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September 16, 2008

Funny: The Geek Wants Out, John McCain Gets BarackRoll'd, POWERTHIRST, "Ooh Girl!" - An Honest R&B Song

September 15, 2008

One important lesson from George W Bush's presidency is that the leader is not the only important person to consider when voting. Voters must also consider the company he or she keeps, because if you're not careful you end up with paranoid Vice Presidents who believe themselves to be above the law, lawyers who redefine torture using linguistic weaseling that exceeds even Clinton's attempted redefinition of "is", and a Secretary of Defense whose performance was described by a retired senior general as "absolute failures in managing the war", and who was described by President Nixon as "a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that" when he was in Nixon's cabinet.

It's easy to notice McCain's closest company: his running mate. She has drawn a lot of attention away from him, which I suspect was the reason she was chosen. But this seems to have backfired. She is turning out to be more like the GOP of the last 8 years than anyone realized: Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes. Appointing unqualified cronies? "Childhood love of cows"? Where have we heard this before? Sounds like Michael Brown. She is totally ready to replace GWB.

But let's not stop there. McCain has surrounded himself with quite a few fairly new faces on the political scene. Here are a couple of the other women McCain has surrounded himself with, and like Palin, they are hardly interchangeable with Hillary Clinton:

Carly Fiorina was the hated CEO of Hewlett-Packard who pushed through the Compaq merger and was ultimately fired in 2005. Fired, as CEO. Think back; how many examples of a CEO being fired (as opposed to "leaving to spend more time with his family") can you recall? Here's a summary of her accomplishments before being fired. And here's an even better summary: the HP stock price during her tenure, compared to Apple, Dell, and IBM. Dead last.

Some suspected she might become McCain's VP candidate: Carly Fiorina on GOP ticket? Not such a stretch, yet.

But it was not to be. She managed to misrepresent McCain's stance on birth control legislation and Roe v. Wade - in fact she was too liberal on both issues. McCain wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, which I guess she didn't realize was the case. And he voted against the legisliation Fiorina was talking about.

In summary: 18,000 layoffs, stock price tanked, forced a merger that virtually nobody thought was a good idea, gave herself a bonus during a salary freeze, and got fired. Was hated for her self-promotion and poor leadership. And now she is a top McCain advisor on business and econonic issues.

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman was a former Mitt Romney fundraiser and is now McCain's campaign co-chair. Valleywag details policitians Whitman has supported; I'm not familiar with Pickering or Allen, but Sensenbrenner is a leading totalitarian asshole. She also has supported Orrin Hatch, famous for his contraversial remarks that copyright holders should be empowered to directly destroy infringers' computers (due process? what's that?) and his support of the Pirate Act (and its subsequent reformulations), which is designed to turn private civil suits for copyright infringement into federal crimes prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Aren't the Republicans supposed to be for small government and privatization? The Pirate Act would nationalize the RIAA's legal cases, forcing taxpayers to subsizidize corporate lawsuits.

Whitman has an MBA from Harvard Business School, and seems not to be a failure as a leader, like Fiorina was. I suspect that Whitman's brain (which has been an asset in McCain's campaign since March '08) is one of the main reasons that McCain is still in the race. But her politics are very telling. Her presence means that behind McCain is a top advisor who thought that Mitt "We Ought To Double Guantanamo" Romney was the best choice for President, but she's willing to settle for McCain. In short: McCain's campaign co-chair would settle for him but really wanted Romney in the White House. Do you suppose she'll just go away if he were to be elected?

September 4, 2008

Once upon a time, the U.S. government required that over the counter medications actually be proven to do the things that their labels claimed they would do. It wasn't good enough to describe a plausible mechanism by which it might work; after all, you can buy books explaining in great detail how the fictional technology in the Star Trek or Marvel Universe works. Just because you can find a diagram and explanation of how Iron Man's repulsors are supposed to work, that doesn't mean that they actually do work. And, once upon a time, it wasn't good enough to have an anecdote or testimonials about how this one time a radioactive spider bit this Parker kid and cured his vision so he didn't need glasses. What was required was scientific proof, of the better-than-placebo, repeatable variety.

Ancient herbal medicines that actually worked, such as willow bark, were still sold in vast quantities. Things that didn't work could not be sold with labels claiming that they did. Of course this was troubling to the folks who had heard stories about a miraculous cure-all that somehow had never ever been scientifically proven to do anything at all, but which they believed was still better than anything they had ever heard of before. They believed that those darn greedy pharmaceutical companies somehow decided that they didn't want to make money off of this specific product, so they formed a grand conspiracy to keep it off the market.

Thus, ancient remedies from centuries before humans understood anatomy, microbiology, or chemistry were ignored, simply because they couldn't be proven to actually work. Delightful stories of dedicated individuals who imagined how the body and disease might work, and tried to help people accordingly, were rediscovered. Sadly, the well intentioned people who brought these would-be medicines to light overlooked the fact that these were tested using deeply flawed experimental conditions that allowed human biases such as enthusiasm and hope to interfere with the results.

Nevertheless, their voices drowned out the scientific establishment, who require that claims be supported by verifiable proof, and Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Now, alongside medicines that have been exhaustively tested and proven to work, with side effects documented and disclosed as required by law, you can find products that have not been proven to work to anywhere near the same standard of certainty. Want to cure a cold? Well, you can buy Echinacea, which does nothing, and may contain lead.

Products such as Oscillococcinum contain exactly zero molecules of the substance that is supposed to provide the cure, which is how homeopathic remedies are supposed to work: by diluting the substance out of the solution it is contained in, it's supposed to become stronger. Any aficionado of hot sauce can judge the accuracy of this claim, but somehow this counterintuitive idea combined with a lack of testing becomes a "medicine" that can legally claim to do things for which there is no proof.

Against this backdrop of governmental irresponsibility, gullible consumers, and scummy snake oil pushers, a couple of recent stories stand out:

Feds: 'No Credible Evidence' That Airborne Fights Colds: "There is no credible evidence that Airborne products, taken as directed, will reduce the severity or duration of colds, or provide any tangible benefit for people who are exposed to germs in crowded places," the Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a statement yesterday.

'Male Sexual Enhancement' Fraudster Gets Jail Time: The founder of a company that sells Enzyte - "the once-daily tablet for natural male enhancement" - was sentenced to 25 years in jail yesterday. Berkeley Premium Neutraceuticals and other defendants were ordered to forfeit $500 million.

I hope this is the start of a bigger trend toward requiring that products that advertise themselves as medicines, y'know, do something. Keep it up, FTC!