Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 27th, 2010

Ooma fail

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Well, I got it and tried to get it set up. As with many things involving the Internet and routers, it quickly turned into a high-frustration effort. I did get things working briefly—the Ooma seemed to download its update and the center flower showed blue. But that was quite brief. I quickly found that my computer was disconnected from the Internet, the Ooma would not (after the initial blue center flower) settle down and work, and I could not get things going even with the help of my local ISP and two different Ooma reps.

One problem, of course, is that you’re trying to get help on the very device that is now your communication device. So when they said (as they did), “Unplug the Ooma,” then your connection is broken. Duh.

But apparently to fix it, they do need to power it off. Bad problem there. And, of course, unlike landline phones, if there’s a power outage, you have no communication (including no 911).

My frustration with the unit continued to mount (setup is NOT a “snap”, unless by “snap” they mean you reach your breaking point) until I decided to hell with it and to return it to Amazon (which sells it at a discount).

I did call Ooma to tell them I would not be using my account. Apparently, if you come to that decision, they definitely do not want you as a future customer: to reactivate the account will cost $80, so it’s a permanent break.

Interesting idea, and I hope that some other company will implement it successfully. My experience with the Ooma Telo was extremely negative, and that last promise of a $80 penalty for returning as a customer was the frosting on the cake.

“Avoid” is my thought.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Finding the right villain

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 1:56 pm

Jalapeño Bread and Butter Pickles

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I must make these:

jalapeno-bread-butter-pickles-a

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Tab Candy

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27 July 2010 at 1:36 pm

The story of a kitty

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Quite a life.

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27 July 2010 at 11:21 am

Posted in Cats

Who cheats more: bankers? or politicians?

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27 July 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Science, Video

What’s driving the deficit

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Very interesting article by Kathy Ruffing and James Horney at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Some critics continue to assert that President George W. Bush’s policies bear little responsibility for the deficits the nation faces over the coming decade — that, instead, the new policies of President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress are to blame. Most recently, a Heritage Foundation paper downplayed the role of Bush-era policies (for more on that paper, see p. 4). Nevertheless, the fact remains: Together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years (see Figure 1).

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The deficit for fiscal year 2009 was $1.4 trillion and, at nearly 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was the largest deficit relative to the size of the economy since the end of World War II. If current policies are continued without changes, deficits will likely approach those figures in 2010 and remain near $1 trillion a year for the next decade.

The events and policies that have pushed deficits to these high levels in the near term, however, were largely outside the new Administration’s control. If not for the tax cuts enacted during the presidency of George W. Bush that Congress did not pay for, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were initiated during that period, and the effects of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression (including the cost of steps necessary to combat it), we would not be facing these huge deficits in the near term.

While President Obama inherited a dismal fiscal legacy, that does not diminish his responsibility to propose policies to address our fiscal imbalance and put the weight of his office behind them. Although policymakers should not tighten fiscal policy in the near term while the economy remains fragile, they and the nation at large must come to grips with the nation’s long-term deficit problem. But we should not mistake the causes of our predicament.

Recession Caused Sharp Deterioration in Budget Outlook

Whoever won the presidency in 2008 was going to face a grim fiscal situation, a fact already well known as the presidential campaign got underway. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) presented a sobering outlook in its 2008 summer update,[1] and during the autumn, the news got relentlessly worse. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that became embroiled in the housing meltdown, failed in early September; two big financial firms — AIG and Lehman Brothers — collapsed soon thereafter; and others teetered. In December 2008, the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed that the nation was in recession and pegged the starting date as December 2007. By the time CBO issued its new projections on January 7, 2009 — two weeks before Inauguration Day — it had already put the 2009 deficit at well over $1 trillion.[2]

The recession battered the budget, driving down tax revenues and swelling outlays for unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other safety-net programs.[3] Using CBO’s August 2008 projections as a benchmark, we calculate that the changed economic outlook accounts for over $400 billion of the deficit each year in 2009 through 2011 and slightly smaller amounts in subsequent years. Those effects persist; even in 2018, the deterioration in the economy since the summer of 2008 will account for over $250 billion in added deficits, much of it in the form of additional debt-service costs…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 11:01 am

Cats on a leash

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Video proof that many cats enjoy walks on a leash. I do not believe that Megs is such a cat.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:58 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Strengthening terrorism, inciting hatred of the US

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It seems quite clear that the US itself is a major factor in increasing the number of terrorists. Take this story by David Fox for Reuters. How would you react if the civilian victims were from your own family or were your own children?

