Category: Miscellany

Boston School Bus Drivers Want to Hide?

I’m basically pro-union, but this is ridiculous. The school bus drivers walked off their jobs in Boston with no warning this morning, leaving thousands of kids stranded at bus stops. One of their main complaints? The school district implemented a smartphone app that lets parents (and administrators) determine precisely where a given bus is at any moment. The drivers complain that this is a “Big Brother” tactic involving “spying.”

school_busHuh? In what way did this GPS system give anyone any control over the drivers as they claim? District officials said the purpose of the app was go let parents determine more accurately when the buses would arrive at their stops and to easily locate a bus involved in an accident or mechanical problems. But even if the main intent was to allow administrators to better track drivers’ performance, in what way is that bad? The buses don’t belong to the drivers. The drivers aren’t allowed to change routes, at least not without a good reason. I’m sorry, but I can’t see a single valid point on the side of the drivers here.

The GPS is clearly a red herring. The drivers had recently signed a new labor agreement but the company overseeing their activities had made some policy changes drivers didn’t like, including re-routing some buses.

I am in favor of allowing public employee unions the right to call work stoppages, but not to risk the safety of children in the process. The absence of a formal notice of intent to strike from the union here renders their actions in my mind inexcusable and dangerous. Hiding behind a “spy conspiracy” involving a GPS is downright stupid.

 

Logitech h600 Wireless Headset: Fine Product

The old Logitech USB headset I’ve used for the past five or so years finally broke today. So I went off in search of a new one. I had long wanted a wireless headset but I figured they were probably still more expensive than I could justify.

Logitech Hi600 Wireless HeadsetI was wrong. For something like $20 more than the straight-up replacement USB headset, I got a Logitech h600 Wireless Headset. I’ve only been using it for about five hours, but I already feel like this was a great decision. Compared to the wired USB headset I’m replacing, this unit is:

  • lighter
  • far more comfortable
  • better in its sound quality
  • delightful because of its wireless design

I can walk out of my bedroom office all the way down the hallway in our home and still be able to hear the sound. That’s amazing freedom for me.

A long-time user of Logitech products, I’m delighted with this newest addition to my accessory suite.

 

 

Artificial Liver Buds Give Biological Researchers Fresh Hope

Turning stem cells into functional organs is a huge goal of modern genetic biologists, and it’s a goal that seems much closer today than ever thanks to the work of a Japanese research team.

Photomicrograph of human stem cells made from skin cells

Stem cells are being made from skin cells these days rather than embryos.

Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times, reports the new research in her column today. According to Kolata, the researchers were able to generate tiny functioning livers which, when transplanted into mice, behaved much as human livers. The goal of growing full-sized and fully functional human livers this way is still many years off, but at least this experimentation has been able to demonstrate the real possibility.

Genetic researchers have been suffering a lot of disappointments and near misses in recent years, so this news came as particularly welcome to that community as well as to health care professionals.

The team’s findings were published in the journal Nature, to which I’d provide you a link but they require a very expensive subscription to read their precious contents. (Can you tell I don’t like that practice much? Can you also tell they don’t care?)

Does humanity face a future in which we will be able to grow replacements for all the major organs and essentially keep ourselves alive indefinitely? Until, of course, global climate change wipes out our species and its labs full of artificially grown organs.

Science giveth, politicians take away.

Anatomy of a Comeuppance

I winced and squirmed and blustered my way through this excellent video of linguist Stephen Fry expounding on grammar and “correct” language usage today. He doesn’t go the way you think he would.

And the animation work is superb as well! If you love words and language, you’ll find this entertaining and maybe a little illuminating. If you don’t, move along, nothing to see here.

Does Apple Bluetooth Just Suck?

I’ve been having trouble with Bluetooth on Apple devices for the past few days, and today as I was working with my iPad in some new ways, the situatin got worse.

I have had my Mini lose connection to the mouse at random and frequent intervals. I’ve replaced the battery, rebooted the system, reconnected the mouse. Nothing helps. Every time the Mini reboots, it says it can’t even find a Bluetooth device, then it finds the device and attempts a pairing, then it says it can’t find one again. This goes on until I restart the machine. Ridiculous.

Using an Apple wireless keyboard with the iPad, I had the iPad not only forget it had a keyoard attached via Bluetooth a couple of times, it couldn’t even “see” the keyboard a couople of times until I turned Blueetooth off and back on.

So I wonder do I just have bad luck or is it true, as several of my *nix buddies have told me repeatedly, that Apple’s implementation of Bluetooth just sucks?

Colorado Keeps Looking Like a State I Could Love…Restorative Justice Adopted

One of my favorite social programs is Restorative Justice. In a nutshell, this program connects criminals and their victims through a specific process designed to create reconciliation and forgiveness. The program is national. There is a chapter of it in my hometown of Monterey, CA.

The state of Colorado recently passed a bill authorizing a $10 surcharge on criminal fines to fund experiments aimed at integrating the RJ program into state correctional activities. This is a very progressive move, one that I hope many other states will emulate over time.

Remember, it was the principles of RJ at work in South Africa after the elimination of apartheid that held the country together under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. RJ has the potential to save billions of dollars as well because in a number of studies it has reduced repeat-offender rates from an average of 60% to about 10%.

