Innocent Bystander

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

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

More Vending Machine Wackiness

Apparently these are big in Japan, but Vodaphone in England has just started rolling these out. It's exactly what it looks like, a vending machine that dispenses pre-paid cell phones and SIM cards.

So far it's just a pilot program, the machines have been placed just in Vodaphone stores. If they are popular then they may start appearing in public locations outside of the stores.

You know I thought that the iPod vending machine was pointless, but this is worse. Pre-paid cellphones aka disposable phones are well known to be favored not only by those who don't like contract or monthly bills, but also by those who don't want their movements to be traced. They can buy one of these phones, make a few calls to conduct your questionable business and then toss the phone and no one's the wiser. Who else needs a quick phone at 3AM?

What Can't You Get From a Vending Machine?

You can remove iPod's from the list of things you can't get from a vending machine. Spotted in the Atlanta Airport:

Now on the surface this seems like a wonderful idea... Almost as great as the kiosks in the airport that rent (and also sell) movies and portable DVD players. You're hanging around the airport terminal on a 3 hour layover with nothing to do, or even worse, getting ready to hop on a trans-continental flight on an airline that doesn't have in-flight entertainment worth a crap (ummm Southwest and Northwest, I'm thinking of you two!) why not pick-up a movie or two to watch in-flight on your laptop or rent (or buy) a portable DVD player to keep you from going insane while you're crammed into the middle seat at the back of a 757 for 5 hours? That makes sense...

But pick up an iPod at the airport? Why? You won't be able to use it because that brand new iPod won't have any songs on it for starters. Well that's useless... Now maybe you keep all your songs on your laptop that you're toting with you in iTunes, well then why buy an iPod at the airport? Just plug in your headphones (or if you're in Atlanta buy a set of noise canceling headphones from the Brookestone in the terminal) and listen to your tunes...

Plus, anybody who has purchased a new iPod has already discovered that a) even a small library around 5GB takes as much as 45 minutes to transfer to the iPod, and b) a fresh iPod out of the box needs to be charged up because out of the box they only have about 10 minutes of battery life on them...

So who buys an iPod from an airport vending machine?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Coyote v Acme...

Stumbled across the transcript of an opening statement the other day:

Tempe, Arizona

Judge Joan Kujava, Presiding

Plaintiff §
v. § CIVIL ACTION NO. B19294
Defendant §



By Mr. Schoff:

My client, Mr. Wile E. Coyote, a resident of Arizona and contiguous states, does hearby bring suit for damages against the Acme Company, manufacturer and retail distributor of assorted merchandise, incorporated in Delaware and doing business in every state, district, and territory. Mr. Coyote seeks compensation for personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering caused as a direct result of the actions and/or gross negligence of said company, under Title 15 of the United States Code Chapter 47, section 2072, subsection (a), relating to product liability.

Mr. Coyote states that on eighty-five separate occasions, he has purchased of the Acme Company (hereinafter, 'Defendant'), through that company's mail order department, certain products which did cause him bodily injury due to defects in manufacture or improper cautionary labeling. Sales slips made out to Mr. Coyote as proof of purchase are at present in the possession of the Court, marked Exhibit A. Such injuries sustained by Mr. Coyote have temporarily restricted his ability to make a living in the profession of predator. Mr. Coyote is self-employed and thus not eligible for Workmen's Compensation.

Mr. Coyote states that on December 13th, he received of Defendant via parcel post one Acme Rocket Sled. The intention of Mr. Coyote was to use the Rocket sled to aid him in pursuit of his prey. Upon receipt of the Rocket Sled, Mr. Coyote removed it from its wooden shipping crate and sighting his prey in the distance, activated the ignition. As Mr. Coyote gripped the handlebars, the Rocket Sled accelerated with such sudden and precipitate force as to stretch Mr. Coyote's forelimbs to a length of fifteen feet. Subsequently, the rest of Mr. Coyote's body shot forward with a violent jolt, causing severe strain to his back and neck and placing him unexpectedly astride the Rocket Sled. Disappearing over the horizon at such speed as to leave a diminishing jet trail along its path, the Rocket Sled soon brought Mr. Coyote abreast of his prey. At that moment, the animal he was pursuing veered sharply to the right. Mr. Coyote vigorously attempted to follow this maneuver but was unable to, due to poor design and engineering on the Rocket Sled and a faulty or non-existent steering system. Shortly thereafter, the unchecked progress of the Rocket Sled led it and Mr. Coyote into collision with the side of a mesa.