At least 45 civilians, many women and children, were killed in a rocket attack by the NATO-led foreign force in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province last week, a spokesman for the Afghan government said on Monday.

The incident happened in Helmand’s Sangin district on Friday when civilians crammed into a mud-built house to flee fighting between NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and Taliban insurgents, Siyamak Herawi told Reuters.

“The investigation shows that the rocket was fired by NATO and 45 civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed,” he said.

Reports of civilian deaths and casualties caused by foreign troops are a major cause of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers and have led to street protests.

An ISAF spokesman said the alliance had conducted operations against insurgents in the area on Friday and was investigating the reports of civilian deaths.

Confirmation of the incident by the government comes on a day when tens of thousands of classified U.S. documents published by the whistleblower group WikiLeaks cast a new light on civilians caught in what it called “the true nature of this war.”

The documents cover the period until U.S. President Barack Obama took office and adopted a new strategy that sought to reduce civilian deaths in conjunction with a troop surge to tackle the Taliban in their spiritual heartland.

ISAF casualties have soared this year but, after the new strategy’s architect, General Stanley McChrystal, was dismissed in an insubordination scandal last month, his successor said he would review some operational tactics — including air strikes on suspected Taliban hideouts.

In the worst incident of its kind, 140 civilians were killed in May last year in an ISAF air strike on a compound in Gerani, in western Farah province, among them 93 children and 25 women…

Continue reading.

And research has shown that people react exactly as you’d expect. Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

The Wikileaks disclosure of thousands of pages of military documents dealing with the war in Afghanistan today highlight, among other things, “how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents.”

This is a particularly important disclosure in light of a report released earlier this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). NBER’s report, titled “The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq,” studied the blowback among the population from civilian casualties caused by international forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It concludes that blowback is a considerable problem faced by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It finds “strong evidence for a revenge effect in that local exposure to ISAF generated civilian casualties drives increased insurgent violence over the long-run.” The BBC notes that NBER’s report finds that “in areas where two civilians were killed or injured by Nato…there were on average an extra six violent incidents between insurgents and US-led troops in the following six weeks“:

They say that in areas where two civilians were killed or injured by Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), there were on average an extra six violent incidents between insurgents and US-led troops in the following six weeks. The report concludes that civilian deaths frequently motivate villagers to join the ranks of insurgents.

“In Afghanistan, when Isaf units kill civilians, this increases the number of willing combatants, leading to an increase in insurgent attacks.” “Local exposure to violence from Isaf appears to be the primary driver of this effect.”

The report also notes that General Stanley McChrystal’s new rules of engagement that he imposed upon soldiers under his command in Afghanistan “led to a decline in attacks by insurgent fighters.” General David Petraeus, who has just taken command of American forces in Afghanistan, is currently reviewing McChrystal’s rules and is considering altering them.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:51 am

A prescient look at Israel, from at least 42 years ago

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Via Andrew Sullivan:

Unless Israel takes the initiative to achieve lasting peace, [I.F] Stone warned, there would be more wars or a spiraling weapons race in which Israel would become a besieged and paranoid armed camp… Israel "cannot remain a western outpost in an Afro-Asian world casting off western domination", he said. "No quickie military victories should blind it to the inescapable – in the long run it cannot defeat the Arabs. It must join them."

Saul Friedman, ‘Debate Divides U.S Jewry’, Los Angeles Times, January 14 1968.

Does anyone know the provenance and date of the I.F. Stone quotation?

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:47 am

The problem with having prisons run by business

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The problem is that you then get lobbyists working the legislature to make sure that more people are imprisoned: "three strikes" laws get passed, mandatory minimum sentences get passed, more crimes get upgraded to felonies (= prison time). We saw all this in California, and now the costs of all those prisons, plus the political clout of the prison guards, is contributing mightily to the bankrupting of the state. Now it’s starting to happen in Arizona. Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

This Thursday, SB-1070, Arizona’s radical new immigration law, will go into effect. Despite an incoming lawsuit from the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) has maintained that her state “will prevail,” claiming that she is simply defending the border integrity and safety of her state.

