Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bill Clinton on Meet The Press

This Sunday on "Meet The Press" former president Bill Clinton spent some time talking about the continued war on terror. The conversation focused on efforts in Afghanistan.

He was asked the question "Will committing tens of thousands of U.S. troops to the war in Afghanistan make Americans safer?"

I found Bill Clintons response very thought-provoking.

'The answer to that is maybe..."

He went on to quote General McChrystal, "...we have to have an "Iraqi surge in Anbar."

Former President Clinton added "that worked well there... I think what the president is saying without saying it... is that an American surge in Afghanistan maybe be a necessary condition for success."

This is interesting for two reasons: political and for national safety.


All personal politics aside, I sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between someones ideological position and their political pandering. For example, nearing the end of the last presidential election cycle then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama stated his opposition to the Iraqi surge that then-President George Bush was supporting in the war effort in Iraq. When it was soon considered to be a success the press asked Obama how he felt about the surge effort and he remained steadfastly opposed to it, refusing to call it a success (is that ideological or political?) He could be legitimately ideologically opposed or he could have just been politically pandering.

We are now facing the fact that General McChrystal is recommending we learn from the successful surge effort in Iraq and have American forces "surge" in Afghanistan. According to Bill Clinton "that worked well there" and so we should do it because it may make Americans safer.

So what will Obama do? Was his previous opposition ideological? If so, we should see him challenge the General and oppose calling up more U.S. troops for service. That would be an ideological response. If he sends the troops in for an approved surge effort, then it wasn't ideological.

National Safety:

Some might object the premise of former President Bill Clintons arguments. Those individuals may not like the idea that any war effort is required to successfully protect Americans from Al Qaeda, which is what makes the follow-on question equally as interesting.

"What specific threat does Al Qaeda pose to the United States?"

Clinton responded, "They have proven that, alone, among all the non-state actors, they have the power to organize and execute leathal assaults far from their home base."

Clinton went on to say, "Since we've driven them into the mountains... in the ill-defined border between Pakistan and Afghanistan... their movements (and) communications have been constrained... and they've not been nearly as free to organize and mount such attacks."

The interviewer then quoted former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying, "If you abandon Afghanistan, you'll have another 9-11 in the U.S."

After briefly discussing the additional measures of protection in place around the world to stave off such attacks Clinton went on to say, "It's impossible to know that with certainty... but I would agree with her to the extent that if (Al Qaeda) have freedom of movement in Afghanistan, it will increase by some significant factor, the likelihood, that they will attack successfully, if not in the United States, somewhere else against people we consider our allies, that we have to be concerned about."

I really hope that Obama DVRed Clinton on Meet the Press. I think he should be taking notes because the man is doling out an education on foreign policy (and I am not even a Bill Clinton fan!)

In a conversation lasting less than 10 minutes Bill Clinton:
  • Affirmed the Surge in Iraq.
  • Made statements about the near impending necessity to surge in Afghanistan which would qualify him as a "war-monger" under the same criteria as other so-called war-mongering politicians.
  • Affirmed that pinning Al Qaeda to the mountains of Afghanistan (a move in place since the "Bush Regime" .. no real progress since then) has been effective in hold down their efforts in terror.
  • Affirmed the idea that a war on terror on foreign soil is in the best interest of Americans back in the United States (something people ideologically opposed to the war said was a false assertion coming from former president George Bush.)
If you are paying close attention former President Bill Clinton seems to be speaking quite freely these days. It truly appears he is willing to set down his political hat from time to time and discuss the war on terror without filtering for a political agenda or for partisan points. I mention this because I know people who were ready to vote for Obama simply because Obama appeared to not be a "war-monger" based on what had been his ideological stand against the war on terror.

Every day it seems that what was perceived as a commitment to ideology has been traded in for political pandering. From Iraq and Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to invoking secrecy and non-open communication on various White House related fronts, it looks more and more like Obama was stroking the heartstrings of ideologists within a typical political agenda to romance would-be voters.

