Tuesday, March 24, 2009

News Nits

"All the news that's fit to reprint."

It's been awhile for News Nits. If you have been following the news at all, then it's clear there are too many nits to pick since our last installment. So, let's keep this just to the main news items that might be slightly downplayed in our press.

It's been an exciting month with our long time friend, China. China is much bigger than us in people and much smarter than us in their patience. Why strike an enemy when they are strong? Well, things are starting to cook between us, and the U.S. has never been weaker than she is now.

For years, China has been buying up U.S. reserves and treasury bills. They are not alone, but they are doing it on an incredibly grand scale. Our currency and our T-bills are the foundation of our entire economy. As long as China plays by the rules of the international bankers, there should be no problems. But what if China says "screw the white devils" and starts to sell off all their U.S. reserves? This has been referred to as China's "nuclear option". Playing into this trap by borrowing more and more while exporting less and less while also importing more and more from China has been how the past several U.S. presidents have bought their way out of recessions. It's been a hot potato time bomb, and our current president is accelerating the process.

As our economy really started tanking and the new face in the White House did not magically improve the economy, some funny things started happening in close succession. This is important. First, some Chinese Navy ships started bumping butts with an unarmed U.S. Naval vessel in international waters. Keep in mind, China has 20-30 million surplus males in their 20s-30s who have no hope of getting married or becoming family men. These "bare branches" are mostly being absorbed into the military.

Then, a few days later, China's Premier, Wen Jiabao announced that he is concerned with the health of the U.S. economy and our ability to honor our nearly $2 trillion committment to the health of the Chinese economy. (That's right, every time we borrow more money to "stimulate" the U.S. economy, we are really stimulating the Chinese economy!)

Finally, just today, China has announced that it is time to remove the U.S. currency as the standard currency (or "vehicle currency") of the world. This is sort of like if a huge part of the U.S. suddenly rejected Mastercard, but we're Mastercard. This is not good. Putin has been beating the drums in the background as well and is no doubt joining China in this effort.

"I just want to remind you that, just a year ago, American delegates speaking from this rostrum emphasised the US economy's fundamental stability and its cloudless prospects... Today, investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist. In just twelve months, they have posted losses exceeding the profits they made in the last 25 years. This example alone reflects the real situation better than any criticism." -- Vladmir Putin, at the Davos meeting in Switzerland, 2009

If you don't think our system is broken, then you are not following the news. News Nits will not cover the AIG bonus scandal because it is so ridiculous, it is not worth reprinting. The bailout is ridiculous; the bonuses are ridiculous; the posturing of outrage by politicians is ridiculous; the half-assed attempt to tax the bonuses back is ridiculous; the coercion of getting bonuses back from 9 of the top 10 bonus "earners" is ridiculous. How these crooks get paid so much money and then get subsidized by our government (supposedly, sworn to represent the people, not some people) to run a company and a large part of the country into the ground when they should at least be going broke like the rest of us if not going to jail is beyond News Nits.

In other news, can you trust your doctor? In an interesting commentary, a recent article in Newsweek explains "Why Doctors Hate Science." Ms. Begley explains that local cultures dictate practice moreso than scientific standards.
Along these lines is a rapid increase in exposure to radiation that Americans have experienced from an increase in scans since 1980. It remains unclear how much local medical practice is affected by profits, patient ignornance, or inertia from old standards.

What happens when there are no more nukes to knock out of the sky with lasers? Easy, turn the lasers on mosquitos. What? Yup. Throw away that old bug zapper, using the same basic technology that was used for the missile shield, this laser kills mosquitos one by one from a hundred feet away.

Deborah Solomon conducted an interesting, albeit brief, interview with Zambia native Dambisa Moyo, who explains why massive foreign aid from the U.S. government causes far more problems than it solves. If you don't read his interview, be clear, he is not knocking active charities who are proactively helping real people solve problems, and connecting your bankbooks with them. He is knocking the phoniness of celebrities who care and the incredible harm that large governments do when dishing out "charity" through "proper channels."

