Saturday, April 30, 2005


It occurred to me that, in the last post about Firefox extensions, I mentioned the Mozilla email program, Thunderbird briefly. I might have left the impression that I use that program for most of my email needs, but this is far from the case. In fact, I use it, but sparingly. The primary reason has been that I happen to like Outlook, it's calendar features and it's ability to use Word to edit emails (though I use Word's functionality in minute ways). I also am not happy with the way Thunderbird imports address books from Outlook - it seems needlessly complicated to the average user (which, having been on a team that programmed such a thing one time for our intranet site, I can understand the frustrations involved). Finally, there are not as many extensions for the product that would make me want to switch.

However, I am growing to like Thunderbird more and Mozilla is planning on integrating a calendar/scheduling feature into it, which would likely push me over the edge.

So, in short, get Firefox and try it, but you may not yet want Thunderbird.

Firefox extensions

I use a few Firefox extensions. Extensions in the browser, for those who are unfamiliar with it, are designed to add functionality to the browser. Unlike IE, Firefox doesn't come as a bloated download that attempts to throw in the kitchen sink along with everything else you won't use. Instead, Firefox extensions tend to be lightweight add-ons. One of the beauty of the extensions is that users can design and program extensions themselves, thereby freeing up time for developers to concentrate on the core product rather than attempting to guess which feature every user will want.

I realized as I was posting earlier about the Firefox hitting the 50 million mark in downloads that I have never posted about the items I've downloaded to customize my browsing experience. FWIW, I use Firefox at home and at work and use many of these features on both machines. There have been many magazine articles on the best Firefox extensions, but below are the ones I've found useful or amusing.

The first thing I do when I load Firefox on a machine is I get the plug-ins for Flash, Quicktime, Shockwave, Java, Real Player, and Adobe Acrobat. Luckily, Mozilla keeps all of the links to these things in one simple place.

Next, Firefox comes with a search box built in that the user can add search engines for. The user simply types in the search term, chooses and engine, clicks "enter" on her keyboard, and the search is performed for the site chosen. I've got engines loaded for: Yahoo,,,, Creative Commons, eBay, FNAC, Gutenberg Project, MSDN, Powell's Books, Scarecrow Video Sales, Symantec,, Wikipedia, HyperDictionary, and UrbanDictionary. There are many more to choose from and many added since I last looked. I've actually pared down some of my engines.

The next order of business for me is to download Firetune. It's a little program that tweaks the settings of Firefox for your PC. These are common settings that will speed up your surfing. Be sure to back up your original settings before making the Firetune settings. The program has a way of doing that and it warns you to do so. However, there's another program called MozBackup, that I've been using for that for several months that's also good for backing up your settings for the Thunderbird email program.

Once all of that is done, I download a theme for the browser. A theme is also known as a skin in other programs. Basically, it just changes the look of the product. For instance, it changes the way the buttons look. People have made a big deal out of this for years, but being a utilitarian sort of guy, it didn't make much difference to me so I didn't bother with it. That is, I didn't bother with it until Pimpzilla came along.

Now, I'm ready for my extensions. Below is my list with links and brief descriptions.

Gmail Notifier - adds a little icon that lets me know when I get a new message in my gmail box.
AdBlock - does what it sounds like: prevents ads from being viewed on the web. This requires some programming to make it work, but you can simple copy and paste some of the stuff from their forum. The programming isn't difficult if you want to get into it.
ChatZilla - IRC chat software.
ieView - Opens IE to view a page in that browser. Useful if page isn't rendering properly, but I rarely use it.
Bookmark Backup - Backs up bookmarks each time you close the browser.
Image Zoom - Magnifies a web image.
TinyURL Creator - If you have a long URL, this will create a smaller one using the TinyURL site
Googlebar - I use this rather than the Google search box because I like the Highlighter feature when searching a page for relevant information.
Bloglines Toolkit - Lets users of Bloglines see if a new post has been made to a feed they subscribe to.
Search Keys - A Google tool that makes it easy to use your keyboard to open a search result from Google. This one I use often.
FireFTP - An FTP client that integrates with Firefox.
Livelines - Also works with Bloglines: makes subscribing to a feed easier.
Spellbound - a spell checker for Firefox and Thunderbird. Open Source.
True Downloader - a download manager that integrates with Firefox. It seems to work, but needs development. Open Source.
GreaseMonkey - Allows user to add bits of DHTML (user scripts) to any webpage. This one is a tad dangerous for non programmers as it allows people to add code used in their browser. Hence, you should read and understand the code before applying it in your browser. I use Butler with this to clean up my Google pages and add links to other search engines, but there are more appearing all of the time.
Minimize To Tray - Minimizes Firefox to the system tray in Windows.
Popups Must Die - a Beta extension for improved pop up stopping. Designed to prevent some new pop up methods appearing more frequently on the Internet.
ChromEdit - A Simple User Profile Editor.
Show Old Extensions - Developed because sometimes Firefox upgrades break old extensions. This will show you which ones are broken. Probably not useful for new users, but I've been using Firefox for a year or more and it has come in handy during that major development time.
Preferential - Advanced Preferences Manager (basically shows you all of the adjustments one could make for the "about:" page without opening that up.
Bug Me Not - Allows user to bypass compulsory registration by getting false ones from the site.
ForecastFox - Shows weather forecasts and extended forecasts for an area of your choosing from the Weather Channel.

And now that I've been through this exercise, I've updated some of the extensions that Automatic Updates doesn't touch. So, it was useful from that stand point. I also note that FlashGot is now working with True Downloader, which is excellent since that is one feature I've wanted. It allows the user to download multiple files from a single site with one click and the use of her download manager. Hm, I might even consider upgrading the download manager to one that's more reliable. I happen to like True Downloader in that it's built on .NET technology and uses very little in the way of system resources, but I'd like to see it become more reliable (it sometimes crashes or doesn't work at all for no apparent reason). Any thoughts on a download manager or other extensions?

Dickie's Quickies

Dan Savage published a column on advice from readers for 15 year old (straight) girls. In response, Jill at Third Wave Agenda published her own column, including some criticism of advice offered in Savage's column. I linked back to these columns while reading Amanda's advice on Pandagon. Me? I have no advice really. I'm much better with specific questions and specific situations. For some reason, however, I find reading the advice from these women fascinating and generally positive.

