31 July 2009

Quote for the day

"We hit it off right from the beginning. When he’s not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy."
Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., during a get-together over beer (in the Rose Garden with the President) at the White House.

History for the day

Courtesy of my friend Tex, this bit of quaint (and probably painful, if not lethal) medical history:
The tobacco enema was used from the 1750s to the early nineteenth century to infuse tobacco smoke into a patient's rectum for various medical purposes, primarily the resuscitation of drowning victims. A tube inserted into the rectum was connected to a fumigator and bellows that forced smoke into the patient. The warmth of the smoke was thought to promote respiration, but doubts about the viability of tobacco enemas led to the popular phrase "to blow smoke up one's ass"...

Old joke

Courtesy of my old friend Tex, this old guy joke:
Bill and Sam, two elderly friends, met in the park every day to feed the pigeons, watch the squirrels, and discuss world problems.
One day Bill didn't show up. Sam didn't think much about it, figuring maybe he had a cold or something. But after Bill hadn't shown up for a week or so, Sam really got worried. However, since the only time they ever got together was at the park, Sam didn't know where Bill lived, so he was unable to find out what had happened to him. A month passed, and Sam figured he'd seen the last of Bill but, one day, Sam approached the park and, lo and behold, there sat Bill!
Sam was very excited and happy to see him and told him so. Then he said, "For crying out loud, Bill, what in the world happened to you?"
Bill replied, "I've been in jail."
"Jail?" cried Sam. "What in the world for?"
"Well," Bill said, "you know Mary, that cute little blonde waitress at the coffee shop?"
"Yeah," said Sam, "I remember. What about her?"
"Well, one day she filed rape charges against me; and, at 89 years old, I was so proud that, when I got into court, I pled guilty."
"What happened?"
"What happened?" Bill sighed. "The damn judge gave me thirty days for perjury."

Separated at birth

Rico says he's not sure why all these people look so much alike, but there you are...

Too good an idea, apparently

The Los Angeles Times has an article by Martin Zimmerman and Tiffany Hsu and Jim Puzzanghera about the all-too-successful CARS program:
With surprising swiftness, the government's "cash for clunkers" program has burned through its $1-billion budget in less than a week as car buyers swarmed dealerships, and federal officials were scrambling late Thursday night to find more money to keep it going. The program, designed to jump-start car sales and improve the fuel efficiency of the nation's auto fleet, unleashed a wave of pent-up demand that threatened to exhaust funds before dealers could be fully reimbursed for rebates under the plan.
Rico says he has a qualified vehicle, but didn't take advantage of the program; maybe they'll come up with more money by the time he needs it...

Civil War for the day

30 July 2009

Oops is now a sports term

Courtesy of my friend Tex, this great 'last-chance' video:

Big pile of brass

Courtesy of my friend Tex, this great gub video:

History for the day

On 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis, which had just delivered key components of the Hiroshima atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Only 316 out of 1,196 men survived the sinking and shark-infested waters.

Unlikely destinations

Joshua Hammer has an article in The New York Times about a trip you couldn't have made twenty years ago:
The first thing that struck us was the distance between the watchtowers. We had just cycled a strenuous mile uphill above the medieval village of Geisa, along the Iron Curtain Trail that follows the old Warsaw Pact-NATO divide in central Germany. Now, in the tranquillity of the early evening, we emerged at the top of the hill onto a verdant field adorned with European Union and German flags— and two sinister-looking structures that faced off against each other no more than seventy yards apart.
Between them stood a remnant of the original Iron Curtain fence: its concrete support posts had once been fortified with antipersonnel fragmentation mines loaded with an explosive charge of 110 grams of TNT and 80 metal splinters that could be propelled thirty yards in all directions. A German shepherd molded from concrete and painted in shades of brown and black, a classic piece of cold war kitsch, was tethered by a metal chain to a tree.
But it was the towers that demanded attention: the East German relic, erected in the early 1970s, was an ugly white column about forty feet high, topped by an observation slot and a bristling array of listening equipment. The American installation, dominated by an open-air deck, looked like a combination military post and lifeguard station— Seven Days in May meets Baywatch.
From 1953 until 1989, these watchtowers straddled the most dangerous border in the world. American troops from the 14th and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiments stared down East German soldiers just across the divide from their base, Point Alpha, waiting for the ground attack that would usher in World War III.
NATO brass believed that, in the event of a Soviet Union-led invasion of Western Europe, tanks and troops would pour across these verdant hills marking the westernmost extremity of the Iron Curtain: the so-called Fulda Gap, named after the largest West German town in the region. This cold war confrontation point even inspired an eponymous board game called Fulda Gap: The First Battle of the Next War, in which opponents plotted the invasion, and defense, of Western Europe.
After the Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago this November, Observation Point Alpha, as the GIs called this flashpoint, became an instant anachronism. The fence was dismantled, the soldiers withdrew, and— after a heated debate within the German government about whether or not to tear down the installations— Point Alpha was preserved as a testament to the tensions and absurdities of divided Europe.
Now this piece of cold war history is perhaps the best-preserved relic on the Iron Curtain Trail, a 4,225-mile network of bicycle paths that extends along the former Warsaw Pact-NATO border, from northern Finland to the Black Sea. In recent years, thanks primarily to the efforts of a German Green Party activist and European Union Parliamentarian, Michael Cramer, trails have been rehabilitated with financing from the European Union, and historical markers have been erected. A brochure with maps in German and English covering the entire route has just been published.
This summer, photographer Mark Simon and I spent a three-day weekend cycling a 100-mile section of the route in the German states of Hesse and Thuringia. Intensive fortification of this border zone during the cold war depopulated large swaths of the region and stopped all development, and today the route cuts across pristine farmland, beautiful villages, and nature reserves filled with wildlife. And, although most traces of the cold war era have vanished, military roads and observation towers still dot the idyllic countryside, imbuing pastoral Western European landscapes with a touch of Dr. Strangelove.
Mark and I caught the Inter-City Express from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof early on July 4th, a fitting date, perhaps, to explore the former cold war confrontation zone. Three hours later, we got off in Fulda, an undistinguished town in Hesse 25 miles west of the Iron Curtain Trail. We rented 21-speed touring bikes and saddle bags at a bicycle shop just down the street from the train station, and followed signs to the R3, one of five rural bike trails created by the Hessen government out of 200 miles of disused railroad track.
The asphalt path rose due east through wheat and corn fields, dairy farms and lush pastures, passing roadside refreshment stands set up for cyclists, then plunged into the frigid Milseburg Tunnel— an eerie, milelong converted railway tunnel burrowed through the Rhön Mountains west of Hilders. Then it was a speedy descent to the frontier between Hesse and Thuringia, marked by a sign that read: Good Day, Dear Guest: You Are Standing Exactly on the Border of What Was, Until 1990, Divided Germany.
At Hilders, the R3 becomes the Iron Curtain Trail, and we veered north and followed it along the former border. After our day of strenuous cycling, covering about 35 miles, we stopped for the night at a country inn called Zur Pferdetränke (At the Horse Trough), in the former East German village of Schleid. This peaceful setting was once inside the East German sperrgebiet, the 3.1-mile-wide security zone that ran along the border with West Germany.
Gabriele Herrlich and her husband, Stefan, started Zur Pferdetränke just after the border opened in November 1989, and expanded it to nine rooms a decade ago. Over a hearty southern-German supper of schnitzel, fried potatoes and pilsner in the guesthouse garden, both recalled the surreal combination of tranquillity and paranoia that defined life inside this Strangelovian world. “We grew up with soldiers everywhere, with no visitors allowed from outside,” Mr. Herrlich said. “We all thought it was completely normal.”
Although American troops were stationed a mile away at Point Alpha, “we had no knowledge of that,” Mrs. Herrlich recalled. “It was kept totally secret.”
There are several more pages of text; click the post title to read them. Rico says that he was on the German border, though in Berlin, during the summer of 1969; it was all verboten then...

