Later On

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

Archive for January 5th, 2008

Another cheap but good Linux laptop

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Led to it by this story:

Taiwan’s Asustek — better known as ASUS — is one of the most interesting, innovative and fastest-growing companies in technology.

At its core, Asustek makes motherboards — more than any other company. Asustek motherboards are the heart of Sony’s PlayStation 2 consoles, Apple MacBooks, Alienware PCs, and some HP computers.

But that’s not why they’re hated. The source of ire is a tiny laptop called the ASUS Eee PC. This open, flexible, relatively powerful, and very small laptop is notable for one feature above all: Its price. The Eee PC can be had for as little as $299. (Go here to read the reviews — they’re all positive.)

Let’s take a moment to ponder how cheap that is. This full-featured laptop costs $69 less than the 16 GB Apple iPod Touch. It’s $100 less than an Amazon Kindle e-book reader. The most expensive configuration for the ASUS Eee PC on Amazon.com is $499.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 2:39 pm

One aspect of lengthy power outages

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I’m just back from Safeway. The fish, meat, and poultry section was totally empty: no cuts of meat, no prepackaged meat (bacon, sausage, and the like). All gone.

I was there to pick up my meds and didn’t think to check the frozen food section, but I imagine it was the same.

Hope they were able to get the meat to some charity before it went over.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Daily life

Useful guide to primaries

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Very nice Web app to help you find and track primaries.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 11:33 am

Posted in Election

Cool idea: no-scrape mixer blades

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You no longer have to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl: the mixer blade does it.

Stand mixers are great kitchen tools, especially if you frequently make large batches of recipes and can use the break from stirring cookie dough, kneading bread and other high-intensity mixing activities. Unfortunately, a stand mixer isn’t good at everything and there are two very similar places in which it fails to work perfectly. The first is in mixing very small batches, as the blades of the mixer often do not touch the bottom of the bowl. The second is in scraping down the sides of the bowl, largely also due to the mixer blade not coming in contact with the bowl. To ensure you get the best mix, you still need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you work.

While a few swipes with a spatula doesn’t take that much extra time, there is a gadget that can mix and scrape that would eliminate the need for this extra step. The SideSwipe mixer blade is similar to a standard blade, but has silicone wings bonded to its frame. These act as mini spatulas, extending down and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl without damaging it. It currently only fits some mixers, but the company is working on designs to fit more machines.

You can watch a video of the SideSwipe versus a standard blade here.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 11:29 am

View from traffic-cam in India

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life

Where Big Pharma spends it money

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Not on research—on marketing:

It’s okay for drug companies to spend oodles on advertising because they spend even more making sure their drugs are safe and effective, right? Not so much, according to a study in PLOS Medicine.

The study shatters the accepted myth that pharmaceutical companies spend more on research than on marketing. In reality, drug companies pour $57.5 billion into marketing, dwarfing the comparably paltry $31.5 billion devoted to research.

Billions of marketing dollars go toward television ads that implore us to “ask our doctor” about drugs we don’t need to treat ailments cultured by public relations firms. Yet even more money is spent convincing doctors to prescribe costly medicine—an astounding $61,000 in “promotion per physician.”

For the last 50 years, say the authors, there has been an ongoing debate as to which image of the drug industry is most accurate. The industry promotes a vision of itself, say the authors, as “research-driven, innovative, and life-saving,” but the industry’s critics contend that the drug industry is based on “market-driven profiteering.”The study confirms the more cynical view that drug companies are out to profit first, and save lives second. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We think there is something severely wrong with a system that emphasizes marketing over research. Profit is good, but profit at the expense of the public health is dangerous.Don’t be ashamed to ask your doctor if a drug company recently paid for any meals or ski trips. Instead of mentioning the latest drug splashed across the screen, ask how they would use their expansive medical knowledge to treat your condition. Ask how they would treat their child.

One interesting note:

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 10:43 am

Posted in Business, Medical

Comment on Kiseido Go Server

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It’s very difficult to get a game on KGS if you have a “?” rating. I was at 11 kyu, but then didn’t play for a long while, so that my account was deleted and I was back with a ? rating. Even though I said in my challenge that I was around 11 kyu, I got no takers—until this morning. And when I challenged others about my rank, they declined the challenge.

