Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas time IS stressful

How many times did I hear a phrase like “Christmas time is a relaxing time with your family” through TV, radio and other mass media? Only non-real people appearing on mass media seemed to enjoy the relaxing time in this season, while the rest of us, real people in the real world, seemed to be almost stressed out with:

Dealing with craziness at shopping mall parking places,
Dealing with drunken/distracted drivers on freeways,
Running around shopping malls to get the last minute Christmas shopping done,
Standing on a check-out line for one hour only to hear “Computers at a check-out counter are down.”
Traveling through and dealing with crowded airports,
Dealing with craziness at a shopping mall again to return gifts,
Catching up homework and getting some work done,
Dealing with family issues that tend to happen whenever family members get together, and
Facing a big credit card bill!

Sorry if reading the list made you feel stressed. Some of the items happen to me almost every year in this season. The repeated experiences made me disillusioned about the “Christmas time is relaxing” phrase. I believe it must be an illusion created by mass media.

Monday, December 19, 2005

more on domestic wiretapping

You can find the original New York Times articles breaking this story here and here.

One interesting aspect of this story is that it may pit the Executive and Legislative branches of government against each other. Under the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 1, the President is Commander in Chief of the military. In World War II, the President didn't need congressional authorization to tell the military to intercept and monitor German communications. On the other hand, Congress has the power to pass laws, and the Executive branch generally has to follow those laws. Finally, the 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. (Intercepting a communication is a type of seizure -- you can seize information just like you could seize a physical letter, a weapon, or contraband.) That amendment also requires search warrants in some cases, but not all (for instance, you don't need a search warrant to conduct a fire inspection of a building, even though that's a kind of search.) Now, after 9/11, Congress passed an Authorization of Military Force, which was sort of an open-ended declaration of war: it told the President to go find whoever did 9/11 and make war on them. So, the question is, can the President use his war powers, as authorized by the Authorization of Military Force, to listen to communications between U.S. citizens and foreign citizens without a search warrant? Conversely, does Congress have the power to pass laws, like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to limit the President's actions? And finally, if matters come to a head, will the Supreme Court be willing to get involved in the dispute?

I recently heard a commentator say that the Bush presidency could be remembered as exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Either he'll be the President who defended us from terrorists and led the Middle East to peace, or the one who plunged the country into unnecessary war. I think the stakes in the game just got higher.

at the airport once again

Hangin' at the airport again, waiting for my flight back. I had a good visit -- got a chance to see old friends and catch up. Also, the mail server is working again. (After a semester of classes, it's good to remind yourself that there are still a few things you know how to do and you're good at.) We also got a bunch of Christmas shopping done, and I've now signed up for broadband at home, which should go live by the end of the month.

So, as I tuned back into the world after exams, what to my wondering ears should appear but news that the President is authorizing wiretaps of communications between U.S. citizens and foreign citizens without bothering to get a warrant under FISA? I haven't had time to read up on it yet, but it sounds like he's claiming the power to do it under Article II war powers. This should be a most interesting battle to monitor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

making a living in a pod safe world

I've mostly recovered from being sick and am now studying for the last final. More accurately, I'm now avoiding studying for the last final.

Here's a question to consider: with peer-to-peer file sharing and podcasting causing issues within the music industry, what sorts of business models could a band use to turn those forces to its advantage instead of fighting them? Some bands are using them to release promo tracks to advertise albums, but there's another approach that bands might want to consider, especially those that do well in live concerts.

The Grateful Dead used to encourage people to record their concerts because concerts were where they made their money, not from the recordings. A lot of newer bands may be in a similar situation, especially if they have exceptionally strong stage presence. So the idea is to use podcasts to promote concert attendance: record the concerts, release the live recordings for free as podcasts, and include in each one a blurb about your upcoming concert schedule. The goal here is to develop a nationwide -- or worldwide -- following that'll come to your concerts whenever you're in town to get the live experience, something you can't send over a peer-to-peer network.

