boneheads, whatnot

Boycott Regal Cinemas

A little while back a 19 year old woman in Virginia was arrested for filming 20 seconds of Transformers with a digital camera (a Canon Powershot, not a video camera). The 20 second clip was for her 13 year old brother in order to get him excited about the movie.

Was that a little dumb? Yes.

But clearly this woman is no criminal. The worse case scenario would have been that her brother was not swayed by the 20 second clip and decided not to see the film. Arlington prosecutor, Richard E. Trodden realized that this was a harmless error in judgment and not some villainous pirate trying to steal the movie. He let the woman make a guilty plea, she paid a $71 fine and is on probation for a year. Seems fair.

Regal Cinemas didn’t think so. They wanted her prosecuted fully in accordance with their zero tolerance policy.

Regal Cinemas would like this woman’s life ruined over 20 seconds of a movie on a digital camera. Yes, it was stupid, but should she have been sent to jail for a year and be forced to pay $2,500 for that youthful mistake? No. And that is why everyone should boycott Regal Cinemas. Find the one nearest you and avoid it like a rabid porcupine. It is time that movie theaters stop treating customers like criminals. No more wearing night vision goggles, no more zero-tolerance policies.

Also, let them know how you feel:


From the People Who Brought You eBand Search: More Scams

I’m guessing that the eBand Search scam is either doing really poorly or really well because there are some new versions of the same email going around. With Companies as well respected as eZ Auctions and Consumer Business Bureau how can you possibly lose a lot of money and/or your identity? Consumer Business Bureau is set up to look like a sort of Better Business Bureau entity (an actual and legitimate organization), which makes it especially disturbing because it is kind of mocking the people getting scammed.

The one thing absolutely consistent between all the scam emails I’ve gotten from these folks is the space between my name (thank you, and the comma. Another is that the link to apply always ends: careers.aspx?[an identifying code]. While clicking on this link probably won’t do anything terrible, it definitely is confirming at least that your email address works.

Below is a sample letter from eZ Auctions. To see a sample the Consumer Business Bureau, look in the comments of the entry which discusses eBand Search and the joy of Career Builder.

Dear [sucker] ,

I have recently viewed your resume online and feel that you are qualified for an immediate opening with our company as an EBay Auction Manager. We are eZ Auctions, one of the most exciting website launches in the last few years.

[sucker] , if you are looking for an opportunity to find a real long-term career with an exciting cutting edge company, you may be the person we are looking for, so apply today!

eZ Auctions is the newest and most innovative online auctioning service on the web today. We offer the everyday housewife, college student, homeowner or grandparent the opportunity to benefit from the booming online auction business.

eZ Auctions is completely free, unlike many other sites in the online auction industry, giving you the opportunity to profit from the “trash to treasure” mantra with very little investment.

The EBay Auction Manager position we have available is not a sales position. We offer our EBay Auction Managers the following:

Highly competitive salary.
Incentive Plan that can add 40% or more to Base Salary
Medical, Dental, and Vision plan
Expense Account
Paid Vacation
Tuition Reimbursement
Rapid Fast Track Advancement Program
We are looking for a hard working person who is passionate about the online auction industry, and looking for a career – not just another job. [sucker] , if you feel the EBay Auction Manager position is right for you, visit the link below and fill out the online application. (If the link does not work in your e-mail, you may copy and paste the address in your browser.)

I am looking forward to reviewing your online application :~)

Mark Thomas
eZ Auctions

technology, whatnot

Secret Shame: why I don't use Yahoo

The recent talk of Microsoft buying out Yahoo! reminded me that I wanted to write a little about why I try to avoid companies like Yahoo! and why other people should do the same. Corporations are not known for their compassion, but companies like Yahoo! have (for a while now) taken dispassion to a new level.

A little over a year ago news broke about Yahoo! giving the Chinese government information to identify political dissidents. Now a dissident and his wife are suing Yahoo! for getting him arrested and beaten. His crime— distributing articles for democratic reform. An American company is helping stifle democracy, but even worse it is helping commit human rights violations. Why would any company want to do such a thing? What could possibly be so important that a company would willing help a government find someone to torture? Wouldn’t it be nice if the answer wasn’t obvious?

Yahoo! would like people believe it cares (it doesn’t), so its spokesperson reminds us all that

Companies doing business in China must comply with Chinese law or its local employees could be faced with civil and criminal penalties.

Which is of course a cop out, but the world has a way of suspending honest reflection in the present if it is beneficial, only to show remorse for an inability to see the whole picture until a later retrospective moment. Or to put it another way, we turn away from what we can change to focus on what we can not, because it helps us. If the cost of doing business in a country is to have people beaten then the cost is too high. If the cost is to do things that positively retard the possibility of positive change in the country that cost is too far high. Or at least it should be.

And to be fair though Yahoo! isn’t the only one, just one of the worst. Another contender is the new Chinese MySpace. A company owned by Rupert Murdoch, who paradoxically owns Fox News, a channel that claims to be passionate about exporting democracy to countries like Iraq. MySpace China actively censors political conversations and encourages people to report dissidents to the government. On MySpace China you can’t mention Democracy, an independent Taiwan, or the Dali Lama. Nor can you do anything that would harm the unity of the country, so watch out.

