Innocent Bystander

A little tech, a little current affairs, and my view on whatever has my attention at the moment...

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

AARRGG!!! What to Do?

So recently my trusty Ipaq 4150 PDA that I've grown to love has let me down in a big way. I've come to rely on the Bluetooth connectivity on the device, I tether it to my cell phone which I use as a wireless modem and surf the internet. Just as critical for me, I use it with a Bluetooth GPS receiver as part of my in car navigation system.

Recently the Bluetooth on my Ipaq quit working on me, even worse is that it did so on a trip when I was relying on it for navigation. It's not that the Bluetooth doesn't work at all mind you, it connects to devices but refuses to pass data. I've had my Ipaq for just about a year, and I've used it pretty hard so I've definately gotten my money's worth out of the device... The question is what to do now...

Convergence or combining two devices to create one device with greater functionality is a big thing in the handheld industry right now. Sales of traditional PDAs (like my crippled Ipaq) have been declining over the last several years, however sales of Smartphones (PDA/Cellphone hybrids like the Treo 600/650) are on the rise. With that in mind, my plan had been to ditch my cell phone and my PDA next year in exchange for a new Smartphone...

And then my Ipaq started misbehaving.

So, the dilemma I face now is do I stick to the original plan and spend $350 to buy a refurbished iPaq 4355 which is what I have now, but with a thumb keyboard attached to the bottom. It's a larger device but I know it's fully compatible with all I have.

Or, do I throw the plan out the window and get a Smartphone now? I'm really intrigued by the Eten M500 PocketPC based phone. One of my concerns about moving to a Smartphone with more of a PDA type of form factor is that its significantly larger than the cell phone I normally carry with me on a day to day basis. Based on how much I loathed my first camera phone because of how fat it was, I'm concerned that the increased size of a PDA sized phone might irritate the heck out of me. However, the M500 doesn't appear to be too big, if anything it appears to be about the same size as my current Ipaq.

The M500 has everything I'm looking for in a Smartphone, gobs of memory, bluetooth, apparently a small size, but it doesn't have wireless networking. It's something that my iPaq has, and while I don't use it often it has come in handy on a few occasions. With the additional memory that the M500 has I could probably get away with an SD card with the wireless networking for those urgent situations...

The other thing that's making me have second thoughts is just the thought of trying to figure out how to get the M500 fully working with T-Mobile, my cellular provider. My biggest concern is that it is a brand spanking new device, which means that there aren't too many people who have them yet. It should work, however I would need to figure out how to make the internet connection work as it's supposed to, and T-Mobile probably won't be of much help. I'm sure I can find the resources needed to do it, it's just that the thought of having to deal with a few hours of frustration concern me. I don't mind being on the leading edge of technology, however I'm concerned about being on the bleeding edge of technology. There is one person I know who could probably help me, but I'm loath to ask them... doing so is kind of like making a deal with the devil...

What to do?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Norway Takes Aim at Microsoft

I found this through, the Norwegan Minister of Modernization (can you believe it, Norway actually has a Cabinet level position specifically for a GEEK!) has announced that "Proprietary formats will no longer be acceptable in communication between citizens and government."

I've read the article about this announcement a few times now, you can read the entry on Tatle about it, and I'm still trying to figure out the intelligence behind it. Mr. Andreas Meyer (Norway's Chief Geek) made these remarks in a press conference and seemed to be targeting Microsoft, without actually mentioning Microsoft by name.

For example he refers to "the spreadsheet almost everyone uses" and also says that this is the last time he would have IT plans broadcasted on the Internet with Windows Media.

The Minister has directed all Norwegan government institutions to have a recommendation to use open source code by the end of 2005. He wants everybody in the public sector to have a plan in place to use open source code and standards by the end of 2006.

Now here's where I have an issue with this edict. So a .xls file is in the format that Excel uses, big deal... Microsoft Office is installed on what 75% of PC's and Macs maybe more... Not only that but can't you open and work on .xls files with programs like OpenOffice? So why go through the effort to force people off of Office?

The same goes for Windows Media files which the Minister targets specifically. Why is he making a big deal about it? Send his audio as an MP3 (but don't stream it because then you'd have to use Quicktime or Real, and those are proprietary and according to him that's evil), or his video as an MPEG big deal. Unless they need Digital Rights Managment on their media files I don't see the issue here either.

The Minister is obviously trying to push his people towards Linux, and yes there are some benefits to rely on that Open Source software... But based on what I've seen using Mozilla Firefox, I don't think they are nearly as big as many people want you to believe.

