Sunday, September 23, 2012

Everything Wrong with Computers Epitomized in a Screenshot:

The title of this blog entry is copied from an item in John C. Dvorak's blog. The screenshot shows the sort of info that modern computers on the web can so easily collect. It's a list of "classical artists", a loose association of performing nouns associated with classical music. And it's not just names. There's a picture to the left of each title. Take a look at the pic of Antonin Dvorak. Oops. It's John C. Right here!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Programmable Wall Switch:

Have you ever wished you could control a wall switch with an automatic timer? Timers that plug into A/C outlets are easy to buy, but what about those wall switches?

A company that specializes in inventions for religious Jews has announced the answer to this problem, and their answer is not just for Jews. Please note, I haven't tried it yet, but it looks exciting. You screw their intelligent timer over your wall toggle switch, and you program it for several Off and On times. (It also has a random timer.) It is battery operated, and at the designated times, a mechanical device flips the switch up or down.

The timer can be preordered (estimated ship date: end of September) for $29.95 plus $6.80 shipping, per switch. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Thanks, Amex. But, Gee, no thanks. I think...

I recently had to change my American Express number. And then I had to cogitate and knock my head around to try to remember all the companies that needed my number, to could charge periodically. I missed at least one, and I was embarrassed when they called me.

A week later, I got an email from American Express. In it, they listed all the companies I had bought anything from with any regularity. Might I need to contact some of these, they asked, to update my Amex number?

They cast a wide net. I made only three purchases in the last eight years from one of the companies they suggested. Their "reminder" email is certainly a good idea, and I'm sure it helps many people.


There's a security issue here. Email is not particularly secure. I think it's possible that someone might be able to get access to the email that Amex sent me. But the purchases I made at the companies they listed were all very secure. Only those companies, Amex, and I, know where I made these repetitive purchases.

If someone gets a look at my buying history, I don't think it will cause a problem. I'm more than ready to admit, for example, that I buy the World's Softest Socks. But some people reasonably need to keep their purchase history secret, and Amex's helpful email, in my opinion, adds a tiny risk to lifting that secrecy. I don't think Amex should send emails like this, unless we ask for them. I would be happier if they had just sent me an email offering to send me this list of purchases. What do you think?

Shelby Lyman Column with a fascinating position:

I come to praise Shelby Lyman today. His Sunday column for September 9, 2012 features a position after black's 17th move in the game Victor Mikhalevski versus Robert Gardner, 2012.  (Click through here to find that position, or to play over the entire game. You may have to enable a plugin.)

The problem is easy to solve. What's interesting is the position. White's Queen, Rook and Knight are en prise, and so is black's Queen. What was black's last move that brought us to this position? And for that matter, what was White's 17th move? It's not easy to figure these out. (Hint: black's position was already desperate.)

Sadly, the problem has two (trivially different) solutions. This is a rare game in which no one resigned, and Gardner allowed Mikhalevski to checkmate him. The actual moves of the game are the other solution, not the one Lyman gives.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Another use for MLB.COM:

Major league baseball has a pretty cool website for following all of the major league baseball games. I use the iPad app, and I have discovered a pleasing use for it.

While each game is in progress, MLB saves short video clips of game highlights. Most of these, for me, are boring, unless I am rooting for the team involved. Who wants to watch yet another slugger hit a home run?

However, many of these video highlights are spectacular catches and amazing defensive plays. After the day's games are over, I like to go through the entire day's schedule, watching great defensive video clips on my full screen.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

My iPad, thanks to Vince Lombardi:

This is the sort of story one just shouldn't tell. It begs bad luck. But it's so interesting, I shall tell it to you anyway. Someday my iPad may slip out of my hands and crash to a smash on the floor. But that has never happened, and I owe my good fortune to the famous coach of the Green Bay Packer football team, Vince Lombardi. I shall explain.

In one of his team's great years, Green Bay had a rather young halfback who ran the ball well but tended to fumble it. I'll call him Fred. After yet another fumble in an early season game, it looked like Fred's goose was cooked. The reporters gathered round to get the juicy story after the Monday team meeting. Would Fred be benched? Fired?

Not at all. At the team meeting, Lombardi handed Fred a football. “Hold on to this,” he said. “All the time. When you're eating. When you're sleeping. When you walk around. Don't let go of this football, all week.”

The reporters enjoyed following Fred around. He clung to that football for dear life. And for the rest of the season, he rarely fumbled. Lombardi had found the cure.

When I got my iPad, the first thing that impressed me about it was how smooth and slip-slidey it felt. I had to learn to hold on to it! Remembering Lombardi and Fred, I resolved to carry my iPad a lot, and rarely let go of it, until it felt like an extension of my hands.

So far, so good.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

I like to read Neil Genzlinger:

I like to read Neil Genzlinger's columns in the New York Times. Currently he's a TV critic, but he writes well on many subjects, and some of his columns take a wild, original idea and spin it out delightfully. To whet your appetite, please check out his current column on DogTV. Genzlinger wondered how other species would react to this channel that's intended for dogs. Would they react differently? Read on to discover his findings.