Yet a new investigation by local Arizona TV news station CBS 5 finds that the Brewer administration may have ulterior motives for its strong support of the new law. The station has found that “two of Brewer’s top advisers have connections” to private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Paul Senseman, Brewer’s deputy chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for CCA. His wife continues to lobby for the company. Meanwhile Chuck Coughlin, who leads her re-election campaign, chaired her transition into the governorship, and is one of the governor’s policy advisors, is president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, which lobbies for CCA.

This is important because CCA currently “holds the federal contract to house detainees in Arizona.” CBS 5 notes that the company currently bills $11 billion a month to the state of Arizona and that, if SB-1070 is successfully implemented, its profits would be significantly padded as it would take responsibility for imprisoning immigrants arrested by Arizona police.

The company maintains that it “unequivocally, did not at any time lobby — nor did we have any outside consultants lobby — anyone in Arizona on the immigration law,” but direct lobbying would not be necessary with allies like Senseman and Coughlin working directly for Brewer.

Coughlin, in particular, has a history of boasting about the influence he has had on the state government on behalf of private business. In an interview earlier this month, he bragged about privatizing the commercial garbage business in Mesa, Arizona, by coordinating with industry lobbyists. He told the interviewer, “I can make [expletive] happen.”

Perhaps even more alarmingly, he explained his influence over Brewer to the interviewer. Coughlin explained that when he worked for Gov. Fife Symington (R-AZ) as his chief lobbyist, he locked horns with Brewer, who was at the time the Senate majority whip. He explained that his lobbying was so effective that she now says, “I was scared of you guys” — and that he has run her campaigns ever since:

Q: You got to the Capitol not long after Jan Brewer. Have you known her since then?

COUGHLIN: We both have discussed that. We tried to remember when we first really met. We think we met — I’m fairly confident — when I worked for Grant and she was in the House. I was Grant’s lobbyist, because I left Bob’s (Bob Robb) firm and I went to work for Grant as his director of public affairs in ’91, after his election.

Where we really got to know each other well was years later when she was Senate majority whip and I was Fife’s chief lobbyist in ’95. She was the chief vote-counter in the Senate, and it was our job to get the governor’s agenda through, so I got to know her pretty well. Fife’s team had a fairly aggressive, robust reputation. She’ll say to this day, “I was scared of you guys,” that we’d come in and threaten her or something like that. I don’t recall that.

She called me after I left Fife’s employ in ‘96 and started a firm called Coughlin Communications. We changed that to HighGround about four months later when Wes (Gullett) joined me. She came to me after that session and told me she wanted to run for county supervisor. We’ve run all her campaigns ever since.

CBS 5 filed a video report on CCA’s ties to the Brewer administration. Watch it:

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:43 am

Insufficient punishment exemplified

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Ed Brayton:

You may remember Scott Bloch, who headed the Office of Special Counsel in the Bush administration. He’s the ideologue who was responsible for the letter being released that falsely accused the National Museum of Natural History of having violated Richard Sternberg’s rights without ever doing an investigation of the matter (indeed, the letter says that they could not do such an investigation, yet they reached a conclusion anyway based solely on his accusations).

He was also the guy who, when called before Congress to testify on his own illegal activities, had a private company come in and wipe his computer hard drive clean so no evidence could be gotten from it — and then charged the cost to his department for doing so. He pleaded guilty in April to criminal contempt of Congress — but he’s only going to get probation.

While the charge carries a sentence of up to six months in prison, prosecutors did not object to Bloch’s request for probation, noting that he has no criminal history and faces a likely sanction on his ability to practice law. Bloch works at the Tarone & McLaughlin firm in Washington.

But groups that advocate ethics in government say the single charge "understates the true scope and impact" of Bloch’s abuses.

Probation "would represent a miscarriage of justice," Debra Katz wrote in a sentencing statement for the judge. Katz represents the Government Accountability Project, which protects whistleblowers; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; the Project on Government Oversight; and several former employees of the Office of Special Counsel.

They’re right. This is exactly the problem, that time and time again those in positions of power are allowed to break the law with very little punishment. And by the way, it’s also long past time that the position of head of the OSC was filled. Since Bloch stepped down in 2008, no one has been named to fill it under either administration. The Shirley Sherrod is a perfect example of why that agency is necessary and important. It not only is supposed to police wrongdoing by government employees, it is supposed to police wrongdoing perpetrated on government employees by other government employees.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:39 am

What every American needs to know

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A guest post at The Best Defense by Blake Hall:

Every day is a national tragedy. This is not hyperbole. Eighteen veterans kill themselves every day, a figure that represents twenty percent of the suicides in this country, and veterans constitute twenty-three percent of this nation’s homeless population. Veterans represent nine percent of America’s population, so those numbers, to me, are staggering.

