Dec 05


Can’t… resist… linkspamming:


Oct 05

Free SkypeOut to 1-800s

Quick note to any of my Skypin’ peeps who might not have caught the word. Even if you don’t pay for SkypeOut and never plan to, you can now use skype to call (almost) any 1-800 style toll-free number. This has not only interesting implications on its own, but when combined with the fact that 1-800-FREE411 will look up, and connect you to, any US resident or company for free, it means that skype users can call anyone in the US, even if their target doesn’t have skype.

Share Skype – Free calls to toll-free phone numbers global beta

[PS – If you are in the “What’s Skype?” camp, go here: skype.com]

Sep 05

Deliberate Silence

If I were to comment on the state of things at work as they stand at this very moment, it would linger here and be perceived as “current” by those who care enough to read it, and it might well continue to be so perceived long after it was actually true. This would be an error, because things at work are in a state of heavy flux. Not insofar as my employment is concerned – I am still with IBM, I am still changing jobs (and doing so October 18th by the way, since I was reminded that I have neglected to mention that date) and my new job will still have something to do with user experience. The specifics, however broad and exciting they may be, are awash in the aforementioned flux and thus remain, by me and for the time being, undiscussed. In time, dear reader, in time. Suffice it to say that my role, as it is currently interpreted, seems to be… bigger… than I had anticipated. Huzzah.

In order to lend substance to this otherwise profoundly unsubstantial entry, and in the spirit of my cloak & dagger theatrics, I present this absolutely delicious article. For those who follow cryptography and espionage and all that, it is an engaging description of Tolkachev’s life and times as a CIA asset. For those who don’t but enjoy a good yarn it is, I think, a pretty accessible (and unclassified) story of a soviet double agent in the dying years of the cold war, and has some fun descriptions of CIA & KGB tradecraft in that era. I found out about it thanks to the inimitable Bruce Schneier, maybe the smartest guy in security today. (And I don’t hand out that “smartest” moniker lightly.)

Sep 05

Foaming Soap

You know this stuff, it’s everywhere now. It’s soap, only it comes out pre-foamed for your convenience. I’m supposed to make some wry comment now about how lazy our society has become when we can’t even rub our hands together to lather soap (to say nothing of actually washing our hands to begin with) but I can’t make that comment because I have a secret:

I really like the stuff.

We have the Dawn antibacterial foaming stuff in the Kitchen, it lasts forever and smells vaguely citrus-ish. They just replaced the soap dispensers at work with foaming versions, so I decided I had to know what the big fuss was all about. It’s not particularly mysterious. A refill lasts a lot longer since the perceived amount dispensed is higher. The dispensers take sealed 1L bags of the liquid, so there is less mess when refilling (just swap bags) and also less risk of contamination. This is a nice idea, since I have always secretly suspected that the nastiest part of any public bathroom is probably the inside of one of those pink-tar soap dispensers, which has probably been topped up for the last 5 years without an actual cleaning. And of course, in a corporate setting, anything that decreases absenteeism by encouraging people not to track their flu-infected feces all over the building is a good thing for the bottom line.

None of which is cause for a blog entry. My readers should understand that I thoroughly filter and inspect any candidate material for this blog before posting. That which makes the front page is really only the metaphorical orange that learned how to pole vault with a straw, in the (metaphorical) Tropicana Orange Juice that is my blog. My soap ravings, enthralling though they may be, would not have made the cut, were it not for the good people at Parish Maintenance Supply, a commercial/industrial janitorial company. If you feel that my own fervor on the subject has been somewhat, shall we say, zealous, then you really need to check out their page.

People are getting excited about foaming soaps. They find the smooth, creamy feel very appealing and enjoy the convenience and total luxury of having their soap pre-lathered before washing.

Total luxury. Of pre-lathered soap. I think they say it best,

Users will think “Awesome!”

Aug 05

I wonder if it gets tiresome for Google…

… to keep rocking and rocking and rocking.

I refer, of course, to Google Talk. I haven’t gotten on board yet, but for those who are interested, you can download the official client or check here for deets on getting GAIM, Trillian, and possibly other clients up and running. All signs point to it basically being a jabber style implementation server-side, with support for text IM and voice. Seems that all you need (other than the aforementioned usefully-configured client) is a gmail address, email me if you need one of those (does anybody still need one of those?) I think I need to get this up and running RFSN[?].

On another note, I was rather displeased with the new google desktop client. People have been telling me for a while that GD is one of those indispensable-once-you-have-it technologies and I believe the desktop search capability might be. But their new client acts as a very-useful looking sidebar as well, with weather, news, todo lists, and a plugin architecture, I was ready to be quite excited. On inspection though, I find that auto-hide doesn’t work properly (it hides but won’t come back if you have maximized windows) and I couldn’t find an always-on-top switch. I think I’ll write them, they’ve been good about responding to email about search engine things in the past, so hopefully they have people paying attention. As I said, I’m ready to be very hyped about it, indeed to develop for it, but certain things need to work effortlessly or they aren’t worth using at all.

