Archive for June, 2005

Tiny little dishwashers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Anyone know if these little Japanese dishwashers actually work? Also, does anyone know whether dishwashers really save water over hand washing, or is that an urban myth? (Via Engadget)

Followup: safe data doesn’t exist

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

As mentioned in an earlier post, if you store data, it is vulnerable. In the case of CardSystems Solutions and the recent massive data theft, they were particularly vulnerable since they failed to secure their network, even though they had been certified to a security standard set by MasterCard and Visa. Of course, that certification process is prone to error. The key issue is that this data is really useful to companies in many ways, but only if people have access to it. Providing more access means less security. They shouldn’t have kept the data in the first place, and of course it got out into the wild. Minimalism should be the starting point of data security – if you don’t absolutely need it, don’t keep it. Unfortunately, the “more is better” paradigm is dominant in data as well as physical clutter.

Retractable cables rock, but I can’t find…

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

I hate cables and adapters both at home and while traveling. Problem number one is the huge number of incompatible chargers. This WaPo article says it best:

“If you switch [cell phone] brands, it won’t work,” Kammerer said of his many chargers. “I wish they were standardized. My briefcase gets heavy.”

Manufacturers argue that providing their own chargers ensures the quality of the service, said Jeff Joseph, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association. Also, at $30 to $50 for a charger, “it’s an important revenue source.”

Yeah, whatever. I’d buy more electronics if I didn’t have to ditch all my accessories and adapters, and that would also be an important revenue source. -10 points for Jeff Joseph. I don’t know how to solve the charger problem yet. There are some products that try to be an all-in-one charging solution, but I’ve never found any that seem really good.

For other cable issues, retractable cables can at least help while you’re on the road. Zip-linq is the most famous, but now there are tons of knock-offs. This kit combines a whole bunch of retractable cables in one case, so you at least get a bulk discount, I guess. But it is still quite a bit of stuff to drag around. This kit is a much better solution. It has a single retractable cable, with adapters to turn it into a variety of different connectors. But it still is too many little parts to keep track of. I haven’t been able to find the best of all worlds. I like the Roadwired style of retractable cable. It is a solid hunk of rectangular plastic you can throw in your bag without worrying about anything snagging or breaking. I want one of these with slots to store a bunch of adapters to reconfigure the cable for phone, ethernet, USB, etc. That would be the best of all worlds. Anyone know of such a thing?

Artificial legs: high technology = simplicity

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Most often, high tech is overly complicated. However, as the NYT points out this morning, high tech is making prostheses much simpler and better for those who have lost their legs. Of course, they have to be plugged in, but that seems reasonable for the benefit they provide:

He recalled attending a party where the lithium-ion batteries for his legs went dead.

“I usually get 30 hours out of them before I have to charge them again,” he said. “But I didn’t charge them up the day before.”

When his legs ran out of power, he said he spent most of his time sitting on a couch talking to people with his legs plugged into an electrical outlet nearby. “It was fine,” he said, adding that no one seemed to care.

I love the phrase “when his legs ran out of power.” Happened to me while jogging this morning, but I had to eat a hearty breakfast of huevos rancheros to fuel back up.

Blurring work and home

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Brighthand mentions a study about mobile technology vs. longer working hours. Yes, it is probably true that being more connected means being available for more work. But the real question for the worker is whether it increases satisfaction or reduces stress. Wouldn’t it make more sense to measure these variables? Well, not if you’re the boss, I guess.

“In the future office, there will be added pressure to adapt quickly to change, work smarter, increase productivity and perform duties outside of one’s job description,” said Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam. “The good news is that emerging technological tools and educational opportunities will better enable professionals to meet these challenges.”

Hm. Well, that’s good for employers, but why not focus on the good for workers? I know that I feel more relaxed if I know there’s nothing going on I need to know about, so that’s a plus. But I don’t want the obligation of being constantly available, and that’s what will probably happen.