Last month, I sat down for dinner with my former battalion commander. I brought up these numbers and he responded with valid questions, "How much of that is self-selection? Were these vets already struggling with problems before the military? Were they already pre-disposed to engage in high-risk activity? How many of them fought in combat?" I noted that the figures don’t include the veterans who kill themselves with alcohol or who kill themselves on motorcycles or in single-car accidents, because those types of fatalities don’t fit into neatly quantifiable categories. But, ultimately, I do not have the academic knowledge or expertise to respond authoritatively to his queries. I can only comment on my former scouts and snipers, who call me from time to time, as they fight their demons.

I led twenty-four scouts and five snipers in Iraq from July 2006 to September 2007. Our mandate as a platoon was to kill/capture High Value Targets — typically Al-Qaida or Iranian backed militants. We were in some rough spots, and, as you can imagine, we saw some terrible things. It affected all of us. As the prophet Isaiah noted, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."

I’ve had two calls from my men in the last month and a half. One of them was from a sniper team leader I nominated for the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in combat. The other was from a sniper I consider one of the bravest men in my platoon. Both men told me they considered killing themselves either during deployment or when they returned home from war.

In Mosul, the sniper team leader, "David," rescued the crew of a Stryker Reconnaissance Vehicle taking heavy fire from three different directions. He exposed himself to that fire in order to secure a winch to the vehicle, which was in danger of rolling over into a draw. He saved the crew after he had emplaced and directed his sniper teams to engage insurgents firing four mortar tubes on a combat support hospital — an action senior commanders credit with saving twenty American lives, for ten coalition service members, some of them nurses, had already been critically wounded at the base from the mortar fire. And then he subdued an Al-Qaida militant in hand-to-hand combat inside of a building.

In Baghdad, another sniper, "Jonathan," was on the rooftop of a building with my company commander during a firefight. Afterwards, the company commander walked up to me with shaky legs and said, "Blake, your snipers are crazy. They were walking around on the roof, bullets everywhere, just pointing and shooting. I was huddled behind the wall taking cover. You might tell them to get down once in awhile."

Both men are brave. I want them by my side in a firefight — the highest compliment a soldier can give. So it breaks my heart when a soldier like Jonathan calls me and tells me that he wants to kill himself. Jonathan was brave in some of the scariest situations I can imagine, but it is the way that he is being treated now that he is back home that is breaking him down.

When Jonathan returned home from Iraq, he exhibited classic signs of PTSD, a term I hate, for PTSD is a disease that every veteran suffers from to some degree or another. He had trouble sleeping. He was nervous and hyper-alert in normal everyday situations. He couldn’t concentrate on a task for longer than a few minutes…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:37 am

Taxing the rich

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I’m all for the progressive income tax, with a top marginal tax rate of (say) 70% of all income over $1 million. But that’s me. Kevin Drum:

I may be more sympathetic to certain kinds of regulations than Matt Yglesias is, but I’m certainly open to higher taxes on the rich as well. Via Matt, then, here’s a Wall Street Journal chart showing exactly who would be affected by Obama’s tax plan (which allows Bush’s tax cuts on high earners to expire) vs. the Republican plan of extending the entire Bush package. Call me crazy, but after a decade of living large in ever more sumptuous beach houses and promoting policies that almost wrecked the economy, I think the folks earning a million bucks a year can probably afford to pay an extra 5% in taxes. Seemed to work OK in the 90s, anyway.

Blog_Taxes_Bush_Obama

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Clever logos

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:29 am

Posted in Daily life

Ruling Allows ‘Jailbreaking’ of iPhones

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Details.

