Periodically, various scary myths about credit cards begin to be circulated, and having seen this in a number of locations, I've decided to write a short article dispelling some of them. As an added benefit, this should also serve as a 'how to use credit cards without getting screwed.' As with many myths, the ones about credit cards do come from some true stories, but they're ones that are quite easy to avoid if you know what you're doing. Now you may say 'a debit card is better anyway, so why should I care?' I disagree, so a secondary focus of the article will be to explain why credit cards are preferable, in many cases, to debit cards.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Here is a really great story from kuro5hin.org about how to use a credit card responsibly. If you are getting your first card, or know someone who is, this should be an enlightening article.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Posted By Allen at 10:09 PM
I read Stephen King's The Dark Tower: A Concordance, Vol. 1 by Robin Furth when it was released a few weeks ago. Just tonight I got the chance to do a review for this excellent reference companion to the Dark Tower series. Here is a quote from the review:
You may have guessed from my earlier review of Stephen King's The Gunslinger that I'm a big fan of his Dark Tower series. The problem with the series is that there are several hundred characters, locations, languages, and other bits of information floating around in the four books that are already published.
Posted By Allen at 8:58 PM
In this article from The Hill.com we learn that a Republican representative from Indiana is trying to weigh in on a court ruling telling an Alabama judge that he can't put a monument to the 10 commandments in the rotunda of the courthouse.
An Indiana Republican's amendment to a pending spending bill could block federal marshals from enforcing a federal court order to remove a massive replica of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama State Judicial Building in Montgomery. Rep. John Hostettler's amendment to the Commerce, State and Justice spending bill adds another element to the religious wars that have broken out of late on Capitol Hill. In recent weeks, Republicans have accused Democrats of operating an anti-Catholic litmus test that prevents conservative Catholics who oppose abortion from being confirmed to the federal bench. Hostettler told The Hill: "It's plain clear that Congress can do this because according to Article 1, Section 8, and Article 3, given that we create [the courts], we also fund them. It's a very excellent civics lesson that once a federal court says something it is not law."It's also a great Civics lesson to look into the idea of checks and balances. It's even a better Civics lesson to look at first amendment of the US constitution, which says:
The establishment clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” Judge Ed Carnes, writing for a three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit, said that Supreme Court precedent held: “The establishment clause applies to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”I feel sorry for the people of Alabama who have to put up with this kind of behavior from their government officials. Moreover I feel sorry for the Buddhists, Hindus, and others who don't share the ten commandments as part of their religious faith. I feel sorry for them because when they go into the courthouse in Alabama they are told by their government that they do not have equal standing. They are not part of the community, and ultimately they won't receive justice under the law, but justice under a Christian God as interpreted by a man. According to the article:
During the trial, Moore testified that he intended to teach the citizens of Alabama that God’s law trumps laws ordained by men, such as the U.S. Constitution, if the two are seen to be in conflict.It's apparent to me that Moore feels that the people of Alabama can't get the religious instruction they need in church, and so he has been kind enough to bring it into the public courthouse as well. It's obvious that the United States celebrates our religious diversity. Given the fact that we pray in public schools, before public meetings, and sometimes before sporting events, it's obvious that we also need to have a religious icon in our courthouses. Because in America, there is great religious diversity, you can be any kind of Christian you want to be.
Posted By Allen at 11:10 AM
I'll be appearing on "Dr. Andy's Poetry and Technology Hour" this afternoon at 5:30pm Pacific Time. The station is KDVS 90.3 FM out of Davis, Ca. We'll be talking about this Blog among other things. If you listen in at 5:00pm you'll get to hear from former "Blue's Clues" host Steve Burns. There is a link on Dr. Andy's page to listen live over the net, and there is also a link on the KDVS home page to listen to the station over the net.
Posted By Allen at 9:09 AM
PointShot Wireless has announced that they are going to be providing a free trial run of 802.11 WiFi on ACE Commuter Trains in California. This is a great idea, especially in the first month when it's free. Unfortunatly after the trial the company plans on charging $30/month for the service. Ultimatly I think people won't use the service for that price. They would much rather revert to their old habits and read, sleep, or listen to music while onboard the train. As I've blogged about recently, I don't think it's a viable business model to sell WiFi service. It has to be provided to your customers as an enticement to use your service. ACE would do well here if they subsidised the cost of WiFi and provided it for free to all of their passengers on every train. This would have the effect of encouraging people to use the train instead of driving their cars to work. The increased ridership on ACE would pay for the service. Here is a quote from the press release:
ACE and Capitol Corridor will offer the service on one car in one train during the free, three-month trial period. If it works and commuters embrace PointShot, the operators will expand it to more cars and charge a fee. No one knows yet how much it will cost, but you can expect to pay at least $10 a month. The restaurants charge nearly that much for a day's use.