But finally a very nice 10-kyu (one kyu stronger than 11 kyu) accepted my invitation to a game, and we just finished playing. I did lose, but only by 2.5 points (taking the komi into account). Nice game and we were both happy—though I think both of us looked at several missed opportunities. Still, I now have a rank, though it still has a ? attached: “12k?”. So perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting games.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 10:37 am

Posted in Go

GOP: stifle the vote

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One of the GOP’s standard tricks:

Barack Obama’s winning coalition in Iowa drew on new voters, students, minorities and poor people, according to polls and other snapshots of Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses.

The new voters, particularly college students, defied former President Bill Clinton, his candidate wife Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen, all who decried their efforts to vote because, while legal, they apparently were not Iowan enough. Needless to say, these Obama supporters did not take heed.

But if Obama — or any Democrat — is going to repeat his higher-than-expected turnout in other states, their supporters may have to surmount significant new voting rights barriers as the campaign moves through the primaries and into the fall election.

That is because the new voters, young people, minorities and the poor who turned out for Obama in Iowa are the very voters targeted by numerous Republican-led “ballot security” laws that have been adopted across the country since 2004. While some of these laws have been overturned, they include tough new voter ID requirements, restrictions on registering voters and even penalties for helping people with absentee ballots.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in Election

Claude Thornhill, 1909-1965

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Claude Thornhill had a very fine orchestra/band, which recorded several standards—Polka Dots and Moonbeams leaps to mind. Thornhill was one of the founders of progressive jazz. Quite a few of his recordings are still available. Here’s the band with Maxine Sullivan singing, and Claude playing piano. Note the horns playing with the band.

And here’s an early recording—1935—with Thornhill playing piano (with Gene Gifford’s arrangement and group, so not what we now know as “Thornhill.”)

The group above does include Bunny Berrigan, who’s perhaps best known for his signature tune, where he plays trumpet and sings:

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Jazz, Music

Electronic voting machines

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The NY Times takes a look:

Jane Platten gestured, bleary-eyed, into the secure room filled with voting machines. It was 3 a.m. on Nov. 7, and she had been working for 22 hours straight. “I guess we’ve seen how technology can affect an election,” she said. The electronic voting machines in Cleveland were causing trouble again.

For a while, it had looked as if things would go smoothly for the Board of Elections office in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. About 200,000 voters had trooped out on the first Tuesday in November for the lightly attended local elections, tapping their choices onto the county’s 5,729 touch-screen voting machines. The elections staff had collected electronic copies of the votes on memory cards and taken them to the main office, where dozens of workers inside a secure, glass-encased room fed them into the “GEMS server,” a gleaming silver Dell desktop computer that tallies the votes.

Then at 10 p.m., the server suddenly froze up and stopped counting votes. Cuyahoga County technicians clustered around the computer, debating what to do. A young, business-suited employee from Diebold — the company that makes the voting machines used in Cuyahoga — peered into the screen and pecked at the keyboard. No one could figure out what was wrong. So, like anyone faced with a misbehaving computer, they simply turned it off and on again. Voilà: It started working — until an hour later, when it crashed a second time. Again, they rebooted. By the wee hours, the server mystery still hadn’t been solved.

Worse was yet to come. When the votes were finally tallied the next day, 10 races were so close that they needed to be recounted. But when Platten went to retrieve paper copies of each vote — generated by the Diebold machines as they worked — she discovered that so many printers had jammed that 20 percent of the machines involved in the recounted races lacked paper copies of some of the votes. They weren’t lost, technically speaking; Platten could hit “print” and a machine would generate a replacement copy. But she had no way of proving that these replacements were, indeed, what the voters had voted. She could only hope the machines had worked correctly.

As the primaries start in New Hampshire this week and roll on through the next few months, the erratic behavior of voting technology will once again find itself under a microscope. In the last three election cycles, touch-screen machines have become one of the most mysterious and divisive elements in modern electoral politics. Introduced after the 2000 hanging-chad debacle, the machines were originally intended to add clarity to election results. But in hundreds of instances, the result has been precisely the opposite: they fail unpredictably, and in extremely strange ways; voters report that their choices “flip” from one candidate to another before their eyes; machines crash or begin to count backward; votes simply vanish. (In the 80-person town of Waldenburg, Ark., touch-screen machines tallied zero votes for one mayoral candidate in 2006 — even though he’s pretty sure he voted for himself.) Most famously, in the November 2006 Congressional election in Sarasota, Fla., touch-screen machines recorded an 18,000-person “undervote” for a race decided by fewer than 400 votes.

