Archive for July, 2005

Unfaithfully Yours

Friday, July 29th, 2005

Awhile ago, Kottke posted about a set of greeting cards, a representative example of which appears below:

Illustration of topless woman and open-shirted man kissing

Card text:

You are the one I never thought existed…My soulmate…

I had no idea how much my life could change when I met you…a once in a lifetime love. We finally found each other, but our commitments to our other lives keep us apart. You are a part of everything that I think and do and feel… with you by my side I believe that anything is possible.

No matter what the future brings…I know that you are the one true and real love of my life.

I can’t imagine a deeper love with anyone else.

Catch that “our other lives” bit? This card (“Passion”) is from the “Secret Lover Collection” of cards specifically for people having affairs.

I’m no prude, but this whole concept drives me crazy. I would be crushed if I was in what I thought was a loving relationship only to find out my partner had been calling someone else “the one true and real” love the whole time (and using pre-printed cards to do it — how tacky.)

But maybe these cards are for those people who are stepping out due to deterioriating marriages or other lousy primary relationships. If that’s the case, all the more reason to cut the cord. For those who say their religion doesn’t allow it, I say: time to find a new one.

In fact, time for anyone who has reason to use these cards to quit being a fucking coward.

Earth to Photos

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Just when you’re wondering what other uses Google Earth offers comes MAKE’s tutorial on geocoding.

In essence, you take your digital photos and upload them to the Flickr photo-sharing service. Then add tags to them with the lat/long of where you took the photo, which you can determine with a geocoder, a handheld GPS, or even a snazzy camera cable.

Next fire up Google Earth and add the GeoBloogers network link. Network links allow Google Earth to request additional data from remote servers.

Now zoom around the globe as usual. Whenever you stop moving, the software will search Flickr for photos taken in/of the area you’re viewing.

It’s completely cool, and a really fun way to get a ground-level view of some of the famous tourist traps.

Give it a (snap)shot.

From the Stupid Product Name Department

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Microsoft has announced that the successor to Windows XP will be known as “Windows Vista” when it finally arrives.

Now call me a geek, but I always thought it was just simpler to use version numbers. See, while the marketing names might sound good at first, they just get unmanageable after they start doing security updates and changes (is “Windows XP with Service Pack 2” really preferable to “Windows 5.2”?)

On the other hand, at least Microsoft makes an effort. I was just doing a Google search for RFID products and discovered the Zebra 110XiIIIPlus.

Someone want to tell me how that is pronounced? The “one-ten ex eye three plus”? Or is it “one-ten X eye eye eye eye plus”? Or… seriously, what the hell?

Perhaps the Zebra folks have been taking a cue from Pentax, who released a camera line called “*ist.” The *ist DS (starist? asteriskist?) could be a great camera, but how will people find that out? Billboards? Commercials that just silently show the logo? I wouldn’t count on word of mouth, fellas…

My rule of thumb is this: when you’re naming a product, company, or service (or choosing a domain name) imagine yourself mentioning it to a friend on the phone. Do you have to spell anything out? Do you have to repeat it? Are you afraid you’re pronouncing it incorrectly? Does it take too long? If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, do us all a favor and head back to the drawing board.

And if that’s not enough motivation, read this McSweeney’s article a few times.

Bonus observation: To bring it to the next level, consider your URLs. The software suggested placing this page at “jsp dot org slash 2005 slash 07 slash 26 slash from hyphen the hyphen stupid hyphen product hyphen name hyphen department”, I opted for something shorter.

MSN Discovers Earth

Monday, July 25th, 2005

Today Microsoft released MSN Virtual Earth, the latest entry in the increasingly crowded mapping market. The “Earth” in the title is a bit generous; the service is very USA-centric at present — odd, as MSN’s own MapPoint service has streets and address data for around 30 countries. (But then if Google’s already moved on to Google Moon…)

Anyway, I gave the new site a cursory look and was pleased to discover that it worked just fine (including the slightly tedious map zooming effect) in Firefox, with no plug-ins necessary. This being Microsoft, however, there’s also a plug-in available that allows you to… find yourself. With the 4MB “LocationFinder” plug-in installed, your browser will attempt to find your location by probing nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. (That would be 802.11b/g, not GPS. You’re out of luck if you don’t have wireless.)

