Saturday, July 29, 2006

Get Out of Hell Free

If you've never heard of or its sister publication,, you should check them out. Written by Randy Cassingham, these weekly (more or less) online/email newsletters have subscribers from every part of the world, and always give me a chuckle.

One of the down sides of writing such a column all the time, of course, is that people are forever telling you that you're going to Hell for speaking against their particular point of view. So many, in fact, told Randy that he was going to Hell that he decided to do something about it - he started printing 'Get Out of Hell Free' cards. And the big news this week is that he's sold over a million of them, and released a special lenticular (ie it appears to move when tilted) version.

"To be sure, there is a message" behind the strong sales of the card, says Randy. "A message and a social phenomenon. It's a story of the rejection of religious intolerance, a statement of 'I can think for myself, thank you'."

The card was created after an online reader told Randy he was going to go to hell for writing an 87-word story about "feng shui" -- the Chinese art of "placement" to create "energy and harmony". The reader condemned him to Hell because, she said, feng shui is "anti-Christian". When Randy told the reader a Methodist minister was OK with the story, she condemned him to Hell too. "I figured that if she had the power to condemn me to hell with the snap of her mind," Randy said, "I should have the power to counteract her." He created the "Get Out of Hell Free" card on his computer, had them printed, and offered them to the readers of his online newsletter for $1 for 10 cards -- the cost of printing, packing and postage. "Dollar bills started streaming in immediately," he said. It was Spring 2000, and he didn't even have an online shopping cart. "The orders came in by mail," Randy says. "The first 2,000 cards lasted three days."

And the orders have never stopped. Randy now has 20,000 cards printed at a time, which last just four to six weeks. The people who buy the cards don't usually use them to counter religious prostilitizers, he says. Mostly, they're given to others to help cheer them up. "The store clerk who just dealt with a screaming customer," he says. "The waitress whose customer is never satisfied. The fellow employee who needs the message, 'I have to deal with our idiot boss too.'" He notes that several customers have stapled a card to their letters of resignation when they quit their jobs.

The cards are even popular with the clergy. "Two priests posted to the Vatican have the cards -- that I know of," Randy said. "One even admits to wearing a GOOHF t-shirt under his cassock." Several ministers have ordered thousands of cards, presumably to pass out to their congregations as a way to spark discussion.

Be sure to check out the fourth link below for a flash-driven look at the lenticular card - it looks great.

This is True
The Stella Awards
Get Out of Hell Free site
A million cards sold - and a special commemorative lenticular version

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nerd Time

Just in case any of you gentle readers out there were getting the impression from my writings that I was witty, charming, and not in any way a nerd/geek, I present for your internetional entertainment... a graph of the number of visitors for my first 6 weeks on blogspot! Yes, this is sure to excite you one and all, and is presented for posterity and because it is an important educational resource for the information-starved millions, and not because I couldn't be bothered to write a proper blog entry for today, ok?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Laws and Copy Rights

Everything you do these days is covered by more laws than you could ever know. The chances are that you break one or two (or ten!) every day without even knowing it. The internet started out as a nice friendly, and above all, unrestricted medium of information exchange, but that's fast becoming a thing of the past. I think that 99% of net denizens would agree with me that some control of the net is a good thing to stop sicko porn, stalkers on chat sites, etc, but lately there have been debates over net neutrality, Napster and other file and music services get closed down on a regular basis, China and other countries censor the internet for their own citizens... and the paper-pushers are only just getting started! You think the internet is over-regulated NOW? The bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers and power-trippers have only just discovered the internet. In the last few weeks, Ted Stevens, the Republican fossil who is in charge of regulating it described the internet as 'a series of tubes', and said that his secretary 'sent him an internet' that took a couple of days to get to him because three or four movies were playing on the internet which slowed it down for everyone! This is a man who is possibly more powerful than the President, given he has effective control over the biggest, fastest and most pervasive personal interaction network in world history. Ted Stevens could just be the 'Most Important Man in the World', doesn't know the difference between an email and a worldwide network of computers, and has the power to make laws regarding them both.

On the other side of the coin, perhaps all the legislating in the world is absolutely useless if the power to enforce it isn't there. Sure, you can pass a law saying that all websites about green silly putty are illegal, you can log the IP addresses of people who use them on a regular basis, but if that person lives half a world away and the local gestapo aren't interested in your nicely-worded request for inter-agency cooperation, what can you do?

