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Archive for January, 2008

FCC fine causes a million people to watch old NYPD Blue episode

Posted by Fred on January 30, 2008

In February 2003, ABC’s NYPD Blue contained a brief scene displaying a woman’s naked buttocks.  ABC stations themselves received very few complaints – in the east and west, the show aired at 10:00 pm, outside the FCC’s silly safe harbor for family programming.  In the Central and Mountain time zones, however, the show aired at 9:00, so the complaint machine at the American “Family” Association fired up, with 40,000 cut-and-paste complaints filed by viewers who almost certainly did not watch the show and would not have known about the few seconds of naked booty but for their taskmasters at the AFA.  The FCC itself acknowledges that the vast majority of complaints came from “members of various citizen advocacy groups.”

ABC’s defenses fell on deaf ears, and the FCC has proposed a $1.4 million fine against ABC and the stations, representing $27,500 against each of the affiliates airing the show at 9:00 p.m.  It’s apparently OK to watch a naked butt at 10:00, but not at 9:00.  This would all be old news (the show aired five years ago) but for the FCC fine and the AFA’s gloating e-mail alert:

Great news! The Federal Communications Commission has fined ABC television stations $1.43 million for broadcasting indecent programming on “NYPD Blue.” It was the second-largest indecency fine against a television broadcaster ever.

So what was the net result? Over a million people have watched the scene on YouTube in the 48 hours after the fine was announced.

The US Federal Communications Commission has encouraged children to watch naked women on YouTube.

On Friday, nearly four years after 52 American TV stations broadcast images of a woman’s naked buttocks between the hours of 9pm and 10pm, the FCC suddenly decided it was time to slap these stations with a $1.43m fine. The end result is that well over one million randy YouTubers have now viewed the woman’s naked buttocks in little more than 48 hours.

So the FCC has done what ABC could not — get people to watch Charlotte Ross’ nude buttocks. By 2003, NYPD Blue’s ratings had significantly declined, with only about 7 million viewers per week. That the FCC got a million people to watch in 48 hours is impressive. That 40,000 complaints led to a million viewers is equally impressive.  The FCC fine is not, of course. Adults should be free to decide what to watch for themselves, and parents, not the FCC should be “protecting the children.”  A good first step would be to shut down the complaintbots by rejecting all complaints from “citizen advocacy groups.”

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Google finally fixes Gmail IMAP for Windows Mobile

Posted by Fred on January 30, 2008

When Gmail announced free IMAP access for all, users rejoiced.  But then we tried to use it, and Windows Mobile users said Boo! Now Gmail says they have fixed IMAP for Windows Mobile users, so we can rejoice again.  Google has updated the configuration instructions for WM6.  These instructions are incomplete, however, so here is an illustrated guide to setting up IMAP.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Here Come the Lunchbox Police

Posted by Fred on January 28, 2008

As seen at Reason’s Hit & Run, the UK is pondering turning school officials into the Lunchbox Police:

Under the Government’s obesity strategy, all schools will be expected to design a “healthy lunchbox policy” on what makes a nutritional packed lunch over the next year.

Some parents may even be asked to sign a form agreeing to ban unhealthy foods from their children’s lunches.

If a packed lunch is deemed to contain too much fat and sugar, parents could be sent warning letters or their children’s meals confiscated.

One wonders if that sort of policy would fly here in the US.  I’d like to say no, but with the ever-increasing talk of using the tax code to fight obesity, I’m not so sure.  We’ve already banned disfavored foods from cafeterias and vending machines and all but banished peanut products from schools.  Schools are being turned into mini health clubs – my kids often report having to run laps before they are permitted any free play time at recess.

What overzealous bureaucrats don’t want to admit is that most parents know what food is healthy and what food is not.  We just know that kids aren’t going to eat “falafel and houmous pitta bread with a tomato and avocado salad, followed by fruit yoghurt” and they’re not going to eat the trout tenders with green peas that Henrico County pushes in its elementary school cafeterias.  We do the best we can to get kids to eat a more healthy-than-not diet and get some exercise, but taking a child’s lunch away isn’t really going to help.  Is it really better to make Johnny go hungry than to let him eat a Twinkie?