The earliest critiques of digital voting booths came from the fringe — disgruntled citizens and scared-senseless computer geeks — but the fears have now risen to the highest levels of government. One by one, states are renouncing the use of touch-screen voting machines. California and Florida decided to get rid of their electronic voting machines last spring, and last month, Colorado decertified about half of its touch-screen devices. Also last month, Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio secretary of state, released a report in the wake of the Cuyahoga crashes arguing that touch-screens “may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process.” She was so worried she is now forcing Cuyahoga to scrap its touch-screen machines and go back to paper-based voting — before the Ohio primary, scheduled for March 4. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat of Florida, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, have even sponsored a bill that would ban the use of touch-screen machines across the country by 2012.

It’s difficult to say how often votes have genuinely gone astray. Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined voting-machine systems for more than 25 years, estimates that about 10 percent of the touch-screen machines “fail” in each election. “In general, those failures result in the loss of zero or one vote,” he told me. “But they’re very disturbing to the public.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 9:56 am

Posted in Election, Technology

Best choices for refillable water bottles

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Like you, I have quit buying water in disposable bottles. I have a Brita filter on the kitchen tap, so I can get high-quality, good-tasting water inexpensively, and I refill my water bottle. But which bottle to use?

I have the usual New Year’s resolutions — exercise more, lose weight, be a nicer person. I also hope to find out if I am inadvertently poisoning my children.

My fear has to do with reusing what are known as “single use” plastic water bottles, like Poland Spring. I buy them not because I distrust New York tap water, but because they are easy to carry around in the car and to various kids’ sporting events. And if one is lost, as it invariably is, no biggie.

We refill them with tap water and use them a number of times before recycling. I was, I sanctimoniously thought, doing my green part.

But by trying to save the earth, am I hurting my family’s health? I had heard it wasn’t a good idea to refill these single-use bottles because the plastic leaches dangerous chemicals. But is that enough of a risk to make me change my ways? What if I stop using plastic bottles and then drink less water? Is that a good trade-off?

It is the old conundrum about risk versus benefits.

Here is what I found out: most plastics are stamped with a number from 1 to 7 at the bottom — these numbers are used to indicate how to recycle or dispose of the plastic.

The type of plastic bottle that typically holds water, soda and juice is made from polyethylene terephthalate, a petroleum-based material also known as PET that is labeled No. 1.

The trouble with reusing those plastic bottles is that each time they are washed and refilled they become a little more scratched and crinkly, which can lead them to degrade. That can cause a trace metal called antimony to leach out, said Frederick S. vom Saal, a professor of biology at the University of Missouri who has studied plastics for years.

“We have to assume that along with that metal, others are almost certainly leaching out as well, but we don’t know what they are and we don’t know what to look for because manufacturers won’t tell us what else is in the bottles,” Professor vom Saal said.

One inaccuracy that I came across repeatedly is that a chemical called phthalates, which can interfere with male hormones, poses a danger from such water bottles.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting post on John Edwards

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Edwards is looking stronger, and this post makes an interesting point:

After my little donation [to the Edwards campaign—donate here — LG], this is the message I got:

Dear friend,

Thank you so much for your support. I never accept any money from lobbyists or PACs, so our victory depends on people like you pitching in. And that’s the way it should be. Your contribution will enable us to reach out to voters in living rooms, town halls, and on the airwaves. You’re helping us build support for transformational change in early primary states and across the country. Everywhere I travel, Americans are ready to join you and me in the great work ahead. To bring our message of real change to voters, we need offices in cities, organizers on the ground, and outreach materials to send in the mail. Yes, the work of a national campaign comes at a cost, but truly changing America offers a far greater reward.

Thank you again for making all of this possible.

Sincerely,
John Edwards

These lines in Edwards’ response:

“I never accept any money from lobbyists or PACs, so our victory depends on people like you pitching in. And that’s the way it should be.”

speak rarefied truth to power. That is way it should be, and how it really is for candidate Edwards, but not for Clinton and Obama who benefit nicely from corporations. Particularly from mainstream media who promote them. Were it not for countless broadcasts attracting money for their campaigns, the Iowa caucus could have gone to John Edwards – the underfunded fighter corporate media wants to silence.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 9:45 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

Will Blu-ray win?

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I’m a Blu-ray booster myself, so this augers well:

Warner Bros. had stood alone as the sole studio supporting both HD disc formats—until today. The studio gave Blu-ray a boost by deciding to release movies exclusively in that format, announcing that it would limit its HD releases to Blu-ray beginning later this year.

Calling the move a “response to consumer demand” necessary to avoid further confusion, Warner says that after May, it will no longer release HD DVD versions of its movies. “The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger,” said Warner Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer in a statement. “We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers.”

