27 January 2008

Australian Open 2008 - Men's Final

Yipeee! Novak Djokovic defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2)) to win the Australian Open 2008 men's singles title, his first major.

I didn't watch the entire match (it started at 3:30am EST) but watched the last four games and the tie-breaker. From what I saw both players were playing well, though the pressure might have affected Tsonga near the end. Maybe Tsonga's fans were merely louder, but it also appeared to me that most of the crowd was rooting for Tsonga - fairly annoying since I wanted Djokovic to win. :o)

Congratulations, Djokovic!

All in all this year's Australian Open turned out quite well. We have a non-Roger Federer champion, and a non-Federer-non-Rafael Nadal final, to boot. I don't really have anything against Federer, he's an amazing player, but anything that delays him breaking Pete Sampras' record has to be good, right? Plus, a final without the world number one and two only generates more excitement and interest.

My favourites on the women's side are Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova, so the latter winning the championship was great. During this tournament I kept on expecting Sharapova's serve to break down, but it pretty much held up. I guess it never quite sunk in with me how much Sharapova's shoulder injury last year was affecting her. Now that Sharapova is injury-free it's novel to see her serving well. I'm still not used to it. All Sharapova needs now to complete a career grand slam is to win the French Open (the toughest of the four for Sharapova, I think, though she reached the semis last year).

25 January 2008

Australian Open 2008 - Women's Final

Hurrah! Maria Sharapova defeated Ana Ivanovic, 7-5, 6-3, to win the Women's Final at the Australian Open. This is Sharapova's third major title. Congratulations!

I would have really liked to watch Sharapova's match versus Justine Henin (6-4, 6-0) earlier in the tournament. I read that despite the score Henin didn't play badly, it's just that Sharapova was in the zone.

Next up is the men's final - go Djokovic! Too bad that match starts Sunday at 3:30am EST. :o(

24 January 2008

Going Wireless - Part II

Well that was simple enough. After all my previous travails trying to setup a wireless network (Going Wireless - Part I) the solution turned out to be quite simple. I lost my internet connection when I connected my router so when I looked at the next installation step and saw "open browser and type http://xxx.xxx.x.x" I couldn't understand how to do that - how can I open a webpage without an internet connection?

Oops. Turns out that while you do use a browser and you do type in a 'typical' url you're not in fact opening a webpage, instead you're accessing the router directly. Once I'd realized my erroneous assumption setting up my router went smoothly; as a test I was able to sync my Zune 80 wirelessly.

Nevertheless, this still doesn't explain why my mouse and keyboard were being disabled during my earlier attempts. Strange.

23 January 2008

Facebook and privacy

Online shopping and e-mail

I shop online fairly frequently and there have been several notable occasions where during check-out my credit card information was rejected. In each of these cases neither the credit card company nor vendor could tell me why my transactions weren’t going through – so I moved on without purchasing anything.

The first time I remember this happening to me was when I was trying to order a Microsoft Zune Original (I’m actually relieved I never ordered one). To make the story short, Microsoft check-out refused my credit card information despite my credit card company saying they had approved it. Go figure.

The second time was with Gamestop / EB Games. I first phoned EB Games Customer Service and was told that I should contact my credit card company. Okay, fine – I wasn’t surprised as this so far matched my previous experience. What was different this time, however, is that my credit card company informed me they had no record of a transaction request. Eh? How could my credit card be rejected if my credit card company didn’t know I was buying something?

So I called back EB Games where I spoke to a different, much more helpful and informative Customer Service agent. He verified that my credit card information was correct and then dug a little deeper into my situation. It turned out that EB Games (and I assume other vendors must do, as well) sets up various ‘flags’ and if enough of these are triggered then the transaction is denied even if the billing/shipping information is correct. In my case the main ‘flag’ holding me up was that I was using an e-mail with a ‘.ca’ address while my billing information was in the USA. Interesting.

I set up a new account with a ‘.com’ e-mail and my online order went through without any problems.

Different vendors must set up different flags as the vast majority of the time I don’t have this problem. Anywhoo, now I wonder whether this was the cause of the problem I had when trying to order a Zune Original. Curious.

21 January 2008

Going Wireless - Part I

Ugh. Earlier today I decided to try setting up a wireless router, with no success. My brother helped set one up before, but I decided to disconnect it afterwards because it was slower than having a direction connection between my computer and cable modem.

This time I had two network cables, so I connected my modem to the router, and the router to my computer. Unfortunately, although all the router indicator links were blinking like they should I couldn't get connected. Wangos. So after struggling with various settings I disconnected the router and set things up the way the were before the router - but I still couldn't connect to the internet. Wangos x2.

Eventually I tried restoring to an earlier system restore point, but that didn't work, either. To make matters worse, I couldn't type in my Vista login password because my keyboard (USB connection) wasn't recognized anymore. I'm only guessing, but I think it might be due to the fact that all my system restore points happened to be before I'd purchased that keyboard - my original keyboard (which I've long tossed out) had a PS2 connection.