Amanda also has a great story on an Alabama legislator trying to get books and art work by gay authors or containing gay characters banned from public schools. Once again, Alabama attempts to be the cream of the crop when it comes to bigotry and fear of sexuality. Luckily, most legislators did not show up for the debate. Apparently even the majority of Alabama legislators found this to be an idiotic concept. I guess Lynne Cheney's book, Sisters, won't be appearing in their schools any time soon.

Good news for those who combat spyware: is now using 2 commercial scanners for products submitted to the site. If the product is thought to contain spyware, then it is not accepted for the site. Some products will modify their practices to be offered on while others will not. As the editors at note, you should still get your own spyware scanners. Email me if you want recommendations of free ones.

In old news (as of yesterday, that is) Firefox downloads hit 50 million this week. Hurray for my favorite browser! I like Firefox and prefer it over the current version of IE. Even hard core IE fans have to admit that the entrance of Firefox in the market has been favorable to IE in the sense that Microsoft is upgrading it as we speak. Hopefully, Firefox will weather the storm from the IE upgrades well and may Firefox hit the 100 million mark just as quickly. If you haven't tried Firefox, then you really should give it a go. Even if you end up deciding that you prefer IE, you should check out what the competition is offering. It's free to do so. You might need to re-download plug ins and such, but that's not difficult. I recommend using it for a week or two and learn to love tabbed browsing (once you try this feature, you'll never want to go back).

Finally, some illustrations to (hopefully) amuse you. These are by Gary Taxali. He uses old pieces of print from books, newspapers, and magazines and integrates his own text and messages into the design.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

Bill Schneier once again has a great post. This one links to a report on the Global Infrastructure for Mass Registration and Survelliance. As the report notes, these moves are not likely to make you safer - ever, but they will have the "bonus" effect of turning back the democratic institutions that for hundreds of years have been assumed to make you safer - from your own government.

Meanwhile, on the identity theft front, SecurityFocus noted today that companies often times don't use encryption when making backup tapes of customer data. Hey, better yet, some firms are "misplacing" those tapes. Lovely. Feeling safer yet? Guess what, you have no recourse under the law if the information ends up in someone else's hands. Feel better? There's no law that requires a company to notify you that they are gathering this information about you, that they are sharing this information about you, or what exactly that information is. Ah, the things that nightmares are made of...or at least, a Kafka novel.

Feministe noted the CNN article on Indiana switching to Daylight Savings Time. I've ranted about DST to friends and family and I have yet to find anyone who likes it - not even business owners. I wish we'd just pick a time and stick with it and not switch. Last fall, the Oregonian published a report from Portland police who claim that traffic accidents rise for 2 weeks in the fall after the time switch. That takes time from the police, emergency workers, hospitals, employers, family and friends, plus costs us money and insurance and may result in deaths. Who thinks this is a good idea? I'm sorry to see Indiana switching. Arizona remains a hold out and their businesses are NOT suffering.

Finally, here's some eye candy for you. Wonderful illustrations and computer work by Autumn Whitehurst.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Kinky Friedman has a blog site

Kinky Friedman, having just written his "last" detective novel, is running for governor of Texas. To keep up with the race, he's created a blog and is accepting campaign contributions and volunteers on his web site.

Rain arrives early!

According to the forecast, we weren't supposed to get rain until Friday - Thursday evening at the earliest. With that in mind, I made the decision last night to work more on the garden beds and hold off mowing the yard until Thursday afternoon. After all, Thursday has been my weekly mowing day for nearly a month, now. Silly, B.D.

In any case, I did make progress on the paths outside of the beds. I spent time yesterday knocking dirt off of tufts of grass, weeds, and pansies before tossing them into our yard waste bin. I saved quite a few worms, which I was very happy to see. The return of the worms is a welcome thing. It tells us that the hard work we put in the past 2 years is paying off with a healthy eco-system. The worms like our soil.

Like most new homes, when we moved in two years ago our "yard" consisted of a landscaped front portion while the sides and back portion were what is euphemistically called "construction dirt". Sure, the builder graded the land so that it sloped away from the home for drainage purposes, but what was left was horrid. The soil was a lot of hardened clay filled with rocks - large and small - and construction debris of all sorts. When we dug into it with shovels, rakes, and the garden claw, there were not any signs off life other than the rare insect sighting and a few weeds which somehow survived the land moving equipment.

In May of 2003 we brought in 35 cubic yards of top soil. Trucks dumped the load onto our driveway and nearly filled it. We parked our cars on the street for a fe days. Shawn's mother came up on Mother's Day weekend and worked with us for a day and a half on the yard. During that time, we dug up rocks, dumping them near the drainage pond behind our home, and loosened up the hard clay soil. Shawn and her mom did most of the loosening up. I loaded up wheelbarrels full of dirt and carted them to the areas where the clay had been worked. We put the cable television on to the reggae music channel to help pass the time. We drank sun tea and lemonade and ate tuna fish sandwiches. At the end of the day, we celebrated our hard work with beer and showers.

Shawn's mother left for home half way through day 2. Her contribution was large. Shawn and I continued on working that day, then Shawn had to go to work the folowing Monday. A little under half of the yard remained to be loosened, rocks tossed and covered with top soil. Shawn came home early that Monday and was able to help finished the loosening of the soil.

The following couple of weeks were spent dashing out in dry weather to move the topsoil. Weather was doing what it always does - reminding us that despite our technology and our knowledge, we can never always be in control. It's a good thing. I covered the dirt with tarps and waited until the ground was sufficiently dry, then set about moving the topsoil into place. After the 2 weeks were done, our friends Michael (of Messiahbomb) and Heather came by and helped us level the top soil and plant the grass seed. It took a portion of the afternoon. We showed our appreciation with dinner and drinks.

With watering, the grass grew in and grew strong. The following spring, I filled in bare patches with more seed and hand weeded the yard. We began carving out patches for trees and an herb bed and such and we were impressed with the quality of the root structures of the grass. The grass we planted was much better than the work done on the front yard. There, the landscapers put down about a quarter of an inch of top soil and used grass from a farm that was grown through some sort of plastic netting. The drainage is bad in the front yard and the grass is wispy and thin.