Oops is now a Chinese term

The New York Times has an article by David Barboza about a little problem at the Apple factory in China:
When a closely guarded prototype of a new Apple iPhone went missing at a huge factory here two weeks ago, an internal investigation focused on a shy, 25-year-old employee named Sun Danyong. Mr. Sun, a college graduate working in the logistics department, denied stealing the iPhone. But he later complained to friends that he had been beaten and humiliated by the factory’s security team. On the night he was questioned, he sent an anguished text message to his girlfriend: “Dear, I’m sorry. Go back home tomorrow,” he wrote, according to a message she later posted online. “I ran into some problems. Don’t tell my family. Don’t contact me. I’m begging you for the first time. Please do it! I’m sorry.” Soon after, in the early-morning hours of 16 July, Mr. Sun apparently jumped to his death from the twelfth floor of an apartment building in what his employer, Foxconn Technology, says was a suicide.
Apple and Foxconn, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of consumer electronics and a major Apple supplier, issued statements last week expressing sorrow for the death. Foxconn said it suspended one security officer, pending a police investigation, and that the company was now considering counseling services for its employees. The Apple statement said: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death. We require that our suppliers treat all workers with dignity and respect.” The company would not comment further.
The local police bureau declined to answer questions about the case. But reports of the apparent suicide have set off a firestorm of criticism of Foxconn’s treatment of Mr. Sun, labor conditions at its factories and the pressures Apple places on suppliers to abide by the culture of secrecy that surrounds its development of new products.
The case also underscores the challenges that global companies face in trying to safeguard their designs and intellectual property in the hotly contested smartphone market, particularly here in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, an electronics manufacturing center known for piracy and counterfeiting.
Apple’s popular iPhone is already widely imitated and counterfeited in China. And there are regular rumors on Chinese websites about new Apple prototypes leaking out of Chinese factories. “When you outsource to a third party, you lose some control,” says Dane Chamorro, general manager in China at Control Risks, a global consulting firm. “And if you’re outsourcing to China, it’s going to be even more challenging. There’s going to be a bounty on every design.”
Labor rights groups say the worker’s death should compel Apple to improve conditions at its supplier factories in China and prevent worker abuse. Foxconn, part of Taiwan’s Hon Hai group, has also been sharply criticized because of suspicions about unduly harsh treatment of the worker. Foxconn, which produces electronics for some of the world’s best-known brands, like Sony and Hewlett-Packard, operates a cluster of sprawling factories in southern China. One of its Shenzhen campuses has nearly 300,000 workers.
But some labor rights activists say the company treats employees harshly, routinely violating labor laws. In an email message on Thursday, China Labor Watch, which monitors Chinese factories and is based in New York, blamed Mr. Sun’s death on “Foxconn’s inhumane and militant management system, which lacks fundamental respect for human rights.” The group said it published an in-depth study of Foxconn last year, detailing its abuses. James Lee, general manager of China operations at Foxconn, defended the company’s labor practices in a lengthy interview on Friday, and also said the company would strive to improve management of its facilities. “It’s very difficult for the company to defend itself against such charges,” Mr. Lee said of complaints from labor rights groups. “You’re welcome to look at how employees are treated here.”
A reporter toured two of the company’s campuses in Shenzhen on Friday, including the one where Mr. Sun worked. The campuses were so large they contained retail stores, banks, post offices, and high-rise dormitories with outdoor swimming pools. The reporter was not allowed to see manufacturing lines because the company said it had to protect trade secrets.
Outside the gates of one campus, most workers interviewed independently of the company said they were well treated. One of about fifteen workers questioned admitted to being forced to work overtime above the legal limit.
In his interview, Mr. Lee, the Foxconn manager, said the company also had a duty to protect the intellectual property of its customers, and that it was honestly seeking answers to what happened to the product. Foxconn said it still does not know what happened to the missing iPhone. The company said Mr. Sun was given sixteen prototypes to deliver to research and development, and failed to report one missing until three days later. The company says his explanation for the missing phone did not seem credible and that he had had problems before. “Several times he had some products missing, then he got them back,” Mr. Lee said. “We don’t know who took the product, but it was at his stop.”
In an interview with the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper last week, the security officer suspended by Foxconn denied beating Mr. Sun, saying only that he “became a little angry” and grabbed Mr. Sun’s right shoulder. Even so, the company paid compensation to Mr. Sun’s family. It declined to say how much, but Mr. Sun’s brother cited a figure of 300,000 renminbi, or more than $44,000, and said Mr. Sun’s girlfriend was also given an Apple laptop computer. Mr. Sun’s brother doubts he stole the prototype. “He was honest and modest. He would never steal anything,” said Sun Danxiong, 28, his brother.
Mr. Sun grew up in a small, impoverished village in southwest Yunnan province and ranked first in his high school, his family says. He graduated from the Harbin Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top schools, before joining Foxconn about a year ago. On Thursday, with his son Danxiong standing nearby, holding a box with Sun Danyong’s ashes, the father, Sun Yangdong, said Foxconn had treated the family well. But he said he was still in shock that his son could leap from a building because he was so gentle and tender. Soon after, a security guard, who was joined by two men wearing Foxconn shirts, threatened to “beat up” a journalist’s translator if she persisted in asking the family questions. Foxconn officials later said the guard was not on their staff and might have been with the police bureau.
Back in Yunnan, Mr. Sun said that on the night of his brother’s death, he had emailed friends, angry about Foxconn’s questioning of him. In one message, Mr. Sun said he was locked up and beaten. “A Fortune 500 company even has these things,” he wrote. On Sunday, Danxiong said some of his brother’s friends told him Mr. Sun killed himself out of anger at Foxconn. His brother said: “They told me he was extremely angry at Foxconn; they humiliated him and he wanted to resist the company, and planned to do something big.”
Rico says he has a friend who used to work with one of these Chinese technology operations and, based on his stories, none of this sounds implausible...

Telling Google to fuck off

Rico says that, when you're Apple, you're big enough to keep even Google off your App Store, as in this CNet article by Erica Ogg:
The long-awaited Google Voice application for the iPhone has been officially shot down by Apple. There were a scattering of reports on Monday, and then a Google spokesperson confirmed it: "Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users; for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers." In addition, all third-party applications that use Google Voice have been pulled by Apple, according to a report in TechCrunch. The developer of one of those apps, GV Mobile, says he was told the decision came from Apple because his app "duplicates features that come with the iPhone."
It's unclear why Apple is refusing the app to be sold in its Store, though there are hints that it may have come at the behest of AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the US. Google Voice is a free application that lets users assign a single number to ring their home, work, and cell phones, and also get voice mail as text transcriptions. Google Voice has been described by some as an "end run" around wireless carriers because it allows for free texts, but users do still use minutes on their AT&T phone plan.
John Gruber reports that it was, in fact, an AT&T request that Apple block the application, but points out that Apple has good reason to reject it: "Google Voice is a mobile phone service provided by the maker of one of the biggest competitors to the iPhone OS (Android). What if Google Voice were, instead, Microsoft Voice?"
It's also by now well established that the application approval process for Apple's App Store can be confusing and frustrating for individual developers, and now even for giants of the technology industry. Just last week, another dust-up occurred with Google and the iPhone, when Apple refused to approve Google's Latitude for the iPhone unless it was designed as Web-based app.

Quote for the day

From Dakota Jack:
I can't see the big deal with calling a Pakistani a Paki. It's just the same as calling an Australian an Aussie, a Scotsman a Scot, or a Frenchman a prick.

Civil War for the day

Sunday of the 140th of Antietam.