Anywhoo, I rushed out to buy a new keyboard with a PS2 connection. But that didn't work, either. Wangos x3. Luckily, during my next restart I pressed F1 during bootup to see if I could deactivate my Vista password (I couldn't); however, when I continued the bootup my computer now recognized my keyboard and I could log in to my computer. Whew!

After that it was only a short while before I was able to get my internet going again. The most frustrating thing about all of this (besides the fact that I still don't have wireless set up) is that I don't think it's supposed to be this difficult to install a wireless router. Am I missing something obvious? What am I doing wrong? What settings should I be looking at? Why is this so difficult? And the biggest question of them all: Why me?

20 January 2008

VWoA sales report for November 2007

I saw this posted on VWvortex.com. It looks like only 1508 of 5000 2008 MkV Golf R32's have been sold so far. This is only my impression, but it seems to me that the MkV is selling a lot slower than the 2004 MkIV Golf R32 (link to previous sales reports).

19 January 2008

Medical Myths

Last month the British Medical Journal published an interesting article, titled "Mixed Messages: Medical Myths" (Vreeman and Carroll, BMJ 2007; 335: 1288-1289). In the article researchers from the Indiana School of Medicine examined common medical beliefs endorsed by some physicians and the lay public.

Here are seven medical myths the authors focused on:
  1. People should drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
  2. We use only 10% of our brains.
  3. Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.
  4. Shaving hair causes it to grow back faster, darker, or coarser.
  5. Reading in dim light ruins your eyesight.
  6. Eating turkey makes people especially drowsy.
  7. Mobile phones create considerable electromagnetic interference in hospitals.
You can follow the above link to the article if you want to read the authors' supporting evidence and references.

For myself I thought 1, 2 and 5 were true.

Anywhoo, the authors conclude their article by saying:
"Despite their popularity, all of these medical beliefs range from unproved to untrue. Although this was not a systematic review of either the breadth of medical myths or of all available evidence related to each myth, the search methods produced a large number of references. While some of these myths simply do not have evidence to confirm them, others have been studied and proved wrong.

Physicians would do well to understand the evidence supporting their medical decision making. They should at least recognise when their practice is based on tradition, anecdote, or art. While belief in the described myths is unlikely to cause harm, recommending medical treatment for which there is little evidence certainly can. Speaking from a position of authority, as physicians do, requires constant evaluation of the validity of our knowledge."

Canadian diplomat manual: prisoners in USA at risk of torture

I saw this article (U.S. in Canadian manual as possible torture site) on cnn.com. Part of me wonders why this is considered newsworthy. Isn't the U.S.A. the only country that doesn't admit (since the current administration, at least) waterboarding is torture? Actually, that might not be true. I have no idea whether countries like Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria admit to torturing prisoners (and in the above article Israel denies doing so).

Anywhoo, main points of the article:
  • Training manual for Canadian diplomats: U.S a place where prisoners may be at risk
  • Israel, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia also are on list; Canada says it's not official policy
  • Manual cites U.S. interrogation techniques and singles out Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
  • Document inadvertently released to Amnesty International lawyers working on lawsuit

16 January 2008

Shooting the messenger

I posted previously regarding my concerns with the Canadian government deliberately overriding the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's order to shut down the Chalk River nuclear facility until safety issues were addressed (Bad precedent).

Now I read that:
"The federal government has fired the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, days after she publicly accused Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn of interfering with the independence of the arm's-length watchdog [...]

The Chalk River reactor generates two-thirds of the radioisotopes used around the world in medical procedures and tests. It was shut down on Nov. 18 because of safety concerns.

A ministerial directive on Dec. 10 ordered the CNSC to reopen the site. The agency refused, insisting a backup safety system be installed to prevent the risk of a meltdown during an earthquake or other disaster.

On Dec. 11, an emergency measure passed through the House of Commons overturning the watchdog's decision, and the reactor was restarted for a 120-day run on Dec. 16." -- cbc.ca
Earthquakes in Ontario? They have to be joking right? Actually, no:
"At a CNSC meeting earlier in the month, it was revealed that two earthquakes occurred in the Chalk River area since the facility's reopening, though the AECL said neither was strong enough to be a safety concern." -- cbc.ca
Bold and italics are mine.

It's only a matter of time. I think the Canadian government has so far responded to this situation in an extremely short-sighted and dangerous manner. What I want to know is why the AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.), a federal Crown corporation, hasn't been taken to task for running a nuclear facility that fails to meet safety standards.

United Airlines

During the most recent Christmas holidays I booked a round-trip ticket that consisted of four flights on United Airlines. I booked several months in advance to get a cheaper price and to obtain the travel dates I wanted. To my annoyance as the departure date approached United canceled my outbound connecting flight not once, not twice, but thrice. Each time they did so they automatically moved me to a different flight, but do you know how I found out about these changes? Did United tell me via an automated e-mail that my itinerary had been altered? To my disgust that's a big fat negative - despite having signed up on United's own website for e-mail notifications. I only found out because I happened to book my flights via Travelocity, and Travelocity, not United, sent me e-mails informing me my itinerary had changed, again. Ugh.