In the rest of the yard, we had put down 3 inches of top soil combined with compost. The seed we planted came from a mix designed by the University of Oregon for our climate. It contained different types of grass plus some weeds such as clover, which help fix nirtogen into the soil for the grass to grow. We've covered the whole yard in the same fertilizer and I've added a scattering of compost to the yard since.

So, it was with a small amount of pride that I saw the abundance of worms in our yard yesterday, As I shook dirt from the clumps of weeds, grass, and pansies, I looked for the worms, sometimes pulling them out of the clumps that were destined for the yard waste container, and put them back onto the ground to crawl away. It was peaceful work. I used the garden claw to loosed up more of the paths around the garden beds. My intention was to let it dry out over night, then shake the dirt loose today.

Shawn came home as I was loosening up that dirt. She attended to the pansies that we're donating for her co-worker's church fundraiser. In total, we gathered up 30 pots of pansies. Note: that is measured in containers - mostly smaller ones - but some contain more than one plant. We still have plenty to transplant to our garden borders. In addition, Shawn is taking 20 spider plant starters for Colleen to use at her event. I hope it goes well for her. She's a nice person. She's put a lot of hard work into this.

While Shawn got the pansies together, I weeded the herb bed. I hadn't intended to do that, but I became obsessed with some of the grass and weeds that was inthe bed, clouding my view of some of the herbs that are reviving after the winter. Most of the herbs are coming back and looking very good at the moment. We've discussed expanding that bed of plants and moving things around a bit this year.

As Shawn watched frogs and birds around the drainage pond, I dashed upstairs and took a shower. When I came down, there was thunder in the distance. The thunder was shortly followed by rain. I soon wondered if my gardening plans were to be foiled. This morning's newspaper had the same forecast for today as it did yesterday: sunny and warm with a high of 64. Perhaps we were just getting rains overnight then? I could still come home, mow the yard, and, if I worked hard enough, wrap up the garden beds by evening.

By the time I was about halfway into work, rain began to fall pretty hard. The radio weather forecast called for rain today and tomorrow. The Weather Channel's forecast, viewed on my Firefox plug in, agrees with the radio forecast. Ah, well, that is spring in the Pacific Northwest. When it dries out, the garden beds will still be there. I still have the bags of compost to mix into them and the rolls of ground cover to put over them. Besides, the worms won't mind and if they don't care, then that's good enough for me. Yet another thing we can agree upon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

VoIP Update

It's been a month since we got VoIP service from SunRocket. The experience has been very good overall. Given the price, quality of calls, and features, I'd have to say that the service is a winner. That said, there are some caveats.

We ran into a snag recently when CallerID stopped working. When we first signed on, everything worked fine, but then CallerID stopped. I attempted to resolve this by entering in information to the Contacts page. This worked, but it also comes with a caveat (see below). I just called SunRocket (and spoke to a live person in under a minute!) and they assure me that there was a problem with the carrier supplying that information, but it will be resolved by May 15th.

This normally wouldn't be an issue except that I also have the "Block Anonymous Call" feature turned on for the main number. Unfortunately, with CallerID broken all calls except those for whom I had entered contacts were being blocked. We found this out when Shawn's parents called twice and did not get either voice mail or our answering machine. To resolve this I have temporarily turned off that feature and tested it. Rather than wait for us to call them, SunRocket should have sent an email to customers explaining the issue in general terms and alerted them to the blocking problem this would cause.

Shawn's parents also report some dropping out of our calls. Thus far they are the only ones reporting that problem. My parents claim that I sound better than before. Another friend reports a delay, but he is on a cell phone, so I believe the problem to be on his end. I've spent a few hours on the phone both locally and to other cities and Shawn's parents have the only complaint thus far.

Now, on to my issue with the Contacts feature. Like a Contacts feature in email or on cell phones, this is basically a phone book of numbers that you wish to keep. Users can set up speed dial with the numbers in the Contacts book, which is nice. They can also set up aliases for the numbers. As I was tracking down the CallerID issue on my own, I decided to enter numbers into the Contacts folder as a work around. I found 2 problems with this and have reported them to SunRocket. First, rather than import numbers from another source, one must enter them by hand. That's tedious. Secondly, entering them into your main number does not enter them in for your secondary number as well. In other words, one must enter them in for both numbers. I can understand the reasoning behind this, but it's a drag and a good contacts manager would give me the option for both or one.

These are minor complaints. We've been very happy with the service. The sound quality is consistently high and the price of $16.58/month for unlimited long distance in Canada and the U.S. cannot be beat. The couple of times that I've called SunRocket, the support has been useful, speedy, and courteous. At this point, I'd have to highly recommend the service.

Other features that come with the service for no extra fees:

You get 2 numbers when you sign up
voice mail for each number that is accessible via dial up or online
New Voice mail notification through email and/or Text Message, Pager, and Instant Messaging
calling logs for each number (though not always up to date - they are working on this)
Block International, Anonymous, and/or Directory Assistance (411, for example) calls
Block specific numbers
CallerID on or off
Call Forwarding to either one or several numbers (at once or in succession)
Distinctive Ringing patterns for each number


The past couple of days I've been spending time in the dirt. It's unusual for me to be able to get into the garden this early in the year. A typical year might have me preparing beds if I get a cloudy day, but not planting until some time towards the end of May. This year, however, it appears as if I'll be in early with several plants.

We don't usually plant lettuces or other such leafy cold crops. It's not that dislike these things - in fact, we love them - but rather that our battles with slugs and snails usually end in our admitting defeat. So, we try and grow things that the slugs won't be as attracted to such as snow peas, beans, squash, tomatoes and so on. With Shawn in class until late June, I'll be handling the prep work and most of the plant choices.

The prep work is particularly enjoyable this year. First of all, this will be our third season and the beds are in quite good shape. Secondly, we left our black ground cover on 3 of the 5 beds, so weeds are minimal on those beds. Third, on the 2 beds that didn't have black ground cover, pansies have taken root and grown in them.

The pansies are descendents from ones that we planted on the border of the garden last year. It was just a single row of pansies, about 16 plants. It ran along one side of our garden - closest to our living room window. From that row sprung pansies in far places in our back yard. I've found them as far away as the fence some 40 feet in the distance, sprouting up where I planted a dahlia last year. The majority, however, ended up in these 2 garden beds and there are a lot of them.