Posted By Allen at 7:57 AM
Here is an interesting article from Dave Farber's IP List detailing how Eliot Weinberger views the US Goverment. This article was originally published in "Vorwarts" in Germany on June 8.
In the Western democracies in the last fifty years, we have grown accustomed to governments whose policies on specific issues may be good or bad, but which essentially institute incremental changes to the status quo. The major exceptions have been Thatcher and Reagan, but even their programs of dismantling systems of social welfare seem, in retrospect, mild compared to what is happening in the United States under George Bush-- or more exactly, the ruling junta that tells Bush what to do and say. It is unquestionably the most radical government in modern American history, one whose ideology and actions have become so pervasive, and are so unquestionably mirrored by the mass media here, that the population seems to have forgotten what 'normal' is. George Bush is the first unelected President of the United States, installed by a right-wing Supreme Court in a kind of judicial coup d'etat. He is the first to actively subvert one of the pillars of American democracy: the separation of church and state. There are now daily prayer meetings and Bible study groups in every branch of the government, and religious organizations are being given funds to take over educational and welfare programs that have always been the domain of the state.
Posted By Allen at 7:43 AM
Here is a nice discussion on Slashdot where people are talking about HAM Radio during the blackout in the Northeast. HAM Radio is a great hobby, and even though many people say it's outdated and no longer useful, we get storied like this after every major event in the US.
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Posted By Allen at 11:29 AM
Wired has an article about Airgo's launch yesterday. Here is a quote from the article:
NEW YORK -- Airgo Networks, a secretive Silicon Valley startup composed of a superteam of wireless pioneers, on Monday said it will reveal plans for what analysts say could offer a revolution in wireless transmission quality. Airgo, of Palo Alto, California, will begin offering sample versions of its short-range radio antenna chips to equipment makers that promise to boost the speed, range and reliability of wireless devices indoors and between nearby buildings.
Posted By Allen at 11:24 AM
Futurismic has a piece about the Airgo Announcement yesterday. Here is a quote:
Airgo Networks has been generating a lot of buzz. They'll soon be offering wireless chipsets which, they claim, will significantly improve wireless speed, range and reliability. They'd probably be dismissed as vaporware, except that their team includes the people who hold most of the patents on 802.11 technology.
Monday, August 18, 2003
Posted By Allen at 12:21 PM
Here is a New York Times article on Airgo's launch. Start-Up Plans to Introduce Alternate Wi-Fi Technology Here is a quote from the article:
"Airgo's technology is just one example, industry executives said, of the continued emergence of new companies, undercutting recent fears that wireless technology innovation is slowing and is in danger of being dominated by a few large established concerns"
Here is an article from Gizmodo. Here is a quote from their story:
Most of us haven't even upgraded our wireless networks to 802.11g yet, and already someone's come out with another standard. Airgo hopes that it's new wireless data standard, which has double the speed (54Mbps vs. 108Mbps) and up to six times the range of 802.11a and 802.11g, will emerge as the successor to WiFi. There's one major downside though: it's not compatible with any of the current standards, something that has definitely given 802.11g (which is backwards compatible with 802.11b) a leg up over its main competition, 802.11a.
Posted By Allen at 10:02 AM
For the past year and a half I've been working at a start-up in Palo Alto called Airgo Networks. Today, Airgo made it's first announcements about what we are doing. You can see a piece in the Silicon Valley section of the San Jose Mercury News Here is a quote from the article:
Airgo, which has been in stealth mode for the past two years, is finally jumping into the fray of wireless-fidelity (WiFi) chip companies, a market bursting with competitors, deep in hype and hurting from price erosion. As the computing industry has embraced WiFi -- which accesses networks wirelessly from a notebook or PC -- giants such as Intel and Cisco Systems have also entered the market. ``There is so much noise in the wireless industry that we wanted to wait until we were ready,'' Raleigh said. ``We want to underpromise and overdeliver.'' Today, Airgo will begin shipping samples of its WiFi chip sets and cards to potential customers. Raleigh said the company has customers, but would not name them until the companies introduce their Airgo-based products. ``I think it is going to alter the landscape of 802.11,'' said Nick Sturiale, a partner at Sevin Rosen Funds in Palo Alto, an investor in Airgo. ``It will just work. You won't have problems with dead spots, getting connections. It will really make wireless performance more like wire-line performance.''You can also see the Airgo Press release here.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Posted By Allen at 9:42 PM
I just published a book review for one of my favorite books ever, The Gunslinger by Stephen King Here is a quote from the review:
"I first read Stephen King's The Gunslinger when I was in High School. I remember staying up all night to read it because I was enthralled. Several years later, I read the book again, and again I was enthralled. Last week I read the book again for the fourth or fifth time. The book keeps getting better."
