Pet Peeves

There are a few things that bother me a lot more than they should. The most recent example: the $35 activation fee every cell carrier seems to charge. It’s one of those things that seems reasonable enough, until you actually stop and think about it. They spend millions and millions of dollars to advertise for new customers, even though they’ve pretty much saturated the whole market. And when they finally get you to agree to pay $80/month, and enter into a long-term contract with them to ensure that you’ll still pay it, what do they do? Why, they demand $35 from you!

Especially with the way the economy is going, companies are doing everything they can to get new customers. They’re slashing prices and offering discounts all over the place. I could see, “Sign up for a 2-year contract and we’ll pay you $35!” as a good promotion. But “Sign up now for a 2-year contract and pay us $35 for the privilege of doing so?”

So I’ve decided that I’m going to treat it kind of like how I treat giving my phone number out to cashiers. My steadfastness will match my politeness as I say no.

AOL and Spam

One of the 7 billion mailing lists I’m on at work is one that’s set up with AOL’s Feedback Loop. When an AOL user receives e-mail from our domain and marks it as spam, we receive a notification that the particular message has been flagged as spam.

I was talking about this with some coworkers today. We don’t send spam. (And we use SPF and DKIM, so well-configured mailservers will reject spam that forges our domain.) We’re a social networking site. People manually opt into receiving notifications of certain events on the site. And when they get those e-mails, it flags them as spam.

This is a giant frustration, and for multiple reasons. For one, it means that I receive hundreds of messages a day. I think I’m going to start going through and unsubscribing (from e-mail) the people who flag our e-mails as spam, since they clearly don’t want them. But the bigger hassle is that it means that hundreds of people every day are unknowingly working to make AOL’s mailservers think we’re spammers.

So I mentioned that we should work on disabling e-mail notifications for these people, and the reply was that this isn’t necessarily so. Apparently, it’s very common practice for people to hit “Spam” to get rid of a message, instead of deleting it. Reading up on it a bit, it seems that this is a pretty common problem, though it’s hard to tell whether it’s isolated to AOL users, or if it’s just more obvious because they’re the only one that actually gives you those stats.

Discount VX-7s

Now that Yaesu has their VX-8R ham radio due to hit shelves, its predecessor, the VX-7R, is being discounted, and fast. It’s $285 at Universal Radio, and $275 at HRO. I’m a big fan of my tiny little VX-2R (and VX-1R!), but the VX-7R (and the VX-8R that’s replacing it) is a “full-power” HT, putting out 5 Watts. It covers 6, 2, and 440. The VX-7R also does 300 mW on 220 MHz, which isn’t much power at all (0.3 Watts), but it’s better than nothing.

I’ve had a passing interest in 6 Meter FM for a bit now. There’s the 53.07 MHz machine on Uncanoonuc, the big hill in Goffstown that’s home to all sorts of transmitter sites. (Indeed, so many that the noise floor forced them to move their receiver to another site.) 6 Meters can feature some tremendous range, and that’s before skip factors in. (It’s sometimes called the magic band because of its status in between HF and VHF.) Further north, there’s now the 53.77 MHz machine on Gunstock… And the NE Repeaters site lists a whole bunch more. Sadly, the one on Mount Washington appears to be off the air.

(Besides the fact that I don’t own a 6 meter radio and have no experience setting up repeaters, I have a certain urge to try to set up a 6 meter machine on Mount Washington. It’s problematic, though, because the duplexers needed to use the same antenna for simultaneous transmit and receive are enormous and not many were ever made… The same problem exists with antennas, so something like a DB420 folded-dipole array would be entirely unreasonable… They do make some verticals, though the linked one is the only monoband 6 meter vertical. (And, as a 2-5/8-wave vertical for ~53 MHz, it’s 21 feet tall.) The radios are the easy part, as the 42-50 MHz band used to be popular with public safety, back when all the mobile radios put out 100+ Watts and were build really solid. I’ve read of older radios (Mastr-IIs or Micors, for example) being brought into the 6 meter band with superb performance, and ~150 Watts out. I’d be very curious about how a 150 Watt repeater on 6 meters, with an antenna providing 6 dB gain, would perform on the summit of Mount Washington.

But first things first… I don’t have a radio that does 6 meters. 😉

Holy Tilt-Shift

We have posted before about tilt-shift lenses. Meant for architectural work, the basic gist is that you can, well, tilt and/or shift the lens as it’s mounted to your camera. The goal is to correct angles, so your shot of a building from the front doesn’t have the lines on the sides looking like they’ll converge. A neat side-effect is that you can use this to leave only a ‘slit’ of the image in focus, which has a really neat effect making the shot almost look like it’s a scale model. (Since tilt-shift lenses cost around $1,000, most photographers fake the effect in Photoshop… Though the linked one did not.)