Warner’s move had been rumored for some time, so its decision doesn’t come as a complete surprise. With Warner now on board, Blu-ray now has six of the eight major US studios—Warner, Fox, Disney, Lion’s Gate, MGM, and Sony—in its camp. The other two, Paramount and Universal, are backing HD DVD.

Both Warner and Paramount had been the only studios to support both formats. This past August, Paramount decided to cast its lot with HD DVD, a move that dealt a blow to Blu-ray’s hope of staving off a protracted format war. Paramount reported received $150 million in “financial incentives” from HD DVD’s backers to switch, but the company also cited the format’s lower manufacturing costs, the inclusion of mandatory Managed Copy for backups, and Ethernet ports as reasons for switching.

Warner’s decision to cast its lot with Blu-ray is an unwelcome development for HD DVD. The studio is positioning its move as an attempt to put the brakes on the format war, which is one factor in the slow consumer uptake of HD optical players. “A two-format landscape has led to consumer confusion and indifference toward high definition, which has kept the technology from reaching mass adoption and becoming the important revenue stream that it can be for the industry,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. “Consumers have clearly chosen Blu-ray, and we believe that recognizing this preference is the right step in making this great home entertainment experience accessible to the widest possible audience.”

That’s not entirely accurate: consumers haven’t clearly chosen anything yet. But Warner’s decision to stop playing both sides of the fence will make the choice a bit more clear-cut for those in the market for an HD player.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Technology

Looking more closely at Huckabee

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A few of Huckabee’s positions and ideas are listed below. Not mentioned is one thing that somehow impressed me: he lied about having a degree. He mentioned in the debates that he was the only candidate with a degree in theology—but when the claim was checked, it turned out that he did not have such a degree. Lying about things like this are grounds for immediate dismissal, as any number of people have discovered, and it’s a very bad sign. But there’s more:

1. Huckabee Calls for the Quarantine of AIDS Victims
In 1992, then Senate candidate Huckabee advocated the isolation of AIDS patients. Labeling homosexuality “an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle” which could “pose a dangerous public health risk,” Huckabee called for draconian — and discriminatory — action:

“If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.

It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”

Despite the clear understanding of AIDS transmission that emerged years earlier (even an AIDS demagogue like Ronald Reagan spoke publicly about it in 1987), Huckabee still insists (wrongly) that “we didn’t know.”  And speaking to Fox News on Sunday, Huckabee refused to “recant” or “run from” his words in 1992.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 8:21 am

Posted in Election, GOP

What global warming takes from us

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Clive Thompson has an interesting point:

Australia is suffering through its worst dry spell in a millennium. The outback has turned into a dust bowl, crops are dying off at fantastic rates, cities are rationing water, coral reefs are dying, and the agricultural base is evaporating.

But what really intrigues Glenn Albrecht — a philosopher by training — is how his fellow Australians are reacting.

They’re getting sad.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 8:15 am

A very good point

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A NY Times editorial includes this excellent idea:

We hope both parties will wake up and end the undemocratic system in which the choice of a new president rests far too heavily on nonbinding votes in January by voters that don’t necessarily represent the rest of the country.

We don’t question the enthusiasm or the commitment of the people of Iowa and New Hampshire. But Iowa, where a huge turnout amounts to less than 10 percent of the population, is about 92 percent white, more rural and older than the rest of the nation. New Hampshire has a non-Hispanic white population of about 95 percent. Iowa’s Democrats are more liberal and more protectionist than the nation’s Democrats. Its Republicans are more conservative, and religiously driven, than the nation’s Republicans. And yet, The Boston Globe reported that Mr. Romney spent $7 million on ads in Iowa. That’s nearly $4 per registered voter.

We believe the time has long passed for both parties to not only break the Iowa-New Hampshire habit but also end the damaging race to be third, with states pushing their primaries closer and closer to New Year’s Day.

Instead, the country should adopt a more sensible and more representative system of regional primaries, in which states are divided into regional groups that vote on a designated day. The honor of going first would rotate year to year among the regions. That would give a far broader range of American voters a say in this vitally important choice.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 8:12 am

Posted in Election

Tabac happy

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Tabac shaving soap—and the estimable Simpsons Emperor 3 Super. I find that my preference for the Emperor 2 is still there, but smaller than I realized. The Emperor 3 is very pleasant to use.

I picked up the same razor (and blade) as yesterday: the Gillette Diplomat with the Treet Blue Special. Again, a lovely shave.

And the aftershave? Tabac, naturally.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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