Posted By Allen at 7:39 PM
The Neal Pollack Invasion has a piece about Fox News Suing Al Franken for using the term Fair and Balanced in his new book title. I, like many on the net, have reacted to this by incorporating the term Fair and Balanced into my tagline. Letter's from Exile is now tagged as "A Fair and Balanced Approach to Technology, Politics, Gadgets, and More". Take that Fox! I'm sure they are scared now.
"The Fox News Channel has sued political satirist Al Franken to stop him from using the words 'fair and balanced' in the title of his new book, scheduled to publish next month. The suit claims that the subtitle is 'likely to cause confusion among the public about whether Fox News has authorized or endorsed the book and about whether Franken is affiliated with FNC.' Good lord. Who among the five, possibly ten percent of the American people who could recognize Franken in a lineup would think that he's affiliated with the Fox News Channel? The man stands politically to the left of every major entertainment figure except Michael Moore and maybe Janeane Garofalo. "
Posted By Allen at 11:23 AM
Paul Boutin says in this Wired article that WiFi access really should be free, because it's too expensive to do the billing for it. In the article, he says:
"Sure, leasing a broadband connection with a Wi-Fi base is cheap. But add a billing system - secure login server, transactional database, credit card processing, tech staff, customer service operators standing by - and the outlay skyrockets to $30, $50, even $70 a day, particularly if there are lots of support calls. (Ironically, most of those calls will be about problems with the billing system itself.)"Personally I believe that he's right. There is no business in providing WiFi access. People don't have a need to get email from a coffee ship, they don't have a need to get information anytime and anyplace. Most people don't even check their email more than once a day. While there will eventually be applications to stimulate that need, they won't become real until after the network is in place. WiFi can bring more business into your shop. If people know it's there and it's free it gives you a competitive advantage over the shop that doesn't provide WiFi. Yes, you'll occasionally get someone who comes in only for the WiFi, but then you have an opportunity to sell to that person, where you didn't have the opportunity to do so before. With coffee shops and the like, you can make up the cost of installing WiFi without the billing system by selling two extra coffee drinks a day. I believe that WiFi is like air conditioning. Although I haven't researched this, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that at one time it cost extra to eat in an air conditioned restaurant, or sleep in an air conditioned hotel room. Then as competitors started providing air conditioning in their restaurants and shops it became mandatory. Today, in the US it is unheard of for a shop to not have air conditioning. It's a cost of doing business. Yes, some people come into the shop just to escape the heat, just like some will come in to get the free WiFi. The thing to remember is that regardless of why people come into your business, once they are there you have the opportunity to sell to them. If they don't buy, it's not because they just wanted the WiFi, it's because you didn't provide a good or service that was compelling to that customer. I think WiFi should be like air conditioning, or lighting. Eventually everyone will have it, and those who get it early have the opportunity to grow their market share over their competitors who don't.
Posted By Allen at 10:13 AM
The New York Times has done an article about a court case where a woman who paid no income tax over the last few years has been aquitted on charges of tax evasion. I saw this story reported a few days ago in lesser known news sources, here and here, but I wanted to wait until a newspaper I had heard of had also covered the case.
"A federal jury in Memphis has acquitted a FedEx pilot on six counts of tax evasion after she testified that she wrote letters asking the Internal Revenue Service what law required her to pay taxes but never received a response. The verdict, reached on Friday, brings into question the I.R.S. practice of ignoring such questions, which it regards as frivolous because the first words of the Internal Revenue Code are 'a tax is hereby imposed.' The pilot, Vernice Kuglin, 58, filed a withholding statement on Dec. 30, 1995, directing that no taxes be withheld from her pay. From 1996 through 2001 she earned $920,000 as a pilot for FedEx, but no taxes were withheld, she said yesterday. Normal withholding for the period would have been about $250,000."