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Skyfire set to unveil "game-changing" mobile browser

Posted by Fred on January 28, 2008

logo

In advance of Demo 2008, Skyfire Labs (formerly known as DVC Labs) has announced a new mobile browser, also known as Skyfire.  The browser application will work similarly to Microsoft’s Deepfish or Opera Mini, in which web pages will first be processed by Skyfire’s proxy servers before being sent to a user’s mobile device.  This could speed up page loads, but more importantly will allow use of AJAX, Flash, Java and audio and video in a way not supported by other mobile browsers (even the iPhone).  Here’s how Skyfire describes it:

Today at the DEMO 08 conference, Skyfire unveiled a new mobile browser that makes browsing on a smartphone just like browsing on a PC. For the first time ever, smartphone users can experience the “real Web” to access and interact with any Web site built with any Web technology, including dynamic Flash, advanced Ajax, Java and more – at the same speeds they are accustomed to on their PC. With this free downloadable browser, users can finally watch videos from the real YouTube, stay connected with their friends on the full-feature PC versions of Facebook and MySpace, and listen to any Web music service like Last.fm. Before Skyfire, users painfully waited for these Flash and Ajax-heavy sites to render – often resulting in error messages or crashes.

You can’t download it yet, although you can sign up for the private beta list.  There is a demo of the interface on youtube (see below).  Skyfire has also posted some images of the browser showing popular websites.  Here are some side by side comparisons of Skyfire and Pocket Internet Explorer (on my Motorola Q9h).  Comparing some of the sites isn’t very easy – many of the sites default to loading a mobile version of the page, and there’s no simple way in IE to overrule that browser detection.

ESPN:

espn espn-pie

Facebook:

facebook facebook-PIE

Google Maps:

google_maps maps-pie

Obviously, Skyfire looks like it would be a vast improvement, although improving on IE isn’t hard, which is why the Moto Q comes with Opera Mobile as the default browser instead of IE.  Even Opera Mobile has its faults, however. It doesn’t zoom and scroll the way Skyfire promises to  or the way its sibling Opera Mini does. It doesn’t do Flash or Java, either.

With all the promise of Skyfire, I have two primary concerns based on currently available information:

  • A proxy browsing experience is only as good as the proxy servers.  Opera Mini has scaled very well, serving more than 1 billion pages a month with no real noticeable drag.  Deepfish, on the other hand, scaled badly and now appears to be abandoned.
  • Related to the first (servers cost money) is what the business model for Skyfire will be.  The company is looking for partners in three areas: OEM bundling of Skyfire with hardware or other services, branded editions of Skyfire with custom logos, start pages and links, and in-browser advertising.  None of these seem like very easy sells.  Will the carriers really embrace a technology that relies on third-party proxy servers? Will they be willing to install and maintain their own servers for Skyfire? Neither seems particularly likely, as the carriers like to maintain control and actively block use of browsers like Opera Mini.  Advertising seems even worse — users dislike advertising, and with only a 320×240 QVGA screen to work with, devoting very many pixels to ads would be self-defeating.

Proxy servers are probably the best answer to mobile browsing on basic hardware, but a standalone company seems ill-suited to providing the infrastructure.  opera can do it, as they make money from Opera Mobile, they make money from embedded Opera and they make money from advertising on their own sites.  Microsoft could do it, even if they show little interest at the moment in Deepfish.  It’s not clear if Skyfire can do it, but I wish them luck.

[via about a bazillion blog posts, although the first was at Engadget]

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My Verizon FiOS customer service nightmare, growing ever longer

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

Andru Edwards discovers a major privacy problem with Verizon FiOS:

Well, apparently, the guy who came out to do our FiOS installation back in May of 2007 was, at best, having an off day – or at worst, is completely and utterly undertrained and had no idea how to set up a freaking account. He mixed up our two accounts, and Verizon has no idea how to fix it, so instead, they just ignore it, hoping I will go away without them actually helping me.