Paragraph One of the Report of Attending Physician (Exhibit B), prepared by Dr. Ernst Grosscup, M.D., D.O., details the multiple fractures, contusions, and tissue damage suffered by Mr. Coyote as a result of this collision. Repair of the injuries required a full bandage around the head (excluding the ears), a neck brace, and full or partial casts on all four legs. Hampered by these injuries, Mr. Coyote was nevertheless obliged to support himself. With this in mind, he purchased of Defendant as an aid to mobility one pair of Acme Rocket Skates. When he attempted to use this product, however, he became involved in an accident remarkably similar to that which occurred with the Rocket Sled. Again, Defendant sold over the counter, without caveat, a product which attached powerful jet engines (in this case, two) to inadequate vehicles, with little or no provision for passenger safety. Encumbered by his heavy casts, Mr. Coyote lost control of the Rocket Skates soon after strapping them on, and collided with a roadside billboard so violently as to leave a hole in the shape of his full silhouette.

Mr. Coyote states that on occasions too numerous to list in this document he has suffered mishaps with explosives purchased of Defendant: the Acme 'Little Giant' Firecracker, the Acme Self-Guided Aerial Bomb, etc. (For a full listing see the Acme Mail Order Explosives Catalogue and attached deposition, entered in evidence as Exhibit C.) Indeed, it is safe to say that not once has an explosive purchased of Defendant by Mr. Coyote performed in an expected manner. To cite just one example: At the expense of much time and personal effort, Mr. Coyote constructed around the outer rim of a butte a wooden trough beginning at the top of the butte and spiraling downward around it to some few feet above a black X painted on the desert floor. The trough was designed in such a way that a spherical explosive of the type sold by Defendant would roll easily and swiftly down to the point of detonation indicated by the X. Mr. Coyote placed a generous pile of birdseed directly on the X, and then, carrying the spherical Acme Bomb (Catalogue #78) climbed to the top of the butte. Mr. Coyote's prey, seeing the birdseed, approached, and Mr. Coyote proceeded to light the fuse. In an instant, the fuse burned down to the stem, causing the bomb to detonate.

In addition to reducing all Mr. Coyote's careful preparations to naught, the premature detonation of Defendant's product resulted in the following disfigurements to Mr. Coyote:

1. Severe singeing of the hair on the head, neck, and muzzle.

2. Sooty discoloration.

3. Fracture of the left ear at the stem, causing the ear to dangle in the aftershock with a creaking noise.

4. Full or partial combustion of whiskers, producing kinking, frazzling, and ashy disintegration.

5. Radical widening of the eyes, due to brow and lid charring.

We come now to the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes. The remains of a pair of these purchased by Mr. Coyote on June 23rd are Plaintiff's Exhibit D. Selected fragments have been shipped to the metallurgical laboratories of the University of California at Santa Barbara for analysis, but to date, no explanation has been found for this product's sudden and extreme malfunction. As advertised by Defendant, this product is simplicity itself: two wood-and-metal sandals, each attached to milled-steel springs of high tensile strength and compressed in a tightly coiled position by a cocking device with a lanyard release. Mr. Coyote believed that this product would enable him to pounce upon his prey in the initial moments of the chase, when swift reflexes are at a premium.