29 July 2009

History for the day

Courtesy of my friend Dave Kitterman, a very rare photo of the peloton in the 1940 Tour de France:

Everybody's gotta get in on the act

The BBC has an article by Joe Boyle about Taliban wanna-bes:
They have launched co-ordinated attacks across northern Nigeria, threatening to overthrow the government and impose strict Islamic law, but who exactly are the Nigerian Taliban? Since the group emerged in 2004, they have become known as the "Taliban", although they appear to have no links to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some analysts believe they took inspiration from the radical Afghans, others say the name is more a term of ridicule used by people in Maiduguri, the area where they were founded. The group's other name, Boko Haram, means "Western education is a sin" and is another title used by local people to refer to the group. Isa Sanusi, from the BBC's Hausa service, says the group has no specific name for itself, just many names attributed to it by local people. If their name is uncertain, however, their mission appears clear enough: to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, and abolish what they term "Western-style education".
Flat-Earth views?
In an interview with the BBC, the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, said such education "spoils the belief in one God". "There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam," he said. "Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism." Mr. Yusuf himself is something of an enigma. He is believed to be in his mid-thirties, and analysts say he is extremely wealthy and highly educated. "He is graduate educated and very proficient in English," says Nigerian academic Hussain Zakaria. "He lives lavishly; people say he drives a Mercedes Benz. And he is very well-educated in a Western context."
'We could see it coming'
Despite the secrecy surrounding the group, many in Nigeria say the attacks were far from surprising. Mannir Dan Ali, a journalist with the Abuja-based Trust newspapers, says there was a minor incident in early June which appeared to spark a series of statements from the group threatening reprisals. "The whole situation seems to be a failure of intelligence, a failure of the security forces to act before matters reached the point that they have now reached," he says. "We could literally see it coming over the past few weeks."
There has been widespread criticism of the security forces for their perceived laxness in monitoring the group. Boko Haram's members are largely drawn from disaffected youth, with university students and jobless graduates among them. Amenu Abu Bakka, a journalist covering the area for the AFP news agency, says it is widely believed that the authorities have been reluctant to deal with the militants, because some of them come from rich families with connections to the government.
"People believe the government didn't want to crack down on these people because their parents would get angry," he says. "But now it is becoming a monster, the government has realised it has made a mistake and the earlier they deal with these people, the better."
No 'swelling of ranks'
Divisions remain on how much of a threat the group poses, and how to deal with it.
Information ministry spokesman Sunday Dare says support for the militants' cause is waning. "We live in a country where people are quite educated and I guess people are happy to make their decisions about Western education or otherwise and how it corrupts their values," he says. "I don't see a swelling in their ranks at all." And Patrick Wilmot, a former lecturer at Jos university, said mainstream Muslims look on the so-called Taliban as "crazy". "They don't need to be taken that seriously, they just need to be monitored."
The BBC's Caroline Duffield, in Lagos, says the group's member have isolated themselves from the rest of the community.
She says there have been incidents where local groups have prevented them from meeting in mosques and there is very little support for their stance in the wider community.
But the upsurge in violence has caused real alarm throughout Nigeria. More than one hundred people were killed as a wave of unrest spread from the city of Bauchi on Sunday through Borno, Yobe and Kano states the following day. And no one seems to know just how big a threat the so-called Taliban pose, how big their membership is, or what their next move could be.

ETA, at it again

Giles Tremlett has an article in the Guardian about the latest ETA bombing:
The 200kg bomb that shattered the early morning peace of Burgos today was a reminder that, fifty years after it was founded, the armed Basque separatist group ETA is still stubbornly devoted to violence.
Europe's last major violent separatist group is, however, a shadow of its former self. Close cooperation with France has seen Spain's anti-terrorist police repeatedly strike blows against ETA. Over the past eighteen months alone, for example, they claim to have caught the head of ETA's military machine— and his successors— on four separate occasions. Other Western intelligence services are helping to track ETA's French-based leadership. Sources close to Spain's anti-terrorist police admit that the large number of ETA activists currently being caught "by luck" in routine French road blocks are almost always the victims of secret intelligence operations. The results show. ETA has killed just nine people in six years. That compares with 23 deaths in 2000 alone. The total tally of deaths caused by a group born in the dark days of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship is 856.
Attempts to wean ETA off violence have failed. The last ceasefire, called in March of 2006, ended nine months later with a surprise bomb attack at Madrid's Barajas airport that killed two people. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has ruled out a return to talks and now relies on anti-terrorist police to contain the damage ETA can do. Senior members among the more than 700 ETA prisoners in jail have recently called for it to abandon violence. "It is time to pull down the blinds," one member, Txema Matanzas, said.
Those now controlling the group obviously disagree. Their target today was a barracks housing officers and families, including children, of ETA's greatest enemy, the Guardia Civil police force. Police already knew ETA had identified the barracks as a target, but failed to spot the car bomb parked in a street behind them. The message was clear. ETA is still here. It is ready to kill.
Rico says the Brits used 'Eta' in the original article, which is a Japanese word describing a low-caste group of outcasts, but he's changed it to the more-proper ETA, which is the acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom.

Oh ye of little faith (but hopefully some shares)

Katie Marsal has a column in the AppleInsider about Apple's stock:
Analysts are again bullish on Apple stock after the company reported a record third quarter in Tuesday's earnings report, and provided higher-than-expected guidance in some aspects of its fourth quarter. Though Apple is well known for giving investors conservative guidance for the coming quarter, many analysts were surprised by Apple's third-quarter guidance of 34 percent gross margin and $1.18 to $1.23 in earnings per share. Those totals were better than market expectations prior to Tuesday's earnings announcement.
Here is a breakdown of analyst ratings and price target changes, as well as excerpts from their commentary:

Piper Jaffray: Overweight ($186)
Analyst Gene Munster, with Piper Jaffray, said the fact that Apple can't make enough iPhones to meet demand is a good sign of things to come. He expects the accelerated sales of iPhones and Macs that began in the June quarter to continue. Munster is even more optimistic because Apple's guidance for the coming September quarter is less conservative than usual. Munster also noted that Apple COO Tim Cook, during his comments on Tuesday's earnings conference call, left the door open for a large touch-screen device, but essentially ruled out the possibility of an Apple-branded netbook. The comments led Munster to believe that a tablet device will debut later this year or early next year. In addition, the analyst expects to see new iPods and an update to the Apple TV that could include DVR functionality. "We maintain our Overweight rating on shares of AAPL," he wrote. "Raising price target from $180 to $186 to reflect higher EPS estimate on an unchanged multiple."

Caris & Company: Buy ($200)
Rob Cihra, with Caris & Company, sees the iPod touch as the "growing ace up Apple's sleeve." Although iPods were comparatively the weakest producer for the third quarter, the inclusion of the App Store with the iPod touch makes it stand out from other MP3 players on the market. "We continue to believe Apple’s Touch keeps stealthily growing within mix and can exceed 10% of total revs," Cihra wrote. " A UNIQUE product angle competitors can’t match (iPhone apps WITHOUT monthly service fee), iPod Touch becomes more than a music/video player but gaming device, etc., with video camera a likely addition in next (fall?) refresh."

Citi: Buy ($196)
Analyst Richard Gardner also cited Apple's positive guidance, above market expectations, from Tuesday's earnings report. He also viewed the company's pre-buying of $500 million in NAND flash memory as a positive. "Mac, iPods and iPhone shipments were all meaningfully above our forecast, while EPS of $1.35 beat our estimate by $0.22 primarily on material gross margin upside," Gardner wrote. "We remain bullish on AAPL shares."

Needham & Co.: Strong Buy ($200)
Charlie Wolf has high expectations for AAPL stock after it "once again defied the recession" in the third quarter. But the analyst with Needham & Co. still has reservations about the future of the App Store. During Tuesday's conference call, the analyst told Apple executive Tim Cook he believes developers are currently in a "race to the bottom" with $0.99 apps. "If the App Store is going to drive iPhone sales, the applications on the web site have to be unique and valuable to shoppers in ways that can’t be matched on competing smartphone stores," he wrote. "In short, they should populate the 'killer app' category, which has been a key driver of hardware sales. To accomplish this will require that the most engaging applications are written for and can be easily discovered on the iPhone App Store."

