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25 January 2009

Tech Withdrawal and the Ebay Wall of Shame

I bought a used LG vx9800 phone on ebay from a flesh-and-blood human (not a mega-seller) a few months ago. I love it, and I've become melded to it, borg-style, since then. I lost my phone charger about 2 weeks ago. My phone died a few days later. A day or two after that, I started retracing my steps to find it, to no avail. Now i'm, for all practical purposes, a cripple. I'm reading scientific papers and hitting upon words i don't know, and I have no google sms dictionary to rescue me. I can't send myself deadline reminders, or post half-useless ruminations from the coffee-shop while waiting for an electrical outlet to free up. As it stands now, I'm running an electrical cable to my laptop across a busy coffeeshop isle, and i have to re-plug it in after it's kicked out every 5 or 10 minutes... In a desperate attempt to return my life to normalicy, I turn to ebay to get a decent-priced charger. Yet I made the not-uncommon mistake of going too cheap. 3 chargers for $10, shipping included. I figure if one's a lemon, then I still have 2, which allows me to lose one and still have a phone. Nope. They all suck. Sure, I know they're going to be ultra-cheap, but they should work, right? Wrong. They're effectively designed *not* to charge my phone. Within 5 minutes of charging, the phone says "charge complete", and it's obviously not. ( I should point out that a bad charger can be worse than no charger at all (in a sense). A mis-behaved charger can overload and overheat the battery, essentially destroying it in a surprisingly short period of time.) In short, I should have known better. On a related note, ebay's profits from are down steeply for the year ( see here). Paypal and the more recently acquired skype, along with advertising, are holding the dogs at bay for now ( see here ). It's shit like like this that is eating ebay alive from the inside. Here's where I bought my charger. From the looks of it, they're rapidly shoveling ultra-cheap Asian electronics to market, getting a 99.2% approval rating on enormous volume, which means lots of unhappy folks in absolute numbers. Here's one good post that addresses their current crisis ( see here ), but it looks like a *lot* of folks, both buyers and sellers, are pretty pissed off ( see here ) Looking back in time, things get even weirder. Ebay purchased a 25% stake in Craigslist and then sued them??? ( see here ). I've drawn heavily from the NYT here, but the WSJ isn't free... My best ebay purchases, over time, have been second-hand electronics. I regularly include the word "used" in my search terms. There are some great deals out there on second-hand 70's electronics (provided it doesn't cost $50 to ship - an well-made 1970s reciever/amp can easily weigh 40+ pounds). It's like going to a great big yardsale that's open at times other than Saturday from 6am-2pm. What's the lesson here? I re-ordered 2 OEM (original equipment manufacturer) chargers - i.e. they're made by LG. We'll see if this works any better. Still, it's another week before I get the rest of my life back. How many more days before my outgoing voicemail message that pleads, "the fastest way to contact me is to send a text message to this number" once again becomes true? How many days before I'm carrying a 5.2 oz dictionary in my backpack?

12 January 2009

why i'm nocturnal

from time to time, especially after a long interlude of relative peace & self-determination (like the one after the holidays), i forget just how much i dislike crowds & traffic.

then i wake up one day relatively early & leave my cave relatively early in order to accomplish some grand & useful task in pursuit of the higher good, something that involves a business establishment that closes @ 5pm, or requires sunlight.

the onslaught, the horror! where did all these people come from, and where are they going?!

today i checked the groundwater wells down by the river. i can't do it after sunset, not at all. trust me. i tried. it's much warmer in the day, too, &very peaceful and pretty.

getting there is murder, tho.

i go to winnings for coffee and breakfast. its packed. people are talking to me. i'm talking back. why?! i just want to eat and read the paper.

next, bumper-to-bumper traffic on the one ways. where are so my folks going @ 3pm? interstate construction.


09 January 2009

The best/worst sunset in town

Few things hightlight the mind's eyes ability to filter and highlight like cellphone pics. Here's an especially dramatic one taken of the East Mountains at sunset, with a luminously full moon hanging overhead.

This intersection of Lomas and 12th gives one of the best views of the mountains in downtown. Too bad its framed by powerlines and 6 lanes of rush-hour traffic and fumes.