The point of sharing this isn't to call Obama a hypocrite. It is an effort to demonstrate that sometimes ideology in the hands of a politician is nothing more than political pandering. So I now mentally weigh the outcomes of the following two ideologies/panderings:
  • John McCain was accused of fear-mongering when he would talk about the threat of a repeat 9-11 on U.S. soil and why fighting the war on terror seemed to be important. If he was ideologically defending the right to go find the self-proclaimed terrorists and bring them to justice, does that justify scaring people into that agenda? So, said another way, McCain show the threat without explaining, like Clinton, that there is no impending certainty, only an increased likelihood of attack, to justify going after self-proclaimed terrorists. Is leaving out the Clinton-esk differentiation of increased likelihood as opposed to perceived impending certainty fear-mongering? Maybe so.

  • Barack Obama was accused of pandering to people fed up with the cost/risk/death of war for the purpose of winning votes, only to continue the same practices previously qualified as war-mongering. Said another way, Obama seems to be willing to talk against surges and war-mongering while being elected, but willing to take the same "war-mongering" actions that people elected him to stop. Is saying one thing to take a political stand with voters and then doing the opposite ideological pandering? I think so.
Which is worse? Scaring people into doing what you said you would do, or pandering to people but doing what you said you wouldn't do? Oh, I wish we didn't have to deal with either.

It seems that surging and fighting and defending to protect people from individuals or groups who are proactively threatening or have perpetrated terror is the definitive action of the president no matter who ends up being president. If you are ideologically opposed to that, then you have an up-hill battle to climb. And if you are looking to vote for senators in the coming election cycle who do not fear-monger or pander to your ideological position, well... good luck.

Watch video of the interview here:

Nigerian Scam

..and no i did not create this graphic...

If you have been on the internet for a while then you have likely been targeted with at least one version of the "Nigerian Scam" email. It is also known as the "4-1-9" or "advance fee fraud" scam where the sender wants to gain access to some locked down money but can't unless someone like you is willing to be a financial mule and take part of the cut. Some of the emails pretend to be from bankers who are trying to move money from accounts that have been abandoned (this would be against the law) while other emails pretend to be moving their own money out of economies in countries that are in some political termoil (legal... but why would they contact you? answer: they wouldn't.)

No matter the story, the end game has you opening an account with the email sender while you seed that account with enough money to legitimize the type of account required. Of course, the email sender never puts any money in the account. They simply remove your seed money and then disappears (or some variation of this scam where you eventually grease the wheels of the money transfers with you money and then the email sender disappears with your cash.)

This scam has been on the web in some form for more than a decade where quotes a secret service agent saying that as of 1997 the Nigerian Scam stole at least $100 million out of the U.S. economy in the last 15 months.

I have no idea how effective the scam remains and I can say that the emails have dwindled in the last few years. But this week I have received a new version of the message and I think it is kind of funny. Here it is (I've bolded a few items worthy of note):

Joseph Owor
Dean of Faculty of Business Administration
Uganda Christian University
Mukono Town , Uganda.

Confidential Message:

I hope this message will meet you in good faith, please pardon me for reaching you in this manner because you do not know me, I have an obscure proposal of mutual interest to share with you. I got your email address from the Internet through my search for a relatively unknown person who will assist me in securing a large sum of amount.

I am Joseph Owor , The Dean/Head of Faculty of Business Administration of the Uganda Christian University.

I will need you to assist me in executing a confidential business project.It involves the securing of a large sum of fund. Everything concerning this transaction shall be legally done without hitch if you are willing to consider this proposal.

Please I will kindly request that you endeavor to observe utmost discretion in all matters concerning this message if my proposal is accepted by you and if this proposal is not acceptable by you, kindly delete this email and do not pass it to a third party as I vehemently risk my job to send you this email.

I am presently on a foreign committee appointment in Europe through the United Nations Christian charity project fund of Uganda.

