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November 2003
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127 entries from December 2003

US terror alert level raised to "orange"

Increased "chatter" among suspected terrorists leads the Department of Homeland Security to raise the threat level from yellow ("elevated") to orange ("high").

WASHINGTON (CNN)—The Department of Homeland Security raised the U.S. terror threat level from elevated to high Sunday, warning of possible terrorist strikes more devastating than the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said the move was the result of a "substantial increase" in the volume of intelligence pointing to "near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11."

Ridge also urged the public to be patient with stricter security measures "in the coming days and weeks" and to proceed with holiday plans despite the threat. "America is a country that will not be bent by terror," he said.

DHS last raised the threat level to orange on May 20, following suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. DHS reduced the threat level to yellow 10 days later.

full story

Fast sleep night

I went to bed around 03:00, finally dozed off sometime around 04:00 (last time I remember looking at my clock was 03:51), and snapped awake at 07:49. Short sleep, and my eyes feel dry and scratchy the way they do when they really really really want me to go back to bed.

Ah well. Looks like it'll be an okay day, at least for the early part. Cloudy and it has rained—looking out my window, I see my car's misted over and the parking lots and walkways are still fairly wet. I haven't seen a weather forecast in several days, but I'm convinced the weather wonks are using chicken entrails or tea leaves or some similarly arcane means to divine what's coming over the mountains on any given day.

I like waking up early on a Saturday. Maybe I'll go get coffee.

Such a pretty computer

My friend Sonya bought a PowerBook G4 12" Wednesday night. Unwrapped it Thursday, and tonight we spent a few hours setting up her AirPort base station and network, getting a few software updates, and copying her photos and music files into iPhoto and iTunes.

It's a tiny machine, but its battery lasts forever—over four hours on the charge it had when we first arrived at her apartment. Truly astounding.

I want one... ;-D

The Friday Five: 12/19/03

The items in each answer are listed in no particular order.

  1. List your five favorite beverages.
    Hefeweizens, specifically those by Squatters and Pyramid; Diet Coke; water; several vineyards' Chardonnays, particularly Cakebread Cellars'

  2. List your five favorite websites.
    CNN; Apple; MacInTouch;; CNET

  3. List your five favorite snack foods.
    Whole-wheat Ritz; roasted peanuts; Saltines; apples; bananas

  4. List your five favorite board and/or card games.
    Trivial Pursuit; Shanghai rummy; poker (which I don't play nearly enough); Pictionary; 99

  5. List your five favorite computer and/or game system games.
    The Rogue Leader games for my GameCube; Solitaire on my Palm; X-Plane; some of the 007 games for N64 and Nintendo; Marble Blast for OS X

iTunes 4.2 released

If you haven’t already, run right over and grab iTunes 4.2.

It’s available via Software Update for Mac users, and there’s a download link at the Apple web site.

Among other things, iTunes allows AOL users to sign into the iTunes Music Store with their AOL accounts. Hence the image on the Apple home page.

Finally, Apple has a new page of hot tips—keyboard shortcuts, menu time-savers, quick CD burn ideas, and so on.

The company holiday party

The lab's holiday party was today. During work hours, so no alcohol.

The party was held at the Courtyard Hall in Country Village, a themed shopping/crafts/yuhhuh area a little way from both the lab and my apartment.

I bagged work afterward, although the mgmt had told us we hourly folk weren't expected to return when the party was done, except for the swing-shift minions.

Oh yes, and I won a rosemary topiary. These were used as the centerpieces but were then raffled off as door prizes.

Last year's party was held at the Seattle Aquarium, which was a great place for it. Nice to have a change of venues every now and then, but I definitely prefer after-hours parties where one can partake of a beer or glass of wine.

Today's spell-check weirdness

Microsoft's spell checker came up with a couple of fascinating spelling suggestions this morning while we've been using Outlook to send email to clients.

  1. The checker suggested Shoeshine as an alternative spelling for Shropshire, a client's last name.

  2. The acronym ICPMS, a type of laboratory instrument used in analysis for metals content, resulted in a suggestion of biceps.

Beautiful morning

My car was frosted over this morning, which was a bit annoying because the scraper I have is an utter piece of crap, but as I drove to work I was awe-struck by the astoundingly clear blue sky and the views of both Mt. Rainier and the Olympic mountain range. It's rare enough that both are clearly visible from the Bothell area, what a treat.