Stick with SD memory cards

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

In the beginning, there was Compact Flash (CF). Then that was too big, and thus was created Secure Digital (SD). Then manufacturers created “standards” for a bajillion other random formats that annoy the heck out of anyone who shops for digital cameras, PDAs, cellphones, and laptops. Fortunately, there are some products that help with the mish-mash. Today, I’d recommend sticking with SD. It is about as inexpensive as CF, has large capacities, and there are a variety of SD to CF adapters (1 2 3 4) that will allow you to use it in any CF device as well. I’d recommend one that adapts the SD card to the thinner Type I version of CF, since it will work in more devices. Good deal. Don’t fall into the “I’ll just buy separate cards for each device” trap. Shop for devices that can all use the same cards to reduce your mental overhead.

Yes, there are adapters that adapt smaller card formats to SD, but we don’t know if you can then adapt those to CF without issues. Getting too complicated…brain hurting…

The line between candy and medication is getting fuzzy

Monday, June 20th, 2005

The Seattle PI tells us that diet sodas may “make us fat,” but more oddly, CNN indicates candy manufacturers are starting to include things like caffeine, ginseng, and guarana in their products. I like the fact that the link at CNN has “fitness candy” as the descriptor.

“People need to realize if they haven’t been sweating and need to replace electrolytes, you don’t really need these products,” she said. The use of stimulants is an even greater concern because they can cause dangerous increases in a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, she added.

But Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association, said candy makers are simply answering consumer demand.

“Manufacturers are looking for new ways to build healthful benefits into their candy,” Graham said.

I always thought the sugar jolt of a handfull of jelly beans would do the trick, but apparently I’m naive. I guess I’ll be reading the labels carefully on my next sugary snack, since I’m trying to (at least somewhat) limit my caffeine intake.

Good security can require minimizing data

Monday, June 20th, 2005

The NYT has more about the latest credit card data theft scandal. I’m sure that the folks at CardSystems Solutions thought that what they were doing was logical and fine. After all, they just wanted to “determine why certain transactions had registered as unauthorized or uncompleted,” which seems perfectly reasonable. But if you’re keeping data, it is at risk. This is why the official policy was to absolutely minimize the amount of data retained after transactions were completed. Most people tend to think that storing everything is better, but this isn’t the case. Minimize. You don’t have to protect what you don’t have.

Baking bread today

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

We’ve started baking our own bread, mostly because it is interesting, and we use exactly the kind of flour we want; it is hard to find good premade whole wheat challah, even at Fresh Fields. RecipeZaar has a decent challah recipe we’re modifying. We make four or so loaves at once, and freeze most of the dough so we can bake it when we don’t have time to make it from scratch. So we’re trying to learn about all the different kinds of flour, and were wondering how “Unbleached wheat flour with added germ” compared nutritionally to stone ground whole wheat flour. We came across this site, which seems to go a bit overboard on getting fresh flour:

What is the solution to this problem? Ideally, one should buy wheat in sacks, grind the grain at home and quickly bake it into bread.

Um, yeah. I think that might just kill the fun a bit. We’re trying to zero in on a tasty recipe that uses a minimum number of easily available, cheap ingredients and is really healthy, yet isn’t too hard to make. We’re zeroing in, but each experiment takes a while, so it’ll be a while yet. We’ve moved the challah to half whole wheat and are trying to reduce the oil next.

Hard to believe expectations of beauty will rise with HDTV

Friday, June 17th, 2005

The NYT tells us about HDTV exposing blemishes on many popular media stars:

The editors of OnHD.TV examined several dozen stars and compiled a list of heartthrobs who (they claim) wither under the unblinking gaze of high-def, including Cameron Diaz (”littered with unfortunate pockmarks”), Jewel (whose makeup ”looks like it was done by Ringling Brothers”) and Bill Maher (”scary”).

Of course, any time there is an improvement in technology, our expectations go up as well. It is easy to think that more is always better, but in this case, you may end up disappointed that you can see more than you could on your crappy old NTSC TV set. I’ve heard from some local folks who appear on TV regularly that this will also be an issue with TV backgrounds and sets – fake books (frequently used) will look fake, etc. Apparently most sets look really bad. No wonder there is lots of foot-dragging on switching to digital broadcasting.