well, I’m sick

box of Cold-Eeze lozengesAnd have been since Sunday. I should’ve known something was up when the smoke at the Black Cat and Sommer‘s party started to bother me. I’m usually of at least average hardiness when it comes to friends’ cigarette fumes, but this time I was dying.
For once, I recognized my symptoms for what they were and immediately took countermeasures. My mom favors echinacea, but the male side of my family demands rigorous pseudo-scientific analyses that have been published in a respected journal, or at least on the back of an authoritative-looking cardboard box. So I started consuming zinc lozenges at a prodigious rate.
If you start taking it quickly enough, zinc gluconate is supposed to decrease the length of colds by, I don’t know, ramping up your white blood cell production, or galvanizing them or something. They say they’ve got studies proving it works, but of course it’s hard to judge from first-hand experience.
The initial results weren’t promising. I was laid pretty low; my body shut down all non-essential processes — alertness, cleverness, interest in the Britney Spears divorce — leaving only those biological systems necessary for maintaining a steady stream of whining. But I think I’m getting better, or at least trading old symptoms for new ones — and by my standards it’s happening relatively quickly, too. I don’t think this is going to become my annual epic month-long illness (tentative arrival date: February).
Anyway, I’ll heartily recommend the zinc drops, if only because they let you feel like you’re doing something to improve things, instead of just wallowing in phlegm and misery. But there is a downside: you’re supposed to suck on them, not swallow them. They don’t taste particularly great, but they’re bearable, particularly if you buy the brand-name version. But that’s just priming you for the real unpleasantness, which comes when you eat anything else.
It’s a little hard to describe the taste that results. The best I’ve been able to come up with is “hollandaise sauce made with rotten eggs and 9-volt batteries”. It’s like the experience a vulture must have when eating a cyborg’s carcass.
Why the sudden, food-triggered onset? I have no idea. Maybe the change in flavor wakes up neurons that have grown inured to the original zinc drop. Maybe the acid in the food makes the zinc rust out of solution, producing a different and worse-tasting compound (chemistry nerds, help me out here). Whatever it is, it seems to be unavoidable, regardless of how much water and time you place between the lozenge and the food. It’s the taste of wellness, and it’s terrible.

we’re all doomed/entertained

Two recent blog posts that caught my eye:

  • Dave Winer says that a plummeting Google stock price will be the surest sign that the web 2.0 bubble has collapsed. Seems plausible to me — nothing lasts forever, right? But it’s not all going away. Sure, there are people who think that learning to use the Google Maps API constitutes a meaningful contribution to society, and they are in for a rude awakening. But Google will still be around, as will Yahoo, as will well-developed Javascript technologies and the open-API concept that have powered Web 2.0.

  • On the other hand, this Mark Cuban post is dead wrong. Cuban argues that the growth of HDTV and simultaneous lack of hi-def outputs on PCs means that downloadable video will be unable to power our home entertainment centers, preserving the status quo distribution system. This is really dumb.

    Apple’s iTV isn’t yet released, but it’s aimed at solving exactly the problem Cuban describes — and, like so many Apple products, will get us all used to a new way of interacting with technology (just in time for cheaper competitors to swoop in). Soon enough we’ll all get cheap(ish) network appliances with HD outputs that can stream video wirelessly from our PCs — either from shared drives, or from DRM-preserving server applications that we’ll leave running on our desktops.

    Initially these boxes will be standalone devices, but soon enough the functionality will be integrated into DVD players or cable boxes or stereo receivers — just like Tivo’s revolutionary DVR functionality has been. In fact, you don’t have to wait for the iTV to see this happen: you can already see the low-end version on on the Xbox 360, the high end in devices like this, and the midrange option here.

    Sure, we might have to wait for 802.11n to reliably stream 1080p HD content. And I have no idea whether the tech will end up residing in your DVD player, cable box, TV or receiver — at the moment I’d say the DVD player, since it’s mostly cheap DVD players from Asia that have brought DivX playback to the living room. But then, that’s what I said the last time, and I was dead wrong (Dolby decoding chipsets are now expected to live in the receiver). Plus, the need to preserve DRM makes partnerships between large online media vendors like Apple, Microsoft and (soon) Walmart and players like Comcast seem pretty likely. So maybe it’ll be your cable box that does the streaming. Beats me.

    But although the specifics are a little hazy, I am completely sure that Cuban is wrong about this. Downloadable video is going to be coming to the living room — and in hi-def — a lot sooner than he thinks. Thanks to Xbox Media Center it’s already present in mine. I just don’t have a TV that can display it.

my expert analysis

Matt, Susan: don’t worry so much. Russia and the U.S. have plenty of common ground. Should Iran have the bomb? Well, it’s hard to say. But should consumers have cheap mp3s? That’s a much easier question to answer.
(Okay — clearly consumers shouldn’t actually have these mp3s. Still, it’s a little disappointing to see AllOfMP3 being shut down. Countries being jerks to one another is one of the best avenues we have left for preserving the freewheeling exchange of online information that we all like so much.)

from the rss reader

any good protests coming up?
Remember this the next time you hear a WTO protester complain about not being taken seriously.