RBC Capital Markets: Outperform ($190)
RBC's Mike Abramsky sees pending distribution of the iPhone 3GS in more overseas markets as a "catalyst to momentum." Particularly, the pending launch of the iPhone in China is seen as a huge opportunity for growth. "Apple is expected to expand distribution of the iPhone 3GS to 80+ countries in Q4, up from 14 countries in Q3," Abramsky wrote. "We believe Apple may move away from carrier exclusivity agreements and launch additional carriers, possibly in the UK and other countries; nonexclusive distribution and increased competition are expected to increase iPhone demand and sales in those countries. The price cut of the iPhone 3G 8GB to $99 is expected to stimulate sales in more price-sensitive developing markets (e.g., Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe)."

Morgan Stanley: Overweight ($195)
Though analyst Kathryn Huberty originally thought the lack of a sub-$700 netbook would hurt Apple, she said Tuesday's earnings report was enough to alleviate those concerns for her. In addition, high margin iPhone sales and prepayment of flash memory de-emphasized long-term gross margin guidance of about 30 percent. "With these risks muted," Huberty wrote, "iPhone sales > supply, and Mac unit upside, we see a high likelihood of the stock approaching our new $195 price target by calendar year-end."

UBS Investment Research: Neutral ($160)
Unlike most other analysts, Maynard J. Um is not as bullish on AAPL stock. The UBS report raised the target price for Apple to $160, from $140, but expressed concern that increased component costs, particularly on LCD panels, could hurt the company's bottom line. "We maintain our Neutral rating," Um wrote, "though note that new product announcement (such as a new Verizon Wireless notebook or new iPods) could help boost sentiment."

Kaufman Bros.: Buy ($184)
Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu had cautioned that Apple could disappoint with the market's high expectations, but he noted in his report that "Apple was able to beat regardless. We find this particularly impressive in light of high expectations and continued difficult macroeconomic conditions," Wu wrote. "We had cautioned that AAPL shares could consolidate near term given its significant outperformance and universal expectation of a sizable beat; however Apple was able to exceed even the most optimistic expectations."

Barclays Capital: Overweight ($188)
Ben A. Reitzes retained Apple's overweight rating, stating the stock did not disappoint. Though many on Wall Street were concerned the company would lower gross margin forecasts long-term, Apple did not. Reitzes also expects Apple to introduce new hardware in Q4. "We look forward to even more new products again this quarter," he wrote, "including Snow Leopard software, additional iPhone 3GS international rollouts and new iPods which should come by fall."
Rico says he has no idea what 'overweight' means in this context, but everyone seems to be saying 'buy, buy, do it today'...
But since Apple's already at $164, Maynard J. Um is, um, wrong...

Yay, keywords!

Sam Oliver has a column in the AppleInsider about the latest addition to the App Store:
Soon after Apple admitted that improvements were needed in helping users locate App Store software, developers have been asked to add a list of keywords for their submitted applications to improve discovery. In a change revealed to AppleInsider, developers are now asked to enter up to 255 characters worth of keywords, separated by commas, which will be used for search in the App Store on the iPhone and iPod touch. The addition has been made to iTunes Connect, the service where developers and artists submit their content to the App Store and iTunes. "It is important to enter keywords for all applications as soon as possible, so your application can continue to be successfully located on the App Store," the update from Apple reads. "Keywords can be updated with the submission of a new binary."
With over 65,000 applications currently available in the App Store, it can be difficult for users to find new applications with the current categorization methods. During last week's second-quarter earnings report, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the company is looking for new ways to categorize software in the App Store. "As you know, today we do it by type of app and also have show popular apps and top-selling apps, et cetera," Cook said. "We realize there’s opportunity there for further improvement and are working on that."
Analyst Charlie Wolf of Needham & Co. was highly critical of the App Store search last week. He said he still has reservations about the destination, due to poor search capabilities and a plethora of $0.99 software flooding the marketplace. "If the App Store is going to drive iPhone sales, the applications on the web site have to be unique and valuable to shoppers in ways that can’t be matched on competing smartphone stores," he wrote. "In short, they should populate the 'killer app' category, which has been a key driver of hardware sales. To accomplish this will require that the most engaging applications are written for and can be easily discovered on the iPhone App Store."
Behind the scenes, Apple has quietly fixed some problems with the App Store search. Weeks ago, a search for "EA," the brand for Electronic Arts, returned results with fifteen games from a company called Digital Chocolate. The reason: In the games' descriptions, the word "each" was abbreviated to "ea." But now, the first eighteen results in a search for "EA" are Electronic Arts games.

Strange beer-fellows

The Los Angeles Times has a political blog by Craig Howie about the invitation from the President, and who's related to whom (much to everyone's surprise, undoubtedly):
Turns out that Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. may actually be related through Irish ancestry to the police officer who arrested him in his own house earlier this month, according to ABC News. No, really!
President Obama, who initially said the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police department "acted stupidly," then on second thought sort of recalibrated his comments, has pledged to host the two for a "beer summit" and, hopefully, a make-up at the White House today.
One can only imagine how the proceedings will end, given that Professor Gates, who is half-Irish, says he can trace his ancestry to the Niall of the Nine Hostages, one of Ireland's most prolific warriors, to whom Sergeant James Crowley also attributes his family roots. However boozy it may get (maybe with a late-evening rendition of Molly Malone, who knows?) hopefully it won't set Obama back too much. These kind of familiar relationships do tend to crop up in Washington: President Obama is eighth cousin to former vice president Dick Cheney, and Obama is also related to six other U.S. presidents through his mother, Ann Soetoro, and the former British prime minister, Winston Churchill.
Churchill's wartime ally, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was related to eleven presidents by blood or marriage, while the Bush family is distantly related to the British Queen. Barbara Pierce Bush, the former first lady, is a great-great-great niece of the fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce. At least sixteen other presidents were of Scots-Irish descent, including Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson.
IrishCentral.com reports that up to three million Irish-Americans may be descended from Niall, the Irish "High King" at Tara, the ancient center of Ireland from A.D. 379 to A.D. 405, who was said to have struck the fear o' death into the hearts of the English, the Scots, the French, and even the Romans.

Civil War for the day

Fort Clinch, in northern Florida.