Now, I love technology as much as the next guy — okay, more — but I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to be reduced to using wireless routers to find what city I’m in.

I Call That Isolated

Sunday, July 24th, 2005

So that playing around with the phones wasn’t just for my amusement. I’ve been steadily working towards making a phone system to replace an older system that’s on its last legs.

Part of my research involves checking out long distance providers that connect calls via the Internet. I think I’ve found one provider that’s not going to work so well:
map of the USA, all but Iowa is shaded (Iowa is therefore outside the service area)

It’s fun living in the Midwest Central U.S….

What a Shame

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

As one small part of its CLEAR database project, the Chicago Police have started providing photos online of those arrested “for either patronizing or soliciting for prostitution.”

The intent is to shame them, of course, and it’s hardly novel (to take but one example, Georgia publishes the names of repeat DUI offenders) or even, I’ll bet, terribly effective. After all, though that page has been viewed more than half a million times (that retro counter’s a nice touch, eh?) how many people will actually make a point to visit the CPD site that frequently?

Far more interesting — and worrying — are new impromptu groups, many made possible by camera phones nearly as ubiquitious as the Internet, which spring up around some particular place or issue. These can be relatively benign, as when Yahoo! employees photograph co-workers who park poorly, or slightly more worrying, as with The Shitty Tippers Database.

But things can also tip out of hand, as the woman who will long be known as “Dog Poop Girl” learned after failing to clean up after her pooch on the subway. As her image and then personal details appeared on the Internet, some saw it as just desserts, others as an invasion of privacy.

How far should we go? Where’s the line between collective coaxing and harassment? I have no idea. But isn’t it interesting that as far as the “surveillance society” is concerned, you might have less to fear from the man behind the curtain than from the kid over there with the RAZR.

Further Proof I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

1 nerd with an initials fetish + 5 IP phones = trouble.

Phone screens spell out 'We hail our lord JSP'

(By the way, that’s totally Frutiger 95, for those who remember. Kickin’ it old school.)

Mommy, Mommy! Can We Have a Frank, Open Discussion About Sex?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

Redbox is a self-serve DVD kiosk offering around 50 popular films. The service, wholly-owned by McDonald’s, promises to revolutionize video rental with $1/night rates and the ability to drop off a title at any Redbox location (even in another city.)

We’ll see if the service succeeds, but I for one think they’re already breaking new ground on their home page:

Kids and mom point to 'Kinsey' cover in Redbox kiosk
Cropped from

They’ve blurred it ever so slightly to be modest, but it’s obvious what they’re all pointing at:

cover of 'Kinsey' DVD

Yep, I reckon the kids are pointing at the word “sexually”, no doubt saying “C’mon, don’t you think we’ve outgrown that birds and bees crap?”

On a related note, I wonder if these boxes might serve as a back door for teens to get easy access to R-rated films. It’s an open secret that the MPAA ratings board “has taken a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach to the video marketplace.”

Perhaps those teens who aren’t blessed with the hip, happening Mom that little Johnny and Sue here have can just rent it themselves. Once they’re old enough for a debit card, of course.

Update [17:11]: From the FAQ: “Do I need to be 18 or older to rent DVD’s from Redbox Automated DVD Rental? That is affirmative.” Riiiiiiight. Just like cigarette machines. (Although I haven’t seen one of those in ages…)

Sprechen Sie Surgeon

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

The folks over at Yahoo! have really been creating some interesting stuff lately, and their new search translator is one particularly impressive example.

The newly unveiled beta is focused on German, but the general technology is designed to allow users to search the Web and get translated results from pages in different languages.

All that is great stuff, and a fascinating application of technology. However, I wonder about the example provided:

Have some health questions? Try “Alternativen zur Nierendialyse” (alternatives to kidney dialysis): with Search Translator you go from just 1 result to another 140K pertinent results that are translated back to your local language!

Machine translation being what it is, I’m not sure if kidney treatments are something you want to be investigating with only a computer to guide you through a foreign language. Something tells me that rather than trying to figure things out by context you’d be better off just, you know, seeing a doctor…

A Brief Break

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

As you’ve no doubt surmised, I’m sort of taking this week off. Between the depressing London bombings and a serious family illness, I’ve been feeling a tad drained. I’ll be back to my usual tricks in a few days.

