Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

On-line at 33,000 feet (thanks, Lawrence!)

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

This morning, I am flying to Las Vegas for Interop and an OpenSEA Alliance board meeting. Fortunately for me, my flight is not completely disconnected from the ground. As I write this, I’m sitting on American Airlines 1268 behind Lawrence Lavine of Ripplewood, one of the backers of AirCell. AirCell is the company that provides Gogo Inflight Internet on American Airlines planes.

I’ve seen Gogo’s advertising on transcontinental flights (SFO/LAX-JFK), but I’ve never tried the service because I’ve never been on the right plane. Gogo is on the 767-200, but I typically fly the 767-300 flights. I’d heard that AirCell was installing Gogo on the MD-80 planes like the one I’m on right now, but I hadn’t seen it yet.

Mr. Lavine has generously allowed several passengers to try out the service. (He’s probably trying to get us hooked, and in my case, it’s working!) At $9.95 for a one-hour flight to Los Angeles, there’s clearly some work needed on the pricing model. Technically, the service seems fairly solid.

If you’re reading this, Lawrence, thanks for giving me back an hour of my time!

Context is everything in statistics

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Catching up on my blog reading, I found a post where Richard Florida writes about immigration in the heartland. He relates a story from when he served on a panel in 2003 for the governor of Iowa on the future of the state’s economy, where a conference attendee stated:

I’m the son of Mexican immigrants, both low-skilled. I’m also a recent graduate of Grinnell College[one of the most respected small liberal arts colleges in the country]. Of my graduating class, only five of us have decided to stay in state of Iowa.

I’m a not-so-recent graduate of Grinnell. Many of my peers pursued graduate school, and many left Iowa for the workforce. A large number of graduates stayed in Iowa, where the career office’s connections were strongest. When I graduated, the career office pushed me to stay in Iowa, and didn’t seem to want to help me leave the state. I find it highly improbable that several years later, only five of roughly 300 to 400 graduates would stay in the state, so I wish there was a bit more context given for the number five.

A blast from the 80s: Knight Rider on Mythbusters

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

When you’re stuck in the airport, sometimes you just need to kill some time. With a big flight delay, all I could really do was hang out at the Admiral’s Club and surf the web. In the course of a random walk through the Internet that I’d rather not divulge too much about, I wound up coming across this Mythbusters segment on the drive-the-car-into-the-semi-trailer stunt that was a staple of Knight Rider. The show was one of my early favorites, though it is painful now watching reruns with the knowledge that I would anxiously await new episodes each week. (Of course, I had an excuse. I was eight.)

At any rate, for your viewing pleasure, here’s the video of the stunt actually working:

(If the video is no longer available, just search “mythbusters knight rider” on YouTube and you’re sure to find it again.)


Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Last night, shortly after 8 pm, there was an earthquake near San Jose. I’d just made it home after a particularly ugly BART delay, due to an apparent suicide at Powell Street station around 6 pm:

BART’s Powell Street station in San Francisco was reopened just before 8 p.m. tonight after authories shut it down for two hours to investigate a death on the tracks.

Up in San Francisco, the quake was fairly mild. I mistook the shaking for vehicles on the street at first, until I realized there was no noise and the shaking was continuing for much longer than I expected.

I was the first to fill out the shaking report from my ZIP code in San Francisco. (At the time I write this, there are now almost 250 reports.) Magnitude is an important measurement of earthquakes, but the Mercalli intensity scale is a more useful answer to the “how did it feel?” question. In the USGS map, brighter colors (yellow/orange/red) correspond to higher intensities:

October 30, 2007 quake intensity map (cropped)
(Click through for a full map with the color code.)

Most of the Bay Area reported intensity III (“Slight”), described as: “Felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on the upper floors of buildings. Many do not recognize it as an earthquake. Standing motor cars may rock slightly. Vibration similar to the passing of a truck. Duration estimated.” In other words, it’s only slightly more than a non-event. Pay no attention to the breathless media news briefs squeezed into the gaps between TV shows.

Word of the day: pleonasm

Monday, October 29th, 2007

This blog is brought to you today by the word pleonasm.

It’s a fancy word that refers to redundant words in an expression. I’ve always been annoyed by the phrase “NIC card,” since the acronym “NIC” stands for “network interface card.” Technically, when you say “NIC card,” you’re saying “network interface card card,” and that just makes you sound silly.

After my recent visit to Los Angeles, a colleague pointed out that referring to “the La Brea Tar Pits” is even worse, since “la brea” means “the tar” in Spanish; technically, “the La Brea Tar Pits” translates as “the the tar tar pits.” Somehow, it doesn’t seem as silly when the phrase is a mix of different languages, though.

Life of AAA Eneloop batteries in remote control: 2 months

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

A couple of months ago, I purchased a set of eneloop low-discharge rechargeable batteries for use in my programmable remote control. On August 19, I installed the first pack of four, promising to follow up when they needed replacement. I finally needed to do so last Thursday, for a lifetime of one day shy of two months.

The batteries that I installed were not fully charged. I pulled them directly from the packaging as they arrived at the house, and had whatever charge they had from the factory. (eneloops are shipped to retailers fully charged because they have such a low self-discharge rate.) I’ll continue to monitor my experiences and post further updates as I continue to gain experience.

Going Postal: The US Postal Service doesn’t redeliver for you!