We've got so many pansies, in fact, that we're donating some. A co-worker of Shawn's, Colleen, is in charge of a plant slae fundraiser at her church. Colleen helped us out a couple of years ago by lending us space in her garage to store some things while the house was being built. It's a pleasure to pay her back in some small way with these plants.

Some of the pansies are being saved for our garden border. We had a lot of grass and weeds grow up on what are our borders and paths, so I've decided to take the garden claw to them in order to clean them out. We decided not to keep the existing pansies - they were being munched on anyhow and it would be too difficult to separate them from the weeds that have grown through and around them. So, they will be removed and once the path is clear, I'll transplant pansies from the garden beds to the borders in order to enjoy them another season.

I like this happy accident with the pansies. Perhaps I'll leave those 2 beds without ground cover this year again in order to let the pansies take root over winter and fall. After the pansies are transplanted, I'll take the weeds out of the beds and mix 3 bags of compost per bed into their soil. Three of the beds will get new black ground cover. In one of the other beds, I'll start peas and beans and in the final one, I'll begin some radishes, kohlrabi, and beets.

This has been a remarkable spring. We haven't gotten our typical rains, which makes water conservationa must this year! On the other paw, we have gotten some lovely warm, sunny days since Frebruary.

My parents and friends back in Michigan were telling me about the snow this past weekend. I recoiled at their descriptions which all contained the disclaimer "It's not bad, really". It sounded terrible to me. If nothing else, it's a reminder of another reason I don't want to go back and live there. I'd rather have the rain and 40 degrees.

Working in the garden, with the mountains in the background, just feels so natural. I'm home here and happy for it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Equal Rights and the Bully

The Seattle Times wins the 2 quickies thus far. First, the Times reports that Microsoft may rethink it's position on taking a neutral stance on the gay rights bill in Washington state. I do hope that they go back to their original position of supporting the bill. Frankly, I don't think Microsoft's support would necessarily have altered the outcome of the vote. However, if Microsoft says that they support this cause internally and have lobbied for it in the past, then they need to continue those efforts. To go back on it was cowardly and, rather than a neutral stance, the (correct) perception was that the company was taking a backwards (read: negative) stance. One interesting quote from the article:

Gates said Microsoft was surprised by the sharp reaction after it became known that the company took a neutral position on the perennial measure this year, after actively supporting it in previous years....

...The response to the stories surprised Microsoft. "Well, we didn't expect that kind of visibility for it," Gates said. "After all, Microsoft's position on a political bill — has that ever caused something to pass or not pass? Is it good, is it bad? I don't know.

"Is my being behind it good? Look at the referendums I've been behind. I've lost gun control — I'm looking really good on that one," he quipped.

"Surprised"? Bill, if you haven't noticed, this topic is a bit of a hotbed of conversation in the country and has been so for, oh, at least the last five to ten years. You really should get out more. *smile* Besides, younger generations tend to favor many of these rights, so Microsoft can appear cutting edge and hip to them for supporting the bill. After all, they are your current and future customers and shareholders. By the way, Bill, when it comes to human rights battles, don't ever expect to win in the opening or even the second, third, fourth, or fifth rounds. Big issues such as these take lifetimes to resolve. Expect to be in this for a long time - your contribution will be noted favorably as having stood on the moral side of the debate. Ask any racial minority if they think racism was resolved in the 1960s. Ask women if sexism and glass ceilings remain today. As Bill Moyers says in a recent speech in Seattle, it's "...the joy of the struggle."

Speaking of that speech, Nicole Brodeur, columnist for the Seattle Times, mentions it and the Microsoft mishandling of the gay rights issue in her column today. In fact, I got the line from Moyers through her column. I at least skim Nicole's columns and often read them all of the way through, particularly if I find the topic of personal interest. What caught my eye about today's column was the headline: "Deliver us from bullies". As readers will note, I began a discussion here and elsewhere on the topic of bullies in our lives and on bullying tactics. Nicole uses the term "bully" to refer to the minister mentioned in the controversy of the Microsoft debacle. She doesn't seem to believe Microsoft's stated position that the minister didn't influence their decision not to actively support the equal rights law for homosexuals.

As discussed here earlier, in order for someone to be a bully, then they must have some measure of power with which to carry through their intentions. Of course, the recipient of that bullying must be willing to either supply that power or to not be able to seek recourse. In fact, the minister is arguing that bullying against homosexuals continues to be codified by stating the discrimination against gay folks for housing and employment is OK. Doing so means that the state agrees that it is OK for someone to yield a heavy bullying club over anyone who is gay. That isn't right and I don't think most people would agree that it is right.

Still, is the minister a bully? He certainly tried bullying tactics against Microsoft. According to Microsoft, though, he didn't succeed. Microsoft, for instance, had already decided not to support the bill in question. The minister was not able to get the 2 Microsoft employees who testified for the bill fired. Afterwards, the minister, in the article in The Stranger, argued that he did indeed succeed in half of his mission (the lobbying, but not the 2 employees). If one believes Microsoft's version of the events, then the minister had no power over the company and his attempts to bully the company were flaccid. His posturing afterwards is just grand standing for politics sake for his congregation. However, if the minister's account is to be believed, then perhaps he did bully the company into the so-called neutral stance.

So, the debate over bullies and bullying continues with me. It's one of the reasons why I haven't written on the topic as promised - I'm still in conflict about it. One the one hand, the minister's actions can be viewed as bullying or an attempt to bully. On the other, it's politics and democracy in action. One thing that seems apparent and that no one is disputing is that the minister used a threat to attempt to get his way and, of course, telegraphing a threat is one of the most common tactics amongst bullies. Wouldn't it be more effective politics to just begin the boycott without the threat? Hmmm...

As I run that through my mind, I look forward to more of your comments on the topic. I've enjoyed the exchanges. I'll try to post something in the near future, but I won't stick to a time line as I'm mulling my thoughts. Still, I will try to spew something onto this blog even if there are no conclusions.