Aug 05

Life imitating art

Can anyone say, “Buddy Jesus”?

Catholic Online – Cathcom – A la ‘Matrix,’ vocations recruitment poster shows priest as hero

Aug 05

The Car Whisperer

Today’s winner for coolest and most useful hack (there are a lot of contenders right now with all the news coming out of DefCon):

The Car Whisperer

I am already composing witty reparté for the jackass that just tried to pass in the merge lane that is clearly ending in 12 ft.

Jul 05

The Heritage Bicycle Club of North America

I am member 29111 of the Heritage Bicycle Club of North America. Until tomorrow.

The Ferocus has needed new tires for some time, and I was basically driving its current ones into the ground while I looked into which tires I wanted as replacements. Thus it came as no particular surprise yesterday that, while doing 120 or so on the 407 near Vaughan, our front passenger tire gave up. No blowout, no trauma; just Amy and I realising that the tire was gone and me hitting the hazards and pulling off. Since I like cars, and preparedness, our car is well armed for such a happenstance and it took no more than 15 minutes to swap tires, check pressure on the donut, touch up with compressor, and we were back on the road. It was basically perfectly executed on the tire’s part since I had just that morning cashed the Make: cheque that was going to pay for the replacements, and since I have today off (3 blog postings in one day, you better believe I have the day off) to bring the car in for the swap. Now this is how we roll.

So it came to be that I had to find lunch while the tires were swapped, and was on foot, in Brampton. I meandered south since the road tends to slope that way, and passed by the Crown & Anchor pub. The Crown & Anchor looks, from the signage, like a wannabe Firkin, but since Firkins are sort of wannabe pubs, I thought this might be the very thing I was looking for, a beef dip or halibut and chips being emminently more civilized than your average fast food fare. On the door, I saw a sign, reading thus:

This establishment (The Crown & Anchor Pub, Brampton) has become a member of the Heritage Bicycle Club of North America.
As a result, our services are only offered to members of the club.
One day membership: $1.00
Yearly membership: $25.00
One day memberships can accrue towards cost of yearly membership.

On my eternal soul, I shit you not.

It took me I think a full 3 seconds to process the scam that was going on here, so if you already know the punchline, you are clearly much smarter than I. I walked in the door, grabbed a seat at which point the waitress gave The Schpiel. “This is not a pub,” she said, doing her best Magritte. “Yes, I saw the sign,” I replied knowingly, but she was compelled, I think, to continue. “We are a private club, and there is a membership fee of $1.00 for a one day membership.” I waited. “And this is a smoking establishment.” Bing-, as they say, -o.

She needn’t have bothered. The mind likes familiar things and so it was not long before I remembered pubs with smoke and settled back in; I spent a lot of high school in pool halls and a lot of the last few years in poker rooms, I can handle smoke, but that is not at all to say that it wasn’t immediately, overpoweringly noticeable. The smoke curling off of every (other) patron’s fingers was almost lively, excited to find a room where it could stretch out and fill the space. There was no filtration system in evidence, even the ceiling fans only sort of wandered about their orbits. It felt like I was in a den of iniquity, far moreso than any underground poker game.

The pub (qua pub) wasn’t great, unsurprisingly. My diet coke tasted alarmingly like beer in a way that casts doubt on the diligence of their dishwasher. The beef dip was passable, the coleslaw was mayonnaise, and the tab came to $11.45 including my membership fee. When I got home, I took another look at the card, and dug up the URL. I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but what I did amused me. The site is a sham of course, every page past the opening is under construction or 404. I thought the banner page might militantly proclaim smoker’s rights, I thought they might farcically pretend interest in those big-wheeled bicycles of yore. What they do instead is muddle:

The purpose of the membership is to provide FRIENDSHIP and an understanding of expectations. These expectations can vary and in fact should evolve with the membership.

Because of the increased regulations on both sides of the border that increasingly dictate cultural and social behavior, there is a growing need for an organization that can propagate these rules and regulations. Our members can use modern technology to inform themselves about seemingly confusing dictates and find an experience that caters to them.

Now you know the secret, you understand this code language. If you got there because you googled for heritage bicycle clubs…?

I pass no judgement on the whole operation – they did the natural thing when their shared interest became taboo, they turned inward. I’m really more struck than anything, like I walked in on a Knights Templar baptismal ritual, only sadder, more pathetic. I doubt I’ll renew my membership.