Posted By Allen at 10:07 AM
I saw this on a mailing list the other day. I can't verify if it is actually a Leno quote or not, but either way it's pretty funny.
TV comedian Jay Leno made this comment August 4, regarding the effort now underway to write a constitution for Iraq: "Hey, why don't we send them ours? It worked well for us for over two hundred years . . . and we're not using it anymore . . "
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Posted By Allen at 9:06 AM
eGuidesToGo is a site that puts together guides for Walt Disney World in Palm and PocketPC format. They have a condensed guide to the parks, a guide to live entertainment, and menus from park eateries. All of this stuff is in a format that you can download and store on your palm or pockePC. I've used several different travel references with my Palm, and I've been very impressed with this aspect of the device. On my last trip to Europe, Jenna and I used a palm-based guide for most of our travel, and it worked out great.
Monday, August 11, 2003
Posted By Allen at 12:07 PM
This new software called Phone Front seems to do what Salling Clicker does for the MAC. Basically it let's you control your M$ Windows PC from a Bluetooth enabled phone. I don't have a PC with a bluetooth adapter, so I can't say how well it works. Phone Front includes scripts to control MS Media Player 9, Power Point XP, and other general features of your PC.
Posted By Allen at 9:50 AM
Seen.org has an interesting article where authors Steve Kretzmann and Jim Vallette discuss the ramifications of Executive Order 13303, which seems to give Oil Companies extreme leeway in their actions and practices in Iraq. Here is a quote from the article:
"For the Bush/Cheney administration and their allies in the oil industry, this was not enough. Hours after the UN endorsed US control of the 'Development Fund' for Iraq, Bush signed an executive order that was spun as implementing Resolution 1483, but in reality, went much further towards attracting investment and minimizing risk for US corporations in Iraq. Executive Order 13303 decrees that 'any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void', with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq and 'all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein.' In other words, if ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco touch Iraqi oil, it will be immune from legal proceedings in the US. Anything that could go, and elsewhere has gone, awry with U.S. corporate oil operations will be immune to judgment: a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The President, with a stroke of the pen, signed away the rights of Saddam's victims, creditors and of the next true Iraqi government to be compensated through legal action. Bush's order unilaterally declares Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of U.S. corporations. "
Posted By Allen at 9:39 AM
Annalee Newitz doesn't like paying for copyrighted works. She has written an opinion piece called Why I Infringe to explain it to the rest of us. Her basic argument is summed up in the following paragraph:
"I only steal from the rich. Once I copied a Mountain Goats CD, because I loved it so much and couldn't find it anywhere. As soon as I did, I bought that CD and about five more by the same band. That was a situation where I was sure the artist, who works through an independent label, would actually get my money. I don't have that same feeling about creators whose work is owned by giant media conglomerates. And frankly, I really don't care if Danny Elfman never sees the money he might have made if I hadn't copied that Oingo Boingo CD. He's rich enough as it is. "The problem with this kind of argument is that it just doesn't go along with reality. First of all lets look at how a CD or Movie or TV show get's to your house. 1. The artist comes up with something that he thinks he can sell. 2. The artist then sells the rights to distribute that work from step 1 to a distribution company (like a record label). 3. That distribution company makes a CD, and ships them through their distribution chain. 4. You buy the CD and take it home. Now, the artist and the label are responsible for the deal in step 2 and it has no bearing at all on whether I want to buy a CD or not. So the amount of money a person has may or may not be related to how much they get when a CD is sold. If the label has a better position in step 2 the label gets more money in step 4, if the artist is a big star they get more money. The basic point here is that the artist has sold the right to sell this work to a company who is making the CD. That may be an independent label or a big music conglomerate. It doesn't matter because when I buy the CD, that is the company I'm buying the CD from. It's very rare that an artist will produce the CD himself, and then sell it directly himself. That is usually only the case with really small bands, and ironically with mega-bands. This isn't the first time I've seen this statement. I had a conversation that went along similar lines with a coworker the other day. In her case, she said that the big bands already had enough money. I just don't get this. Isn't it a cornerstone of the American dream to make enough money to be rich? Since when did we put it in the constitution the phrase that the people would decide how much money a person should have? UPDATE: There has been some more discussion of this article on Politech, here is the posting with the original article, here is a posting with several responses to the article, and here is a posting with the authos rebuttal
Posted By Allen at 9:37 AM
Techdirt has an interesting article and discussion about how people are being strong armed by Cisco into buying support and IOS for equipment they bought on Ebay. This sounds to me like the tactics IBM was using back when they were in a similar position with mainframes. The techdirt piece links to this article on infoworld, which is also discussing this issue. Here is a quote from the techdirt article:
Just a sad reminder that, thanks to ridiculous software licensing practices, if you buy used equipment on eBay, you might not be able to use it. In fact, if it's from some companies like Cisco, you might want to make sure you hide it from anyone who works there. People who have bought used equipment, and then had the original company find out about it are discovering that the company is saying their software license is not valid and they need to buy a new one - even though the equipment was already paid for by the original owner.Here is a quote from the original infoworld article:
“We encountered this fate with Cisco last year when we bought out the equipment of a [failed] dot-com,” said one IT manager who asked not to be named. “When we tried to get the used Cisco equipment relicensed, we found it would cost us as much as if we bought the equipment new.”