28 July 2009

Problems in the tech world

Brad Stone has an article in The New York Times about Amazon stumbling:
Last week, Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, offered an apparently heartfelt and anguished mea culpa to customers whose digital editions of George Orwell’s 1984 were remotely deleted from their Kindle reading devices. Though copies of the books were sold by a bookseller that did not have legal rights to the novel, Mr. Bezos wrote on a company forum that Amazon’s “solution to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles.”
An apology was not enough for many people. A growing number of civil libertarians and customer advocates wants Amazon to fundamentally alter its method for selling Kindle books, lest it be forced to one day change or recall books, perhaps by a judge ruling in a defamation case— or by a government deciding a particular work is politically damaging or embarrassing. “As long as Amazon maintains control of the device, it will have this ability to remove books and that means they will be tempted to use it, or they will be forced to it,” said Holmes Wilson, campaigns manager of the Free Software Foundation.
The foundation, based in Boston, is soliciting signatures from librarians, publishers and major authors and public intellectuals. This week it plans to present a petition to Amazon asking it to give up control over the books people load on their Kindles, and to reconsider its use of the software called digital rights management, or DRM. The software allows the company to maintain strict control over the copies of electronic books on its reader and also prevents other companies from selling material for the device.
Two years after Amazon first introduced the Kindle and lit a fire under the eBooks market, there is increasing awareness of how traditional libraries of paper and ink differ from those made of bits and bytes. The DRM in Amazon’s Kindle books, backed up by license agreements with copyright holders, prevents customers from copying or reselling Kindle books— the legal right of “first sale” that is guaranteed to owners of regular books.
D.R.M. has created a new dynamic between consumers and the vendors of digital media like books and movies. People do not so much own, but rent this media. And the rental agreement can be breached by the manufacturer at any time, sometime with little or no notice. People are also worried that the very architecture of network-connected devices like the Kindle, TiVo, or iPod give tech companies unprecedented control over digital media and by extension, the free exchange of ideas.
Once upon a time, retailers sold customers a product and then walked away after the transaction. Today’s specialized devices often keep an umbilical cord to their vendor, loading updates and offering convenient ways to make purchases. These devices also limit the extent to which people can load independent software and customize their experiences.
Such tethered systems provide significant advantages to the consumer. Companies can keep their own records of what people buy and restore the content if it is inadvertently lost. Device software can be kept up to date, and vendors can track what people buy and make personalized recommendations for new material they might like.
Randal Picker, a law professor at the University of Chicago, says he thinks Amazon was right to delete the improperly sold versions of 1984 and argues such systems can also allow companies to better enforce copyright laws. He notes that the harm to the Orwell book buyers was minimal, since their money was refunded after copies were deleted from their Kindles. “Because copyright infringement was poor and lax in the offline world, it should also be that way in the online world? I don’t understand that logic,” Mr. Picker said. “The whole point of moving online is that it creates new opportunities.”
But critics say that any device capable of interfering with how its owner uses media is potentially dangerous. “I worry that systems like these tethered appliances are gifts to regulators,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of the book, The Future of the Internet— and How to Stop It. Mr. Zittrain predicts that governments in some parts of the world will want to use it “like a line item veto for content”, removing objectionable sentences or chapters in some books. “It could happen first in jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, where there isn’t as rich a First Amendment tradition and where libel suits happen much more frequently,” he said.
Whether or not people are bothered by these possibilities may in part be a function of their age, as a new generation grows up with an implicit understanding of the rules around these networked devices and learns to live with them.
“I’d like to live in a perfect world where I own this content and can do whatever I want with it,” said Justin Gawronski, a high school student whose copy of 1984 was erased by Amazon, but who recently declined when a lawyer asked him to join a class-action lawsuit over the incident. Mr. Gawronski said, “This is probably going to happen again and we just have to learn to live with it.”
Rico says maybe that should be another 'O', rather than an 'E', in Jeffery's name...

Sheer brilliance

Rico says his friend Kelley is a brilliant cartoonist, illustrator, and animator (and someone should be paying him a lot of money to do cool stuff for them; get on the stick, people!) and loves to recreate antique airplanes like this one:

Another t-shirt you won't wear, if you want to live

Another t-shirt you won't see often

Rico says it's a Gun Owners of America classic:
If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars make people drive drunk, and spoons made Rosie O'Donnell fat.

Cartoons the kids won't see

Courtesy of my friend Dave Kitterman, this retake on an old standard:
(And, if you wait until the end, haven't you heard someone say that exact thing to you? And here's a picture of what they're really taking about...)

Amazing video

The effects of a tornado, as seen from the train camera.

See, it's not just Rico

Someone sent this in an email; splendid ranting, but not by Rico... (The mustard underlining is especially good, too.)

Lust object

Rico says this came in a 'new technology' email, but he has no idea if it's even reality. When it is, he wants one:

Rico has seen the future, and it's ugly

Rico says he has no idea how they do this time-traveling photography, but apparently someone does, and they sent him this photo of himself, twenty or thirty years from now...

Scary numbers

Courtesy of my friend Bob Leone, this:
The number of physicians in the US is 700,000.
Accidental deaths caused by physicians per year are 120,000.
Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171.
Statistics courtesy of the Department of Health and Human Services

The number of gun owners in the US is 80,000,000.
The number of accidental gun deaths per year for all age groups is 1,500.
The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is .000188.
Statistics courtesy of the FBI

Statistically, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.

Remember: "Guns don't kill people, doctors do."
Not everyone has a gun, but almost everyone has at least one doctor...
Please alert your friends to this alarming threat.
We must ban doctors before this gets completely out of hand!

Out of concern for the public at large, I withheld the statistics on lawyers, for fear the shock would cause people to panic and seek medical attention!

Civil War for the day


27 July 2009

On the other (gub) hand

Rico says Shreveport, Louisiana is not a place you'd think of right off as terribly anti-gub but, as usual, you'd be wrong:
Any time a motorist is stopped by a police officer, insists Shreveport, Louisiana Mayor Cedric Glover, “Your rights… have been suspended.” This includes not only the freedom of movement, but also, in the event the officer inquires as to whether the driver is carrying a weapon, “Your right to be able to hold on to your weapon and say whether you have a weapon or not”— as well as the right to retain possession of that weapon, should the officer decide to confiscate it from you. Should you choose not to answer the question, or answer it in the negative, the officer could still choose, “in the interest of officer safety, to secure you in a safe position”— this most likely means outside the car with your hands cuffed behind your back— “and then do an appropriate inspection of your vehicle". The phrase “appropriate inspection” is more honestly rendered “unconstitutional warrantless search”.
Should the police officer then turn up a firearm or other weapon in the car, the driver “would be guilty or potentially guilty of even a more severe offense” than whatever he had allegedly done to precipitate the traffic stop, according to Mayor Glover. Police officers, according to Glover, are invested with “a power that the President of the United States does not have… and that is the ability to be able to suspend your rights.”
This is “one of the things that I say to each and every one of the police officers who graduates from the Shreveport Police Academy since I’ve been mayor.” Fortunately for the public, one supposes, Mr. Glover remembers the lesson that Peter Parker learned from his kindly and sagacious uncle Ben— that is, with great power comes great responsibility.”You have to understand there is a great deal of power that is vested within… the law enforcement personnel of this country,” Glover insists. “It’s why there is a great deal of responsibility that has to go along with it.”
Glover offered those remarkable observations, and many others like them, in a recorded phone call with Shreveport resident Robert Baillio Mr. Baillio had called to complain about a recent traffic stop in which an SPD officer, who– before dealing with any other matter of business— asked if Baillio had a firearm, then temporarily seized it from him.
Louisiana law recognizes the right of the state’s residents to carry loaded weapons in their vehicles, and Baillio has a state-issued concealed carry permit— that is, a piece of paper in which the state generously recognizes one facet of Baillio’s innate right to bear arms.
According to Baillio’s account, he was cordial and polite when he was stopped after supposedly neglecting to use a turn signal. That this was almost certainly a pretext stop is illustrated by the fact that Baillio never received a ticket. Supplemental evidence is offered by the fact that the conversation between the officer and Baillio focused entirely on the issue of gun ownership, including a question about Baillio’s membership in the National Rifle Association.
Rico says it's scary, this 'local power' theory; it'd take a lot of money and time fighting this all the way up through the courts...

Strange gub-fellows

Rico says sometimes it just falls into the 'who knew' category:
Johnny Depp is keen on teaching his children to handle guns. The Pirates of the Caribbean star, who learnt shooting at the age of six in Kentucky where he grew up, wants to pass on his experience to his kids. “We would just go out and line up a bunch of cans and shoot with rifles, handguns, and, at times, submachine guns,” the Daily Star quoted him as saying. “When I was a kid it was a controlled atmosphere, we weren’t shooting at humans, we were shooting at cans and bottles mostly. I will most certainly take my kids out for target practice,” he added.
Rico says it's nice to see someone in Hollywood who's not anti-gub... (And pro-machine-gun, moreover.)