I switched to Firefox a few months ago because I bought into the hype that it was faster and safer than IE in part due to Firefox's open source roots. After several months of using Firefox, I say BULL! Firefox has had several critical updates pumped out in the last several months too. Now the Firefox missionaries will argue that they've still had to put out far fewer critical updates than IE... and they're right about that... for the moment.

Let's not forget that one of the key reasons there are so many vulnerabilities found in IE and so many exploits attempted at IE is in large part because it's practically EVERYWHERE! For a hacker (or wannabe hacker) it's like shooting fish in a barrel, fire off a piece of malicious code and you've got a better than 90% chance that it'll find a machine running IE.

Right now Firefox is "safe" because there are still far fewer individual users (let alone corporate users) that are running it than are running IE. However, Firefox is gaining market share as more an more people and media stories come out touting how great Firefox is, the more people will download it. The more people that download it, the better chance it has of catching the eye of the hacker community, and when that happens, well brace yourself for the weekly critical updates that we've all come to known and love/hate/ignore already with IE.

Open Source isn't the answer to everyones prayers, and I suspect that in a few years Norway's new Chief Geek will be signing a different tune about "propriety file formats."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

New iTunes

You've probably heard already, but a new version of Apple's iTunes was released today along with some changes to the iPod product line.

The Fourth Generation (4G) iPods released about a year ago are just about gone. The only exception to that is the Special Edition U2 iPod. The iPod Photo is gone as well... Kinda.

Apple choose to drop the word photo from the name yet keep the color screen. So now your iPod choices are a 20GB with a color screen for $299, or a 60GB for $399 which is I believe $100 less than the 60GB iPod Photo's were selling for. Or you can get the 20GB U2 Special Edition with it's monochrome screen for $329. Now I know that sounds like a crappy deal, but if you buy the U2 iPod you also get a $50 coupon towards the $150 U2 box set that includes EVERYTHING recorded by U2 including some tracks never before released. If you're a U2 fan that should take the sting off of that price a little bit.

Now don't go running to the Apple Store just yet. If you're a college student, make sure you check out the deals their running for students. Free iPod MINI with the purchase of select notebooks, or $179 mail in rebate if you buy a notebook and select a different flavor of iPod... Apple also has a Federal Employee store for Federal Employees to make purchases for themselves, check the pricing their before buying if you qualify for either of these....

As for the new iTunes, I'm actually surprised by the amount of press that this is getting. Ok, I'm actually just surprised that's it's gotten ANY press. I first heard about this on the radio and since then have caught a few reports online about it as well.

The big change to iTunes is that it now supports podcasting through the iTunes Music Store. Since you're reading this blog I'm guessing you might have heard of podcasting, but it's possible that your not familar with podcasting, or you may not have checked it out.

Many media pundits are saying that podcasting could shake up broadcast media the way that blogging is shaking up publishing. Essentially a podcast is an audio blog, the author records his podcast in MP3 format and publishes it similar to the way a blog is published online. Prior to iTunes supporting podcasts, you needed to download a special program like iPodder to subscribe to a podcast and download it. iPodder will also link to your audio program so that you could play download podcasts to your computer or dump them to your MP3 player to listen to at a later date.

The biggest issue I had was finding podcasts that looked remotely interesting. Until now I had only subscribed to one podcast, but instead of some indie programing it's something more mainstream, NPR's "On The Media."

The biggest improvement that iTunes seems to bring to the table is better organization and presentation of all the podcasts that are out there. No disrespect to Adam Curry (who came up with iPodder and quite possibly podcasting for all I know), but trying to track down podcasts that look interesting and don't suck is a royal pain through While I really don't like navigating my music library in iTunes, I do like using iTunes to check out podcasts. Especially since I can listen to a podcast and see if A) It's ever been updated and B) Doesn't suck without subscribing to the podcast, something that you can't do with ipodder.

I found two so far that I'm checking out right now, one from Disney appears to suck and one from CNET that seems to be ok...

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sam Walton Must be Turning in His Grave....

Once just a sleepy little small town in northwest Arkansas, The Washington Post says Bentonville, the home of WalMart is going upscale...

WalMart has become such a driving force in the world retail that many of the largest brands in the world have opened up branch offices in Bentonville just so they can be closer to the decision makers at WalMart. We're not talking a few low level sales people either, WalMart has gotten so big that it's the high paid executives that are moving down to staff these branch offices.

These are highly paid executives who had grown accustomed to many of the post amenities found in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, who are now living in a community that just a few years ago had an average income of just $26,000 a year! So you ask, how were these well paid executives supposed to fill their need for Hummers, sushi, day spas, or doggie day care? Well, when you have the disposable income that they do, you open your own high end shopping outlets.