Once the transaction I am proposing to you have been successfully completed if accepted by you and the fund in question is in your possession, we shall be offering to you a ratio to be agreed upon.

kindly reach me back at this juncture to get your opinion first, after that I will furnish you with more information about this transaction.
You are to contact me on my secure email address below for further details if this proposal is accepted by you:

Yours Sincerely,
Joseph Owor.

So, typical Nigerian Scam. Here is what makes me giggle:
  • The scammer decides to evoke a degree of trustworthiness (in my opinion) by saying they work for a Christian University. As such they hope the message meets me "in good faith." I have no idea what they mean by that other than to evoke the work "faith" near the reference to "Christian." Lovely!
  • They found me in their search for someone who is relatively unknown. OK. I don't know if I am supposed to feel offended at being classified as relatively unknown or if I am supposed to be impressed by the search capability of someone who can find me, a relatively unknown person. Pretty fun either way!
  • I am told in one line that the transaction will be "legal" and a few lines later there is this obscure reference to their committee appointment in the United Nations Christian charity project fund... hello? So the transaction will be "legal" even though they are hinting that the money will be laundered from a U.N. Charity fund? Downright silly!
  • More funny is the idea of a United Nations Christian charity. While I could imagine the U.N. working with a Christian charity, I think it is downright hilarious to imagine that the U.N. has a Christian charity fund. Full-on hilarious!
Finally, to use the grammar from the message, I am typically in favor of personally "securing a large sum of amount" or "a large sum of fund" but...SERIOUSLY, when will this scam die?

I don't know who I feel worse for... the entrepreneurial scammer who is just now hoping to strike it rich with this scam today in 2009 OR the sucker who receives the email and ignorantly tries to participate!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fun With PhotoShop, part 2: i,Beyonce

Inspired by the fact that Beyonce seems to have this growing obsession with looking like C3PO from Star Wars, I decided to kick out this movie poster for her up-and-coming film with Will Smith, "i, Beyonce." Click on the image for a larger view!

This is built from five images: the poster from the "i, robot" movie, head shot of Beyonce, high resolution hair shot of Beyonce (had to search for that one), a picture of Beyonce with her "cyborg hand" jewelry worn in the "Single Ladies" video, and a close up of the main cyborg from the "i,robot" movie. In addition to the images I used the Arial Round font coupled with a hort-load of photoshop layer effects to make the font look all futuristic. As well I did quite a bit of touch-up on both Beyonce and Will Smith, and used path selection to get clean edges around the composite parts.

Why am I wasting my time thinking about Beyonce as a robot? Well, for one, it is just funny to me that she seems to like the whole robot/cyborg thing, and it is less about her and more about fiddling with Photoshop.

Fun With PhotoShop

I would so totally go see this...

...if it actually happened.

This is a composite of 4 pictures and a winging a bunch of photoshop effects. Click the image to see a larger version!

Enjoy the silliness!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HTC Hero - The iPhone Killer

It’s here, and it is exactly what people were suspecting. World, meet the true iPhone killer!

Before we get started, it is worth mentioning that I am an iPhone owner and I love the device. But HTC Hero is a device that cannot be ignored.

So, this is the HTC Hero, a new device that has so much going for it that as a mobile platform all of its early moves are in the right bleeding edge directions. For example:

  • It uses the new(ish) Google mobile operating system, Android.
    That’s right… it isn’t Apple, it isn’t Palm, it isn’t Windows Mobile and it isn’t Blackberry. It is a mobile operating system built buy the same folks who are currently taking over the web! Probably going to be a mobile OS killer.
  • It uses multitouch.
    If you don’t know what multitouch is, then go get your hands on an iPhone. The geniuses over at Apple created (to the best of my knowledge) the concept where you can pinch or push the mobile device screen with two (or more) fingers to zoom in or out, rotate something, or drag a number of items. From what I have heard I am not certain that the HTC Hero can do all of the multitouch stuff that the iPhone can do, but the fact is that most apps out there are currently only using multitouch in two-finger mode so HTC Hero will seem comparable. Not killer, but if people implement more than two finger multitouch apps, it gets killer fast.
  • It implements the Adobe Flashlite Player.
    This means Adobe player 9 targeting ActionScript 2 at the moment. But Adobe seems committed to getting the full Flash 10 player optimized and available for a slew of mobile devices in the coming months. Flashlite is, however, a great start! At the moment Apple seems deadest on not allowing the Flash player (in any form) onto the iPhone platform. They are full of excuses while Adobe seems willing to work through anything. This could be the downfall of the iPhone. Ubber-killer move.
  • It can run apps concurrently.
    At the moment the iPhone only allows certain features and apps (mostly Apple apps) to run at the same time as other apps on the device. For example, on the iPhone you can be on a call while looking through your contacts, you can listen to music while checking facebook, and you can get a push notification of a friend attempting to contact you on AIM Instant messenger while on the home screen. But, if you want to start a web search and then go start some music and head over to the check the weather forecast, and make a move in an online chess game, well, half of those apps stop if you leave their screens, which means your search is on hold until you load the browser again. Not so with the HTC Hero. It can run multiple applications all at the same time. Not just a killer move, an Ender move.

With Adobe and Google driving forward with these amazing technologies, Apple will soon find itself left behind quickly if it doesn’t get the Flash player running on the iPhone. Here is why.

At the moment if someone builds an application for the iPhone they are specifically targeting the iPhone market. And building iPhone apps means embracing a fairly Mac specific programming language, set of tools, as well as a slightly tweaked development methodology. This is a great way to build a base of dedicated developers because once they hone these skills they aren’t likely to run off and target another platform with their skills, mostly because they can’t do it.

With Flash and ActionScript, you have a completely different paradigm. If you build a flash application for the HTC Hero, you can easily port that work to run on, say, any Windows Mobile device since Flash is always installed on Windows Mobile Devices. And if you want to create a version that runs from the web, well that is simple enough because Flash was built for the web. So the Flash and ActionScript developer can market to many different devices including the HTC Hero which will provide a similar but possibly more flexible experience than the iPhone.

The one risk that exists for HTC Hero Flash Developers that does not exist for iPhone developers is the monetization scheme. Right now, if you are an iPhone developer, your application has a predefined path for sales. Basically, you have to sell your iPhone app through the Apple App Store where Apple takes its 30% cut and your app competes with 75,000 other apps in the iPhone marketplace (at the time of this writing.) To my knowledge I am not aware of an HTC Hero app store and if there is a store, does that include the sale of Flash-based applications for the HTC Hero. All of the Flash examples I have seen so far on the HTC Hero are running from the HTC Hero browser as opposed to a purchased FlashLite application that was installed to the device independent of a browser. So I have to do more research on how to make money building Flashlite applications. But it is worth knowing that Microsoft (which implements Flash player in their Mobile OS) has launched an app store and there are other app stores for android that currently already exist. So it is a matter of time before the Google Android market has a fully saleable store selling Flash apps for the device. The likely key difference between Google Android application sales and iPhone application sales would be that HTC Hero users will be able to buy apps from a number of sources (which means HTC Hero Flash Developers can sell their apps from a number of stores) while iPhone users will still only be able to buy apps from the Apple App Store.

Stuff to watch for:

Full Flash player on Android Devices. Adobe is committed to tweaking the performance of Flash Player version 10 (the current player) so this goes for any device that currently implements FlashLite on mobile devices, and could include Flash player 10 for the iPhone (Steve Jobs himself implies that while they have seen a version of the Flash player run on the iPhone they won’t release it because it doesn’t perform well enough.) Adobe seems committed to getting the full version 10 player on mobile devices.