Of course, in addition to neat “this looks like a scale model!” effects, very selective focus is useful for drawing one’s attention to something.

This [warning: has music] is possibly the most awesome thing ever. It appears to be thousands of shots from a camera with a tilt-shift lens stitched together into a (time-lapse) video. And I don’t really know where to start, other than to say that this is awesome. And that it’s totally not helping my resolve to not buy a high-end DSLR that can do HD video or a lens with a four-digit pricetag.

The Thing with Abortion

I tend to sit the abortion debate out, since it ultimately comes down to when you believe human life begins. Despite what some try to paint it as, I’m not sure there’s anyone who thinks that, at 8.5 months old, the baby isn’t a baby. (And, in fact, Roe v. Wade doesn’t allow abortions then.)

But a few points that drive me crazy:

  • The President can’t overturn Roe v. Wade, since Presidential powers don’t include overturning Supreme Court cases.
  • We’ve had what many consider to be a very conservative President for 8 years. Roe v. Wade stands.
  • Some conservatives are freaking out about how Obama is “the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.” Besides the fact that I’m not sure where he’s getting his facts, what could Obama do? Allow third-trimester abortions? Allow abortions three months after birth? All he could really do would be to keep status quo, which has been in place for something like 20 years.

My point isn’t that women should or shouldn’t have the right to have abortions. My point is that 98% of people who talk about the issue don’t seem to get it. Abortion isn’t really up to the President. Abortion is legal (within some sane boundaries). And, after eight years of conservative rule, abortion not only remains legal, but it hasn’t even been challenged. So before you go praising or condemning Obama (or any other politican) for their stance on the issue, consider whether they’re really any different than the status quo.

High-tech President

Blackberry-carrying President-elect Barack Obama has announced that he’s going to give weekly “fireside chat” equivalents, addressing the nation’s status and what he’s been working on… via Youtube.

(Youtube may be regretting hosting videos for free, as the Obama team has 1,823 videos up on its Youtube account right now, and I’d wager that a lot of them get tons of views…)

A Few Links

This monitor is extremely tempting. $200 (after rebate) for a 22″ would be tempting enough, but this one has a secret weapon: it’s 1920×1280 instead of the 1680×1050 that you’d normally find. Great for people like me who crave lots of screen real estate. (Though my laptop chokes trying to drive a second panel at 1280×1024, so I’m thinking I clearly need a new computer.)

Also, we all have our heros. My hero today is this kid, because of their hero.


There are a lot of things in the ecosystem that play valuable roles despite being seemingly undesirable. Spiders and snakes, for example, both play important roles. That being said, I wholly support the complete extermination of the following plants and animals:

  • Skunks. I normally don’t mind the smell too much driving by on the road. But my dog just got sprayed, and it’s a horrible pungent odor. Like burning rubber and burning onions, permeating the whole house. Only worse.
  • Porcupines. If I went around stabbing everyone, the state would try to exterminate me, too. Only I don’t go around stabbing people, because I’m not an awful anti-social animal.
  • Snakes. Unfortunately they apparently do play a bit of a role in the environment. Thus I could compromise and only eradicate poisonous snakes, snakes with a diameter greater than 1″, and any individual snakes that came near civilization. But if the extermination teams get carried away, you won’t see me losing any sleep.
  • Fire ants. I’d just as soon say all ants, but I suppose we need some little creatures to eat wood, even if it’s usually problematic.
  • Mosquitoes and horseflies. Horseflies supposedly play an important role in pollination, “especially in South Africa.” I’m more than willing to donate all of North America’s horseflies to South Africa, which can have a bumper crop next year.
  • Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. No one wants to touch you anyway, so ease up. I don’t like it when people bump into me, either, but I don’t go around giving horrible rashes and blisters to everyone who might brush my arm on the subway.
  • Poison hemlock and water hemlock. When your main function in society is killing, society doesn’t welcome you.

Humans have proven themselves to be pretty good at rendering various species extinct. But instead of killing dodo birds and unicorns, let’s turn our collective extermination abilities to the terrorists of the animal and plant worlds. In our quest to achieve world animal/plant peace, you’re either with us or you’re against us. If anyone is concerned about these things becoming endangered, they can take in pet skunks and rattlesnacks, and grow poison ivy and water hemlock on their windowsills. Just don’t expect me to ever come visit you.