So it’s been 8 months since we have had FiOS installed, and for that entire 8 months, my personal information has been freely available to another FiOS customer who I do not know. He lives in my town, not too far away. That doesn’t leave me with a comfortable feeling. Verizon, the company that should be protecting this data, seems to opt to ignore it instead. Every time I call, save for once, there has been no action on the trouble ticket. That is how “high priority” the issue is to them.

Wow, that sucks. Although it does provide a good opportunity for me to share my FiOS story.  We got FiOS TV, phone and internet service at our old house in Henrico County’s West End. Installation was a bit of a pain, but the service was good.  It did go out one time when one of their contractors sliced through a line, but they fixed it. The TV service in particular was nice, good quality picture and cheaper than cable.  Then we moved a couple of miles west and the trouble started.

Verizon’s rollout schedule for FTTP is beyond human comprehension. We had it in our old neighborhood, but when we moved out of that house into a nicer house in a much bigger neighborhood full of nicer houses, there is no FiOS. Seven months later, there’s still no word on when or if it will come.  Disappointing, but that’s how it goes. We ended up back on Comcast due to the large, DirecTV-blocking trees.  I called Verizon, and they switched me to DSL and analog telephone service. They said they would be sending labels for me to use when returning the set-top box and router. Time passes, no labels.  Call them again, more time passes, still no labels.

I’m now coming up on the “deadline” for returning the equipment, so I call again, and they promise to send out a technician to pick the stuff up, which they do, leaving me a receipt.  A month later, I get a bill for $600 for the equipment they claim I never returned.  I call Verizon, and they say they’ll look into it.  Time passes again. Then I get a notice from a collection agency saying I owe Verizon $600.  Then the agency starts calling. Several times a day.  Finally, I get Verizon on the phone and they promise to reverse the charge and send a new bill with a zero balance.

So I call the collection agency and explain the facts.  They say there’s nothing they can do without a confirmation number from Verizon, which Verizon says they can’t provide because it’s done via an email from the customer service people to the billing people.  I have to contest the charge, which they’ll then investigate.  I do that, and that’s the last I hear from anybody, and I figure that the long nightmare is finally over.

Until last week, when I got another notice from the collection agency saying I owe Verizon $600.  Again, for equipment I returned, Verizon seems to believe I returned and for which I have a receipt.  Their TV service may be good, but their customer service most certainly is not.

Posted in Customer Service, internet | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Happy Birthday, Mozilla

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

FF_cake A Mozilla Firefox cake, created by Download Squad and Slashfood blogger and professional pastry chef Shayna Glick in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Netscape announcement setting the Netscape navigator source code free.  The code was released as Mozilla Milestone 3 in 1999, and eventually gave rise to a browser-only release, Phoenix 0.1, in September 2002.  Phoenix then became Firefox in February 2004 (after a brief prelude as Firebird), and the rest is, as they say, history.  The developers are working on Firefox 3, currently officially available as Beta 2 (which is what I use daily), although the open source nature of the project means that you can always download a nightly build.

My history with Mozilla products dates to Mozilla 0.6, released in December 2000. I had used Navigator before that, of course, beginning when I got it on a disc from my first ISP in December 1994.  At some point, however, IE took over and I only used Mozilla to either make some sort of statement or when I was in one of my “play around with Linux” phases.  I’m not sure when Firefox took over permanently, but it was probably around the 0.9 release in June 2004.  They’ve come a long way – my father-in-law uses Firefox exclusively, and my kids just think of Firefox as “the Internet.”