Flash App Store likely partly partnering with if not owned by Adobe. Since the Flashlite application market is not owned by a single app sales store it wouldn’t surprise me if Adobe sees the need to help foster a Flash community-driven app store to help build more momentum for open devices like HTC Hero. This is a fairly important step in the roadmap to success.

Adobe AIR Applications adopting the Mobile Device platforms. Adobe AIR wraps web and Flash technology allowing it to act like an installable application. While this technology is fairly young, it has turned quite a few web developers into application developers. Intriguingly, Adobe AIR applications can run on Windows, Mac and now Linux. This means you write the app once and it runs (can be sold) for any of those kinds of computers. Watch for Adobe AIR for the various Mobile Platforms: Windows Mobile and Android first, more than likely, then possibly Palm and Blackberry and taking up the rear iPhone (but not likely any time too soon for Apple.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Earbuds and Sonic Memories

Over the years I have grown accustom to the headphones that come with a number of my iPods and iPhones. For that matter I have been wearing headphones on portable devices for years. I can remember laying in the back of my parent station wagon (the “L-T-D” I used to call it) and listening to audio cassettes in these simple goofy silver wired headsets that culminated into plastic-sizers as the speakers shoved these cheep foam pieces that softened the blow of unreasonably large speakers being pressed to the sides of my brain. It is surprising that I can hear anything today at all after the abuse I put my ears through as a kid.

I remember my first portable CD player. I didn't have a lot of money and I desperately wanted a portable CD player. So after much saving I finally purchased a Sanyo player. I was saving for a nice Sony player but I did not have the money or the patience to wait it out. After I got home I immediately fell in love with the CDs I owned and wondered how I ever got along without them previously.

The truth about that Sanyo portable CD player, there was nothing portable about it other than it's size. You had to carefully handle it like you were diffusing a nuclear bomb. Any tiny bump, jostle or sideways glance and the player would lay waste to your CD sending it skipping and scratching into eternity.

After a few weeks of listening I had a bit of buyers remorse because I imagined that the Sony player would have been a far better purchase. The infinitely curious boy inside me had me in my room cracking the case of the Sanyo player one afternoon. Low and behold I quickly learned a harsh lesson in marketing and branding as all of the chips affixed to the Sanyo circuit board had the word “Sony” imprinted on them. Alas, I felt fine with just enjoying the state of the art and challenging the branding machine from that day forward.

Here we are years later and while I am fully addicted to portable electronics (I am writing this on my mac book while listening to my iPhone at a Starbucks in downtown DC) I still forget the trade-offs that we sometimes make for portable convenience. For example, the fidelity of the tiny earphones that came with my iPhone, while fine enough, leave a bit to be desired. Then there is the nearly forgotten reality that average MP3-style technology trims the audible (and near-audible) range of sound files to make room for longer tracks in increasingly smaller space.

We forget that hearing the music isn't everything. Sometimes hearing and feeling music makes all of the difference. For the same reason we all still go to theaters to see movies, sometimes we need to get out of our headphones and turn the stereo up to 11. In the audible range of analog music you can hear subtleties of musical nuance. But then in the near-audible range of sound you can sometimes find the rhythm and crescendo of music drive you to your feet and make you want to sway and dance. You can't quite find that in a set of earbuds blaring MP3 tracks regardless of what Apple iTunes ads attempt to convince us.

So, go re-download the highest bitrate version of your favorite songs (or go out and buy a CD or heaven forbid- a record) and feel the music again. Hearing isn't everything.

Oh worthy of note! Before you run out and buy $400 earbuds hoping to improve your listening experience, an independent tests claim that better headphones don't ensure a better listening experience.

tech-tip: If you tend to purchase CDs and rip them to iTunes then with a little tweaking you can turn up the quality of your sonic experience.

From within the preferences of iTunes, select the import settings for audio CDs. Then with MP3 selected, pick “custom” from the list of possible bit rates. Now, you will notice that from within the bit rate list you can select more than double the rate that was likely initially selected. You might guess that by selecting the highest rate you would be ramping up the quality, and you would be correct. But you would also be cranking up the size of each MP3 file and that will effect any MP3 storage, so you have to find the sweet spot between quality and size.