Sam Walton was notorious for his penny pinching, his frugality is still a large part of the corporate culture at WalMart. Wouldn't it be great to see the look on his face if he could take a drive around Bentonville now? What would Sam have to say about the million dollar mansions in gated communities on the outskirts of town? How about the high end art galleries or the Jaguar dealerships? Better yet, what would Sam Walton have to say about the fact that it's his own company that has attracted them to sleepy little Bentonville?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Getting in Touch With Your Inner Disco Geek....

Ok, I think lava lamps are cool, but I'm not quite sure this lava lamp is quite as cool.

Yes, that's a lava lamp that's powered by the USB port on your computer! Although reading the description, it doesn't appear that it features the vaguely hypnotic globs of goo floating in oil that makes lava lamps so cool. This one appears to merely be some sparkly things floating in oil.

Car AL-6072 Where Are You?

I've been remiss on this one... (Bad blog author, bad bad blog author!) I should have posted on this when I first heard about it earlier this week...

How do you know if your city has a problem with car theives? Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?

Answer: When the Chief of Police's city issued car is stolen!

Sometime between Friday the 17th and Sunday the 19th, Washington DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey's DC Government issue sedan was actually stolen!

The car was left on the street in Southeast Washington by an employee of the Police Motor Pool. The Chief was in Scotland for a conference (it's good to be the Chief!) and the car was left there so that he'd have it when he returned. However, Sunday morning when he went to get the car according to The Washington Post the car was gone.

Embarrassing as the situation is, there is a little good news... There were no weapons in the car, just a police radio and some riot gear.

The Chief however has been quick to point out that even though his car was stolen, the number of cars stolen in DC has actually been dropping over the last several years....

The response from the general public to the loss of the Chief's car: "BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!" Especially from those who have had their car's stolen in The District.

Personally, as funny as this is, I gotta say it couldn't happen to a better guy. Honestly I'm a big fan of Chief Ramsey, and I think he's done a great job in DC. Besides it's historical crimal problem, Washington has all kinds of screwy security issues that really challenge DC Police. Chief Ramsey always seems to be pretty calm, cool, and collected as he deals with the latest crisis (or security alert) to hit the city.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Is this guy really worth it?

I think Peter Sagal host of NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" described John Bolton nomination as US Ambassador to the UN the best: "Extending our hand to the world in friendship... with the middle finger extended!"

I'm sorry, but what does President Bush see in this guy? He's a nut job!

This is a guy who has stated publicly that he positively HATES the UN! He thinks the organization is worthless, and shouldn't even exist! So let's send him up there to represent the US... Sure makes sense... NOT!

I know the President has said that the UN needs to be reformed and that he feels John Bolton is the right man for the job. Umm isn't the UN supposed to be about the nations of the world working together to improve the world? From what I've heard about Mr. Bolton, he's going to head up to the UN Building, kick down a few doors and bash some heads together to get what he wants! Quick warning for Mr. Bolton... I've been to the UN, the offices there have some pretty heavy doors. You might hurt your foot trying to kick them down...

We keep hearing from the administration that the UN needs to be reformed, but have we heard from them just what they want to reform there? I know, the Oil For Food Program was a joke, it was corrupt and everybody but the average Iraqi benefitted from it. But... it's over! Second, why didn't we look into Oil For Food when it was running? The only other thing I can think of is that after the UN wanted no part of our action in Iraq, the Adminstration is going to try and find some way to turn the organization into the rubber stamp for US actions.

But let's look at Mr. Bolton for a second... We've heard a lot about his management style lately. One Senator even called him a "kick down, kiss up kind of guy," in reality should the fact that somebody is abrasive and a crummy manager necessarily be a reason for them to be disqualified from a job... Well, ok maybe it should be, but I think there are bigger problems here, and it's those problems that need to be addressed. Those are the problems that should be the disqualifiying factors in my mind, not his shoddy leadership skills.

As mentioned above, Mr. Bolton has sharply criticized he UN in general in the past, including questioning whether it should even continue to exist. Strike 1. He's made allegations based on poorly interpreted or non-existant data that Cuba was persuing a biological weapons program, and tried to bully CIA analysts into supporting him. Strike 2. Couple those with his shoddy interpersonal skills and you have Strike three.

I'm no expert on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once... Seriously though US Foreign Policy, especially in the UN seems to get implemented faster and with a minimal amount of fuss when we work WITH other nations to get the job done. But wait you say, what about North Korea, we're trying to work with 5 other nations there and nothing's happened. Correct, except that the North Koreans only want to deal with us and of the other 4 nations involved in the negotiations, only the South Korean's really want to be involved in the first place.

