Jun 13, 2008

For all you AALL members out there...

Are you interested in learning about applications like blogs, wikis, and Second Life, but don’t have a lot of time? Take the Computing Services-SIS Web 2.0 Challenge!

The Web 2.0 Challenge — a free, comprehensive, and interactive online course — will use hands-on exercises to introduce law librarians to many kinds of social technologies in just five weeks. The course will take only 1-3 hours per week.

The course runs from July 21st to August 18th. To learn more, check out the CS-SIS Web site or read the brochure (PDF).

(via WisBlawg)

Jun 10, 2008

For the last few days my apartment has been unbearably hot as New Haven undergoes its first stretch of 90 degree days. In particular, my bedroom was staying even hotter than the outside temperature despite having its own air conditioning unit.

Before attempting to go to sleep tonight, I had a sudden urge to remove the front cover of the AC unit to see if I could spot any problems.

As you can see in the picture above, there was a HUGE problem. It was frozen solid with about a half inch of ice surrounding the entire cooling mechanism. Worse still, the thermostat sensor was sitting right in the midst of all that ice, so as far as the thermostat was concerned, the room was already absolutely frigid, so the compressor wasn't running.

I grabbed my trusty clothes steamer and spent about 15 minutes melting the ice. Afterward, I reassembled everything and turned the AC back on.

The room began cooling down immediately.

Jun 5, 2008

Pausing a show mid-scene for a commercial? Are they serious?

Hey Bill! Here's your sign.

[YouTube] TBS pause advertisements (via TV Squad)

Jun 5, 2008

By the end of next week, I'll officially be free from cable TV. I called AT&T and ordered DSL on Tuesday. Yesterday I called Comcast and cancelled my digital cable and internet service. DSL goes live on the 11th. Cable goes dead on the 12th.

Lest anyone misunderstand what I'm doing here, I won't have a true television feed of any kind coming into my home. No DirecTV. No Dish Network. No AT&T U-Verse. Nothing. I don't even receive local channels over the way with good enough reception to rely upon. If I can't get it over the Internets, I can't watch it. Period. And if my research is accurate, I won't be sacrificing much in terms of available programming. I am a TV addict, and I don't expect this decision to change that.

The cost savings is amazing. My monthly cable/internet bill from Comcast was averaging aboout $165, while my new DSL runs $34 per month. Sure, there will be some taxes and fees on top of that, and I'll spend a little here and there for shows on Amazon Unbox and iTunes, but even on the worst month I don't expect to pay more than about $50 or $55.

And yes, I'm giving up a bit in picture and audio quality, but that's a small price to pay. I've already watched plenty of broadcasts on my computer and iPod to be used to that by now, and frankly it doesn't matter to me that much.

As this little experiment begins, I'll be sure to keep you posted about how things are working out.

Jun 3, 2008

I recently rediscoverd the joys of "This American Life," a rediscovery I seem to make two to three times a year. Thanks to a sizeable backlog on my iPod, I've been doing a lot of catching up lately. I thought I'd share two particularly enjoyable recent episodes.

354: Mistakes Were Made (April 18, 2008)
It's the late 1960s, and in the new technology of cryonics, a California TV repairman named Bob sees an opportunity to help people cheat death. But freezing dead people so scientists can reanimate them in the future is a lot harder than it sounds. Harder still was admitting to the family members of people Bob had frozen that he'd screwed up. Badly.

355: The Giant Pool of Money (May 9, 2008)
A special program about the housing crisis produced in a special collaboration with NPR News. We explain it all to you. What does the housing crisis have to do with the turmoil on Wall Street? Why did banks make half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income? And why is everyone talking so much about the 1930s? It all comes back to the Giant Pool of Money.

May 26, 2008

Sallie Mae, the holder of my consolidated student loans, communicates with its account holders via email. But rather than send this communication in the body of its email messages, the company attaches a password protected PDF document to the email. Until recently, the password to open the PDF was the account holder's Social Security number. This, of course, is a big no-no for any company that takes its customers' privacy and data security seriously, particularly a financial company.

Well, Sallie Mae finally came to its senses this month and altered the passwords to the PDF communications:
Sallie Mae's top priority is keeping your personal information safe. With this in mind, we have updated the password that you use when opening encrypted email attachments. Your new password will be in the following format:

The new password is a combination of the following:

- xxxxxxxxxx = your 10-digit Sallie Mae account number
- Y = the capitalized first letter of the state you live in (if you reside in a foreign country, please use F)
- zzzz = the last four digits of your Social Security number

Right. So before I had an insecure password that at least I could remember. Now, I have a quasi-secure password that I will never remember.

What's most ridiculous about this new password scheme is that all Sallie Mae account holders already have a completely separate username and password to log into the company's website. In order to retrieve the 10-digit account number, most users are likely to log into their account on the Sallie Mae website, which contains all the information about their account with the company.

It seems to me that the best way for Sallie Mae to communicate with its account holders would be to place these messages in HTML or plain text, not PDF, format in an inbox located in the user's account pages on the company website. Then to notify users that a new message has been sent, email a link to the new message to users. The customer then clicks on the link and is prompted by the website to log in with the web username and password, not a non-customizable, predetermined password containing a private and hard to remember account number. As a result, the company can communicate with its customers in a manner that is both secure and user friendly.

May 17, 2008

When I opened my mailbox earlier today, I was at first excited to see the new issue of "Entertainment Weekly" waiting inside (it was a day late), but my happy feelings evaporated immediately upon seeing the cover. The entire issue -- a double issue -- was devoted exclusively to the new "Sex and the City" movie.

You might assume that my negative reaction is because I disliked the HBO series. That's not the case. In fact, while my subscription to HBO came and went during the show's run, whenever I had the channel in my lineup I was a regular viewer. Sure, it wasn't my favorite show, and my sometimes prudish tendencies clashed with Samantha's sensibilities (not to mention Carrie's infidelity with Big while dating Aiden), but I watched and enjoyed the show on a regular basis.

Instead, my disappointment upon seeing EW's theme issue stems from the fact that I don't want a SATC movie. I don't want any changes to the happily-ever-after series finale. After 94 episodes of D-R-A-M-A, the show ended on an up note for all four ladies, but most of that happiness seems poised for evaporation, all for the sake of milking the SATC brand name for cinematic glory. Judging from the movie's ads and trailer, something derails Carrie and Big's wedding, Samantha appears to have strayed from live-in boyfriend Smith, and Steve has done something to betray Miranda. Sigh.

Sometimes stories need to end, no matter how much we may miss them. I don't want "The Sopranos" to cut back from black. I don't need to find out what happened after Jerry and the gang got out of jail on "Seinfeld." And I hope I never find out for sure whether Marlo Stanfield stayed out of the game for good on "The Wire." HBO didn't cancel "Sex and the City." The show's creative team was given the opportunity to end things on their own terms, and they did so in fine fashion. In 2004. Anything after that is unnecessary.