To give you an idea of where I'm at, some of the thoughts of others have me considering the role of ego (as in the Buddhist conception as opposed to the western psychological conception) in the bully as well as other aspects of our lives (love, self, purpose, desire, rational thought). One person noted that making relationships between things is a human strength whereas I suggested that it was also a human weakness. It seems to me that this is the same for ego - that it is a Pandora's Box that manifests itself in positive (love, leadership) and negative (jealousy, bullying) ways. Since the 18th and 19th centuries, human cultures to greater and lesser degrees have been dealing with more open expressions of egos. It has had a greater influence than ever in our art, our politics, our personal relations and everything else that affects our lives. We are, in short, grappling with those effects and attempting in our own ways to balance the positive and negative aspects of ego.

I suspect that this struggle might even be a longer one than our efforts at ending racism, homophobia, and sexism, though they are inextricably wound together. In the meantime, we can hopefully find ways to use the law to apply interim remedy to these and other social ills.

So, that's what I'm thinking and struggling with before I write deeply on the subject. What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

One note thus far today: Feministe reports via Big Brass Blog on a wholly unsuitable definition of "woman" being considered for a bill in the U.S. Congress.

WOMAN- The term `woman’ means a female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant, whether or not she has reached the age of majority.


Shawn called home Friday suggesting that I come pick her up from work. It was a bad week for her as she's been getting very little sleep and her work load has increased along with her school work load. The result of which has been her stressing over the details of virtually everything, finding it difficult to focus on one task for very long which leads to finding it difficult to actually complete simple tasks and all the while still finding time to snip at me about things. All of this seemed to distill down to a feeling of being isolated, disconnected from community and communion, and in a bit of a rut. She offered to bribe me with dinner in order to pick her up at work. It wasn't necessary, but it did seem like a good idea.

When I arrived at 4, Shawn was in her office and not yet ready to leave. As I sat there waiting, she got another 4 rush jobs to wrap up before she left for the day. No worries. I told her that I would go over to the new location for Silver Platters (which I hadn't been in yet) and would be back in 30 - 60 minutes. I got back in 50 minutes and found Shawn sitting on the curb, taking in the abundant sunshine we had on Friday. She got into the car and we discussed places to dine in the area rather than heading home through traffic. Her one criteria was that the place have a bar so that she could order a cocktail.

As we headed down the road, Shawn recognized someone walking nearby. It was Sean, or boy-Sean as I refer to him in conversation. Shawn leaned out the window and screamed his/her name. He finally spotted us, smiled and waved. I decided to circle back and see what he was doing for the night. By the time I made the U-turn, he had crossed the road, but was still opposite us. He smiled again as we went by. We made another turn around and this time he had crossed the road yet again - now on the opposite side of us, heading towards his bus stop. One last turn around and he had finally understood we were trying to catch up to him. Sean was doing anything that evening, so we asked him to hop into the car and join us.

Now a party of three, we discussed dinner. I suggested that we were now a carpool for Highway 520 purposes, so we should head towards Sean's side of the lake for dinner. That way we could drop him off at home once we had our way with, er, dinner was done. *smile* They agreed and on the way over we discussed where to dine. Some discussion of Thai food and Indian food followed, but no decision. As I approached our exit, I suggested a Mexican place, Agua Verde, that Shawn had been to, but Sean and I had not. It was on the waterfront which seemed like a perfect spot to be on such a lovely day, so we agreed to go there.

Sean and Shawn got in line while I parked the car. By the time I caught up with them, they had our name on the dinner list for a table and were standing in the drinks line. Who knew? You could order a drink and stand on the deck to the side of the restaurant, or go to the park next door, and wait for your table. We stood on the deck and sipped margaritas while killing the hour for dinner. As our name came closer to being called, Sean suggested to the hostess that we'd like a table on the deck if at all possible. Luck was with us and 15 minutes later we were sitting on the deck watching boats pass, eating dinner and dessert, and watching the sun set. Perfect!

We drove Sean home. Earlier he had mentioned going for a walk around Green Lake. Shawn asked him if that was still his plan and could we join him. He was happy for the company. He also suggested that we go by Kathleen's place (another friend of ours who lives 2 blocks away) and see if she wanted to join us. Kathleen was sitting in her apartment and we called her down. She was happy for the company. She, too, was feeling isolated and nervous and needed someone to talk to for advice and comfort. She was also seeking ice cream.

Baskin Robbins, nearby, was packed with people, so we decided to walk down by the lake for a ways towards another shop. Sean and Kathleen were ready for a treat, but Shawn and I were not, so we grabbed a table and chairs outside. While sitting there, a woman approached us and asked to grab a chair. We looked up and it was Cody, whom Shawn and I both knew from our days of working with her at Corbis. Shawn noted that she had moved to Seattle and started her job at Corbis 10 years ago that day and the Cody was one of the main interviewers that ended up in the job offer. I joked about how I had Cody to blame for the past 10 years. Cody's husband was there as well and he joined us. Soon enough, Kathleen and Sean joined in as well.

Before long, Kathleen noted that she was getting cold from sitting and eating the rather large ice cream cone and she suggested we start walking around the lake. It was a good idea and everyone seemed to agree, so we headed around the lake again. Kathleen, Sean, Shawn, and Cody kept pace, discussing library school and the state of jobs and such. Cody's husband (Chaddra? - that is the correct pronunciation, but perhaps poor spelling) and I hung back a ways and discussed music. We got to a point where Cody and Chaddra were near home. We said our goodbyes, then walked Kathleen and Sean home as well.

It was a beautiful evening. Serendipity served as a tool for reminding Shawn that she wasn't isolated at all. The community and relationships were there. She just didn't recognize it or had forgotten how to see it. She felt much better on the drive home and during the next day.

Shawn's mother came to stay with us on Saturday. She has a funeral for an aunt to attend on Monday. Frankly, Shawn and I were both tired from our late night Friday and early morning Saturday. We did a little shopping in the morning for dinner and took a walk, but Shawn had to study so that was the extent of our sharing the day. When Debbie arrived, I was making apple crisp for dessert. She and Shawn visited, ran out for wine, and ate appetizers while I through dinner together at a leisurely pace. Debbie brought up work for me and that sent me off on a bit of a bitch session, but I set it aside as soon as I stopped talking about it. For dinner, I made halibut in the oven and I topped each portion with a sauce made with pistachios, garlic, mint, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, orange flower water, salt and pepper. It was a big hit. I served it with a salad topped with fresh avocado slices and a raspberry vinaigrette. It was good conversation and a good time.