Somehow my mind and my eye are very good at picking out and focusing on the wonder of the sunset-peach-colored mountains and bits of cloud in the distance. I'd linger, but the fumes of ABQ's numerous beaters, and the frantic pace of the intersection, are harder to ignore. Instead, i snap a picture and trot away down quiet, house-lined 12th which, pleasant as it is, lacks the view.

This pic looks nothing like what i saw.

Human eyes are mechanical and informational wonders (see new years post!), functioning in a wider range of lighting than any camera, and responding faster. Cell cameras are the opposite...

google text

i've been having a lot of fun with google's sms search engine (see it sounds so simple as to be trivial, but its really groovy.

example: text "w zipcode" to 46645, and get this ( for 9 jan 2009):

Weather: Albuquerque, NM 87106 42F, Cloudy Wind: N 19 mph Hum: 42% Fri: 25F-54F, Mostly Sunny Sat: 22F-47F, Mostly Sunny Sun: 25F-47F, Clear

"w", of course, stands for weather. "d" is define, etc. exactly what "etc." is, though, can be ambiguous.

i send two msgs, "help" and "info" and get useful summaries on how to use the system in response (the wonders of self-describing software!), and i learn that a search for "current movie city" should give me local showtimes.

unless, of course, the current movie is a particular oliver stone flick named "w."

it's an great question - how much is the software expected to infer from context, and how much contextual info is the user expected to provide? personally, with a specialized interface like txtmsg where brevity is a virtue, i really like the "keyword query" model, where the keyword can be abbrev to a single letter.

google, if you're listening use m for movie! 20-some letters await good context assignments...

07 January 2009

Real Good Food - Que Huong Vietnaemese

We're cold. It's windy. We need hot salty spicy noodle soup, so we go looking for Cafe Da Lat. It's disappeared off the north side of central and, presumably, the face of Albuquerque.

Just across the street from Talin, hark! Vietnamese with tons of neon beer signs and lots of cars parked in a small lot. Bingo!

Big, exciting menu. Cheap as all get-out, fast service, *strong tea*, and really good hot noodle soup.

No take out menu. Just a business vard that says "the best vietnamese food in town". So far, i agree...

05 January 2009

Vintage Cookbooks from Internet Archive

With my foray back into getting the XO to work, I've been obsessing about ebooks lately. Enter the internet archive. For an illuminating glimpse, check this out:, and more generally,

You can learn a lot from the tabloids...

Myself, I thought she was too fucked up to care...

the wall of "do we get to leave today?"

everything's looking clear so far...



the first in a series of xmas cellphone airport photos

An airport terminal in Houston aka HAI - oh-so-post-modern and, i imagine, rather difficult to vacuum.

An Lutheran-American Xmas Eve

The Xmas Eve Candlelight and Carols service: a right & proper time & place to greet Pride in our hearts' anteroom as it hangs its hat upon our imagined dignity.

a family, holding a hand-lettered sign, on a sidewalk by a stoplight amidst a TN big-box Xmas wonderland. i walk past, across a fast food parking lot, the only other pedestrian on Xmas eve, as a warm, light mist falls. traffic in the fading light. all parties feign nonchalance.

Xmas: putative season of humility. Our gifts are surely never given to impress, to inflate our own imagined goodness! So plump with self-satisfaction that we easily and unironically ignore our last nagging inclinations towards largess and contrition.

And the Xmas carols! Written for leaner, darker times? These songs, out of childhood, now echos and simulcrums of hope. The Culture of Now, superbowl and starbucks and more than 100 million cars in 50 states, already has its own answers, priced to move for the holiday season.

My pride helps me safely scoff.

  • In Cynic am i cloaked;
  • Untouchable;
  • Judging but unJudgeable:
i'm a culture-hero. Like a super-hero, only hip-er.

Rising above it all... (and whatever is it?) Is this why we drink and smoke and fuck? Our culture, historically lacking in uncommercialized transpersonal alternatives. Like fish into a cave. we've slowly blinded to the strength of our self-affirmations. Tag,we're it.

In pain, we suddenly question our inalienable rightness, our moral superiority. Recessions breed innovation; depressions are lulls in which listeners hear troubadours above the Now Culture Roar. Even then it lies, hungry, in wait.