At the speed of light

Scare the neighbors

Courtesy of my friend Bill Calloway, this: a German firm called Style Your Garage creates posters for garage doors that make it look as if your garage is where the action is. Made for the up-and-over garage doors common in Europe, they mount with velcro and can be adapted to fit sectional garage doors.
If you've got a two-car garage, no worries they can make posters that will span both doors. Prices range from €199 to €399 for the double-door, and the company can also turn a photo of yours into a garage poster, but you'll want to be careful with this, not everything can be blown up to 6.5 feet without looking weird...
Christine would like this one (it's rustic):
Rico says this one would be his favorite, especially if it were real (and read his book about gold for why that's true):
though these are also excellent:

Ah, the (unlamented) good old days

Rico says that he was musing upon the changes in his original industry (having published his first literary magazine, A Garden Fair, back in about 1966, printed on the school's Gestetner and co-authored with the later-famous Charlie Haas, the writer not the wrestler) and, while he's now a published author and publisher through the easy-to-use on-line solutions of Amazon, Booksurge, and CreateSpace, he does occasionally miss the old days, and the old ways.The visceral feel of a Number 11 X-acto blade in your hand (and they still make them, but in 500-packs, not the 100-packs Rico remembers), the smell of rubber cement thinner, and the rubbery touch of a rubber cement pickup (where is that gummy ball of rubber cement now?), ah, that was publishing...
But so many things, companies, and people from the early days (like Frank's Type, Moody Printing, and a bunch of others) are gone now; rubber cement will soon be forgotten, with X-acto blades not far behind (except for surgeons).

History for the day

On 27 July 1953, the armistice was signed at Panmunjom, ending three years of the Korean War.

Your mother was right; don't use public toilets

Courtesy of my friend Ivan, this admonitory story:
Three women in North Florida turned up at hospitals over a five-day period, all with the same symptoms: fever, chills, and vomiting, followed by muscular collapse, paralysis, and, finally, death. There were no outward signs of trauma. Autopsy results showed toxicity in the blood. These women did not know each other, and seemed to have nothing in common. It was discovered, however, that they had all visited the same restaurant (Olive Garden) within days of their deaths. The Health Department descended on the restaurant, shutting it down. The food, water, and air conditioning were all inspected and tested, to no avail.
The big break came when a waitress at the restaurant was rushed to the hospital with similar symptoms. She told doctors that she had been on vacation, and had only went to the restaurant to pick up her check. She didn't eat or drink while she was there, but had used the restroom. That is when one toxicologist, remembering an article he had read, drove out to the restaurant, went into the restroom and lifted the toilet seat .
Under the seat, out of normal view, was a small spider. The spider was captured and brought back to the lab, where it was determined to be the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata), so named because of its reddened flesh color. This spider's venom is extremely toxic, but can take several days to take effect. They live in cold, dark, damp climates, and toilet rims provide just the right atmosphere.
Several days later, a lawyer from Jacksonville showed up at a hospital emergency room. Before his death, he told the doctor, he had been away on business and had taken a flight from Indonesia, changing planes in Singapore before returning home. He did not visit Olive Garden while there. He did (as did all of the other victims) have what was determined to be a puncture wound, on his right buttock.
Investigators discovered that the flight he was on had originated in India. The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) ordered an immediate inspection of the toilets of all flights from India and discovered the Two-Striped Telamonia (Telamonia dimidiata) spider's nests on four different planes!
It is now believed that these spiders can be anywhere in the country. So, please, before you use a public toilet, lift the seat to check for spiders. It can save your life!
Rico says this is why intelligent airlines have their planes sprayed before they leave tropical countries...

Civil War for the day

Lincoln and his generals.

26 July 2009

Old joke, new tags

Updated by my friend Rich Shaner, this political joke:
A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."
The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.
She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican."
"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."
The man smiled and responded, "You must be an Obama Democrat."
"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"
"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

Lance, riding strong again

The New York Times has an article by Juliet Macur about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France:
Lance Armstrong has not worn the yellow leader’s jersey for a single day in the Tour de France this year, but spectators have not seemed to care. On the roads of the course, words of encouragement written in chalk or paint said, “I love Lance!” or “Armstrong is the Best Rider!” A farmer posted a sign near his cornfield declaring, “Armstrong: Why not?”
How things have changed for Armstrong since the last time he competed here, in 2005, when he completed the last of his seven consecutive Tour victories and was seemingly entrenched as the antagonist. Back then, French fans yelled the word “Doped” as Armstrong rode by. Spectators held fake syringes with his name written on them. Some people spit on him, showing their disgust for the man who has been dogged by doping allegations at this race.
But, now, the 37-year-old Armstrong has become a sympathetic figure in the country that once seemed to dislike him the most. “There was a lot of negative stuff, and very, very aggressive negative stuff— and that’s gone,” Armstrong said last week after one of the Alpine stages of this Tour. “I’m pleasantly surprised.”
Armstrong’s decision to return to racing after a three-and-a-half-year retirement has been a success. Though his chances of an eighth straight Tour victory are all but gone, his reputation here has been salvaged— and then some. In the past three weeks, he has become an underdog, a rider to be respected— even a friend— to some people in this country who applaud his willingness to come back at his age and put his winning streak on the line. One French television station on Friday showed him joking with a boy at the race, sticking his tongue out at him. Commentators called him, “Armstrong the kind.” He is shown on television and in newspapers chatting with his competitors, not shunning them, which is what he admits to doing before. He has been the kind of guy who let the actor Ben Stiller try out his time trial bike, only for Stiller to mount it as if he were mounting a horse. Stiller caused slight damage to the fine-tuned machine, but Armstrong laughed it off.
Surely nobody, including the Tour’s director, Christian Prudhomme, expected Armstrong’s return to turn out this way. “At first, I was worried and scared because fifty percent of the emails I received were against Armstrong coming back and fifty percent of the emails were for it,” Prudhomme said Friday at the start of Stage 19 of this 21-stage race. “I didn’t know what would happen.” Prudhomme said he was instantly calmed when he heard the resounding roar for Armstrong when Armstrong was introduced to the crowd in Monaco before Stage 1. “Right away, I knew it was the beginning of something different,” Prudhomme said. “He seems to have completely changed from the picture that we knew of him before.”
At this Tour, unlike the others, Armstrong has shown that he is not invincible, and people can relate to that, Prudhomme said. Armstrong is in third place, 5 minutes 21 seconds behind the leader, his Astana teammate Alberto Contador. He is 1:10 back from the second-place rider, Andy Schleck of the Saxo Bank team. And he is barely holding onto a spot on the podium in Paris. After Friday’s stage, won by the British rider Mark Cavendish, Armstrong is fifteen seconds ahead of fourth-place Bradley Wiggins of Team Garmin-Slipstream. Awaiting the riders on Saturday is one of the hardest ascents in cycling, Mont Ventoux, where Stage 20 will culminate.
For Armstrong, it has been a long road to the finish. He has shown pain on mountain climbs. He has known the defeat of falling back from the front of the pack. And for all to see, Armstrong even fell short of securing the role of team leader. Contador, the 2007 Tour champion, earned that status by besting Armstrong in the mountain stages. “He has lived with suspicion since 1999, and he knows that, I know that, everybody knows that,” Prudhomme said of the doping allegations against Armstrong, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug once, in 1999, but backed up use of that with a doctor’s note for a saddle sore. He added: “But now this is the first time we see him suffering. It gives us a sense that he is a human being.” Even if Armstrong does not win Saturday’s stage or this race, he said his comeback had been worth it.
Rico says third is a hell of a lot better than being dead...