As an aside, I hope people don’t actually eat that cake. Black icing tends to have disastrous consequences if you don’t have a toothbrush handy:

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AFA says ABC loves homosexuals, hates Christians

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

As usual, the American “Family” Association used the recent events involving ESPN’s Dana Jacobson to make their same old tired arguments that (1) the homosexual army is on the march and (2) cultural elites hate Christians.  As usual, they get it almost completely wrong:

ABC fired an actor because of an anti-gay comment, but gave anchorwoman who told an audience ‘F—Jesus’ what amounted to a one-week vacation.

Last June, when actor Isaiah Washington, star of ABC’s show Grey’s Anatomy, made an anti-gay slur in reference to openly homosexual T.R. Knight, the network immediately fired Washington.

But when ESPN (owned by ABC) anchorwoman Dana Jacobson publicly said “F— Notre Dame,” “F— Touchdown Jesus” and finally “F— Jesus,” the network gave her a one week suspension. In essence, ABC gave Jacobson a one week vacation.

ABC has two standards, one for anti-gay comments and one for anti-Christian comments. Those who use anti-gay comments are punished. Those who use anti-Christian comments are supported.

Four paragraphs, and not one of them contains the actual truth. The AFA is at least correcting its original statement that ESPN had “refused to take any action against ESPN anchorwoman Dana Jacobson for her hateful, slurring remarks against Jesus,” which is demonstrably false.  However, only in the fantasy world of the AFA is a suspension without pay the same as a vacation.

Second, T.R. Knight may be “openly homosexual” now (and who cares if he is, except for people like Don Wildmon?), but he wasn’t before Isaiah Washington opened his big mouth.  Idiots like Washington and the AFA only make matters worse for themselves when they speak.  Furthermore, although calling Knight a “faggot” got the most press, it was hardly the only thing Washington did:

In October 2006, news reports surfaced that Washington had grabbed co-star Patrick Dempsey by the throat. It was reported that the altercation was prompted by or related to Washington’s use of a derogatory epithet toward co-star T. R. Knight and his sexuality. Shortly after the details of the argument became public, Knight publicly disclosed that he is gay. The situation seemed somewhat resolved when Washington issued a statement, apologizing for his “unfortunate use of words during the recent incident on-set.”

The controversy later resurfaced when the cast appeared at the Golden Globes in January 2007. While being interviewed on the red carpet prior to the awards, Washington joked, “I love gay. I wanted to be gay. Please let me be gay.” After the show won Best Drama, Washington, in response to press queries as to any conflicts backstage, said that he had never referred to Knight as a “faggot.” However, in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Knight said that Washington had, in fact, used that particular epithet.

Washington attacked a co-worker physically, and continued to act like an ass after being called on it. very few businesses would keep an employee like that around.  Had Jacobson tried to choke Mike Golic instead of making rude references to his alma mater, she would certainly be looking for work, too. 

Anyway, Isaiah Washington is hardly hurting for work, even after he continued to attack Knight, Dempsey and ABC (blaming racism for his firing). NBC cast him in a story arc on Bionic Woman, leading NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman to remark that working with Washington would be “like A-Rod leaving the Yankees in midseason.”

Finally, there is a clear difference between Washington and Jacobson.  Washington verbally attacked a specific individual with whom he was required to work. Jacobson insulted no specific Christian, and most of her remarks were directed to an institution, the University of Notre Dame.  Touchdown Jesus is not a person; he’s a football tradition.  Saying “f*** Jesus” in this context says nothing about how Jacobson, ESPN, ABC or the world view Christians or Christianity; it says something about how she views Notre Dame, which continues to get massive coverage for a football program that doesn’t deserve it, and hasn’t deserved it for decades, merely because of Touchdown Jesus.  The AFA really needs to get over their position that anyone who says anything that a Christian doesn’t like is biased against Christians. Blasphemy is in bad taste, but it’s only illegal in a theocracy.

Posted in Sports, TV | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Remembering Jonestown

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

2008 marks the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, in which more than 900 followers of Jim Jones, including 276 children, died in a mass murder-suicide at the People’s Temple Agricultural Project near Port Kaituma, Guyana.  The events in Guyana were the subject of University of Richmond historian Dan RobertsA Moment in Time radio pieces for the past three days (part 1, part 2, part 3).