To increase the shoes' thrusting power still further, Mr. Coyote affixed them by their bottoms to the side of a large boulder. Adjacent to the boulder was a path which Mr. Coyote's prey was known to frequent. Mr. Coyote put his hind feet in the wood-and-metal sandals and crouched in readiness, his right forepaw holding firmly to the lanyard release. Within a short time, Mr. Coyote's prey did indeed appear on the path coming toward him. Unsuspecting, the prey stopped near Mr. Coyote, well within range of the springs at full extension. Mr. Coyote gauged the distance with care and proceeded to pull the lanyard release. At this point, Defendant's product should have thrust Mr. Coyote forward and away from the boulder. Instead, for reasons yet unknown, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes thrust the boulder away from Mr. Coyote. As the intended prey looked on unharmed, Mr. Coyote hung suspended in the air. Then the twin springs recoiled, bringing Mr. Coyote to a violent feet-first collision with the boulder, the full weight of his head and forequarters falling upon his lower extremities. The force of this impact then caused the springs to rebound, where upon Mr. Coyote was thrust skyward. A second recoil and collision followed. The boulder, meanwhile, which was roughly ovoid in shape, had begun to bounce down a hillside, the coiling and recoiling of the springs adding to its velocity. At each bounce, Mr. Coyote came into contact with the boulder, or the boulder came into contact with Mr. Coyote, or both came into contact with the ground. As the grade was a long one, this process continued for some time. The sequence of collisions resulted in systemic physical damage to Mr. Coyote, viz., flattening of the cranium, sideways displacement of the tongue, reduction of length of legs and upper body, and compression of vertebrae from base of tail to head. Repetition of blows along a vertical axis produced a series of regular horizontal folds in Mr. Coyote's body tissues, a rare and painful condition which caused Mr. Coyote to expand upward and contract downward alternately as he walked, and to emit an off-key, accordion-like wheezing with every step. The distracting and embarrassing nature of this symptom has been a major impediment to Mr. Coyote's pursuit of a normal social life.

As the court is no doubt aware, Defendant has a virtual monopoly of manufacture and the sale of goods required by Mr. Coyote's work. It is our contention that Defendant has used its market advantage to the detriment of the consumer of such specialized products as itching powder, giant kites, Burmese tiger traps, anvils, and two-hundred-foot-long rubber bands. Much as he has come to mistrust Defendant's products, Mr. Coyote has no other domestic source of supply to which to turn. One can only wonder what our trading partners in Western Europe and Japan would make of such a situation, where a giant company is allowed to victimize the consumer in the most reckless and wrongful manner over and over again. Mr. Coyote respectfully requests that the Court regard these larger economic implications and assess punitive damages in the amount of seventeen million dollars. In addition, Mr. Coyote seeks actual damages (missed meals, medical expenses, days lost from professional occupation) of one million dollars; general damages (mental suffering, injury to reputation) of twenty million dollars; and attorney's fees of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. By awarding Mr. Coyote the full amount, this Court will censure Defendant, its directors, officers, shareholders, successors, and assigns, in the only language they understand, and reaffirm the right of the individual predator to equal protection under the law."

Originally published in The New Yorker Magazine, 26 February 1990 written by Ian Frazier

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Your Printer is Talking to the Feds...

This story was actually in today's Washington Post, although I found out about it because it was on the front page (but beneath the fold) of the Press Democrat out of Santa Rosa CA.

If you didn't know it The US Treasury Department recently redesigned the $10 bill again ( One of the biggest motivations for all of the recent currency redesigns over the last several years has been because of the fantastic image quality of the average color scanner and color printer. A good quality color scanner and printer could be used to create a halfway decent counterfeit bill, and it's because of this that the latest versions of the bills in your wallet incorporate things like microprinting and security strips, both of which can't be properly duplicated with a color scanner or copier.

It seems however that the Feds have incorporated another security feature that nobody knew about until recently. The thing is this security feature isn't in the bills, it's in your very own color printer...

According to the Washington Post article, PC World magazine discovered that the printouts from many color laser printers had yellow dots scattered throughout the page, that could only be seen by using a special flashlight. The article even had comments from a senior Xerox researcher who said that these dots were actually a secret code that the Feds could use to track down criminals.

However, the code isn't so secret anymore, at least the ones coming out of Xerox printers. The Electronic Frontier Fondation has cracked the Xerox code, and while it hasn't cracked them, they say they have found similar codes on printers from every major manufacturer. The Xerox code contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time that the document was printed.

The Secret Service has confirmed that the markings are there, but say little more than a coutermeasure to protect against counterfiting.

ITunes Videos and 4G iPods

Well I decided to try buy a video on iTunes and see what would happen when I connected my 4G Color iPod.

The answer was.....

Wait for it.....

Absolutely NOTHING!