Even the folks at Google (the company that claims they “don’t [want to] be evil”) are willing to sell their humanity for prosperity in China, asking shareholders not to vote for a policy that say they won’t engage in “proactive censorship.”

Corporations and The Market are amoral and inhumane, but America doesn’t have to be. Clearly, there needs to be laws created to deal with these things. So long as it is profitable and semi-legal corporations will eagerly participate. Changing the way American companies do business in China can only be positive— ultimately business won’t be lost because the Chinese government wants China to be modern and global. If they can’t dictate how that happens they will still do business, because otherwise they won’t get anywhere as a participant in the global community. People argue that by playing their game we are opening doors, but it is painfully obvious that we aren’t opening doors, we are nailing down the windows.


Imus Isn't the Problem

Listen. Imus might suck for saying stupid things but talking only about what he said is just dumb. Imus isn’t the problem. The problem with Imus is that he said something stupid and now people want to talk about what he said, and once the media is through with him we will all pretend America is alright again. But America isn’t all right. Race and sex are still major hurtles for Americans every day.

One problem is our reaction is tailored to be completely impotent, another problem is what we are teaching people. “Watch what you say and no one will bother you,” is all we are saying. That is worthless. The problem is the racism and sexism in this country, the words are just the expression of those feelings and ideas that are very real still in America. The reality is that even if these ideas are not voiced they will continue to exist. By shutting down the conversation we are doing nothing to change the situation.

Don’t be fooled. You can shut Imus up but in doing so you haven’t done anything. By focusing only on Imus and the larger issues (race and gender in America) the media only facilitates the band-aiding of those issues and is hamstringing good honest discussion. If they really cared about the issues and not the entertainment value of what Imus said they would be discussing these issues in relation to Don Imus.

If you want to affect change in America on the issues that matter you can not just oppress the hurtful and wrongheaded ideas that people have, you have to meet them head on with a rational, thoughtful, and unemotional dialog. But until then we can just keep telling people to keep their mouths shut and walk around in willful ignorance of the challenges people face in this country based on race, class, religion, and gender.

Imus isn’t the problem, the way we deal with a person like Don Imus is.

education, whatnot

Changes in Focus for Higher Education

As a culture we are moving more and more towards commodifying everything. Some of these things make sense, others might not. Education and art are examples of things that should maybe shouldn’t be commodified.

Search employment postings for an admissions rep and see what you get (emphasis added):

Are you aggressive? Motivated? Strong closer? Money hungry? Direct sales rep? We are looking for you for our well established Baltimore location. All leads provided. Exp. preferred but will train.


Admissions Sales Representatives also facilitate the student recruitment process through intensive interviewing that includes telemarketing, personal selling, and generating leads through corporate and community outreach.

More and more schools are shifting their focus. Education is a job requirement and people are enrolling based on who will make them the most tempting to employers. Higher education once meant becoming a better person and increasing your knowledge and understanding of the world, but today it has shifted to preparing its students for work. This transition in higher education towards the vocational is often celebrated. Many schools pride themselves on teaching “job skills” and increasing “employability” and promote these qualities first and foremost. We see this shift in students as well, ask one why they are there. Wanting to find a job will come up, usually after some quick lip-service about wanting to learn.

Which is more important? Which should be? Would every student in college or at a university be there if they could get a job without going? The answer may say a lot. More importantly are we comfortable with this shift and where it will inevitably take us?


Andy Barker P.I.

NBC is doing something new. No, it isn’t a a new version of Law & Order— it’s something really new. They’re putting a new mid-season replacement show out onto the interweb before airing even one episode on TV. That’s right, Andy Baker P.I. is available for download on iTunes and streaming for free on

The show which stars Andy Richter and is co-created by Connan O’Brien is actually pretty funny. It isn’t great TV, but then again most TV isn’t. It is an original concept and it made me laugh. I’d be interested in seeing if it can sustain.

andy-barker-p-iThe idea of putting all the episodes online (there are only six since it’s a mid-season replacement) is interesting. I can only assume it is a move to make sure the show has a chance to be seen considering this is a time when no one really expects to see new shows. But I wonder if it will backfire. I’ve already watched the entire season and I can’t say that I am interested in watching them on TV where I’ll have to sit through painful commercial breaks.

It also makes me wonder if NBC is considering a day when they will try to take advantage of the internet more. Testing the waters of web only content? It may be a little early to go that road, but I wonder if maybe they are interested in seeing where they get more viewers.

tips, whatnot

Batch Converting to MP3 with Lame

I had a folder of .wav files that I wanted to convert to mp3 using lame. I thought I remembered an easy way to have it convert the entire folder but I couldn’t make anything happen. So I came up with an easy system using the mac’s terminal. All I have to do is go into a folder and type mp3ed and I get mp3 conversion just how I like it.