Sunday I was surprised by Shawn and Debbie being up early. They were both up before 6AM! I had taken my time about making coffee and running out for cream as I assumed that I would have until at least 7AM. I recovered quickly. My typical Amaranth pancakes made up breakfast along with a fresh batch of blueberry sauce and some canned peaches. Debbie left fairly early to head to her relative's place. Shawn and I took a walk, then she went back to studying. I got some house work done, read, and then made phad thai for dinner. All in all, a very enjoyable weekend.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Speaking of cowardice

My friend, Scott, over at Acting Up has a few words on cowardice as it applies to national politics. They're good words, too. Note that he was on his third cup of coffee when he set them to his blog. It usually only takes me a cup of tea to get so worked up. Scott's more mellow than I am, but I shudder to think of how he would react if he had cup four. *smile*

Ballmer responds

The Seattle Times reprinted a copy of an email that Steve Ballmer sent to Microsoft employees regarding the company's recent about face in their support of a Washington state law for equal rights for homosexuals (in hiring, housing, etc).

To Ballmer's credit, he did address the issue. He also mentioned that he and Gates are firmly in support of the law. As I suggested here some time ago, Gates' influence in the company might be waning as the company has become a mature (read: old guard) publicly traded entity. Ballmer seems to support that portrayal in the following statement:

It's appropriate to invoke the company's name on issues of public policy that directly affect our business and our shareholders, but it's much less clear when it's appropriate to invoke the company's name on broader issues that go far beyond the software industry — and on which our employees and shareholders hold widely divergent opinions. We are a public corporation with a duty first and foremost to a broad group of shareholders.

Hm, other companies are publicly traded and they take a stance on this issue. Companies like Washington Mutual and Ford Motor Company have both taken stances in favor of such laws. To my mind, it just goes to show the cowardice of the current executives at Microsoft. Rather than be a leader in civil rights, they choose to take a stance to appear to be inoffensive. It's a very old guard, conservative approach, but by removing support for a bill they have previously supported 2 year's running, they have inadvertently taken a stance which has taken many by surprise. Indeed, what has blind sided Microsoft executives is that they never realized that the current stance would be considered very offensive by employees, shareholders, and consumers (such as myself).

To add to their cowardice, Steve Ballmer tries to lay part of the blame on the laps of employees - not just shareholders. To wit, he writes:

I am also adamant that I want Microsoft to be a place where every employee feels respected, and where every employee feels like they belong. I don't want the company to be in the position of appearing to dismiss the deeply-held beliefs of any employee, by picking sides on social policy issues.

In other words, some employees disagree with equal rights for homosexuals, therefore Microsoft doesn't want to take a stand for laws that would ensure this - therefore making the bigots feel uncomfortable working for Microsoft. This makes so little sense in so many ways that it's hard to fathom that his publicity group let this one slide through. This is a shining example of the sort of rhetoric that gets created when a company or individual attempts to back away from an arguably very moral stance and slides into political correctness (remember - political correctness cuts both left and right, Steve...I'll let your publicists inform you about which way you let your company slip this time in the name of unnamed "shareholders" and "employees").

Update: Slashdot has a discussion going on about this right now. One person asks if companies should be involved at all in social issues (as Ballmer suggests in his original mail, this may not be something that Microsoft wants to involve itself in). Companies are involved in social issues all the time. You don't think that copyright laws have an effect on society? Ask the people who have been prosecuted by the RIAA? You don't think that tax breaks for corporations have an effect on society? Then how do you think the government is going to run and who is going to have to pick up the burden for lower corporate taxes that have fallen from 60% of the government budget in the 1950s to 19% today (answer - the middle class)? How about corporate polluters? Are their concerns social issues? What about oil policy - does it have any social effect? Health care costs are rising at phenomenal rates for corporations, so they are cutting back on the generosity of the benefits they offer (including Microsoft), what impact on society do you think this is having and how do you think corporations are trying to lobby our government to do something about it?

Sorry, folks, the social issue argument brought up by people on Slashdot and by Ballmer is a straw man argument. Corporations are involved in social issues both directly and indirectly. To pretend that they are not is to either participate in willful ignorance or stupidity. Such involvement cuts both left and right in the political world and sometimes it harms both sides, but it is never neutral in the sense that it harms no one. Corporations like to note in court that, under the law, they are classified as citizens. They like to tell their shareholders of their leadership roles as citizens in lobbying for legislation that benefits their bottom lines. Microsoft learned in recent years (via the antitrust suits) that it had to be an active citizen in order to protect itself and it's stockholders. Once it became active, it also became a leader by pushing equal rights initiatives for homosexuals in the Washington state legislature. Now Microsoft wants to shy away from it's leadership position and no longer engage for a better world that seeks equal protection for all of it's citizens all because it doesn't want to engage in social issues that it professes to champion internally? That doesn't sound like a leader in citizenship to me.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Excellent essay on Security

From CSO Magazine Online.

So lately I've been wondering—as I watch spending on national security continue to skyrocket, with diminishing marginal returns—why we as a nation can't apply this same logic to national security spending. If we did this, the war on terrorism would look a lot different. In fact, it might even be over.

More 'Soft

Today's Seattle Times notes that the gay rights bill failed to pass in the Washington legislature. Two conservative Democrats voted along with the Republicans to defeat the bill. In a side article - buried on the last page of the first section of the paper - Microsoft answers charges made in The Stranger article that I linked to yesterday. To recap, Microsoft is accused of bowing to political pressure by a conservative minister by not supporting the gay rights bill as it had done for the 2 previous years. In the Seattle Times article, Microsoft's spokesperson nitpicks the details and ignores the more relevant portion of the facts: that they are no longer supporting the bill.

I really don't care if The Stranger through it's legitimate reporting got the details right about the minister and the timeline of the decision making process from Microsoft. What I do care about is Microsoft turning their backs on their employees and a large number of customers - regardless of how they came to that decision. Microsoft, your feet should still be held to the fire on this. Other companies such as Corbis (in state example) and Ford Motor Company (large, old, out of state example) have continued to support such measures. You should be a community leader.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Microsoft reportedly pulls support for Washington Gay/Lesbian Equal rights bill

It was odd this morning for me to read about a report in the latest issue of The Stranger being posted in Shaula's blog via Big Brass Blog via Americablog. The blog community is often a smaller world than I imagine. Check out Americablog for action points on this issue.