And the whole thing could just be a no-brainer anyway. Sure you keep running into copyright notices everywhere on the web just as in real life, and even copying a nice picture from Google Image Search is claimed to be a violation of that all-encompassing Copyright Law. But have you ever bothered to actually read it? I checked the US Copyright Act this week and found what could possibly be the biggest shakeup in the entire copyright issue ever - people, prepare to have your entire world turned upside-down and I'm not kidding! You be the judge!

The US Copyright Act, Section 102a1, defines all those things which are covered by copyright, and says:

Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

I draw The People's attention to the words 'tangible medium'. The internet is not a tangible medium. Tangible means you can touch it, it is a firm, definite, physical thing. To say that the computers which hold the data which makes up the internet are the tangible part of it is like saying the words of a book aren't the things protected by copyright, its the binding, paper and glue which make the book up which are covered. Anyone who has ever been threatened with copyright violation take note, and spread the word. The US Copyright Act does not cover the internet.

The US Copyright Act

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What a Downer

Yesterday I came across a website which lets you upload a photo or image, and then produces a 'Wanted' poster with the name and crime you specified. Lots of fun for everyone!

Wanted Poster Generator

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


A week or so ago,dirtyfratboy posted a link on to 'An Interesting Map of Myths and Fairies'. This is a wonderful map designed by Julian Hector and inspired by Jaro Hess and his classic 'Land of Make Believe' picture. The digg article links to a Zoomify viewer which only allows you to see a small portion of the map at a time, so I've assembled a full-size version - just click on the picture above to see it (slow connection warning: 1.8 meg). Apologies for the watermark, but I'm assuming the reason Julian had the map display in a viewer was so that people don't rip off his hard work on this beautiful piece of artwork, and thus I'm also protecting that work, just in a different way. Overall, though, I think being able to see the whole thing, even with the watermark, is better than looking at it section by section, and hope you like it too. And no, I won't email you the unwatermarked file, so don't bother asking.
Julian Hector's original map original post and comments

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Land Rover Experience

My brother had the misfortune to draw the short straw today and took some visitors to the state to the Launceston Airport, normally a two hour drive, in a borrowed Land Rover. Not, I hasten to add, one of those old clunkers with the canvas top and spare tyre mounted on the bonnet; this was a modern Land Rover, two to three years old, but so gutless he may as well have driven a bus.

Lyndon is taller than average, but not Guinness Book of Records tall. The first thing he noticed when he got in was that he couldn't see the instrument panel. The airbag and mouldings around it are done so cleverly, he could only see the extreme top and extreme bottom of the instruments. No problem, lower the steering a bit. That meant that now he kept hitting his knees on the steering wheel. Some cars have a sort of hump under the driver's control area where the transmission goes through, which takes a little bit of space away from inside the cab, but in the case of this Land Rover its more like they just decided no-one ever uses that space, so why have it at all? The feeling is something like sitting on the floor of the car to drive it. So, with sore knees already, he raised the steering column all the way to the top, which was less painful although it did block out any view of the instruments at all. And just for safety's sake, the accelerator pedal is attached at the top, not the bottom, so his foot throughout the journey kept slipping off and being trapped under the pedal. The seats are uncomfortable and narrow, and the correct position for the right knee, apparently, is jammed up against the door handle so you get that sore knee you were trying to avoid another way. In Lyndon's own words, "the internal layout of the vehicle is just stupid". Sitting in the driver's seat, he looked through the top 10 cm of the windscreen, the bit that the wipers miss because they're too short, and the bit that is obscured when he tried to keep the sun out of his eyes by putting the visor down. That's right, in modern Land Rovers the visor isn't a sun-shade but a privacy protector. Too bad you can't see the road but at least when you hit something, no-one will know who you are until the ambulance arrives.

Checking the mirrors was a bit pointless. Although motorised, the passenger-side one couldn't be aimed anywhere near the road behind the car; the best it could do was show him what was interesting about that barn he just passed, in the second paddock away from the road. The centre mirror wasn't much more better, showing as it does the back seat centre headrest.

This is a vehicle with a lot of gadgets and buttons. For example, there is the radio, which requires a code to be entered to use it. Its unlikely that anyone in the rear seat could reach the radio, and one would presume if the passenger tried to change your station you could slap his hand away. But still, the code makes double sure. The passenger isn't likely to fiddle with the radio anyway, though, because he is sitting in comfort with his own separate temperature and air conditioning controls. So if he's comfortable at 30° and the driver at 10°, no worries, each to his own and obviously each air molecule will stay on its own side of the car. The aircon controls are easy to find, glowing, like so many of the controls, like a radioactive isotope on heat. Pity the clock has no backlighting at all, since its used far more often.