This wasn't a huge surprise to me, I had a feeling that it wouldn't work. But I'm only out a whole $1.99 and I still have the video on my computer that I can play whenever I'd like...

BTW the video I purchased was the Pixar video short "For The Birds," which I believe was also one of the extras on the second disk of the Monster's Inc DVD.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bizarre Tech Story of Last Week

I've been a bit busy, so I didn't get to write about this last week...

I first heard about this story on CNet's Buzz Out Loud podcast and found it written about on The Register, however the story appears to have actually been broken on the UK tabloid The Sun.

The sun says that Ian Pearson over at BT Laboratories has proposed breast implants with an MP3 player embedded in them...

Take a second and digest that one...

The concept is apparently to embed the electronics in the implant and output the audio wirelessly to headphones via bluetooth. The entire setup would be controlled using a bluetooth enabled control panel.

There's a whole lot of questions to be resolved of course... How would you power this whole thing? What about transferring songs, how is that accomplished? Better yet, will a large cup size result in an MP3 player with a larger capacity?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Steve Jobs is Not a Nice Person....

I've always felt that Steve Jobs and I don't quite see eye to eye. I've never met Mr. Jobs mind you, but ever since I read the book "Infinite Loop" by Michael Malone a few years ago, I've always felt that he's not the kind of person who's looking out for my best interests... Unless of course my interests were donating the contents of my bank account to Apple Computer Corporation...

Ever since the iPod was first released, I wanted one. For 4 years though I couldn't find a compelling reason to spend the money for one, until last year. We were going on a vacation to England with a transatlantic cruise home on the QM2, which meant lots of time to listen to music, perfect for an iPod. Even better was that the 4g iPods had just come out, we'd be getting the latest ones too... And just weeks later, the first iPod Photos hit the market! Urrggg!

Despite not having an eye catching color screen though, I really did like my monochome screened 4g iPod. I got a ton of use out of it, especially once I discovered podcasts.

Last month when Steve Jobs announced the iTunes Phone (aka the money sucking pile of crap... I played with one the other day) and the iPod Nano, last month I figured it was safe. That was the "big announcement" to lead us into the holidays, that was the announcement that everyone said would bring us the Video iPod, and after the announcement Steve Jobs was still saying that Apple wasn't going to do a video iPod.

I took that to mean that it was safe, we could go down to the Apple Store and pick us up some new big honking color iPods for the move accross country since I couldn't imagine anything else being released before the holidays...

I think Mr. Jobs was watching for my credit card to be processed at the local Apple Store before deciding that it was time send out the invitations for yet ANOTHER product announcement...

This time for the new 5g iPod...

Which can play video...

But it's not a Video iPod...

From what I'm reading, Steve Jobs is still saying that this isn't a video iPod. From what I'm hearing about the new iPod from those who've played with it so far is that he may be right... Yes the new iPod can play video... but that's about all you can do with the video is play it... The reports coming from people who played with the new iPod at the event last week seem to indicate that you can't fast forward or rewind your videos, just play them and pause them... Weird...

But what I want to know is this... Other than the screen and general size, what sets the new 5g iPod apart from my color 4g iPod? What's the difference in the hardware that prevents me from watching video on my color 4g iPod? So my picture would be square instead of rectangular on the 5g... We all grew up watching square TV's...

Since I'm not going to buy a new iPod anytime soon (nevermind that it might trigger yet ANOTHER product release from Apple) I'm wondering how long it will take some bored/adventurous/enterprising geek with too much money to get a new 5g iPod and use it as a base for a hack to play video on a 4g color iPod....

Although, since updating to the latest version of iTunes, I now have a playlist titled "videos" however that playlist doesn't appear on my iPod.... Is that because I don't have any videos in it yet, or because my iPod won't play them.... For all of $1.99 I might buy a video to see what happens....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Holy Crap! I Have Readers!!!

Wow, and all this time I figured the only people reading this blog was my wife, me, and some spambots.

Now, I'm actually getting comments from real live peoples! Cool!!!

Hello everyone and welcome... I hope the blog doesn't suck! ;)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

iWood Not, But Would You?

If you've been reading the Innocent Bystander for a while then you may know that mixing wood and electronics is a sure fire way to catch my attention.

