November 21, 2005

Reading List Thus Far

Been diving into the detective thriller novel genre for a while now. I'm almost done with Laguna Heat by T. Jefferson Parker. This one is actually pretty good.

But the one I finished earlier, Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly, was pretty awful. It purported to follow an early-stage tech startup as it tries to make the next big breakthrough and land funding--"chasing the dime". But the discussion of the technology and the whole startup culture was a bit off. Things like the company CEO being a Luddite for personal technology, when every Silicon Valley guy is glued to his Blackberry and wears his Bluetooth headset constantly, probably even in the shower. I know it's a device because the whole plot revolves around this guy getting the wrong number assigned to his new apartment phone, but really--there's too much suspension of belief here.

It's as if the author read about the startup experience in a different novel and that's what he aped for this story.

Laguna Heat, on the other hand, is a great hard-boiled detective novel. Just change the dates a bit, and you'd have Raymond Chandler.

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November 18, 2005

Campus Safety for Teen Girls

ABC's Primetime show aired a segment on campus security for young coeds. The piece was rather alarmist--made me feel like I couldn't send my kid to college unless she had a Chelsea Clinton-esque posse of Secret Service guys following her around.

I wrote about this issue in my Back to School Security article. I think awareness and defensive tactics training can go a long way toward making your kid (and your kid's parents...) feel safe.

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November 17, 2005

Marking Your Dictionary

There's a great scene in the movie Say Anything where Ione Skye's brainy character talks about how she marked her dictionary everytime she looked up a word. Then the camera shows a big hardcover dictionary filled with little marks, and John Cusack's character, who we know doesn't even own a dictionary, much less use one on a daily basis, has the perfect look on his face.

[aside: Although quite stuck in the teen romantic comedy genre, "Say Anything" does have a martial arts sideline to it. Check out Benny Urquidez in his role as a...kickboxer. Typecasting.]

So I notice that Form Completion in Firefox can do the same thing, if you use Google's dictionary feature a lot:

screenshot of Google query form for define:aplomb

What else is Google going to take over? Air?

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November 16, 2005

Get Ready for Atlatl Hunting Season

Duck season, rabbit season, atlatl season.

When I first saw this, I thought, "why would anyone want to hunt those cute Mexican salamanders? I mean I support hunting and all that, and even prairie dog shooting doesn't bother me, but man, those little axolotl's will be dead meat."

photo of axolotl in aquarium

But no, this refers to the use of the good old throwing stick (and really old, like Cro Magnon shit and stuff).

photo of atlatl chambered prior to throwing

The great state of Pennsylvania is about to set standards for hunting game with an atlatl. They liken it to hunting boars with spears, or good ol' bowhunting (Bo and Luke Duke, anybody?).

I think this is great. Preserving ancient technologies and history in this modern age is really important--kids these days might know the best spin strafe move in a first-person shooter video game, but won't know, perhaps even conceptually, how to start a fire without matches ("uh, like, do you use a lighter, man? My dad's got a Zippo").

Even better if people learn to make their own atlatls. Although I see from the press that the commercial atlatl armorers are already ramping up production. Can't wait until the carbon fiber models are available. Oh, I mean the "tactical" atlatls. And if they can make them digital too, well heck, sign me up!

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November 10, 2005

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword?

I've been seeing a resurgence in stun gun products, mostly due to the new "pen" form factor:

photo of 3 stun gun pens

Not like this really helps. I wrote about the effectiveness of stun guns in my article on less-lethal weaponry and their use in a force continuum. I still think they're lame.

If you're close enough to someone to touch them with a pen stun gun, why not just poke them in a pressure point with a real pen? (Former or current residents of our nation's penal system will know that a sturdy pen or a simple No. 2 pencil, given a good sharpening, is a lethal weapon, but such implements are pretty innocuous to us folks on the Outside).

Pepper spray is much more useful, due to the maai or distance factor. The pen-form factor pepper spray is old hat these days. But how much range do you get from the perfume mister delivery mechanism?

photo of pepper spray pen

Now the stun gun thing could come in handy if it was merely an option on an electronic device you're already carrying all the time. Like your cellphone or PDA. You already have electrical power, and a reason to be holding it in your hand/carrying it on your belt.

It could even be just a software/firmware hack. Like you cause the battery to discharge through the charging port at the base of the handset. I'm surprised Make hasn't tried this yet.

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November 08, 2005

Cold Calls for Free Subscriptions

I've noticed that a lot of the trade rags (Computerworld, InfoWeek, Baseline, etc) are using call center reps to call subscribers around renewal time. Business periodicals that supply free subscriptions to customers have to verify every year that the customer still wants the free subscription--otherwise it's just another piece of junk mail.

In the old days you'd acknowledge your desire to receive the subscription through a Business Reply Card--sent through the snail mail every year. Then the Web happened and online forms replaced the paper cards.

But it seems as if the trade rags aren't getting the renewal rates they want. Either people are too busy to fill out those damn checkboxes, or they're not getting their info from the trade rags anymore--or both.

So the expense of having a call center rep cold call a customer and walk through the renewal questionnaire (albeit a truncated one) must be worth the extra advertising dollars provided by maintaining a high level of circulation.

Online ad dollars aren't there anymore, but can you imagine calling you up to remind you to visit their site?

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November 02, 2005

Election Spam

So the Yes on Prop 78/No on Prop 79 faction has been sending spam email, at least one a day:

Screenshot of Gmail headers for election spam emails

Rather obnoxious. You'd think people would know better.

Which brings to mind--maybe this is a slick reverse-psychology social engineering virus. Maybe the actual instigators of this spam campaign is the other side: the No on 78/Yes on 79 faction, and they're just trying to piss people off by posing as the other folks?

All's fair in love and war and politics, I suppose.

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