how a resurrection really looks

Well, I hate to be a downer. But I have to disagree: I thought the Hold Steady were merely Pretty Good on Saturday. As great as the new album is, as raucous as the guitars sounded, as joyous as the band was, there were some problems.
First, and predictably, the Black Cat sound: it was lousy, as usual. The keyboards on this last record are more important than they have been before, but they were nearly inaudible whenever the guitars were going. Sucky, sucky, sucky.
Second and more importantly, by the end of the show Craig Finn seemed more than a little drunk. That can be fine and charming, but this time, and to this curmudgeon, it wasn’t. His tossed-off alternate phrasings got grating, particularly during a downright Shatnerian performance of “Hot Soft Light”. I’m all for changing up arrangements during a live show, but this was closer to Duritz than Dylan.
But I don’t mean to complain too much. It may not have been as enjoyable as last February’s concert, but it was still a good show by a great band. I’m glad I went, but I would’ve been pretty pissed off if I’d been one of the people who got beer sprayed on them. But then, I am approximately a million years old. Consarnit.

money for nothing, bits for free

I’m embarrassed to admit that I initially clicked through to this story with interest rather than incredulity. In short: some guy claimed he had come up with a means of storing 450 gigabytes of data on a single sheet of paper through a special encoding system involving colored geometric shapes. Some of the tech press ran with it.

Well, it’s bullshit, but that link doesn’t really adequately explain why. It gets close, though. Here’s my stab at an explanation, just for fun.


I’m not calling it a conspiracy… yet

As far as I can recall, there is no candy bar on the national market that contains raisins. None of even moderate prominence, anyway. The closest you can come is Nestle’s generally-underrated Chunky product, but its length:(width+height) ratio is all off — it’s some sort of ill-conceived candy chimera. Deliciousness aside, it’s clearly not fit to take its place in the American pantheon of bar-shaped food products.
Now, I’m not noting this to argue for raisins as a primary candy bar component — I know that proposition would be controversial. Still, you have to admit that raisins are a classic confection ingredient; a solid, dependable utility player. Yet the candy bar industry systematically ignores them. Meanwhile, various other ingredients — the poorly-defined “nougat” in particular — seem to me to be consistently over-represented. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but it’s virtually guaranteed to be sinister.

ah, science reporting

Via Michael, check out this article about a high school kid who built a machine capable of producing nuclear fusion. Pretty cool stuff. And pretty abysmal reporting:

Thiago Olson, 17, stands near his nuclear fusion reactor, which he calls “the Fusor,” at home in Oakland Township on Friday.

That’s, um, because it is a Fusor. It’s not like he just made a stencil and spray-painted a cool-sounding name onto his soapbox racer.

Thiago’s mom, Natalice Olson, initially was leery of the project, even though the only real danger from the fusion machine is the high voltage and small amount of X-rays emitted through a glass window in the vacuum chamber — through which Olson videotapes the fusion in action..

Mrs. Olson probably should’ve stuck with her first instinct. From what I’ve read, the voltages and x-rays involved are both excellent ways to kill yourself and your family (I think there’s some danger from neutron radiation, too). But presumably (and hopefully) Thiago learned how to build shielding for the gadget sometime during its construction.

“Originally, he wanted to build a hyperbolic chamber,” she said, adding that she promptly said no. But, when he came asking about the nuclear fusion machine, she relented.

Is that the right quote? Really? Because all I’m turning up on the internet for “hyperbolic chamber” are references to the Hyperbolic Time Chamber from the awesome yet completely uneventful anime Dragonball Z. Honestly, if it was between one of those and a Fusor, I’d have pushed the kid toward the time machine.
I guess it’s a little silly to nitpick. This is a human interest story, not real science reporting, so it’s not that important that Ms. Damron get things right. Still, I don’t really understand why reporters don’t bother to run things by experts — or at least wikipedia — when they’re writing about technical areas in which they’re not conversant. The likelihood of embarrassing errors seems high. So why not call up a physics professor from the local community college and read him or her the piece over the phone? I bet she’d be happy to do it so long as you used a quote from her.
Anyway, questionable coverage aside, this kid is clearly pretty awesome, and he has now officially replaced David Hahn as my all-time favorite teenage nuclear hacker. These kids’ willingness to leapfrog straight into playing with lethal radioactivity is awe-inspiring. I’m still working up toward accidentally killing myself with mains power, for pete’s sake.

it’s beginning to feel a lot like thanksgiving

Here’s what I found when I walked into the office this morning:

There’s no explanation or attribution, although we’re all pretty sure that Nicco is responsible. This is a pretty great place to work.
Speaking of which, our incredibly awesome sysadmin Justin has recently left us to go revolutionize the world of Mac software. Consequently, we’re looking for a new director of systems & network administration. Candidates will have to be experts at maintaining Apple computers, administering an SVN repository, maintaining a LAMP stack across a farm of servers, and generally outgeeking the rest of us. A sense of excitement about Drupal, WordPress and progressive politics would also be welcome. You can find the official job description here. Alternately, here’s the visual job description that JP, our CTO, sent around last week:
There’s a bounty attached, so even if your own bash/vi/D&D skills are rusty, you should still send along anybody who you think might fit the bill.

woe is wii

I was really hoping to have an embarrassing flash video for you. It was going to be of Charles and me, gesticulating wildly in front of the TV as we gleefully played with his new Nintendo Wii.
But no dice. We tried Toys R Us, we browsed Best Buy, we searched Circuit City and we trolled Target. Oh, and Charles called Costco. It’s sold out everywhere. If I hadn’t had quite such an exciting Saturday night — writing CSS till 3amWOOOO! — I might’ve gotten up early and stood in line with the other dorks and managed to get my hands on one of the just-released consoles. But I did, so I didn’t, and I couldn’t.
But it’ll be okay. Word on the interstreet is that most stores will be getting another shipment by Tuesday (if not earlier). And although the online options are also sold out, the situation is well in hand. Thanksgiving! I think that’s a reasonable goal.