There was also a prism effect going on with the sun shining through the clouds near Mt. Rainier, so a few of the thin clouds near the summit shimmered brightly as the sun rose.

I must get a digital camera so I can capture these images when they happen.

Woo, 1000th visitor five times!

As I make my daily news check, I've had the same pop-under advertisement appear at four different sites now. I am the 1000th visitor at each of these sites, and if I call RIGHT NOW!!!, I'll get $1000 and change toward a Disney vacation! So call now, act fast, don't delay! I'm special because only I will receive this offer, and only ONE TIME!!!

Yeah, whatever.

A pox upon these advertisements and the money-grubbing wonks who use them.

Wesley Clark gets a celebrity endorsement

Somehow an endorsement from Madonna seems a bit... well, I was going to say "completely fucking stupid," but the humor value alone makes this worthy of posting. I imagine the late-night talk-show wonks are having a field day coming up with one-liners for their monologues. - Material Girl covers Clark with praise - Dec. 16, 2003

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN)—The Material Girl has stepped onto the political stage and endorsed Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark.

"I think he has a good handle on foreign policy, I think he's good with people, and I think he has a heart and a consciousness," pop singer Madonna said. "He's interested in spirituality—I mean, those things mean a lot to me."

Thank God she sees his spiritual side. We all know that having a spirituality that's clearly visible to abominable singers and even worse actresses is the highest accomplishment anyone should seek to achieve.

Thirsty bikers?

Renton Honda has an ad that plays on the radio pretty frequently in which the announcer talks about how the dealership's founder used to race motorcycles, and they were Honda motorcycles, so he really knows his Hondas, so he's incredibly credible, so buy from him.

Part of the ad is an enticement involving a trunkful of Coke products because, hey, car buyers might get thirsty, and we couldn't have that. And as part of that, the announcer says, "You probably know that motorcycle racers get extremely thirsty," or words to that effect.

So do you?

Is that common knowledge? It doesn't seem so to me. I haven't experienced any intuitive leap connecting motorcycle racing with extreme thirst. I haven't heard anyone talk about it, at least until this advertisement.

I suppose that motorcyclists would of course dry out because their skin is exposed to the air that rushes past them, but in my experience motorcycle racers are covered head-to-toe in close-fitting jumpsuits (or whatever those are called), gloves, helmets, shoes, etc. So the dehydration from air doesn't strike me as likely.

Anyone know?

(Perhaps a better question for myself: Why is this occupying so much of my thoughts right now?)

Amazing, no comments at work

So I got this hickey over the weekend, and even though it was plainly visible on my neck just above my collar, no one at the lab commented on it.

Usually if they spot a single thing different on your face or neck (or hair, arms, legs, torso, wherever), there's a general caucus on what's happened and everyone's talking about it within a few seconds.

Airline Magick: Or, how I learned to stop wondering and embrace the fares

So I was looking at flights for a quick jump I was contemplating making to Salt Lake City from 12/24 to 12/27. When I checked them at Delta last night, the round-trip fare was $285 to $299, and there were a few seats scattered about the planes on each flight.

This morning the same seats are still available, if the seat maps are to be believed, but the fare is now $278 across the board. Same flight times and numbers, but a price drop in less than 12 hours.

huh wha?

Silly Quiz: Your Ultimate Purity Score

Your Ultimate Purity Score Is...
CategoryYour ScoreAverage
When I think about you - or anyone - I touch myself
Has yet to see self in mirror
Sex Drive52%
A fool for love, but not always
Knows the other body type like a map
At least one weekend of ecstacy
Fucking Sick84%
Refreshingly normal
You are 52% pure
Average Score: 72.6%

Goddamned subtitles

'Spy Game' DVD coverSo I'm watching Spy Game on my DVD player, and for God knows what reason, the fucking subtitles won't shut off. The DVD player is set to "no subtitles," the DVD itself is set to its own "no subtitles" option, but the damned things keep showing up.

I thought, Maybe it's the TV's captions decoder.

So I futzed with the TV menu system (which, by the way, BLOWS UTTERLY), no dice. Anyway, when the TV's decoder is active, it's the usual all-caps white block letters on a black background, and these captions are in nice serif fonts that are obviously part of the DVD setup.

What's odd as well, the text doesn't appear all the time. There was a 20-minute segment about 30 minutes in that showed no subtitles at all.

What the hell?