Another bad one gone

Robert Worth and Nazila Fathi have an article in The New York Times about changes in Iran:
In the latest sign of dissension within Iran’s conservative ranks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s new deputy withdrew Friday in response to a letter demanding his removal written by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, state television and news agencies reported. The resignation resolved a week of acrimony over the deputy, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who had drawn fierce criticism from hard-liners over comments he made last year that were friendly to Israel. It also underscored the authority within Iran’s Islamic political system of Ayatollah Khamenei, whose handwritten letter— made public by state television on Friday— appeared to have overridden Mr. Ahmadinejad’s persistent refusal to dismiss his trusted deputy.
The dispute may also be a sign that Mr. Ahmadinejad is more vulnerable to conservative rivals in the wake of last month’s disputed presidential election, analysts said. The existence of Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter was made public several days ago, but Mr. Ahmadinejad refused to back down, despite a withering campaign by conservatives. The criticism peaked on Friday, when hundreds of hard-line students rallied in Tehran to demand Mr. Mashaei’s ouster and a prominent ayatollah chastised Mr. Ahmadinejad for flouting the supreme leader’s wishes.
Finally, Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter was cited in full on state television late Friday, in a gesture apparently meant to force the issue. The promotion of Mr. Mashaei was “contrary to your interests and the interests of the government, and will be a cause of division and distress among your supporters,” the letter stated. “The appointment must be reversed.”
Even then, Mr. Ahmadinejad appears not to have fired Mr. Mashaei. Instead, a top presidential aide, Mojtaba Samara Hashemi, told the official IRNA news agency that “Mashaei doesn’t consider himself first vice president” in the wake of Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter.
For the past week, Mr. Ahmadinejad has faced a barrage of criticism on two fronts: conservatives angry over the promotion of Mr. Mashaei, and a smoldering opposition movement that continues to organize street protests and to reject his re-election last month as fraudulent. This week Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader who many Iranians believe was the true winner of the 12 June election, announced that he was creating a new political front.
The opposition gained another rallying point on Friday with the news of the death of another protester, this one with links to Iran’s political elite. Mohsen Ruholamini— whose father, Abdolhussen Ruholamini, is an adviser to another presidential candidate, Mohsen Rezai— died in custody at Evin prison after being arrested during demonstrations on 9 July, opposition websites said, citing relatives.
Mr. Ruholamini’s family had been told that he would be returning home, the websites reported. It was not clear how he died. The elder Mr. Ruholamini is a chemistry professor and the head of Iran’s Pasteur Institute. Mr. Rezai, a conservative and a strong critic of Mr. Ahmadinejad, is a former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The news of Mr. Ruholamini’s death is likely to stoke anger further among the opposition, whose leaders say the number killed in protests since the election is much higher than twenty, the figure the government provided.
The withdrawal of Mr. Mashaei ends a chapter that surprised and baffled many Iranians. A former culture minister whose daughter is married to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s son, Mr. Mashaei had reportedly said the Iranian people were friends with all other peoples, including Israelis. After a storm of criticism from conservatives, he disavowed his comments, saying he had meant only that Iranians sympathized with those living under the Zionist yoke.
Still, promoting him to presidential deputy was a risky move, especially considering that Mr. Mashaei had made other gestures that angered conservatives, including attending a ceremony in Turkey in 2007 where women performed a traditional dance.
“Maybe Ahmadinejad was trying to bolster his position vis-à-vis these political sharks” in the conservative establishment, who have long been critical of him, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran expert and associate professor at Syracuse University. In any event, Professor Boroujerdi added, the fierce conservative reaction suggests that “after the election crisis, not only reformists but hard-liners are smelling blood in the water and looking for concessions from Ahmadinejad.”
For Ayatollah Khamenei, the episode may also have been politically useful. He was widely criticized as having acted too quickly to bless Mr. Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory, which many Iranians viewed as fraudulent. Stepping in to force the president’s hand on the Mashaei affair may help to restore his image as a neutral arbiter who is not permanently allied to any particular faction or person, Professor Boroujerdi said.
Even as conservatives condemned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal to dismiss Mr. Mashaei, they maintained their war of words against the opposition and its claims of a stolen election. At a Friday prayer sermon, a hard-line cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, lashed out at both the opposition and the president, accusing protesters of defying Ayatollah Khamenei and saying a conspiracy against the supreme leader had emerged since the election.
Iran’s Assembly of Experts also upbraided the president and his rivals on Friday. Fifty of the Assembly’s 86 members issued a statement calling on Mr. Ahmadinejad to obey Ayatollah Khamenei and to dismiss Mr. Mashaei.
The statement also called on Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani— a former president who heads the Assembly but has the loyalty of only a minority of its members— to bring his language into line with Ayatollah Khamenei’s. Last Friday, Mr. Rafsanjani delivered a sermon in which he spoke of a “crisis” since the election, saying that many Iranians had lost confidence in the government. The speech, which brought vast crowds of opposition supporters into the streets, was a clear challenge to Ayatollah Khamenei, who has declared the election fair and warned protesters to move on.

Bill who?

Rico says it's an old dumb story, but he was alone in a room (outside Steve Jobs' office, true, but alone) with Mr. Gates a long time ago, and Bill walked out alive, for which Rico apologizes to everyone except Bill...

On the reality front, Heather Timmons has an article about Mr. Gates in The New York Times:
In a far-ranging speech on Friday, Bill Gates criticized the American government’s policy on immigration and data privacy, predicted giant leaps in technology in the near future and explained why he had to shut down his Facebook page.
“Over the next decade, the entire way we interact” with computers will change, Mr. Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, told hundreds of government officials and information technology executives in New Delhi. Mr. Gates spoke of cellphones that would recognize people around them or be used to test for diseases, computers equipped with voice recognition and an Internet that was used for much more than Web pages.
While the recession has been a “big deal,” it has not slowed innovation, he said, in part because countries like India and companies like Microsoft are investing in education and research for a new generation of computer scientists.
Microsoft is angling to work on India’s national identity card project, Mr. Gates said, and he will be meeting with Nandan Nilekani, the minister in charge. Like Mr. Gates, Mr. Nilekani stopped running the technology company he helped to start, Infosys, after expanding it into one of the biggest players in the business. He is now tasked with providing identity cards for India’s 1.2 billion citizens starting in 2011. Right now in India, many records like births, deaths, immunizations, and driving violations are kept on paper in local offices.
Mr. Gates was also critical of the United States government’s unwillingness to adopt a national identity card, or allow some businesses, like health care, to centralize data-keeping on individuals. “It has always come back to the idea that ‘The computer knows too much about you,’ ” he said.
The United States “got off to a bad start” when it comes to using computers to keep data about its citizens, he said. Doctors are not allowed to share records about an individual patient, and virtual doctor visits are banned, he said, which “wastes a lot of money.” The United States “had better come up with a better model” for health care, he said.
He was also critical of Congress’s stance on immigration, and said he would like to see immigration exceptions for “smart people.” Canadian laws are more favorable, he said, because they allow immigrants to work if they are offered a high-paying job. Microsoft has created “a lot of jobs in Canada for that reason,” he said.
Asked whether he ever “unplugs,” abandoning email messages, computers, and his cellphone entirely, Mr. Gates laughed and said “I’m not a 24-hour technology person.” He said he read a lot “and sometimes not on a screen.” He added that he was not big on text messaging. “All these tools of technology let us waste our time if we’re not careful,” he said.
Mr. Gates said the buzzwords “social networking” applied to something that had been around for a long time — a way to communicate with numerous people at the same time.
He acknowledged that he once had a Facebook page, but every day “ten thousand people tried to be my friend.” He said he spent too much time trying to decide “Do I know them? Don’t I know them?” Ultimately, he said, “I had to give it up.”