Wine & Communion Wafers: to me the taste, give or take, of roman/spanish/dutch/german/english pillage and war, & the ovens of imperial entitlement. It sounds ridiculous until i try to "eat and drink - this is the body and blood of the lord god, given for you" with a stright face. No one else is laughing. A touch of evil, not unlike bitters, is useful in treating ethical constipation and moral flatulence:
  • a hint of naked envy;
  • a dram of guiltless gluttony;
  • an ounce of unapologetic lust;
  • a pinch of piracy?
Stomachics for our putatively immortal souls, purging us of a great excess of ourselves.

My favorite part of church is that we don't clap for each other.

03 January 2009

OLPC: Why Sugar Sucks - A Really Long List

Why OLPC Software Sucks

olpc's "sugar" operating system takes the cake for the most unresponsive OS ever, and that's saying a lot! this is a pic of me trying to open an activity bundle, an ".xo" file. As i type this, nothing has changed. ctlr-alt-f2-ing over to a real, honest-to-god terminal shows me that unzip has eaten my XO's rather limited AMD GEODE processor for now. WTF?

Steps to cause users great software discomfort:

1. Use redhat's fedora core, and alter it almost beyond recognition - the result is "sugar", an awkward operaring system that steals valuable devel time from the OSS world.

2. insist that every previously-written piece of software must be "sugarized" to work with XO. Generate buzz and intial devel activity that result in lots of orphaned software projs.

3. write a new browser. nevermind many decent ones already exist.

4. Refuse to play nice with anyone, or admit mistakes *ever*

I've been trying to use sugar for about a year now. It's still terrible. It's more terrible than i can summarize in the requisite 1000 characters of an MMS, so i now continue my diatribe from the green machine itself.

Other things i hate:

* No man pages - the most flagrant sign that "it just plays linux on TV"

* No swap, since it has a flash "hard drive" that would be degraded by swap's frequent writing. Too bad linux on 256MB ram *really* needs swap. Eric's performance hacks, especially the incredible compcache greatly alleviate this evil (keep an eye on compcache - changing the nature of linux computing!). Still, it's non-trivial to permanently enable compcache. Another example of "it just plays linux on TV"

* No mp3 capability by default; installation must be done via commandline. I'm no fan of mp3. I used ogg for years before i finally admitted defeat. We're stuck in an mp3 world. As such. the XO is a victim of idealogical zealotry.

* Battery life - claims of 10-12 hours were a major selling point for me. A year later. sugar's best power saving features are still *experimental*, for god's sake! 3.5 hours today from full charge, 1/3 of that with backlight off, reading by sunllight.

* No hibernate, nor the possibility of it. On my thinkpad, i can press a button and suspend my machine to disk, leave it my backpack for weeks, and get my in-use desktop back with the press of a button. With OLPC's emphasis on power, i thought the XO could at least match this feat.

Nope. At best, it goes sleep. Leave it asleep on the shelf for a month or two, and the battery gets so dead that it WON'T CHARGE. A special EC program (batman.fth) must be used to flash the battery. All this requires an easily-obtained developer's key. What's secure about requiring this key???

* Ebook reading still not functional. Flipping through pdfs is painfully slow. Hit the wrong button and *surprise* you're at the end of the book, you've lost your place, and it will take 5 or 10 minutes to get back.

Overall, the XO's software sucks. Bad.

The hardware is amazing. I've put the keyboard under running water. It's 3 pounds, had a nice handle, and a small powerwart. I can read the screen in DAYLIGHT!

So what's a geek to do? Buy a 16gb SDHC sandisk extreme II (15mb/s) card ($40 at writing) and install ubuntu. That's what i'm doing.

blunt objects;
eye trauma;
orbital fracture:

file under things not to do on new year's eve.

after 2 days of seeing double (vertical displacement) a sore left eye, and numbness on that side of my nose, i started to wonder if a doctor might have some wisdom. it was fri the 2nd of this new year, not a holiday per se, so i should be able to schedule some non-emergency visit, right?

wrong on all accounts. another case of "go ask google". after talking to a very nice soul @ NewMexNurseHotline (24/7/365&free!), calling the still-closed UNM student health center, & pres. hospital, the emer room was still my only official option.

30 min of google later, i have found my symptoms and causes described exactly. the eyeball rests in an orb of fragile bones that tend to crack before the eyeball pops under sudden pressure (lucky for us... im not sure popped eyeballs heal so gracefully). unless severe, it heals itself.

so i scheduled an eye exam for next week. i need new glasses anyway. oh, and here's my self-diagnosis.