With that in mind I'd like to show you the iWood case for your iPod Nano.

Coming soon from I think this is a pretty sharp looking case for your Nano. However I think it's got a few shortcomings, the most glaring of which is the fact that it completely obscures both the clickwheel and the display. The only thing that you have access to with the case closed is the headphone jack. You need to open the case to get to the controls and to get to the dock connector.

There's one other big issue that I see here... Granted I don't own a Nano, but I would think that the big reason you'd buy a Nano is because of it's size, it's really really small. So why then would you take such a small (and light) device and stick it into a case that will probably significantly increase it's size and weight?

However, if your a Nano owner and your interested in this it'll start shipping on October 20th according to the Miniot website.

Friday, October 07, 2005


So with the previously mentioned move the Bystander got some new e-mail addresses. That means that the widely distributed spam baiting bit buckets that the Bystander used to have no longer work.

Now I've been carefull with my addresses. I actually have used a "bait" e-mail address for web site sign-ons and such in order to minimize the amount of spam coming in to my inbox... At least for the account I actually care about. It worked pretty well for a while, although after about 8 months even my primary e-mail account started seeing spam too.

On top of that I run a great and free spam filter called Spam Bayes, this little program is a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook and it catches 95% of the spam sent to my account, with very few false positives. Now when you're getting 75 to 100 pieces of spam A DAY 95% isn't too bad.

Occasionally I do look at some of the assorted crap that's sent to me, and I can't help but laugh when I look at it. The spammers try this stuff because A)it's cheap to do, and B) somebody actually fell for this foolishness.

Take for example the e-mail I got that of course was "addressed" to an e-mail address that wasn't quite mine. The sender wanted me to know about fantastic deals that I could get on cialis and viagra at their website. The trouble is, the sender called them Ciaglis and V1agara. Hmm, even if I was inclined to buy perscription meds off a website, something tells me that it's a bad sign when they can't (or won't) even correctly spell the meds they are supposedly selling.

Or how about the e-mail from Mr. Concord Stevens the loan officer at "the bank" (quotes added by me) telling me that I was approved for $32982 in credit, and that they've been trying to contact me for days and that I had to act now! Of course, the email address the email was supposedly sent to wasn't mine, and within 30 seconds I also received 4 more identical e-mails addressed to different e-mail addresses one from Elliot Carmichal, Phineaus O'Reily, and Marcia Peterson all claiming to be the loan officer at "the bank"...

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a nice sounding person at a bank in Lagos Nigeria. It seems a local oil tycoon died a few weeks ago and he had no heirs. He left behind $30 Million in his bank account, and this nice person at the bank was looking for some assistance in transfering the money out of the bank since there's no one to claim the money. If I was willing to send him my bank account and routing information he'd deposit the money into my account, and then transfer $20 Million back to him. If he couldn't get the money out of the country the corrupt Nigerian government would seize the money. The $10 Million would be my fee for assisting him. I figured what the hey, it's free money right? So I contacted the friendly bank person (with a disposable address not linked to me, I'm not a fool people!) that I would be happy to assist him. All he had to do is provide me with HIS bank account and routing information and I'd take care of everything for him. Oh, and my fee is $17 Million, non-negotiable, I thought it was pretty fair since I would be handling the transfers for him and helpfully reducing his workload, I'm sure he's a busy man so it was the least I could do for him... He never got back to me...

Then there's the phishing scams... And some of these are just plain evil. I can sniff out most of these scams pretty well, but one of them that just popped up a few months ago almost caught me. First rule when it comes to detecting a phishing attempt, look at who the e-mail is actually addressed to. Just like the loan and med spam messages I get, 99% of these phishing e-mails I receive don't actually have an e-mail address that belongs to me in the To address line. That's an instant tip off, the same goes for when I receive an e-mail from a website that I have an account with but use a different e-mail address than the phishing e-mail was sent to.

There are two real evil ones that seem to be circulating now though. One seems to be from PayPal, advising you that a new user has been added to your account. When I got this the first time, I resisted the urge to click on the link in the e-mail. Instead I opened my browser and went to PayPal and checked my account. Sure enough, everything was ok, and nobody extra had been added to my account. I keep a close watch on my PayPal account and was pretty sure that nothing could happen in there without my knowledge.