Another bad one gone

Saul Hansell has an article in The New York Times about AOL being SOL:
I’ve been writing profiles of AOL executives for nearly half of the company’s 24-year life. And for all but one heady 18-month period, they were on the defensive. AOL, they said, had the technology, content and love of its customers that would prove the skeptics wrong. That’s what Tim Armstrong said in the article I wrote in Thursday’s Times. And the message is no different from the one in the first profile I wrote of the three top leaders of the company at the beginning of 1998: Stephen M. Case, Theodore J. Leonsis and Robert W. Pittman. The headline was America Online’s Triumvirate in Cyberspace; The Service Provider Everybody Loves to Hate Changes by the Nanosecond.
The cast of characters changed many times. And so have the specific battles: persuading newbies to buy dial-up Internet subscriptions, selling add-on services, coping with broadband rivals and finally shifting to free, ad-supported services in an age of search. But there also have been common themes: the attempt to exploit the prominence of the AOL brand, the quest for the sort of content that will lure customers, the challenges of rapid growth and then drastic contraction.
Most of all, there has been a sense of bravado, that AOL’s destiny was to lead the Internet. Here are some choice quotes from the company’s many leaders:

1998: Getting in gear
With the addition of Mr. Pittman to the management team, AOL had recovered from the period when it didn’t have enough phone lines for customers and was starting to rake in the advertising money.
“Our strategy has been in place for more than a decade…. The goal has always been to build a mass medium that is as important in everyday life as the telephone or television. How we execute the strategy has always been in flux.” — Steve Case
“When I first got here, I scared them, because I looked at the numbers so much.” — Bob Pittman, referring to AOL middle managers

1999: Bravado
AOL was at the top of the world, and cocky executives were talking about extending their reach to television, mobile phones and computers.
“Windows is the past. In the future, AOL is the next Microsoft.” Steve Case
“Hopefully, we will establish AOL as the most valuable and the most respected company….We won’t settle for just one of them.” — Steve Case
“If you really love AOL, would you pay $10 a month for AOL TV and five bucks a month to get your AOL e-mail on your Palm Pilot? I am loath to predict the future, but people pay 50 or 60 bucks a month for cable. I think people see us as comparable, so we have a lot of headroom to deliver value.” Bob Pittman

2000: The deal
Ten days after the dawn of the millennium, Mr. Case persuaded Gerald Levin, the chief executive of Time Warner, to allow AOL to buy the venerable media conglomerate for $165 billion. Ted Turner, the vice chairman of Time Warner, was excited.
“When I cast my vote for 100 million shares, I did it with as much excitement as I felt the first time I made love some 42 years ago….I voted for it because we will have a stronger company that will create value. It’s not so easy to go out and recreate AOL. No one has been able to do it so far.” Ted Turner
“I accept that something profound is happening in the Internet space— I believe that….New media stock-market valuations are real— not in every case, of course. But what AOL has done is get first position in this new world. Its valuation is real, and I am attesting to that.” Gerald Levin

AOL’s stock dropped sharply in the months after the merger, because Internet investors were worried that Time Warner’s old media assets would drag the company down. Steve Case tried to talk up the combination’s prospects. “When it comes to valuing the new company, it’s clear that AOL Time Warner will be an Internet-powered enterprise….That’s similar to other Internet-powered companies like Cisco and Microsoft.…I have no doubt that a year from now, AOL Time Warner will be seen as one of the must-own companies, and stockholders who invest now will be greatly rewarded.” Steve Case
The backlash was starting against AOL’s powerful online marketing unit, which would charge Internet start-ups millions of dollars for “prime real estate” on its service. “We may be 800 pounds, but I hope we’re guerrillas with an ‘e’ — not gorillas. I don’t want an attitude in our group that we don’t have to try harder because we’re No. 1.” Myer Berlow, the president of America Online’s interactive marketing unit.

2001: Doubts emerge
With the merger consummated, AOL Time Warner starts to have difficulty meeting its growth targets. “We had higher expectations for the economy and advertising than what turned out to happen….Once you make a commitment, you want to do everything you can to stand by them.” Steve Case

2002: Stalling
Amid a sharp decline in ad revenue, the skepticism of AOL returns. “I am confident that AOL will re-emerge as the key driver of growth for the whole company… Maybe it’s perverse, but it’s more comfortable to be in the idiot zone and know the pendulum will swing your way.” Steve Case
James de Castro, a former radio executive, is put in charged of the AOL online service. He tries to restore morale by teaching spinning classes and piping rock music into the halls. “There is some dead skin and dry skin you have to peel away to get to the beautiful skin… Just like HBO made a real difference on Sunday night by putting on really fabulous programming, we can increase members’ satisfaction by becoming an entertainment medium.” Jamie de Castro
By the end of the year Time Warner brings in Jonathan Miller, a former executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, over Mr. de Castro’s head, to run AOL. “I do think in retrospect that we did take our eye off the ball as it relates to the members, because of focusing on monetizing the service and doing advertising and e-commerce deals. The No. 1 thing Jon’s going to do is starting right now focus squarely back on the member and have our bias be maximizing satisfaction, maximizing retention and building the member experience.” Steve Case
“This organization wasn’t clear about broadband in the recent past. Now we are in it to win it.” Jonathan Miller

2003: Making a new case
By the fall of 2002, AOL’s paying subscribers peaked at 26.7 million subscribers, and then started to decline. Richard Parsons, the chief executive of AOL Time Warner, said the company would focus on finding a way to raise the price of the service. “While a number of people are getting AOL over broadband now, the product isn’t really differentiated in a way that we would like….I don’t think you are going to be able to look for clear indications of how the new broadband initiative is being taken up by consumers until midyear, because before you start throwing lots of marketing dollars after it, we want to put the product together— we want to do some test marketing.” Richard Parsons
Mr. Miller introduces a new ad campaign, replacing Mr. Pittman’s slogan, So easy, no wonder it’s No. 1, with Welcome to the World Wide Wow. “People have already decided they know who AOL is, so you have to sound a wake-up call… The AOL brand was perceived as not sophisticated and not necessarily in tune with the times. We need people to realize we are not just the Internet on training wheels but a much more sophisticated, yet still friendly and easy, place to be.” Jonathan Miller

2004: Embracing broadband
In an attempt to reach out to broadband users, AOL makes freely available some content that had been exclusive to subscribers.
”We want to be a broadband company all the way through.” Jonathan Miller
“People were not signing up for AOL or canceling it because of news and sports and search.” Ted Leonsis

2005: Portal Days
Mr. Miller put all his energy into building the AOL.com portal, meant to be different from Yahoo because it had a more populist and emotional “voice". “The day I thought we nailed it was the day that Terri Schiavo died. [While other portals used a headline from news agency articles similar to] “Terri Schiavo dead at 41, the AOL headline was, ‘Terri Schiavo’s sad story comes to an end,’” Jonathan Miller

2006: Dialing Down Dial-up and Changing Leaders
Mr. Miller abandons marketing AOL’s access service to concentrate on free Web sites.
“There are many businesses that need to confront legacy issues. We put a stake in the ground with our legacy issues and we’re moving on.” Jonathan Miller
Jeffrey LBewkes, Time Warner’s president, abruptly fires Mr. Miller, replacing him with Randy Falco, an NBC executive.
“I just wanted the best executive I could get. If there was an Internet executive as qualified as Randy, I would have hired that person.” Jeff Bewkes

2007: Abandoning the portal
After several rounds of layoffs, Mr. Falco moves away from the AOL.com portal in favor of a strategy built on several different brands.
“Publishing is no longer just about the portal. We are going to be in as many different places as possible.” Randy Falco

2008: For sale
Amid ongoing talks to sell AOL to Microsoft or Google, Mr. Falco fires Curt Viebranz as head of ad sales, replacing him with Lynda Clarizio, who had run the Advertising.com unit.
“We sat here for a long time; Ron and I agonized over this… People will say five months after announcing the change, there will be some kind of meltdown, there is instability. People internally won’t understand it. Externally, people may raise questions. I said to Ron, ‘In my experience, it is always better to move fast.’ Another six months of this, we would be too far behind. We couldn’t wait another day.” Randy Falco

2009: The King is Dead; Long Live the King
Fed up with Mr. Falco, Mr. Bewkes, now Time Warner’s chief executive, replaces him with Tim Armstrong. Fed up with AOL, Mr. Bewkes plans to spin the company out to shareholders.
“You can argue about its reputation, but everybody in the world knows AOL.” Tim Armstrong
Rico says everybody in the world may know AOL, but few of us care, or will miss it when it's (deservedly) gone...

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