IDEA - The International Dialects Of English Archive

This is really quite addicting, and if you click on it you will spend at least a few minutes listening:
IDEA - The International Dialects Of English Archive


Some observations on the thumbprint debacle

After Lorna's story was on ABC, NBC, and some local newspapers, I was starting to think about the ways people talk about privacy and security.

Some of the approaches are...funny, and others are just human nature.

Someone important told me so: If someone important says so, you tend to believe them. They are clearly important and looking out for your interests. Alternately, the Orwellian form: "This is really far above me." This was actually said to us at the dealership, and not much other information was available.

Someone with good intentions told me so: If someone who's earnest about protecting your identity is trying to do so, then they must be doing the right thing.

The problem with these sorts of things is:
1. They are the same things that got us into Iraq.
2. The people with good intentions and gray hair are often not sophisticated about information technologies.

#2 is an important point. The problem is that someone with good intentions who runs a large police organization, or who owns a billion-dollar automobile dealer network, may not be a person who understands the idea that concentrated quantities of data represent a threat to personal privacy.

People who understand these things are those who think about these things professionally. Neither Lorna and I are those sorts of people, but we know and interact with them, and we've seen them be right (when we thought they were nuts) on numerous occasions.

Technologies and centralization of information are both two-edged swords, and it is often unclear to the casual observer why exactly good intentions do not lead to good outcomes.

I think we still feel that collecting all the personal information about "people who buy BMWs" (a generally quite creditworthy bunch), including biometric data and place of employment, in a stack of file cabinets remains a problem.

Then again, I bought an Audi, and they didn't fingerprint me.

The Marriage Discount

My auto insurance company gave me $170 for getting married. Nice wedding gift, really. You are apparently a better driver just for having a wife.

So, quite self-consciously, Lorna has taken it upon herself to earn this amount.

"Don't get a speeding ticket."
"You should come to a complete stop here."
"See the cop hiding behind the gravel pile?"


Dell 600SC server case-swap (almost a minor victory)

A few years ago, I collected a bunch of basic Dell servers (because they were almost free). Stacked them full of disks and have been using them since. Of course, like most machines with moving parts, the power supplies and fans start failing after awhile (taking your whole server along with them). I'm too cheap to replace them with $1000+ servers that use the same amount of power. Of course, you can buy a new server that uses twice as much power for less than that.

The problem with basic Dell servers (like the 600SC) is that they have proprietary fans, which are very expensive to replace. The 600SC's motherboard won't boot unattended unless you plug these fans in.

So as a compromise, I've bought some Antec Sonata cases and plugged in the old Dell parts, and they work, at 1/4 the noise level. I can't do automatic reboots (have to hit a key) but that happens only once every 6 months anyway.

One of the challenging bits: on my most recent attempt, I learned that the 600SC's motherboard has a proprietary heatsink for the CPU. The motherboard tray has special holes for just this heatsink. So what to do?

It turns out that you can take some motherboard risers and snip the screws off the bottom (Lorna took a class involving metalworking, so we have all this equipment). Once you do that, it's easy to attach the heatsink. Remove the peripheral cutout, and things are working again.


No fingerprints? No car.

Lorna and I tried to buy a car. We had the price and trade-in negotiated, and were all ready to finish the paperwork.

But they wouldn't sell the car to us, unless we gave them fingerprints. Read Lorna's telling of it for more details.

Not wanting to leave our data on file for 7 years, we left.


Power efficiency at a premium

One of the servers in my house has gone flaky. I suspect the (embedded) disk controller.

So I've been looking for a replacement, and thought, I'll try again to find something power-efficient, for the box that sits in the closet with 4 disks and doesn't do much. I have an old 900MHz box that does this nicely, now.

Well, you find out that Intel in particular wants to make power-efficiency a premium product. Let's look at pricing:

Intel Celeron 335 (85W TDP, 2.8GHz): $60

Server Chips:
Intel 5110 (65W TDP, 1.6GHz): $257
Intel 5140 (65W TDP, 2.33GHz): $518
Intel 5148 (40W TDP, 2.33GHz): $608

So if all you want is a little 1GHz processor to sit in a closet, Intel makes you pay $600 to save 25W of power. Compared to their 1.6GHz model or their celeron, it takes more than 10 years to recoup the extra cost.

How can anyone afford to use these things?

On the other hand, Via's C7 uses 20W and doesn't cost much. But it is really amazingly hard to find these things in a box that you can plug lots of disks into.

Anyone have a link to help out?


Are you sure you want to read this blog post?

I was noticing a couple weeks ago that the advent of Vista (and Apple's wonderful ads poking fun at it) make a very interesting topic of discussion.

Namely, when is it actually useful to say "Are you sure you want to...?"

I believe the answer to this is much closer to "never" than "whenever somebody gets lazy." I mean this in two ways.

First, I think undo (and clear, relevant undo) is almost always the right alternative to a confirmation. Installing a program that looks dangerous? Put it in a virtual machine, don't ask. (Instead of picking a solid technical solution, Microsoft's actually outlawed running Vista in a VM at all.)

Gmail wins a gold star here, since after you delete a message, you get a yellow-but-unobtrusive notification at the top of the screen offering to undo your action. You don't even have to know an obscure keyboard combination like Ctrl-Z to undo. I want to see more of this and fewer popup "dialog" boxes.

But why are confirmations bad? Well for two reasons: first, they interrupt flow and interaction. For apps that are good enough to encourage these things, dialog boxes are an awful interruption. Secondly? Because nobody reads them, and so the default behavior gets chosen most of the time. And a third reason as well: because they often involve limitations in the software that are due to laziness. ("This is broken. Are you sure you want to do it?")

We've let this disease creep into Picasa a bit, and I intend to fix it wherever we can.