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

I’ve recently had a pair of experience with package delivery services that seem worthy of comment.

First, I was expecting a package from UPS. I arranged my schedule to stay home, and the package didn’t come. Finally, at 8 pm, the UPS truck pulled up. The driver told me that the truck my package was on had broken down, and they had needed to quickly redistribute the packages for delivery. UPS drivers are represented by the Teamsters, so I would expect that the drivers who picked up the broken down truck’s load were paid overtime.

UPS delivery at 8 pm!

Wow. The UPS truck breaks down, and I still get my package when scheduled!

Second, I am attempting to get a package that was sent via the US Postal Service. It was for an on-line order shipped on August 16. On Saturday, August 18, the USPS attempted to deliver the package, but I was out of the house visiting friends. They left behind a tracking note that claimed to “redeliver for you,” but it curiously did not have a tracking number. (UPS notices are superior in this respect. The notice has a number which can be scanned by the driver’s computer and linked into the tracking record with no data entry.)

In the past, I’ve found that I can’t actually schedule redelivery for at least three days out. The package has to go back from the carrier to the post office, where it can meet up with your request and be given back to the carrier for redelivery. On Monday, August 20, I went to and requested redelivery on Thursday the 23rd. The web site helpfully spit out a “confirmation” number. I arranged my schedule to be home on the 23rd to receive my package.

On Thursday, the package didn’t show, and I didn’t hear anything from the USPS.

I rearranged my Friday schedule to be home, in case I was off by a day. The package didn’t show on Friday, either.

On the morning of Saturday the 25th, I went to the post office to pick up my package, on the theory that my confirmation number didn’t mean anything. But, because I am a redelivery-requesting fool, the package was at the “carrier station.” (I should observe here that I like the way that UPS and FedEx packages return to an office at the end of the day, and you can go get them.) The people at the counter told me that the package was out for redelivery, so they didn’t have it.

At this point, I’m wondering what I’ve done to annoy the Package Delivery Gods. Had I never requested an attempted redelivery, my package would have been waiting and I would have had it. But no, I believed that the USPS would try to deliver my package on the date that they confirmed.

The people at the counter gave me the number for the carrier station. I called and spoke with my carrier, who said that my package is coming today. He twisted his ankle and has been out, which is why redelivery is taking so long. All I have to do is drop my plans to leave the house for the third day in a row.

So, if you’re sending me a package, please send it UPS. They can attempt to redeliver the next day, let me pick it up at their office, track on line, and when they confirm a service, it actually happens. On the other hand, if you want me to be annoyed with you before I ever open the box, send it USPS.

The credit card fraud detection system versus C.J.W. Holdings

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Over the holiday weekend, I received a call from somebody claiming to be a fraud investigator with one of my credit cards. I was suspicious of the call because the call didn’t come through with Caller ID. (Yes, I know it’s easy to forge, but I figured a scammer would be sure to block it.) She asked if I’d made a purchase from “J.W. Holdings,” but the line went dead shortly after she asked the question. I thought the call was a scam and made a mental note to report it after return from some errands in the morning.

During my shopping trip, the card was declined, so I figured that the call had been legitimate. When I called up and spoke with the fraud investigators, they asked me if I had made an Internet purchase from C.J.W. Holdings for $84.97. Since I was on my computer at the time, I ran a Google search on the company. Interestingly, Google turned up this complaint page, which sounded suspiciously like my situation, except that my credit card company’s fraud systems had flagged the transaction. The amount was even the same!

I have to say, I’m impressed with the fraud detection system. I took the piece of plastic to Montreal two weeks ago and charged a single meal with no difficulty. Even though I charged the ticket on another card entirely, the system somehow recognized the charge in Montreal was legitimate. (I assume it’s because the card was present for the transaction.) The previous time I had a credit card blocked, it was also the result of fraud. Somebody tried to charge almost $900 worth of merchandise at the New York Heroes gift shop. Oddly, it also occurred while I was on a foreign trip. Fraud detection systems have correctly caught the two bogus transactions out of thousands in the past decade while letting all of the legitimate charges go through. As I said, I’m impressed.

I am in good company as a tax procrastinator

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

I own some foreign stock that pays a dividend, and the company that provides account services recently advised me that they had issued the 1099 form reporting the dividend had mistakenly not reported the foreign tax withheld. (They also can’t get my address right, but that’s a longer-running problem.) I needed to file for an extension while they get their act together. Apparently, I’m not the only one looking for the extension form. When I hit the IRS web site, I saw that the extension form, 4868, was at the top of the search results on the last day to file:

IRS most requested forms

So, apparently, I’m in good company with lots of other people who are putting off the final day of reckoning.

Counting lessons from the California Secretary of State

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

On Thursday, I was at the San Francisco regional office of the California Secretary of State to file some paperwork. Even in this electronic world, there are still legal things actions that must be taken with original paperwork. To incorporate a non-profit business, the instructions on the web say that you need 4 copies of the articles and 2 originals. I dutifully showed up with six pieces of paper, at which point, the clerk explained to me that it’s four total copies, not four photocopies. (“Most people show up with too few copies. You’re one of the rare ones with too many,” she said.)

What was I incorporating? Well, that’s a secret that I have to keep for the time being, but I should be able to write more about soon. Stay tuned…