Let's have our kids' awards presentation at the coffeehouse!

There is a huge crowd of children with their parents in the back area of this Tully's. Apparently they are passing out awards of some sort amongst themselves, for every minute or so there will be a smattering of applause and/or cheering, and the noise level goes up by orders of magnitude each time.

Why the hell would you choose a coffeehouse as a forum for passing out your kids' soccer-team awards, or whatever?

Tully's should get rid of the toys

I'm at the Tully's at Bella Botega in Redmond, enjoying a vanilla latté near the fire whilst I nerdishly catch up on the news and chatter with friends in New York and Chicago via iChat.

A couple with approximately six dozen children all under the age of 7 just took the small table near me, and the kids immediately descended upon the several toys Tully's keeps on hand to keep the little bastards occupied. That in itself doesn't bother me, always nice to keep the kiddies from whining.

But the toys Tully's keeps on hand are all noisemakers. They pop, they whistle, they wheeze and burp and scratch and play little tunes to keep the children busy with razzle-dazzle.

And they annoy the living SHIT out of me.

AT&T Wireless offers free phones for one day following service glitches

From a Seattle Times article:

AT&T Wireless Services, which has received complaints about technical problems with signing new customers, offered six of its top-selling mobile telephones free to new subscribers yesterday.

I’ve been an AT&T Wireless customer for nearly 5 years now, and I’ve never been offered a free phone. Why do they only offer such things to new subscribers? I understand they have a strong interest in signing up more and more customers so their business grows, blah blah blah, but why don’t they ever try to retain existing customers with offers of this type?

I’d consider extending my service contract for a year or two with an early-termination penalty if it would get me a new phone at no charge. My 6200 goes through periods of almost-dead even now, so I may end up replacing it in the next little while anyway.

Where are the incentives for existing customers who may want equipment upgrades or service-plan changes? Why do new subscribers get all the deals?

Christmas in two weeks?!

14 days to Christmas, and none of my family has travel plans yet. My sister and I traveled to Salt Lake City for Thanksgiving, and my sister can't take any more time off work this year. As well, my mom's gift shop gets progressively more insane as the holiday approaches, and time off is difficult for her around this part of the year.


Maybe I'll fly down to SLC for a couple of days around Christmas. I should check flights leaving on 12/24 and returning 12/27, so I'd have the Sunday back here to get into the groove of things before work 12/28.

Off to Delta....

CNET Bug in IE makes spoof sites harder to detect

Microsoft on Tuesday said it was looking into reports of a potential bug in its Web browser that could help malicious hackers design convincing Web site spoofs.

The bug, according to security alerts by a bug hunter and a Danish security company, Secunia, could let hackers use a technique to display a false Web address on a fake site.

Secunia credited the bug to "Zap the Dingbat," who posted an alert to the Bugtraq security mailing list. That alert links to a demonstration of the exploit, and says Microsoft was informed of the bug Tuesday.

Malicious hackers frequently lure victims to convincing replicas of e-commerce sites such as eBay, where they're tricked into handing over financial and other private information. The method is said to be a key tool in credit card and identity theft.

Savvy Web surfers often figure out the ruse from irregularities in the Web address. But in the method described by Secunia, IE could allow the address bar for the spoofed eBay site, for example, to read ""

Uh oh.

Very. Slow. Network.

On my arrival at work today, I ran into some... problems.

  1. Lab info system down, can't generate any reports.
  2. My network storage space seems to be corrupted, when I can open it at all—network response is moving glacially today. None of my files will open, after several reboots. This PC seems to think all those files are already in use.
  3. My phone's YOU HAVE MESSAGES is blinking merrily away but the voice-mail system says I have no messages.


It's now an hour later.

  1. Still the network is c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g.
  2. I can open files now, but they take forever. A 200K spreadsheet file required nearly 10 minutes.
  3. Messages light is still taunting me, and a message I sent to myself as a reset mechanism has instead just disappeared into the abyss.

I'm pretty sure it isn't Monday....


Don lunging at DVD playerSaw Hulk just now.

So bad.

So horribly, terribly bad.

I know now why I never read comic books. This movie was edited to resemble a moving-picture comic book, and it drove me freakin' nuts. Thank God they didn't show all the exclamation points you know the writers use for Every Sentence! in the comic books! Because everything is said with such! Enthusiasm!

"Gift" is not a verb!