As for the ride itself, it was apparently a joy, if you count taking over a minute to go from zero to 60 kmph joyful. The engine and the road ride were both noisy, the indicators are on the left and the light switches on the right, which is normal for right-hand-drive cars but this isn't one. Once engaged, the cruise control speed can't be changed unless it is cancelled first, which caused the car to lurch even when he was doing the set speed when he disengaged it. Envision this: you are cruising on the highway at 110 kmph with cruise control on, you know this because you are psychic not because you can see the speedometer, because you can't. You come to a town with a 60 kmph limit. Even though you are doing 110 kmph, you have to cancel it with a lurch, pull your foot out from under the accelerator where its slipped again, maneuver your leg into a position where the knee is jammed into the steering wheel so the foot can reach the brake pedal, reduce the car's speed to 60, and re-engage the cruise control at the new setting while trying to stop the passenger hacking the radio code. The sun hits you in the eye, so you instinctively reach for the visor - and the next thing you know, they're trying to get you out of the vehicle with the Jaws of Life.

You shout "Nick off, I haven't had an accident, I just pulled in here to get some petrol!"
"But aren't you horribly wedged in there?" they ask.
"Yes," you reply, "but that's just the way she's built."

Prince Rescued

I love 'human interest' stories in the News. The media, who at the best of times are heartless and sarcastic, attempt to delve deep into the dregs of their world-weary lost humanity and remember what it was to actually care about something. The result is usually a piece of over-emotional tripe written by someone who just wants to drive into town, jot down the facts, then head back to an air-conditioned bar and count the dollers the story will bring him.

Today on Google News, the story Army rescues 6-year-old from borewell caught my attention, and call me heartless as well if you like, but the story as printed made me laugh more than cry. Here's is the story, with my wry interjections:

Sunday, July 23, 2006 (Kurukshetra)

A six-year-old boy, trapped for 50 hours in a borewell in Kurukshetra, has been rescued by the Army personnel (it seems the Army often does stuff like this, don't they ever go out and kill people any more?). The boy, Prince (that explains why he hasn't released any albums lately), slipped into the well on Friday while playing near it (his mum was obviously doing a good job of looking after him).

A fire brigade team from Mumbai had also headed to join the rescue effort (not likely the water bore will catch on fire, but you never know...)

Meanwhile, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has announced a grant of Rs 2 lakh for Prince (so now Prince and all his friends have learned that if you jump into a borehole, the government will reward you with a small fortune). The Prime Minister has also offered full medical care for the six-year-old (but perhaps he should forget about that and leave it to qualified doctors instead).

The Haryana government has also announced Rs 51,000 for rescue team (thus also teaching the rescuers that if they throw kids into boreholes the government will reward them with lots of money. And of course next time, instead of 100 people crowding around getting in each other's way, there'll be 500 waiting for their cut of the action).

During his two-day ordeal, he was found to be stable on CCTV images (I really think this reality TV business has gone too far - perhaps he's only out of the borehole now because he evicted himself). In the morning, he was given tea and biscuits and oxygen was pumped into the borewell (no wonder they took so long to get him out, he had to set the table and find the tea-cosy first).

"My daughter Payal came to me (I know lots of women in the third-world sell their bodies but calling your daughter... oh, there's a 'P' missing, my mistake). Being a toddler, all she could say was Baba (his name is Prince Baba!? Ali, where are you?) has fallen in the nallah. I rushed to the site after I heard this (in other words, she wasn't only not watching him, she was miles away at home). I checked the nallah but Prince wasn't there," said Prince's mother (yes he was there, you just thought he wasn't, just like you thought he'd be safe playing on the edge of a 50 foot shaft).

"However, the children insisted that he had fallen there. So, I called out for him (she's a genius, this woman, I'd have never thought of calling out to him the moment I arrived, let alone 10 minutes later) and he replied"('Mummy, I have to go pee-pee, do you think everyone in the village that relies on this well for their very life would mind?'). "Now I was convinced he was there (because she heard him reply from down the shaft, she was convinced he was there!? What does this woman use for logic?). I couldn't do anything to rescue him but fellow villagers did try and help," she added (this is in addition to the Army, the Fire Brigade and the Prime Minister, of course). Since 3 pm (IST) Saturday, servicemen from the 66 Engineers regiment of Ambala Cantonment worked tirelessly on the rescue tunnel (the hole was obviously big enough for him to slip down it, why not bring him back up the same one?) Rain hampered work briefly ('Mum, I'm really trying hard to hold it in but its not gonna work if you don't stop that rain from hitting me!'), but rescuers were emotionally involved in the effort (they were emotionally involved with him? No wonder he was trying to hide down a hole!).