That's not all. On my outbound trip, my original connecting flight was canceled due to mechanical problems (the plane never even arrived at the airport). On my return trip my connecting flight was also canceled - during pre-flight the captain took the plane out of service because the brakes didn't work properly (I should express my appreciation for the captain's decision, and once United found a replacement aircraft to applaud an extremely smooth landing in very turbulent, windy conditions - I've had bumpier landings in perfectly calm weather).

Anywhoo, 2 out of 4 United flights were canceled - that's 50% - due to mechanical problems on the aircraft. This does not exactly instill me with confidence. Is this a normal failure rate for United aircraft?

I'm not sure whether I'll fly United, again. On one hand I consider a 50% failure rate very troubling. On the other other hand, United did identify the problems before the flights took off - gotta give them that much, right? Also, I was impressed by the service on United. The flight attendants and crew made the trip pleasant. They didn't do anything drastically different like offer free food or more leg room - it was all in their attitude towards the passengers. I felt like they sincerely wanted the passengers to enjoy the flight as much as possible. I'd forgotten what that was like, and I don't recall ever feeling that way before on a North American airline.

Welcome back, Zune

In a previous post I described how I had to return my Zune 80 and wondered whether or not I should get another one (Bye bye, Zune). Well, I ended up purchasing another Zune 80 the day after I returned the first one. This rushed decision was forced upon me because I was leaving town within a couple days, and if I was going to buy one it made no point to wait until after my trip.

Anywhoo, I'm relieved to say my new Zune 80 has worked without problems and I'm very satisfied with it. I used it to listen to music and watch videos - time spent on the plane and in the airport passed quickly, which was a major reason for me wanting a portable media player to begin with.

The new AC adapter / charger seems to work fine with no overheating after a few hours. I still haven't bought a new dock though. It would be convenient but I don't want to push my luck.

12 January 2008

TSA put travellers at risk of ID theft

Scary but true:

A scathing congressional report released Friday confirms that security flaws in a Transportation Security Administration site put thousands of Americans at risk of identity theft [...].

In October 2006, the TSA launched a Web site to help travelers whose names were erroneously listed on airline watch lists. This site had a number of security vulnerabilities: it was not hosted on a government domain; its home page was not encrypted; one of its data submission pages was not encrypted; and its encrypted pages were not properly certified. Furthermore, the site was filled with typos and other errors, causing some to wonder whether TSA's site had been taken over by phishers [...].

For the four months that the site was up, thousands of people visited it, and 247 travelers submitted highly personal information (including their Social Security number and place of birth) through an insecure, non-SSL encrypted form. TSA's lax security practices resulted in thousands of Americans being put at a direct risk of identity theft [...].

The TSA official in charge of the project awarded the contract--without competition--to one of his former employers, a company owned by one of his high school buddies [...] the report notes that "neither Desyne nor the technical lead on the traveler redress Web site have been sanctioned by TSA for their roles in the deployment of an insecure Web site. TSA continues to pay Desyne to host and maintain two major Web-based information systems. TSA has taken no steps to discipline the technical lead, who still holds a senior program management position at TSA." --Surveillance State
Follow the link if you'd like more background to this story and a link to the actual report.

09 January 2008

2007 Dodge Caliber

Earlier this week I had to drive a rental for a few days while my R was being repaired (due to vandalism). The rental was a red 2007(?) Dodge Caliber. The Caliber is a 4-cylinder ("That drives like a six!", so said the rental agent) FWD, 5-door hatchback. I didn't care very much about what car they gave me as long as it didn't guzzle gas.

I consider the Caliber to be a normal-sized car; it's not on stilts or overly long. When I actually sat and drove it, however, it felt like I was sitting in a high-chair. The relatively high seat position contributed to making me feel as if I was driving a barge, and accordingly I found myself consistently overestimating how much space the Caliber needed (eg. while backing up). The Caliber's acceleration lag was worrisome, with soft brakes to boot. During the commute home I initially thought everyone around me was blinding me with their lights - until I realized the Caliber wasn't tinted like my R, and didn't have blue-tinted mirrors to reduce glare. Previously diabolical teeth-jarring speed-bumps were no long quite so diabolical or teeth-jarring.

I guess it's unfair to compare the Caliber to my R - the R32 is a performance vehicle while the Caliber is not. Still, there you have it.

07 January 2008

Site visitors in December 2007

The top 5 visitors by country in December 2007:

1) United States.
2) Canada.
3) Netherlands.
4) an European country.
5) Great Britain.

I don't recall the Netherlands making the top five, before. For anyone interested in checking my memory, visitors for previous months can be found here.

The full list of visitors for December 2007.

01 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Years. Best of luck for 2008!