Here is how to do it:

  1. open the terminal and type “nano .bash_profile”
  2. type or paste to the end of the file (or as the first line if it’s a new file):

    alias mp3ed=”find *.wav -exec //usr/local/bin/lame –vbr-new -V0 ‘{}’ \;”

    (If you have a lame setting you like better you can change the “–vbr-new -V0” part of course.)

  3. hit control-x, then y at the prompt, then return at the last prompt.
  4. restart the terminal

Now, all you need to do to convert a folder of wav files is go into that folder (cd myfolder) and type mp3ed.

Of course for this to work you’ll need lame installed. If you are even just a tiny bit comfortable with the terminal that is easy enough (hint: decompress and paste cd ~/desktop/lame-3.97; ./configure; make; make install). To install lame you’ll also need apple’s free xcode, which you can download or install from the disks that came with your mac.


Why We Won't Have Dollar Coins

Well the treasury is back to take another swing at the dollar coin. This time they won’t feature women like Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea they’ll feature presidents… you know the old standards we all love— Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison. Every year there will be four new dead white guys to choose from! Sadly, we will all have to wait until 2016 for the treasure of treasures Richard “victory fingers” Nixon. If you want to see when your favorite president comes out (or see when they served) you can look at the release schedule. jefferson one dollar coin

Polls are reporting that there is still no love for dollar coins as currency though, despite the fact that doing such would save the government hundred of millions of dollars each year. If we are to believe the AP article that I just linked to, there are still tons of the ill-fated Sacagawea dollar coins cluttering up the US Mint. So, why make a ton more? Clearly there must be a reason. We can only hope that the US Mint doesn’t think that a man’s likeness will be able to sell the coin better.

The problem with these coins are that people don’t think of them as money, they are like baseball cards and comics— collectible. The morning the Sacagawea coin was released people bought them by the roll and never spent one of them, making them both worthless as a collectible and useless as a currency. And even though they aren’t collectible they are still thought of as a collectible and more than a currency. Releasing four different dollar coins year until 2016 is sure to land the new dollar coins right along side Susan and Sacagawea, that is the corner of a sock drawer or lining the bottom of a security box.

Also, if you are afraid if the US Mint decided to stop pressing women’s faces into metal, fear not. This year there will be an equally (if not much more) useless ten dollar gold coin with the president’s spouses carved into them (making it eleven dollars per couple). Why the spouses?  Well, we all know that the most important women in America are the ones that married presidents. Right?

technology, whatnot

Open-Source is Good for Students (Paris gets it)

This is news from last week, but it’s something worth thinking about. The Ile-de-France district in Paris is giving away 175,000 USB memory sticks load with open-source software to students. CNet reports:

The portable office will include the office software suite, an Internet browser, an e-mail client, an instant-messaging client, and audio and video player software, according to the Ile-de-France regional council. The open-source software will work in the Windows environment.

With the rising cost of education the question become, when will America embrace open-source? OpenOffice has become over the past few years a very capable MS Office alternative, in fact some people make a good argument that it is better. The cost of education, especially for families sending kids to college, is expensive. Open-source software can help a little by giving students mature feature-rich applications that they can use to get their work done. The real problem is that people perceive it as different and different means bad. Nonsense.

OpenOffice writerOpenOffice isn’t for everyone, but it is for the majority of people and it is free. I offer this challenge, try OpenOffice for a month and see how you like it. Sadly Mac users will probably find that OpenOffice isn’t quite as nice just yet because it requires something called x11, but that is set to change very soon. So, if you are a Mac user, just wait a little to take up that challenge. Once an aqua version is out there will be no compelling reason for vast majority of MS Office users to continue paying for buggy overpriced software.

Lots of businesses are starting to make the switch to OpenOffice, why should educators lag behind? After all graduating college with less debt (or if you are lucky, with more money) means a better footing getting out into the post-college world.


Huckabee is a Dink

Republican Mike Huckabee visited NH yesterday (02/10/07) to try to get something going for his 2008 presidential campaign. He is one of the many politicians confused by gay marriage. An Associated Press article said of his visit to New Hampshire:

The former Arkansas governor, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said heterosexual marriages face enough challenges without adding new configurations to the mix.

It would take a terribly confused (and lets be honest, dumb) heterosexual to become even slightly challenged by this “new configuration.” What everyone against gay marriage needs to realize is that it isn’t up to them and it doesn’t affect them. If your child is going to be gay he will be gay even if you make homosexuality illegal. What’s more, no one will say, “hey, I have a boyfriend and I am a woman who wants to get married… which configuration do I choose? I sure wish someone had made this easier to figure out.”

Huckabee also said that “people have a right to decide how they live their lives,” but apparently that doesn’t mean being gay and deciding to get married or adopt children. The absolute hollowness of that phrase is almost funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. Is this a man to even consider as a possible president?

One can not say they are for a ban on gay marriage and love freedom without revealing tragic hypocrisy. Today we look back and feel slight shame that our forefathers called all men equal while building a country with slaves. Future generations will look back at us with that same sad feeling. Yes, our forefathers did great things, and so will we, but that does not liberate us from our own small mindedness.