The story is a pretty damning one of Microsoft turning it's back on supporting Washington state House Bill 1515 which would add protection for homosexuals to our state's anti-discrimintation law which already protects people based on religion, race, and sex. By taking a "neutral" stance, Microsoft is turning it's back on one minority community based on pressure from another minority community which already enjoys such protection in the law. This is a disgrace. One thing that I've respected about Microsoft is how it has treated it's gay employees in hiring and benefits. There is even an employee organization devoted to the gay community. I'm sure that the members of that group feel betrayed by their executive's stance on this as do many customers such as myself. This is an ugly ad cowardly position for Microsoft to take and it's a backwards step. Hopefully, they will reverse their decision before it's too late.

I've already gotten the feeling from family and friends who work for the company that Microsoft was becoming a stodgy old corporation a la IBM of the 1980s and moves such as this one only solidify that perspective. It is no longer the progressive, exciting work place that it once was and that will mean many troubling years ahead of it as it faces greater challenges from upstarts. If it really wants to meet those challenges, then Microsoft would do well to attract the best, brightest, and most creative employees. Any chance that it would scare away such employees by say, ignoring their equal rights under the law, is a gain for their competitors.

One caveat to the links that I posted above are comments on the Big Brass Blog. I commented on that blog, but I also want to make the point here: Bill Gates is not Microsoft and vice versa - despite all of the hype to the contrary. Sure, if Bill wants to rattle things up, he can still do so, but I think his influence is waning at the company and I think The Stranger article points that out as well. The Stranger notes that one of the company's lobbying for this bill to pass is Corbis. Corbis' CEO, Steve Davis, even called representatives at Microsoft to lobby them not to change their support. As a former employee of Corbis (full disclosure), I'd like to point out that it is wholly owned by Bill Gates. In other words, the company Gates does own is supporting this bill and the one that he is a figure head of - granted, with lots of interest in, but he doesn't own it - is changing it's stance on this bill. Big Brass Blog is misguided in it's criticism of Gates as associated with Microsoft on this issue. I am not a Gates cheerleader and I have significant complaints as to how he has managed Corbis, but it is unclear as to how much he can steer Microsoft back to a morally correct course on this particular issue

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

Note to cell phone thieves, be careful where you hide that thing and please turn it off or put it on vibrate.

DUI Blog challenges MADD's statistics on the efficacy of police DUI roadblocks. 'Bout time.


Readers might note that I've included a link to Feedburner at the right. Tuesday's Child pointed this site out to me the other day. It directs feeds from your site through their site, creating a new feed for online news aggregators like Newsgator, Bloglines, My Yahoo, and My MSN. The new feed burner for this blog, if you use an aggregator is here. The service is in Beta right now, but they may be onto something. Even if they don't take off, they definitely offer some features that blog sites might want to incorporate (such as statistics tracking, etc.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

Is anyone surprised to learn that music executives are wondering why Apple isn't charging $2.50 for hot songs? At 99 cents, the songs are already over priced. Choice quote from the article:

Part of the mobile market's attraction comes in pricing. Consumers around the world have shown they will eagerly pay $2.50 or more for a ring tone, a mere snippet of a song that costs just 99 cents for the full version at iTunes. Labels see these consumers as receptive to variable prices for different songs.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy is going to conduct seminars to discuss expanding random student drug testing in the nation's schools. According to this publication (pdf) from the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU, published in January 2004, random student drug testing doesn't work any more than the DARE programs work. Who knows when they will stop wasting our money on these programs. In the meantime kids, watch you privacy rights diminish as you learn to become submissive members of the state and don't be surprised if testing for cigarettes and alcohol are too far behind.

Monday, April 18, 2005

My Linguistic profile

Your Linguistic Profile:

65% General American English

20% Dixie

10% Upper Midwestern

5% Yankee

0% Midwestern

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dickie's Quickies again

Hm, Hit and Run agrees - Bolton's an asshole. Love the libertarians.

Haaretz reports on a dust up in Iran over a news program that aired anti-Semitic statements. Apparently it offended a Jewish member of the Iranian parliament. Who knew?

I forgot to mention that Mozilla's excellent email program, Thunderbird, just got much better. There is now an extension to download POP mail (MSN, Yahoo, and the like). This extension only makes it easier to set up the program. The capability has been there for a while (I've been using it to download some Gmail, for instance). Note: if you use Thunderbird to download mail from Hotmail or MSN, the mail will be removed from the server on which it resides. So, if you like storing your mail on those MSN or Hotmail servers, then don't use the extension. When using Outlook, I can read the mail on the MSN site, but it remains on their servers. I was surprised to see it downloaded into Thunderbird and deleted from MSN. Not that this is going to stop me from seriously considering making the final transition, mind you, but it's something to consider.

Dickie's Quickies

Yes, it's bee a long time since I blogged. I set aside Illustrious Fridays and other tidbits for a little while. I apologize. I want to thank those who wrote in their bully stories. They have given me much to consider. Keep them coming! I'll be posting on the topic, soon.

One of the reasons I haven't posted lately is that I'm still considering the options regarding one of the personal aspects of the story. This particular tale has gotten out of hand and been blown out of proportion - by the bully in question, natch. I'm trying to decide A)if I want to resolve it and B) if yes, then how I go about that. At the moment, I'm inclined to address the issue, but I'm not certain how I phrase things in order to maintain the friendship. I certainly don't want to exhibit the same verbal diarrhea that the bully displays with each missive. So, I ponder.

Speaking of bullies, I suppose people saw that in yesterday's Senate testimony, U.N. Ambassador nominee, John Bolton, was referred to as a bully. Laura Rozen at War and Piece says there's a third employee that will come to light who was also "bullied" by Bolton (love that alliteration!) In her personal comments on the issue, Laura writes:

One could perhaps respect a bully if that bully was a bully in the cause of making the UN an institution that saved human life more effectively. Some might say Richard Holbrooke fits this model. But you can't respect a bully just because he's a bully. From Bolton's testimony yesterday about not having any particular interest in the UN intervening to stop genocide in Rwanda, even with the benefit of all that we know now that close to a million innocent people were slaughtered, it's clear Bolton's bullying is in no service to the good of making the UN save lives, or preventing North Korea from getting nuclear weapons, or Iran. His grandstanding has done nothing to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power. It's just asshole for the sake of being an asshole. It's in the service of nothing. The worst you can really say about Mr. Bolton is not that he's a bully, but that he's a failure. So why vote for this guy, Mr. Chafee? [Apparently, serious pressure from the OVP.]