The climactic events began on November 14, when a delegation led by Congressman Leo Ryan, a Democrat from San Francisco (where most People’s Temple members had resided before decamping to Guyana under the cloud of investigations for tax evasion). 

Jones promised cooperation with Ryan, but refused to allow him into the compound until November 17.  It was then that things went south:

It was later reported (and verified by audiotapes recovered by investigators) that Jones had run rehearsals in how to receive Ryan’s delegation in order to convince them that everyone was happy and in good spirits. On the night of Ryan’s arrival, there was a reception and concert held for the Ryan delegation. Temple members were carefully selected by Jones to accompany individual visitors around the compound. Some were angry and saw the Congressman’s visit as trouble brought in from outside, while many went on with their usual routines. Two Peoples Temple members (Vernon Gosney and Monica Bagby) made the first move for defection that night—Gosney passed a note to Don Harris (mistaking him for Ryan), reading “Dear, Congressman Vernon Gosney and Monica Bagby. Please help us get out of Jonestown.”

Eventually, the defectors were joined by others, and 16 ex-Temple members joined Ryan and his entourage for the trip to the Port Kaituma airstrip. The 16 included Jones loyalist Larry Layton, likely there as a plant for what happened next.  Once on the plane, Layton pulled out a hidden gun and opened fire, wounding Gosney and Bagby.  At the same time, a tractor with trailer attached arrived from the compound and opened fire on the second plane, wounding nine and killing Congressman Ryan, news team members Bob Brown, Greg Robinson, and Don Harris, and Jonestown defector Patricia Parks.  The wounded included Ryan’s legal advisor, Jackie Speier, journalist Steve Sung and Concerned Relatives representative Anthony Katsaris.

What happened next is now legend. On the evening of November 18, Jones aides prepared a vat of grape Flavor Aid laced with valium, chloral hydrate and cyanide. The kids were poisoned first, using a syringe to shoot the liquid into their mouths. Those who resisted were physically restrained.  The adults came next. In all, 909 followers committed suicide or were murdered.

Jonestown is one of those events that has become burned into the collective American subconscious. It gave rise to the phrase “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” despite the fact that Jones used Flavor Aid (manufactured by Jel Sert) and not Kool-Aid (a product of Kraft Foods). It set the macabre bar for mass suicide, with events like the mass Heaven’s Gate suicide being called the “next Jonestown.”  It provides some measure of support for intervention against religious cults, sometimes leading to disastrous results, such as Waco.  Which is why it’s fascinating to me, as are all such cultural touchstones. Jonestown begat Waco which eventually begat Oklahoma City, Columbine and Virginia Tech.

My favorite Jonestown cultural reference is “Jonestown” from the Concrete Blonde album Mexican Moon:

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Politicos agree on stimulus package (for some)

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

Update 2/8: Congress and the President have agreed on a revised package.  See here for more.

So House leaders and the Administration have reached a deal on an “economic stimulus” package, the centerpiece of which will be tax rebates to some workers.  The details haven’t really been released, but the Post describes it this way:

Under the deal, nearly everyone who earned a paycheck in 2007 would receive at least $300 from the Internal Revenue Service — $103 billion in total. Most people would receive rebates of $600 each, or $1,200 per couple. Families with children would receive an additional payment of $300 per child. Workers who earned at least $3,000 last year — but not enough to pay income taxes — would be eligible for $300.

The way it will actually work is that the tax rate on the first $6,000 of earnings for individuals and $12,000 for couples will be reduced from 10% to zero. In addition, families will be eligible for an additional $300 per child.  Individuals with Adjusted Gross Incomes above $75,000 and couples with AGIs above $150,000 will see their rebates phased out.  You’ll get a rebate even if you would otherwise pay no income tax (due to deductions).