So here is my recommendation: 192 kilobytes per second (kbps), with a “high” quality “Variable Bit Rate” (VBR.) VBR means that if the moment within a single audio file could benefit from scaling up to 192 kbps then it will vary the bit rate up to that value. And if the sound data won't benefit from that quality well, you guessed it, it will save some space and not crank up the quality. From what I have read, this is about as good as it gets within earbud headphones. If you are thinking of taking off the headphones and turning up the stereo, then push it on up to 256 kbps with High Quality VBR. And if you are ripping audio DVDs then take it all the way to the highest bit rate and VBR quality if you want to experience the same quality but not have to worry about playing the DVD.

Again, fiddling with these settings can increase file sizes and slow down the ripping process, but hey we are talking about a better sonic experience right? Remember, it isn't just about what you hear, it is about what you can feel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mac OSX Snow Leopard having a bit of a Vista moment

In my mac world I tend to live in a couple major applications:

  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird
  • Mamp
  • Flash CS4
  • PhotoShop CS4
  • Dreamweaver CS4
  • MS Word 2008 (for Windows in Parallels)
  • and OpenOffice
By far the Adobe CS4 products are my career bread and butter and I wouldn't (couldn't) give them up if I wanted to.

At the moment Apple is really pushing anyone with a Mactel (Mac computer running on the Intel architecture) to upgrade to OSX 10.6 a.k.a Snow Leopard. How are they pushing? Like a drug dealer with blowout pricing. If you've recently purchased your mac, you can upgrade for $10. And if you didn't recently purchased it, then the upgrade costs $30. For me, that would mean $30 for my Macbook Pro and another $10 for the iMac.

But here comes the Vista moment (or maybe it isn't Vista as much as it is an old-mac-moment.) Snow Leopard made a number of core changes to how stuff works in the system but boasted that any of the current apps that we running fine under OSX 10.5.x should run fine in Snow Leopard. Unfortunately, that isn't proving out to be true. People like myself who live in the CS4 applications are currently encountering so many blowups that the forums are in flames. If you are running CS3 then you might as well boot up your old Windows XP machine, because if you upgraded to Snow Leopard then it is going to be a while before Adobe gets around to helping you out.

Adobe has been saying that they tested CS4 and it is good to go, but that Adobe CS3, while important to the company, isn't getting the priority at the moment. People still using CS3 got a little heated about that and started accusing Adobe of abandoning CS3 as a result, but Adobe assured them that it is just a prioritization issue and they will be getting around to ensuring CS3 works on Snow Leopard soon enough. Little did we all know that the reality about CS4 compatibility with Snow Leopard was more of an issue than Adobe was letting on. In fact, it now appears that Adobe new there were issues and the reason they weren't focusing on getting CS3 up to speed on Snow Leopard had everything to do with the fact that they can't yet get CS4 running smoothly on Snow Leopard.

But it isn't just Adobe products. There seem to be reports of intermittent issues doing regular stuff like "opening" or "saving" file. Hello!? What else does one do on a computer?

Rest assured, I am certain Adobe and Apple will resolve this current nightmare full-stop, but in the mean time I am waiting for some funny counter-strike style Microsoft commercials that mock Snow Leopard's buggieness. "Hello, I'm a PC. And I'm a ma... Hello, I'm a ma... and I'm a...I'm sorry but a number of system plugins are not responding. Please, visit help > system to view the... hello, and I'm a mac."

I will not be upgrading too quickly. I am sure I will upgrade, but just not as fast as the gotta-have-it mac-fan-boys across the interweb that were quick to regurgitate the Apple marketing on Snow Leopard even though Apple seems to have been less open than ever in allowing news firms to get access to Snow Leopard for pre-launch reviews.