I respect Rozen's opinion on this issue. But since I'm wondering about bullies and bullying in general, I wonder if it's really ever OK to be a bully. Rozen suggests that it is if one is fighting the good fight and getting results. Perhaps I'm attempting to apply these personal concepts to a larger political arena and that doesn't work in this instance. On the other hand, if that is so, isn't Rozen doing the same thing? After all, Bolton's bullying of the employees is one thing, but does bullying also carry over into the larger arena? Just curious.

I love the libertarians. Seriously. I don't agree with them on many things, but there are some principles we share - such as a government that promotes personal liberties by knowing when to step aside as opposed to one that wishes to regulate every aspect of life. If only all libertarians worked sensibly towards that end, I'd probably join the party. The bloggers at Hit and Run reported yesterday on a Grandma who is running for office in order to promote the delivery of safe medicines. In this case, that medicine is marijuana, which she'll be happy to include in your cookies for dessert or your curry for lunch.

Libertarians have been all over the recent disclosures of identity theft. They've generally been appalled at the invasion into the private information of citizens (though, as I noted, libertarians are hardly a uniform bunch and some more conservative, or paranoid, members believe a lack of privacy promotes security). So, expect them to post heavily today on the recent disclosure that the Lexis Nexis breach was MUCH larger than originally thought - oh, ten times as much. So, rather than 30,000 identities possibly poached, we're talking 300,000. And counting.

Those conservative libertarians who think that identity theft is appalling, but still support the concept might re-think their position when they read this from Boing Boing. Apparently it is legal for Ohio cops to steal your identity and use it while attempting to catch other criminals.

Speaking of Boing Boing, they pointed me towards an interesting article in the New Yorker on the falling U.S. Dollar. Readers may recall that last fall, I suggested that this needs to be a major topic of the political campaign. Sadly, it was barely mentioned and swiftly ignored just as my suggestion in the previous presidential election that foreign policy should be the focus of that campaign.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

As expected, the FCC ruled that phone providers do not have to sell naked DSL. Rather than take the free market approach that would create greater competition, the FCC gave in to the cowardly stance of their corporate masters. I can understand them bemoaning the concept of different rules for different states and regions, but then why not open all of the country up to the most open rules possible and let market forces rule the day? Now I await Verizon's decision on this ruling. Verizon has said that they plan to offer naked DSL to their customers. Here's the rub: I like Verizon's service (DSL), but if they choose not to offer naked DSL, then I might have to rethink using them as my ISP. Their DSL service is already slower than Comcast's cable service. It is cheaper, but not significantly - especially if you add in the fact that I MUST subscribe to their local phone service (which, to my calculations, makes them more expensive than Comcast). If Verizon provides naked DSL, then their service will be cheaper than Comcast's and I can live with the slower speeds. If not, then their service is more expensive than Comcast's and I will be reconsidering my ISP. A pox on the FCC.

BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow
reports on an insidious scam that provides parents with "free" baby pictures in return for information on the new baby - which the company then sells for profit. Yet another way to lose your privacy, let alone your child's identity, in this world. Hospitals should not participate in this crap. They become the unwitting third party to a possible identity theft scam and, to my mind, open themselves up to possible litigation.

Blogbridge is an open source, java-based RSS Newsfeed reader/aggregator. It's free. Funny thing is, when you read the FAQ, they state:

What is the difference between BlogBridge and for example FeedDemon? At a high level, they are similar. They both aim to provide a productive way to keep up with a large collection of RSS Feeds. The two unique capabilities of BlogBridge are: the heuristics to help the user add new and prune out old feeds based on a variety of factors, and the ability for BlogBridge to directly tap into various web-based indexes and resources to help the user get more done. Both of these capabilities have a variety of features associated with them which we will continue describing.

What is your favorite RSS Aggregator? It used to be NewzCrawler, but lately we have started to use FeedDemon and I like it better. FeedDemon fits our needs best, although there are others which suit other people better.

FeedDemon, of course, is payware. See, FCC? That's competition.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Dickie's Securities

Bruce Schneier blogs about a student at UCSB who broke into the faculty grading system and changed her grades as well as others. As Schneier notes:

Sounds like a flaw in the program to me. It's even one I've written about: a primary security mechanism that fails to a less-secure secondary mechanism.

More Quickies

Become a Cannibal Flesh Donor and save the ecosystem.

A car that has caused many an accident in LA. Warning, may not be work safe. Thanks, Rich, for the link!

Illustrious Fridays

What's a Friday without some pulp fiction art? This time it's from a gallery for a show from 2003 of the works of Norm Eastman.

Denis Goulet offers some terrific, stylized illustrations. I love the color choices and the humor and the retro feel to it.

Penelope Dullaghan's work is charming.

Ray Caesar's works are completely in the digital medium. They are gothic, cyberpunk, creepy, and I'm fascinated by them.

Andrew Hickenbottom
is a 3D modeler. I like how he shows you some of how the work goes together on the site.

Show and Tell Music offers album covers of yesteryear.

Ronnie Del Carmen
has some interesting sketches on his site. His palette tends to be bright and his subjects, more often than not, are young women. Once again, he has a good style.

Dickie's Quickies

Google plans on doubling - at least - the capacity of their Gmail.

See how a Kansas blogger spanks Anne Coulter - figuratively, of course.

Terri Schiavo's parents plan to sell their donor list to a direct marketing firm. This was confirmed in a story in the New York Times (subscription required). No matter how one felt about this topic, isn't this further act disgusting?

My friend, Archie, first pointed this story out to me about a guy, angry with someone because that person sold a virtual weapon for a video game to someone for real cash, stabbed the person he loaned the weapon to. To add a further twist to the story, the guy who "owned" the original virtual weapon, tried to file a stolen property report with the police.

Here's an older report on how the RIAA's claims that they were losing sales due to downloads was, at the time, at odds with the Nielsen's Ratings system measurements. It's all in how you slice and dice the statistics.