Two crane operators had also been working without a break for 15 hours (So that's the army, fire brigade, Prime Minister, doctor, mum, sister, friends, entire village, servicemen from the engineers, two cranes, operators... starting to sound like a once-a-year sale at Macey's).

State Chief Minister (this country has a 'Chief' Minister and a 'Prime' Minister?) Bhupinder Singh Hooda, many villagers and well wishers (are they the ones wishing he was out of this well?) also arrived in Kurukshetra about this time (as well as Moses and the Nation of Israel, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the People of the Native American Nations and the cruise liner QE2).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also prayed for the speedy rescue and good health of the young boy(but seeing as it took him 10 seconds to fall in and over 2 days to get out, perhaps that prayer wasn't answered).

Residents held a round-the-clock prayer vigil for the safe rescue of Prince. Prayers were also held for Prince in Allahabad at a school for visually impaired students (which, considering they were visually-impaired, probably went along the lines of 'Dear God I hope if I have to go out and get some water from the well I won't step into it, instead of building a grandstand for all these crowds of rescuers maybe we should have built a fence around it, and please God don't let little Prince pee in the well. Amen')

NDTV News Article

Sunday, July 23, 2006

PC, Mac and iPod

According to a article this week, 50% of people surveyed inside an Apple store were PC users looking to change. That's a big warning bell for the PC market. Don't get me wrong, I've been both a PC and Mac user since 1984, and in most of that time, the PC's have sat in a corner turned off unless they were needed. 95% of my computing would have been done on Macs, for all the usual reasons - ease of use, user-friendliness, and above all, reliability. If you haven't experienced Mac yet you have no idea what reliability is. Oh sure, all the 'experts' go on and on about how everyone uses PC's because there are more programs, because Macs are priced too high, etc etc ad nauseam. None of these excuses holds any water. The fact is, the PC market is a self-feeding school of piranhas, and most computing retailers sell PC's because there is more profit in them, both from the initial sale and from the endless and constant updating, error fixing, OS re-installing, etc.

Take, for example, 6 people this year who have bought a new computer and asked me for advice. Three went Apple, three went PC. The Mac buyers have had nothing but fun, all of their systems are working perfectly, and all they had to do was take it out of the box and plug it in. Of the PC buyers, all 3 have had to reinstall their OS multiple times, and 2 of the 3 have had catastrophic hardware failures which required replacement of their brand new computer. Ouch! And this seems normal behaviour, unfortunately. Most PC users I ask say they feel no sense of permanence, that whatever they put on their computer this week is unlikely to be there next month. The diametric opposite is true of the Mac users, though - many of them have never reinstalled anything, lost a file or felt like they might. In general, they trust and believe that files put on the computer this week, will be there in 2 years time. That's a major difference in attitude.

But let me point out one of the major failings of Apple - iTunes. What is it about iTunes? Could this program be any worse, or is it just me? It is a great program for music, which was its original purpose. Even the integration of the Music Store was done reasonably well. But here's an acid test. Buy an iPod, a video one of course. Download a bunch of cartoons from Channel Frederator. Now synch them onto the iPod. Great. That'll keep the kids happy, now trash them from iTunes, and next month, when you download new cartoons... all your old cartoons will be wiped! Yes, because Apple cannot imagine that you would ever want to clear space on your drive. You have virtually no control over videos, pictures, or text files residing on your iPod. When you get those new episodes, the iPod content will be synched to the iTunes playlist, and that means if you have deleted any of the old cartoons from iTunes (and why would you bother keeping them, they are already on your iPod!), they'll be gone from your iPod too now.

I bought a 200 gig Western Digital IBM drive and installed it in my Mac. I went on a holiday to Melbourne and took about 600 photos of the kids and myself on our two-week trip. Transferred them to the iPod on the go, and when the hard drive failed, the only copies I have of those photos are on the iPod. Sure, I can use some of the public domain hack utilities to copy my photos back to the computer, but I have yet to find one that works with the videos. And the point is, why the hell should I need to use one? Why on earth doesn't Apple have a proper program for the iPods which handles all media, copying to and from the iPod? Frell your Digital Rights Management, you can encode things I buy from you with whatever you want to, but I have every right to be able to get my own photos and my own videos back from my own iPod to my own computer.