Here’s a summary, as best I can figure out:

Individuals

AGI Children
0 1 2 3 4
$3,000 $300 $600 $900 $1,200 $1,500
$4,000 $400 $700 $1,000 $1,300 $1,600
$5,000 $500 $800 $1,100 $1,400 $1,700
$6,000 $600 $900 $1,200 $1,500 $1,800
$6,000 to
$75,000
$600 $900 $1,200 $1,500 $1,800
$75,000 to $87,000 Unclear, but will be gradually reduced from above to $0 as incomes increase
Above $87,000 0 0 0 0 0

Couples

AGI Children
0 1 2 3 4
$3,000 $300 $600 $900 $1,200 $1,500
$6,000 $600 $900 $1,200 $1,500 $1,800
$9,000 $900 $1,200 $1,500 $1,800 $2,100
$12,000 $1,200 $1,500 $1,800 $2,100 $2,400
$12,000 to
$150,000
$1,200 $1,500 $1,800 $2,100 $2,400
$150,000 to $174,000 Unclear, but will be gradually reduced from above to $0 as incomes increase
Above $174,000 0 0 0 0 0

The stimulus package uses AGI, not taxable income. This means that only a select few deductions from income are included.  401(k) contributions are excluded entirely from taxable wages. Standard and itemized deductions don’t reduce AGI.  The IRS defines it as:

AGI is defined as your taxable income from all sources including wages, salaries, tips, taxable interest, ordinary dividends, taxable refunds, credits, or offsets of state and local income taxes, alimony received, business income or loss, capital gains or losses, other gains or losses, taxable IRA distributions, taxable pensions and annuities, rental real estate, royalties, farm income or losses, unemployment compensation, taxable social security benefits, and other income minus specific deductions including educator expenses, the IRA deduction, student loan interest deduction, tuition and fees deduction, Archer MSA deduction, moving expenses, one-half of self-employment tax, self-employed health insurance deduction, self-employed SEP, SIMPLE, and qualified plans, penalty on early withdrawal of savings, and alimony paid by you. Do not deduct your standard or itemized deductions.

The assumption behind the stimulus package is that people will take the money they don’t have to pay the government and spend it, putting money into the economy.  If that is indeed the assumption, why the one-shot rebate check? Why not just cut the overall marginal tax rate, so that people have more to spend all the time?  It’s not at all clear that the tax relief will go into consumer goods instead of savings against catastrophe.  After all, once the money is received, it’s not going to come again.

The stimulus package as proposed also suffers from Washington’s typical class warfareism.  Why exclude those with incomes above $87,000/$174,000 altogether? Why phase out the relief for those above $75,000/$150,000?  If the justification for including those with income but no tax liability is to get money into the economy (after all, in that case it’s a cash handout, not a tax rebate), there is no justification for excluding higher incomes.  A family with two professionals earning $178,000 puts money into the economy just as much as one earning $149,000.  The political reality is we can’t ever be seen as “benefiting the rich,” even though they pay the vast majority of all federal taxes (and yes, this is true even if you include FICA).  And we can’t ever be seen as not helping the poor, even if they pay no taxes.  So we end up with a stimulus package that stimulates less, just so we can say we’ve appropriately soaked the rich.

Again, while anything that takes money out of the government’s greedy mitts and returns it to the people is a Good Thing, a tax cut would be better.

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Cameron hired as Ravens coordinator, but why?

Posted by Fred on January 24, 2008

ravens_cameron_football_ba101 What happens when you lead a team to a 1-15 record with an offense that ranks 28th in yards, 24th in passing yards, 23rd in rushing yards and 26th in points scored?  You get a job as an offensive coordinator with the one team you managed to beat, of course.  Cam Cameron does have an offensive pedigree from his days in San Diego, and he can’t be much worse than Brian Billick, but when did it become a good idea to turn a failed head coach into a coordinator the very next season? It worked that way for Gregg Williams and for Mike Martz and now for Cam Cameron.  Hopefully things turn out better for the Ravens than they did for the Redskins and Lions.

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