If there’s an RJ chapter in your area, please consider joining it!

Meanwhile, if we can figure out how to get the weather to my liking….

Bank Mergers Cause Pain for Customers. Who Cares?

My local bank has undergone its second merger since we became customers 11 years ago. Santa Barbara Bank & Trust has been acquired by Union Bank.

You’d think that in an era of ubiquitous interconnectedness, a reasonably large bank could figure out how to make this kind of transition transparent and painless for the customers of the now-merged bank. You’d be wrong.

Why, e.g., can’t these folks figure out how to merge credit card databases so that I don’t have to get a new number?

Over the next few months, I’ll be spending time updating my accounts at all of those places where, for my convenience, I’ve pre-stored my credit card information. In some cases, services may be suspended or even canceled because of the problem of charging the old card.

Of course, electronic routing information will also change, making it more difficult for customers and clients who wish to pay me by EFT to do so.

As a depositor, I of course have no input into, let alone say over, whether mergers like this should be undertaken. Just because it’s my money, I should not be expecting to have anything to say about how  it’s managed.

Just another example of the many ways capitalism with too few regulations rides roughshod over the interests of the consumers who are, after all, the ultimate drivers of the money-making machine.

 

You Can Have My Cell Phone When You Pry it From My Cold, Dead Fingers

Yeesh.

Many police officers around the country are paranoid about being filmed while doing their jobs. There have been numerous incidents of press photographers and ordinary citizens being harassed, detained, arrested and attacked by police for filming them in public places.

What a violation of the First Amendment! And what do these public servants have to be afraid of? Unless they’re breaking the law, on what reasonable basis can they expect to be allowed to interfere with anyone taking pictures?

Here’s a story that crossed my desk this morning from Pulse about a guy in San Diego who had his cell phone slapped out of his hand and himself thrown to the ground and attacked for filming a police officer writing him a citation for smoking on a public boardwalk. The video of the incident is included in the story.

The arresting officer told the citizen photographer that the cell phone camera could be turned into a weapon. Really? You’re going to try that explanation? Again I say, yeesh.

What’s this about? There’s even a Web site on the subject: Photographyisnotacrime.com. Just one more indication of the degree to which our country seems to have lost its way.

 

WP Headache Remedied: WP Super Cache “Hidden Feature” at Work

wplogoI have been frustrated and largely unproductive for the past few days working on three WordPress projects and having the same issue with all of them. I won’t go into the gory details but I think sharing the Reader’s Digest Condensed version may help those who stumble on this post.

If you’re working on a WordPress site and you find that changes you make aren’t being reflected when you view the site, no matter how many times you refresh, reload, turn off caching, empty caches, disable caching plugins, and make awful faces at your computer, you need to know this.

If you’re using the most widely recommended and used cache plugin for Word Press, WP Super Cache, and you’ve deactivated it at some point in your debugging, it is still most likely the culprit!

Why?

Because it turns out that when you deactivate the plugin, it does not clear the page cache it has created. And since you’ve deactivated it, it is no longer able to delete any expired pages. Catch-22.

Chances are you have not spent much if any time in the very complicated Settings for WP Super Cache. But there’s a huge amount of stuff you can control. Someone really ought to write an eBook on it. (Hmmmmm)

So if you have this problem of changes not showing up, and you have been using WP Super Cache, then follow these directions:

  1. Re-activate the plugin if you’ve deactivated it.
  2. Go into its Settings (conveniently linked from its entry on the Plugins Page)
  3. At the top of the first page, check the checkbox that turns caching off. (This one’s probably not necessary if you’re deactivating anyway, but I’ve become paranoid by now.)
  4. Look for a button labeled “Delete Cache.” Click that sucker.

Now you can deactivate the plugin or delete it.

For me, at least, problem solved.

 

Pay for Premium WordPress Theme, Get Worse Support Than With Free Stuff?

I run about a dozen WordPress sites including this one. I use themes from a number of different sources, most of them free, but a few of them paid/pro/premium.

Yesterday, I ran across a desire to do something on one of my premium-themed sites. It’s a design feature that the publisher of the theme chose not to include in the basic package. While I’m quite comfortable with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP, and with editing files in WordPress, it is often difficult to impossible to figure out where a tweak needs to be made to make a specific change to the site. In fact, that’s my biggest single complaint about WordPress: file architecture in general is a mess and many theme designers seem to randomly generate file locations.

So I posted a request on this company’s support forums asking only for some indication of which file might be the right place to make the change I want. The official response from the company’s support rep in the forums?

It’s good to know that you’re comfortable editing code. However, what you’re asking for assistance with doing is beyond the scope of support we provide in the forums. You may request a paid customization here….

WTF? Explaining your file structure is “beyond the scope of support we provide in the forums”?

Rest aassured I will not buy any more themes from these guys. The only reason I haven’t mentioned them by name yet is that I’m hoping to get resolution soon. If I don’t, I’ll revisit the question and name names.

My experience is that I nearly always get better and more responsive support for free themes than for paid ones. I suspect that’s because someone who creates a free theme is more interested in the community he’s building and his reputation than in his bottom line.

I do understand that you can’t let support become so extensive and costly that it runs you out of business, but this line should be drawn a lot closer to the customer convenience side of that equation.