I'm against picketing, but I don't know how to show it. -- Mitch Hedberg

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Browse

If you were viewing this blog in the mid 1990's you would most likely be trying to escape from your roommate shouting along with his 2-Pac cd, while he glares intensely at your Alicia Silverstone poster. All you wanna do is read about Law & Order on this futuristic "blog" thing. You can read about one line at a time as your Netscape Navigator browser and 14.4 baud modem slowly render the page.

If you were viewing this blog in the late 1990's you would most likely be trying to escape from your roommate who, every time you looked at him would yell "Waaaaazzzzzzzuuuuuuppp!!!" at you while he pumped "Who Let The Dogs Out!?!" on repeat. Unfortunately, your 56 K modem was still pretty slow, and Internet Explorer 4 crashed pretty frequently. And who were these crackpots talking about a black president, anyway?

Fortunately, the days of a single dominant browser are over. There is competition aplenty, and you can choose from several different applications to get your internet on.

Let's start with what is still the king. Internet Explorer comes pre-installed on Windows Operating Systems, and because a lot of users don't know that there are other options, it is still the most commonly used browser. In it's glory days, IE 6 was used in over 90% of all browser traffic, and did more than its part to spread viruses and trojans around the world. I'm sure IE 6 was a hacker's favorite browser.

IE 7 was introduced in the last 2 years, its selling point that it was more secure than v6 and offered multiple tabs per browser window, an obvious response to the popularity of that feature that Firefox had been providing for a while. IE 8 is still in beta testing, but boasts even better security than v7 and performance that is at least in the same conversation as high performing browsers.

The next most popular browser, and my favorite, is Mozilla Firefox. Firefox is fast, has a number of shortcuts, and best of all it's extendable. Firefox allows for a number of custom build add-ons to its browser, providing even greater functionality. My favorites:
  • Ad Block Plus: Too many ads on the page you're trying to read? Are the slowing down the rendering of the page? Ad Block Plus will detect ads and stop them from rendering.
  • Cooliris: This is an incredible cool way to search for images. I can't really describe it; you'll just have to check it out for yourself. But take the tour - it's great (especially with two-finger-scroll).
  • Foxmarks: Do you have more than one computer? Doesn't it get annoying managing different sets of bookmarks on each one? Foxmarks takes care of that for you by synching all your bookmarks. Just install Foxmarks on each computer you use, and it does the rest. Very useful.
  • Fire.fm: Puts a small bar at the top of the browser that lets you listen to your last.fm stations while you surf.
These are just a few; there are countless to choose from. I do want to note that these are applications that are written by Joe Developer. So there are security risks. I generally stick to the add-ons that are very highly rated and used by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.

If you own a Mac, you have Safari installed on your machine. Safari is a good browser. Secure, fast, and along with the Mac itself, it's slowly penetrating the market.

Opera is an interesting story. Strait out of Norway, the Opera browser has been around for over a decade. It is another good, fast browser. It has a small number of die-hard users, but has never gained traction in the mass market.

Lastly, there is Google Chrome. Only recently released, it boasts that it is the fastest browser yet. Speed, in all of these cases, is not determined by your connection speed (which for the most part is out of the browser's control), but the speed by which the content returned is rendered. As sites get more and more complex/fancy, the speed of a browser is actually pretty noticeable. If you want to test this, use different browsers to load a site like ESPN, which is a pretty busy site. A drawback to chrome (for the time being) is that it only runs on Windows. No Mac or Linux version yet, but they are in the works. Sign up here, if you want to be notified when it's available.

There are new beta versions of the browsers all the time, and with each new release comes the claim that "this browser is now the fastest." It's hard to keep up with all of it. From the news that I browse, I would venture that IE is the slowest and Chrome is the fastest. In fact, I saw an article today about a new beta version of Chrome that is 25% faster than the current release. That's fast.