A Seattle Times article, originally in the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate, propagates another really freakin' irritating (and increasingly common) misuse of a noun as a verb:

You've got no problem choosing the perfect holiday present for Grandma Emma and Cousin Joe. But you're clueless when it comes to gifting people like your cleaning lady, hairstylist, mailman and kids' schoolteacher.

Emphasis mine.

Just like impact and transition and every other '90s-buzzword noun-as-verb usage.

Clouds of gnats

Where the hell are all these little bugs coming from?

I've been here about an hour and already I've encountered two gnats right around my desk, and there was a caucus of them in the sample-receiving area yesterday afternoon when I walked through there on my way into the main lab. Walked right through them. They broke to let me through, recongregated immediately after my passage.

Which reminds me, The Straight Dope has an archived article with a mildly humorous take gnats' swarming instincts.

I love how the human mind works, jumping from idea to idea like a butterfly on speed.

Today's Media Peeve

Radio and television announcers apparently all go to the same voice classes, because they all pronounce the word winter as winner, ignoring the T that is plainly evident right in the middle of the word.

"This is gonna be a cold winner, so go buy your Mercedes S-class now!"
"The winner season is upon us, now's the time to go skiing!"

Et cetera.

Probably I should just leave the radio off as I drive to work so I'm not so peevish all the time....

Child's Play hits $90,000 in donations

Penny Arcade has passed $90,000 in donated toys, movies, video games, and other items in their Child's Play charitable campaign for the kids at Seattle Children's Hospital.

The wish list for this campaign clearly demonstrates the generosity of strangers. There's an entry on that list for 20 Xbox consoles, and when I looked just a minute ago, donors had already purchased 15 of them.

Just astounding. I'm off to place my order shortly.

Silly remake

Sci Fi unleashed its Battlestar Galactica remake tonight.

Fifteen minutes in, I can already see how rabid fans of the original show are really going to hate this new version. Starbuck is a woman, for starters; Adama is played by Edward James Olmos, who has the craggy-faced bit down but whom I find otherwise unsympathetic. The visual effects are pretty spectacular, too, which is a bit jarring considering the cheesiness of the original series.

As I'm typing this, I'm finding it difficult to think (and say) "Starbuck" and not "Starbucks"—I wonder how many outtakes they have where cast members made the same mistake?

Ah well. It'll be mildly engaging aural distraction for two nights in a row.

Europe Begins Program to Reduce Noise

PARIS - The cry is rising across Europe: KEEP IT DOWN! Harnessing the tireless power of computers and collective will, the old continent is embarked on a new fight against a long-overlooked, but oft-overheard, form of pollution—noise.

At the heart of the program is a Europe-wide drive to map noise levels in cities in 25 nations.

Allowing eyes to see what ears hear, the maps will show Europe as never before. They will be followed with plans to dampen the din and calm public disquiet about the 24-hour aural assault of modern life.

In the same way that X-rays reveal broken bones, completed maps will help show how the rumble of cars, planes and trains sickens cities and, experts fear, their inhabitants.

full story

CNET Microsoft to ditch older products

Win98 (and other stuff) going the way of the dinos:

Microsoft will retire several of its products in two weeks' time, including Windows 98 and SQL Server 7, to comply with a court order related to its dispute with Sun Microsystems over Java.

In a posting to Microsoft's developer Web site, the company lists several older products that are being phased out and that will no longer be available to customers as of Dec. 15.

The company on Monday updated the posting to say that it is extending the deadline to download older products to Dec. 23 "in order to allow subscribers to download copies of content scheduled to be removed."

The roster of products to be dropped includes SQL Server 7, Office XP Developer, Windows 98, and a number of Office 2000-related tools and patches.

Microsoft said it would remove the Java Virtual Machine from some products, including Office XP Professional with FrontPage, Publisher 2002, Windows NT 4.0 and Small Business Server 2000. The change will allow customers to download those products as before.

The software titan also on Monday said that ISA 2000 security software will also be modified so that it can continue to be downloaded after the Dec. 23 deadline.

Microsoft said that after the deadline the products would no longer be available through its MSDN developer Web site or "other channels at Microsoft." In the original posting, dated Dec. 4, the company said the shift was "due to a settlement agreement reached in January 2001" related to a Java licensing agreement between Sun and Microsoft.

Thank God... although this silly PC I use at work is Win98 and looks to be around about one day short of forever.