This is What I’m Talking About

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

screen cap of Blockbuster recommended flicks

Moments ago, BbO suggested the above films as possibilities when I added Rashômon to my queue.

They are so deeply out of whack I had to laugh. Pegging One Night at McCool’s as being at all similar to a black-and-white Japanese classic is like recommending that those who loved Cidade de Deus give Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo a rent.

They silly.

P.S. I don’t know what the hell the deal is with the narrow margins.

Taking Credit Where It Ain’t Due

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

I’m thinking about starting a new category of posts: “I Call Bullshit.” Crude, perhaps, but there’s no other way to describe some of the wankery being foisted upon the general public these days.

Take “Your Credit Card Companies.” In today’s “Newsweek”, they have a message for you:

Your Credit Card Companies remind you most identity theft comes from mailboxes
click image to enlarge

Put another way: “it’s not us, it’s you.” Yes, despite ChoicePoint’s recent sale of private data to a criminal front organization, Citi’s loss of 3.9 million accountholders’ personal data, and the theft of untold account numbers from CardSystems, a company that wasn’t supposed to be keeping the data anyway, Your Credit Card Companies would like you to know that it’s more often your own damn fault for not watching your purse, wallet, or mailbox.

Not to worry, though: Your Credit Card Companies are “proactive”, which in this case means they’ll check your credit report when you apply! Amazing! If there’s a “fraud or victim alert” on your account, they’ll even call you directly.

Of course, they’d rather you not think too hard about how that alert is supposed to get there. While all card issuers have fraud detection measures, Your Credit Card Companies (and Their Credit Bureaus) don’t give you any way to help them work — unless you’re willing to pay, of course. Shell out for services such as MBNA PrivacyAssist ($9.99/mo) or Equifax CreditWatch Gold ($9.95/mo) and you can at least see your credit reports, a definite improvement.

Still, even with your $100+/yr investment, it would be smart to watch your mailbox. Their nebulous “privacy” services won’t do anything to staunch the flow of pre-approved applications, convenience checks, and all number of solicitations for new financial products.

Though this ad mentions your mailbox, it conveniently omits the main reason it’s a danger: the companies themselves. The truth is this is an idustry that has shown itself woefully incapable of self-regulation. If we’re to get serious about identity “theft” (I prefer the term “impersonation”), we’re going to need new laws, new practices, and new tools. I have some ideas for those, which I’ll share in a subsequent post, but I’m not holding my breath. We might need to wait for a few members of Congress to fall victim to fraudulent transactions before we’ll see real change.

Congress has made a few baby steps in the right direction, however. The Fair Credit Reporting Act “requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months.” (Available now in most states; everywhere from 1 Sep ’05.) By staggering your requests, it’s possible to keep a fairly close eye on your credit reports.

It’s also a great idea to opt out of “pre-approved” credit and insurance offers. Visit and fill out the form. I recommend “permanent” removal, which has resulted in a nice decrease in mail around here. (If you ever start to feel as though your current credit card is not up to snuff, you can always use comparison services such as to find a new one.)

Through these simple steps, you’ll be at least better equipped to hang on until that glorious day when Your Credit Card Companies realize that mailboxes and databases are in fact two separate things — and they both need protecting.

Best Chart Ever

Wednesday, July 6th, 2005

Pirates v. Temperature chart

Taken from An Open Letter to the Kansas School Board, which also explains the importance of His Noodly Appendage, a phrase that still makes me laugh every time I read it…

Smokin’ Teens

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005

The folks in India’s “Bollywood,” home to the world’s largest film industry (by output, not revenue) are up in arms over new health regulations banning smoking in films and television. The new guidelines, to take effect from 1 August, also make allowances for older movies: cigarette packs must be electronically masked, and a health message must scroll at the bottom of the screen during smoking scenes.

As India can’t enforce these requirements on imported films, they will instead require foreign exhibitors to get a special rating from the Censor Board.

Upon hearing this news, I was going to comment that our own rating system, while moronic in its own special ways, isn’t quite so extreme as to screen for something so common. Then the last DVD I watched opened with this:

This motion picture has been rated PG-13 for Violence, Sexual Content, Language, Teen Partying and Some Drug Material

So I’ll just shut up now.