From the way I see it, the US isn't going to be able to dictate our foreign policy demands to the world much longer. We need somebody who's willing to work with both our allies and others on the world stage to reform the UN and get things done... John Bolton isn't that guy...

The person I think would be great for the job... Colin Powell! He has experience on the international stage, despite what happened leading up to Iraq he's still well respected around the world... He's a perfect fit for this administration... Of course, it would be a demotion for him considering his last position, but still...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

He's Baaackkk!!!!

Was he forward thinking or just creepy? We'll get to debate it again because Teddy Ruxpin is coming back!

Yes, the barely lovable bear will return for a third try on the shelves of your local toy store according to CNN. The original bear was impossible for a kid to cuddle with, I mean it had a tape player for a back, and a hard head (needed to house the machinery to move his eyes and mouth) not exactly soft and welcoming.

Teddy will feature some modern technology too, instead of cassette tapes for his programing (that's just so '80s you know) he'll be using digital cartridges instead.

I'm just amazed that CNN thought the return of Teddy Ruxpin was so important that they needed to report on it... Oh wait I forgot Tom Cruise getting hit with water was big news too... Never mind...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Aren't We Supposed to Be Trying to Catch This Guy?

Ok, I can't take credit for locating this little tidbit I actually heard about it through Adam Felber's site Fanatical Apathy. According to BBC News, the CIA, or at least the Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss has "an excellent idea" where Osama Bin Ladin is hiding.

So if the CIA has an excellent idea of where Osama Bin Ladin is... Why isn't he in custody? Why haven't we swooped in with a team of SEALs, Marines, Army Rangers, NYPD SWAT, FBI, rabid grocery baggers etc... and either blown him into little itty bitty pieces or sent him off to join his minions (and wannabe minions, people we think might kinda be his minions, and the poor saps in the wrong place at the wrong time) in the prison camp in beautiful Guantanamo Bay Cuba?

Even more puzzling is this comment: "Mr Goss said it was unlikely Bin Laden would be brought to justice until "we strengthen all the links" in the chain in the US-led hunt for terror suspects." Does this trouble you as much as it troubles me? Doesn't the President tell us that the War on Terror is going well? What's the deal here?

Here's another gem that got me thinking: "
When you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play." Now, I supported our action in Afghanistan 100%, and still do to this day. But isn't that exactly what we did there. The man was being given sanctuary in a sovereign state an condition that didn't slow us down for a second. So why now is it an issue?

Is Osama Bin Ladin in Pakistan like some recent reports suggested? Isn't Pakistan supposed to be a key ally in the War on Terror? If so, then where's the disconnect?

Ok What am I Missing?

I freely admit that I'm probably not the coolest kid on the block. Although since I live on a really short block I'm not sure what that says about me...

But what am I missing here? Why should I care that somebody squirted Tom Cruise with water? As far as I can tell he didn't melt, so why was this so important that it was on The Today Show in their first hour? If it was only on The Today Show I would have continued to ignore the story, but sheesh every media outlet appears to be awestruck with this non-event.

It's amazing how quickly somebody can make the transition from mostly private megastar that I had no interest in to mostly overexposed megastar that I have no interest in...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

People With WAY Too Much Time on Their Hands!

Here's the first in what I'm sure will become a regular feature here on Innocent Bystander "People with WAY too much time on their hands!"

First up, people not only with way too much time on their hands, but also apparently too much money as well... How else do you explain their decision to blow $100 on 2,000 superballs on e-Bay?

These guys spent a few hours rigging them up to create a superball tsunami. They constructed a trap door in the ceiling over an unsuspecting co-worker's desk and then without warning sent those 2,000 superballs raining down on their co-worker's head.

They were nice enough to film the entire event from start to finish from three different camera angles and post the movie on the web... Otherwise we probably wouldn't believe them...

Check it out here: A Superball Story

Does the world need another blog?

With the millions of blogs already out there, does the world need yet another one?

Considering my general philosophy when it comes to publishing anything on the web (just because you can, doesn't mean you should) the world probably doesn't need another blog.

Yet here I am violating my own rule. I'm creating my own little ego trip for you the unknown masses to either enjoy... Or use as a cure for insomnia when the drugs don't work.

What's going to be here? Nothing about work, especially after what happened to Queen of Sky and nothing about family, as that could get me into trouble too.

So what's left? Well anything that catches my interest or that I feel the need write some type of diatribe about.

With that enjoy the posts to come.... Or I hope they give you a good night's sleep!