Thursday, January 31, 2008

Driving On the Other Side

Very, very amusing piece by Jon Carroll in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. Laugh-out-loud funny stuff, particularly if read aloud. Among other things, it contains sheep, tussocks, quadriceps, stairs, and cars. All quite funny.

As my antipodean readers have experienced first-hand, I have actually driven on the unaccustomed side of the road (we all survived). The main difficulties I had were lane positioning (which had to do with the driving position and point-of-view, not so much the side of the road) and turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to signal a turn ("Couldn't you tell I was going to turn? Why else would the wipers be swishing on a sunny day?"). Also good for a chuckle, but Jon's column is much funnier.

For what it's worth, Jon is a distant acquaintance. We've met several times at events, and he occasionally sits in front of me at baseball games when he attends with my seat neighbors. So read the story already. It's funny!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The More Things Change...

...the more they go back to the way they were. And that can be a good thing. Witness, the resurgence of paper-ballot voting:
New state rules severely limiting the use of touch-screen voting machines in California have left many counties scrambling to prepare for elections using paper ballots. Napa, Santa Clara and about 20 other counties will have to move from their all-electronic systems for the first time in years.
Most of the article discusses the difficulties from the perspective that it might take a long time to know all the results. My response: Who cares? As long as you get the right answer, there is no need to hurry.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cool Posters

For the last couple of months, I've been walking past a series of posters on my way to work, and I finally located the images online. The one above is my favorite.

The City of San Francisco has an Arts Commission that is responsible for, among other things, public art. Some of that is really awful, but some, like these posters, are quite whimsical.

I just like of like the concept of a streetcar line with a corkscrew track....

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who is Minding the Store?

This comes as absolutely no surprise to me.

As one of the many lucky humans who happens to have a common enough name that someone with a similar name is on the No Fly List, I have to put up with extra hassles every time I want to fly. Like, I can virtually never check in online, which is most annoying when flying with, say, Southwest Airlines, where the order of your check-in affects the quality of your seat (first come, first served).

It only takes a few moments to get it all cleared up: one look at my driver's license, they see the birth date doesn't match, and off I go. But the damage has been done: I've already had to stand in a line and hope that someone who knows what they are doing is at the counter.

At one point, I was interested in trying to clear my name. Early on, there was a very unencouraging many-generations-old photocopied letter that the airlines would give me, helpfully pointing me to a page at the TSA website where they basically said I could write them a letter and they might think about doing some unspecified thing that might help.

Um, thanks.

Now it appears they eventually did an equally unspectacular job when they created the online version. From the Washington Post Security Fix blog:
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began its investigation into security lapses at the TSA's Traveler Redress Web site last year, after Security Fix and other media outlets pointed out that the site accepted Social Security numbers and other sensitive information from travelers without encrypting the data, potentially allowing hackers to intercept the data. noted in its coverage that the site was so laden in spelling errors that it resembled a phishing Web site, the sort typically set up by scammers to lure people into giving away personal and financial data.
Great. These Keystone Kops can't even put up a secure website. I sure want to hand over lots of my personal information to them. And for what? It's not like they're going to remove my namesake from The List, so the airlines will still have to verify that I'm not him.
But in the meantime, they'll have exposed my personal information so some identity thief can buy himself some tickets to Rio and then find himself unable to fly anyway. I feel so much better.


Voting Technology

Just saw a video clip of the California Secretary of State (among other things, the chief election official), Debra Bowen, doing research in New Hampshire.

It's nice to see that she's doing some field work. She seems extremely impressed with the technology they use in New Hampshire to provide a paper trail.

BTW, the clip is on an interesting-looking videolog (vlog?) called Why Tuesday? I like their slogan: "Fixing our voting system, one question at a time." That also led me to another blog about election reform, All About Voting. Election year...time to pay attention!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vintage Jim Henson

This is kinda cute. The voice is clearly Henson (and the banjo player looks like him), and the song is very clever. I have no idea where it came from, though. Doesn't really look like the Muppet Show.

[short time later...]
Ah...the wonders of Google: this site pins it down to a specific episode of The Muppet Show's first season. I love the Internet!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Evil Mad Scientists -- Yay!

Just found this site via a link on Pharyngula: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.

What's so great about them? Two words: edible science.

I was initially taken with the edible Flying Spaghetti Monster (which is extremely cool), but they cemented it with edible Origami (hint: wonton wrappers!). Dessert sushi, meringue Peeps....

I will be examining this site in much more detail!

Big Waves

Locally, people are all excited about the big wave surfing at Mavericks this weekend. So I was pleased to see this blog post about really big water.

Science is cool.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Musical Fun for Geezers

Had to share this, which a friend pointed me to tonight:

It rocks. Really.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cricket is Cool

As my devoted readers know, I love baseball. But a few years back, while working in Australia, I got hooked on cricket. What an interesting sport.

And I never get to watch it here in the States. But I can still follow it via the Internet, which is kind of surreal, but fun.

So I just caught the end of a five-day cricket test between Australia and India, which came down to the last few minutes before it was going to be declared a draw, when Australia brought in a new bowler, and suddenly he takes down the last three batsmen from India to salvage a record-tying sixteenth consecutive test win for the Aussies.

Just amazingly cool. Wish I could have been there to see it in person!

Holiday Travel and Airline Security

I seem to recall blogging about this before, but I just read an item from the NY Times about it, and it reminded me of this ongoing example of stupid government policies and our sheepish accession to them:
Thus, what most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it’s the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It’s not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it’s too late.
I'm still steamed at the TSA guy who got all huffy when I made some cavalier comment after removing shoes and putting them through the x-rays about how I felt so much more secure. He got in my face about how that was the most severe threat, etc. Oy. I mean, I guess it's important to him to believe his job has a purpose. Mostly, it has the purpose of keeping airline passengers off-base and docile.

Happy New Year!