the other store is out of the 2 GB, and that the other store claimed all Verizon dealers in the area were out of stock. Ugh. So I leave.

On a hunch, I decided to try the Clay Terrace Circuit City again, so I hop in for the 25 minute trek up there. Loathe as I was to give them money, they had the 2 GB chip. Fantastic! Well, not quite. Verizon was actually doing a promotion where you got the 2 GB chip and the "music essentials" kit for $99 (after mail-in rebate, of course!). It works out rather oddly. The 2 GB chip is marked at $129, and the kit is another $30. But you only pay the $129 in store, then you get a $30 rebate. Anyways, they have the chip, but they are out of the kit! I ask if they can call the store across the street because they have the kit, but not the chip. You know, work some kind of deal to serve your customers better. It turns out, they actually did have more in the back of the store after checking.

So now, after 3 hours of driving and waiting in line, I finally have the chip and can listen to music on my phone. This is ridiculous. The only company that I've heard of with worse service would be Dell (search for "Dell sucks" for stories). After my experience trying to buy accessories for this phone, I would think long and hard before buying another phone from Verizon.

Oh, and I get a corporate discount through my employer. I'm sure I'll have to call customer service again and gripe because the contract renewal probably wiped it out. That's what happened last time I got a new phone.


So, if you decided to skip over the details and jump to the end, here's the short list:

  • Great phone with wonderful features

  • Very expensive -- add on a couple hundred dollars for accessories

  • The volume level could stand to be a little lower

  • Atrocious customer service

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I hate to follow up a dreadfully serious post with something so light-hearted, but that's the way things go some times. So here's a book meme that's floating around. If you feel inspired, complete it on your own and put a link in the comments (or a track-back).

1. One book that changed your life:
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse. My first reading (I've read it probably five or six times) was my senior year of high school. In the year or two before that, my appreciation of literature went from frigid to a lukewarm simmer. This book turned it into a rolling boil. It's about finding your own path in life, and it just struck a chord at the right time.

2. One book you have read more than once:
Les Misèrables, Victor Hugo. I've read this 2-3/4 times (didn't quite finish the third time). I loved the added insight to the characters and the historical perspective that you don't get in the musical (did you know that Napoleon lost at Waterloo because it rained the night before?). But, oh...so...1400 pages...long...

3. One book you would want on a desert island:
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson. If I were stranded on a desert island, I might finally have the free time to work through this mammoth work.

4. One book that made you laugh:
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. It's Douglas Adams. He was a genius and had an hysterical sense of humor. If you've read the increasingly-inappropriately-named-trilogy (consisting of 5 books!), you know what I'm talking about.

5. One book you wish you had written:
Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse. While Siddhartha turned me on to Hesse and was written in a simplistic narrative style, Steppenwolf was a challenging introduction to magical realism. Three narrators in the first 50 pages, a magic theater (for madmen only!), the protagonist reading a mysterious psychological biography, an infinite hallway of doors, and Mozart's laughter. Imaginative, erudite, passionate, poetic, and original.

6. One book you wish had never been written:
If I think of a better answer, I'll add it. But for now, I'd say that the world would be a better place if Mein Kampf had never been written.

7. One book that made you cry:
Night, Elie Wiesel. Absolutely, utterly horrifying. You can hear about how many millions were killed in the Holocaust, but nothing makes it more relevant than reading this depiction of what actually happened.

8. One book you are currently reading:
Computer Networking, James F. Kurose & Keith W. Ross. What can I say, I'm a nerd.

9. One book you have been meaning to read:
The Illuminatus Trilogy, Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, or A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. I've heard raves about both, but I've just never gotten to them. Maybe someday.

10. One book you wish everyone would read, and why:
1984, George Orwell. I find it very relevant in light of Gitmo, "extraordinary renditions," the Padilla case, the booming security and surveillance industries, the nanny state tactics of groups like Focus on the Family, Parents Television Council, et al, and the popularity of Fox News. While Orwell's vision of an authoritarian government was more relevant during the Red Scare, the themes of privacy, security, media manipulation and propaganda, and human rights are still important.

More Signs of the Real Apocalypse

Sorry 'bout the title. I liked the cheesy juxtaposition with the previous post, and I frankly couldn't think of anything more relevant as a title.

I wanted to point out this article from the WaPo. I have been very concerned about the Israeli retaliation in Lebanon since it began. The first paragraph provides a nice compendium of terror issues throughout the Middle East and south Asia:

Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily get pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even though the governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate that organization. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO's own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamic resistance.

The last two sentences were things I was not aware of. Of course, reading that quote within the context of the nascent "Shiite Crescent" only increases my concern.

The Bush administration has not been known for being competent in or enthusiastic for diplomacy (e.g., appointing John Bolton to the UN). It seems that a complete change of philosophy and tactics by the administration is the key to resolving this crisis. That thought provides no reassurance at all.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Another Sign of the Mental Apocalypse

I went out for lunch today to Chick-Fil-A. The total cost for my chicken nugget combo came to $5.18. I had a pocketful of dimes and pennies, but no nickel. Thus, I gave the girl behind the counter $5.23. She put the money in the drawer with a perplexed look on her face. She commented that she knew I had change coming to me, but she's "really bad in math," in her own words. She actually called someone over to help her!

As a disclaimer, she could have had a learning disability, but I doubt it. Rather, I think that she was just a teen-ager who thought that math--even trivial math--was inherently uncool. I would also venture to guess that, as a young girl, she had one of those Barbie dolls that said, "Math is hard."