While I use Firefox as my primary browser, I do use Opera and Safari for certain circumstances, such as maintaining multiple logins (if I want to log into a different Google id, for example, I do it in a different browser so I don't have to log out of my normal id in Firefox). Browsing privately is another reason to use multiple browsers. You can configure most browsers to disable cookies, javascript, plug-ins, etc. if you want to browse somewhere but want to make sure your identity is protected. Having a separate browser that is always configured like this is handy so you don't have to modify the settings of your normal browser.

I just learned that Chrome is supporting add-ons. Once they get a Mac version, it will be hard not to switch if the performance is still there...

Anyway, I hope you guys find this to be as exciting as Carlos Zambrano did when I sent him a rough draft for review. I'd be interested to know what browsers you use, what your experiences have been, and if you find info like this helpful.

And faithful reader Marty only uses browsers while in their Beta version, so he should be able to field any questions anyone has about those.

Oh yeah, and Happy St. Pat's to all my Irish friends!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cutting Cables and Breaking Dishes

Each month, I shell out $65 to Direct TV. I don't get HD, and I don't even get the movie channels anymore. There are some programs to which I am pretty devoted, but for the most part I don't care about 98% of what's on TV.

I am going to make it my mission to find a way to get the content I really want without going through satellite or cable, for less than either would charge. Here are my basic requirements:

Must be able to watch:
  • Cardinals Baseball
  • LOST
  • 30 Rock
  • The Office
  • Whatever the kids watch
Would be nice to watch:
  • ESPN
  • HBO content (not every show, but being able to watch content a la carte)
I know there are various ways that I can get all of this content. Some of it for free, some of it not for free. LOST, The Office and 30 Rock should be available in HD over-the-air. Most of the kids stuff we can probably get at the library. Cardinals Baseball may be a little tougher. I may have to buy it from mlb.tv, download it to the computer and watch it on our TV. Oh, and whatever the setup, I'll need to have something serving the purpose of a DVR. And to be able to watch it in the bedroom, basement, or living room would be ideal, although we may have to compromise on that.

I'm going to take a look at Hulu, Roku, YouTube, iTunes (and AppleTV), NetFlix, Amazon Unbox, etc. I may have to cobble this together somewhat, but if I can make a dent in that $65 / month, perhaps I can justify getting a nice HD TV.

Blogging this project gives me a chance to share it with you all, and hopefully learn some tips from you guys if you have already looked into these options. Anyone have anything to start off?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Around The Horn

"All the hits the Nits missed."

In science news, the magazine ScienceNews recently printed an article about the successful teleportation of matter. A qubit was transferred between two atoms. It is my believe that a qubit is something that is so small that you've never heard of it before. We still have a ways to go before we can beam Coovo around the universe, but it's a start.

"But what would be the point of beaming Coovo around the universe?" you ask with a condescending tone, "Earth is the only inhabitable planet anyway!"

Not so fast. At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in The Loop, astronomer Alan Boss recently posited that there is one earth-like planet for every solar system in the galaxy. There are about 1011 solar systems in our galaxy (the good ole' Milky Way), and 1011 galaxies in the universe. That's a lot of Earths.

How does he know this? He doesn't, of course. But the NASA's Kepler Mission launches on March 5, with the sole purpose to count the number of earth like planets in the Cygnus constellation. Now from my extensive research (the 90 seconds I spent reviewing the wikipedia entry) the Cygnus constellation has 6 known stars with planets. So I don't see exactly how this shows us that there is an earth in each of the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 solar systems out there... but perhaps I just need to do more reading on the Kepler Mission. I'll admit this isn't the most thorough research ever blogged.

I wonder how many other earths invented baseball...

It's March, and the players are back on the field. While there are many players out there with numbers like 86 and 72, it's still baseball. Youngsters get a chance to turn some heads. Veterans prove they have a little left in the tank. And everybody else gets to warm it up.

In the next month, the Cards have to find a second basemen, figure out who will man the hot corner until Glaus returns, find a reliever or relievers to close games, and probably most importantly, see if Chris Carpenter is really healthy.

I'm reading Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" right now. It's a good, easy read that I recommend to all of you. The perfect book to read before bed.