This idea's only half-formed, an inspiration during a study break. Please feel free to leave comments or criticism if you like. But if you're a band that likes to tour and has a lot of charisma on stage, it might be worth keeping in mind.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Diebold CEO resigns

Raw Story is reporting that Diebold's CEO resigned today for personal reasons. The story notes that the company is facing securities fraud litigation. It also cites a disturbing interview with a whistleblower from a few days ago that raises allegations of vote rigging in the 2002 Georgia gubernatorial and 2004 national elections.

The 2002 gubernatorial election in Georgia raised serious red flags, the source said.

“Shortly before the election, ten days to two weeks, we were told that the date in the machine was malfunctioning,” the source recalled. “So we were told 'Apply this patch in a big rush.’” Later, the Diebold insider learned that the patches were never certified by the state of Georgia, as required by law.

“Also, the clock inside the system was not fixed,” said the insider. “It’s legendary how strange the outcome was; they ended up having the first Republican governor in who knows when and also strange outcomes in other races. I can say that the counties I worked in were heavily Democratic and elected a Republican.”

Raw Story is not necessarily an unbiased news source -- there's a definite tone to the news -- but they do tend to carry documents and information that the mainstream U.S. sources won't touch, where you might otherwise have to hit an overseas source to learn more. It'll be very interesting to see how this one develops.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I woke up this morning feeling not so good. I drove to church, decided the symptoms were rapidly getting worse, and left before the service started. Whatever this stuff was, it came on fast and hard and knocked me flat out for the day.

Fortunately, it was parents to the rescue. Mom parachuted in with ginger ale, Excedrin, and stomach-friendly foods. She even did my laundry while I was crashed on the couch! Thanks, mom!

Anyway, I'm still wiped and still on the couch, though the worst seems to have passed. I can stand now without getting queasy, but I'm still weak and not many flash cards are getting made. The next final is Tuesday morning, so hopefully I'll be in good study shape tomorrow.

Friday, December 09, 2005

neural tapioca

Just came off exam #2 of 5. Three hours of full-throttle typing and a total circus getting started (crashing laptops, someone coming in ten minutes late, an extra person in the exam room). Next one's 9am tomorrow. Right now I'm reading information but it just bounces off -- nothing's sticking. I think the brain must be like a muscle: it burns glucose, it gets stronger with exercise, and it gets tired. We have all this research into making your muscles stronger. Is anyone researching workouts for your brain?

OK, time to sign off before I start sounding like Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness writing in The Sound and the Fury.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Drivin' in the Rain

California is in the rainy season again. You have the chance to see driving skills of Californians in rain. Many of them seem to simply get nervous and not to use to drive in rain. Their rainy-day-driving manners appear to reflect their nervousness. Here are the examples I have seen.

Driving very slowly with the hazard lights on.
I guess the driver is warning other drivers that he/she is a potential road hazard and hoping to prevent others from approaching his/her car. I lived in the Midwest and the Upper Midwest and had never seen this driving style until I moved to California.

Driving 35 miles per hour in the third lane on a freeway in moderate rain.
The driver does not seem to realize that traffic builds up behind him/her. He/She also does not seem to have any intention to move to a right lane. This driving style happens in the Midwest and the Upper Midwest when it is heavy snow, but does not happen in a little or moderate rain, to my knowledge.

Moving windshield wipers at full speed in a little rain.

A few rain drops seem to bother some drivers. This is another driving style that I had never seen in the Midwest and the Upper Midwest.

Driving without the headlights on.
I guess the driver does not realize that other drivers may not see him/her, while he/she can see other cars since most of them have their headlights on.

The rainy season has just started. I expect to see a few more drivers like the ones above by the end of the season. Drive safe, everyone!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

studying for finals

Studying for finals. I have the flash cards out, and I'm pacing around trying to remember the Six Criteria for Rulemaking, the Twelve Steps for Adjudication, and other "name the seven dwarves" kinds of questions. It's chilly in the apartment, so I'm very tempted to relocate to a coffee shop, but sometimes it's easier to memorize this stuff if you talk out loud.

I wonder if the coffee shop would let me get away with pacing and talking out loud if I stuck a cell phone's hands-free unit in my ear...