The other evil spam looks like it comes from e-Bay and that a user is upset because they didn't receive something that they bought from you. The "buyer" even threatens to report you to e-Bay if you don't come up with the goods. This one freaked me out, I was really concerned that somebody was monkeying with my e-Bay account. Cruising the cell phone sections on e-Bay I've found several hijacked e-Bay accounts being used as fronts for bogus auctions, so I was concerned that I had been hit. After going into my browser and confirming on e-Bay that there were no auctions going on without my knowledge I decided to look into this one further. After cranking up my firewall to it's highest settings, I clicked on a few of the links in the e-mail. While I wasn't surprised that the website I was taken too looked an awful lot like an e-Bay signon sceen, I was very amused that the website address in my browser's address bar was some obscure server that didn't even have e-Bay anywhere in the name. I mean come on guys you go to all that work to make a reasonably authentic looking e-Bay signon screen and you can't even make the web page address have e-bay in it somewhere?

So with the new e-mail addresses from the move I've been enjoying a brief respite from the flood of spam I used to get... That is until I took at look at some of the comments here in the blog. MY BLOG IS BEING SPAMMED!!!! Not just once so far, not twice, but FOUR TIMES! (although two are on the same post). How much of a freaking looser do you have to be in order to A) spam a blog, or B) come up with a program that can autonomously spam a blog! Sheesh! I mean it's nice to see that people are finding the blog, but this is pathetic!

So in an attempt to prevent this from happening in the future, or at least to cut down on it, should you try and comment on a post you'll now have to enter a little code that blogger will provide you that proves that there's at least a live human making the post and not some spambot created by some deviant mutant miscreant.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I've Given in...

I've surrendered... This long time Windows user has decided to submit to the "light side of computing" and bought a 14in Apple iBook. I think it was the purty user interface on OS-X Panther that finally did me in... Plus the display on the iBook is quite possibly one of the best laptop display's I've ever used.

I've been using the iBook a little for the last day, and so far... While I don't hate it, I'm not a disciple of the cult of Steve Jobs yet... I've also started to question just what "more intuitive" actually means.

Out of the box the setup wasn't too painful. It did take a whole lot less time to setup than any Windows PC I've gotten straight out of the box... Of course not having to deal with the stupid Windows registration wizards significantly streamlines the process. I didn't need to install AIM since iChat is already installed. Like WinXP Service Pack 2, joining a wireless network was painless as well and I'm guessing that joining a wired network will be simple too...
On the other hand I'm running a lot less software on the Mac. In particular I'm not running any firewall on the Mac, a situation I'm not particularly sure I like. Not having the firewall there definately speeds up the networking process (don't have to deal with a bazillion security alerts etc) and it's one less thing clogging up system RAM. Also the Mac users I know claim that there just isn't enough malicious software (aka malware) out there to be concerned....

On the other hand all it takes is one piece of malware to find my machine and I'm screwed. Keep in mind I'm not completely unprotected, I do have a hardware firewall that every connection to the internet in the house has to pass through.

As for the "more intuitive" line that I hear a lot of Mac people claim, that I just don't buy. Maybe it's more intuitive once you're familiar with Mac interface standards, or if you're just a novice computer user. But if you're a long time Windows user I don't think OS-X is more intuitive, actually I think it's just different enough from Windows to be frustrating. There's definately a learning curve for Windows users making the jump to OS-X. For something to truely be "more intuitive" there shouldn't be any learning curve, you should just be able to sit in front of it and know how do use it.

This won't be a total Mac conversion either.... The PC's will still be here for many years to come, I won't ever go back to a Palm PDA and Windows Mobile PDA's don't play well with Macs so I'll need the PC for that. Plus my navigation software is PC only, and there are other applications that I use that just aren't available for the Mac...

However, I'll continue to play with the iBook, I look forward to seeing all it can do...

Well, Maybe I'm not going to CTIA...

What a disappointment... Due to a scheduling conflict (aka I can't read a calender) I actually didn't get to go to CTIA. I was really looking forward to it.

Well, I guess I'll just have to keep my eye out for other cool tech shows in the area...