UPDATE: Dan Colman of Open Culture has more info:

Today’s ruling is bound to get a lot of buzz, but probably for the wrong reasons. According to new rules set forth by The Library of Congress (which oversees the Copyright Office), iPhone owners can now legally “jailbreak” their device and download software that Apple/AT&T disapproves of. That will get the headlines. But we shouldn’t lose sight of this: This far-reaching ruling goes well beyond the iPhone itself and also allows (among other things) “college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism, commentary and noncommercial videos.” (The quoted material comes from the AP, not the ruling itself). In short, these new guidelines give consumers greater latitude to decide how they want to use computers, gadgets and media they’ve purchased.  And they clear up some legal murkiness that has surrounded these issues, particularly within universities, for some time. A good day for government … and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which pushed for these protections.

PS Does this still mean that Apple can void your warranty if you jailbreak your iPhone? I’m not sure whether that goes away or not…

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys

How we make choices

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

New Zealand rejects software patents

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Excellent news, IMHO. Patents are inappropriate for software, I believe. Venkatesh Hariharan reports for OpenSource.com:

Recently the NZ govt announced that it was to remove software from the list of items that can be patented. This decision came after hectic lobbying from the open source community on one side and the proprietary vendors on the other side.

For the past few months, the debate revolved around the section titled “Patentable Inventions” in the Patents Bill. Right off the bat, this section says, “We recommend amending clause 15 to include computer programs among inventions that may not be patented.” This obviously did not go too well with the pro-software patents lobby and open source supporters feared that this recommendation may be overturned. However, on 15th July, 2010, a New Zealand Government web site reported that Commerce Minister, Simon Power instructed the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) to develop guidelines to allow inventions that contain embedded software to be patented. "My decision follows a meeting with the chair of the Commerce Committee where it was agreed that a further amendment to the bill is neither necessary nor desirable," Mr. Power said.

As it stands today, the Patents Bill says, “We received many submissions concerning the patentability of computer programs. Under the Patents Act 1953 computer programs can be patented in New Zealand provided they produce a commercially useful effect.3 Open source, or free, software has grown in popularity since the 1980s. Protecting software by patenting is inconsistent with the open source model, and its proponents oppose it. A number of submitters argued that there is no “inventive step” in software development, as “new” software invariably builds on existing software. They felt that computer software should be excluded from patent protection as software patents can stifle innovation and competition, and can be granted for trivial or existing techniques. In general we accept this position.”

In updating its policy position, the New Zealand government acknowledged the growing importance of open source, and the logical reasons for excluding software from the list of patentable inventions. The Bill does make an exception for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:24 am

iPhone v. Android

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Interesting post by Carl Howe of the Yankee Group:

“There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics.” — Mark Twain

A number of reports over the weekend surfaced referencing a statistic from my latest report, “Why iPhones Matter“. An article in CNN Money was the first to start this meme, stating in his article that:

“The iPhone is also the gift that keeps on giving: 77% of iPhone owners say they’ll buy another iPhone, compared to 20% of Android customers who say they’ll buy another Android phone.

Now that would be an extraordinary statistic if it were true. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The following excerpt from the report correctly describes the data we collected. I’ve expanded slightly on the text to both be more precise (i.e., using numbers from the graphic instead of the more colloquial “more than three quarters” used in the original) and to provide context (i.e., providing information that is part of the overall research, but which isn’t strictly in this block of text I’m quoting). I’ve also included the graphic from the report along with this blog post so people can see the data for themselves.

  • iPhone owners intend to stick with Apple. Unsurprisingly, not only do 88 percent of iPhone owners intend to buy another smartphone, but 77 percent of iPhone owners intend to buy another Apple phone.
  • Significant numbers of non-iPhone owners intend to buy iPhones. A third of smartphone owners of all types who intend to buy a smartphone intend to buy an iPhone. In fact, Apple is the most popular choice for a future smartphone among all mobile phone owners.
  • No other manufacturer can claim nearly the loyalty of iPhone owners. RIM BlackBerry owners see a touch-screen device as the antithesis of their hard keyboards. However, even in this category, 23 percent of respondents plan to buy an Apple iPhone. We see similar results with all other mobile phone owners. In fact, 36 percent of Google-branded Android phone owners say they plan to buy an iPhone, surpassing the 32 percent of Google-branded phone owners who intend to buy another Android phone.

This is no knock on CNN Money; it’s hard to condense 3,500 words statistically describing iPhone owners and their behaviors into a paragraph. However, given how much play the statistic is getting, it seems like a good idea to set the record straight.

So what is the right statistic for Android owners? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys

The oil spill’s toxic trade-off

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2010 at 9:15 am

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