Thursday, August 7, 2003
Posted By Allen at 11:43 AM
Reiter has posted an article today which discusses the fact that Dartmouth College has decided to stop charging students, faculty, and staff for long distance telephone service. One very interesting point from Reiter's article:
The article reports, "The school was spending $245,000 a year to market, track and bill students' long-distance charges, even though its total telecommunications usage bill last year was only about $140,000. Phone service, like heat and water, is now covered by the university's building budget.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Fly right or don't fly at all is what the US Government is saying to people these days. According to this article in the Independent the TSA maintains a list of people who deserve "special scrutiny" when they fly. This isn't the no-fly list that we've all heard so much about. This one seems more political in nature. Here is a quote from the article:
"The strong suspicion of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing the government to try to learn more, is that the second list has been used to target political activists who challenge the government in entirely legal ways. The TSA acknowledged the existence of the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act request concerning two anti-war activists from San Francisco who were stopped and briefly detained at the airport last autumn and told they were on an FBI no-fly list."
Tuesday, August 5, 2003
Posted By Allen at 9:48 AM
CNET is reporting in this article that a couple of security experts have created a robot that will wander around a facility looking for open WiFi networks. Here is a quote from the article:
"LAS VEGAS--A strange two-wheeled creature was skimming through the halls of the Alexis Park Hotel on Sunday--a robot that sniffs out network vulnerabilities. Created by two members of a loose association of security experts called the Shmoo Group, the robot is designed to wheel around on its own detecting and reporting the security problems of Wi-Fi wireless networks. 'The point of the hacker robot is that it can become an autonomous hacker droid,' said Paul Holman, the robot's co-designer, who demonstrated it for the first time at the DefCon hacker convention here. 'It can get in close to the network. On the offensive side, it can be used for corporate or political espionage. On the defensive side, it can be used for network vulnerability assessment.'"
Posted By Allen at 9:45 AM
According to this PCWorld.com article semiconductor sales were up in June. I know that I've been seeing more and more VC funding in the Silicon Valley, maybe the long drought is finally coming to an end? Let's just hope that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past with another tech bubble.
Monday, August 4, 2003
Space.com got a chance to send someone to see the new Mission: SPACE ride at DisneyWorld's EPCOT center. This is what he had to say:
"However, what makes Epcot's Mission: SPACE centrifuge truly unique is that it's not like a carnival ride version of a centrifuge -- such as the Gravitron -- where you're 'simply strapped in' and whirled around for a few moments in the open air. Instead, you and three others ride inside what amounts to a full flight simulator -- Disney calls them capsules -- complete with individual monitors, control sticks to move and buttons to push. 'We've taken that centrifuge technology and modified it, if you will, for an entertainment attraction. We've added layers of audio, video, lighting and special effects to create sort of an immersive experience that helps support and tell our story,' said Mike Lentz, the Disney Imagineer who served as executive director for Mission: SPACE."
Posted By Allen at 7:52 AM
Boing Boing, this morning, has an link to an interesting story in Nature. This story reports that kind people are more likely to "catch" a yawn from someone else. Here is a quote from the story:
Those impervious to the infection also struggle to put themselves in other people's shoes, psychological tests showed. For example, they might be less likely to recognize that a social faux pas or insult could cause someone else offence. Identifying with another's state of mind while they yawn may trigger an unconscious impersonation, the team suggests. The findings might also explain why schizophrenics, who have particular difficulty in doing this, rarely catch yawns.