Tuesday, June 24, 2008

eco: "struggling to survive" vs. population

Yet another TV report on starving Somalians and their "struggle to survive". Meanwhile, in a barren sub-Saharan desert, the population is skyrocketing. In 1991 as the hell was gathering steam, population 7 million. Now 9.5 million. 48% of the population is under 15! 3.4% population growth in 2003 (it was 2.9% in 1992).

I don't have compassion fatigue, I have anger. Unless you have a realistic means to deliver a better life for your family, don't have kids.

Googling for overpopulation Somalia finds reports making the connection... dated from the 1990s. I wonder why people have large families in such dire circumstances, this National Geographic story from 2000 looks at the issue.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

web: nested levels of anthem.com (Blue Cross) web site woe

The Anthem (the insurance formerly known as Blue Cross) web site doesn't tell you what your medical coverage is internationally. So use the Provide Access link to fill in their Member Access Feedback Form to suggest they need this.

Ahh, but inevitably SPage's law I kicks in:
The part of every Web site with the most problems is the feedback form for reporting problems.
Sure enough:
  • I can't type anything in the form. Its textareas start off disabled, but when I click "No, the information was not easy to find" the textarea underneath doesn't enable. So the Member Feedback Form doesn't work.
  • Fine, I'll use their general Contact Us form to submit a bug report about their feedback form:
    Please pass this feedback on to your manager of Web Site engineering.

    Your Member Access Feedback Form (arrived from the _Provide Feedback_ link) does not work in my browser, Firefox 3 on Windows.

    I am never able to type in the textareas. They start off disabled. I think when I click "No" in the radiobutton above one, it is supposed to enable. The form displays a bunch of JavaScript warnings and errors in the Error Console, in particular this error is basic bad Web programming:

    Error: document.all[obj_textArea] is undefined
    Source File: https://secure1.anthem.com/wps/myportal/escmybcc/kcxml/04_Sj9SPykssy0xPLMnMz0vM0Y_QjzKLN3GNDzZw0i_IdlQEADWd-xo!
    Line: 933

    For how to fix, see, e.g. http://developer.mozilla.org/en/docs/Migrate_apps_from_Internet_Explorer_to_Mozilla#Accessing_elements

    Again, please pass this BUG REPORT about your web site on to the engineering manager of your anthem.com Web site and reply when you have done so.
    Wow, free QA. Anthem is lucky to have me as a customer who can help them fix their Web site.
    • But SPage's law I kicks in, recursively! I click [Send Message] and get:
      Message length should be less than 540 characters.
      These clowns can waste days writing dynamically-enabled textareas that don't work, but they can't put the HTML to display "Message (540 characters maximum)" on a form, or write a simple script that updates "18 characters remaining"?!
    So I have to remove all the useful information from my feedback. But the failures continue:
    • When the form redisplays telling me how I've screwed up, it loses the state of its dropdown.
    • The displays "Email(ampersand)nbspAddress". Someone left off a semicolon in the HTML.
    • Subject isn't marked as required field, but if I don't choose something from it, I get the error "Please select a subject."

    At this point the Contact Us form doesn't work to report the Member Feedback form that doesn't work to report that the Web site doesn't have needed information. As always, some Vice President of Customer Relations is congratulating himself that they get so few complaints.

    There's no subject on this form for "Web site problem", so I'm using "Grievances". All these complaints are going to some poor drone in the "Grievances" department at Anthem who has no idea who runs the web site.
What was I doing? Oh yes, trying to find out about travel coverage. More problems:
  • Maybe the Certificate Booklets (nice meaningless term) for my coverage have the information. Even though these are basic links to PDFs, every single one gives a 404 - File not found.
  • Once you've logged in as a member, there's no search on anthem.com's web site.
  • When your session times out because you're busy making notes about everything wrong with anthem.com, you have to log in again. That's understandable, but you login to some useless promotional site, and when you click to get back to the members site you have to login a second time.
  • If you go to a missing page , you get redirected to www.anthem.com/anthem404.html. But!
    • This picture says

      This content has been Moved to Our New Portal
      Redirecting You Now

      Wait as long as you like, it never goes anywhere.
    • Even though the page URL says "404", anthem.com never returns a 404! To my browser this is a legitimate page. The Vice President of Technology is congratulating herself that they have no broken pages on their web site.
    I should amend SPage's Law I to add: the error page for a web site has errors.
Just awful. I will send $15 by PayPal to anyone who can give me the work e-mail address of the QA Manager of anthem.com.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

take this bright, showy, and gay marriage, please

I'm a language conservative.
  • “alot” isn't a word (get Firefox 3 tomorrow, it suggests the correction thanks to a bug I filed)
  • It's “take the reins” no matter how how many people pick "reigns" or "rains"
  • I even bemoan the loss of gay for "carefree", "happy", or "bright and showy"
So I have some sympathy when people say don't redefine marriage, it should remain
the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law
Just add “gay marriage” to other phrases like "civil marriage", "shotgun marriage", etc.

But... clearly two people in a committed relationship willing to officially enter into a partnership should receive all the benefits and legal protection afforded to straight partners. Anything else is homophobia. I've never seen any public figure who claims to be against redefining “marriage” seriously propose the amendments to every law required to bring homosexual domestic partnership up to parity.

Besides, seeing today all the creaky middle-aged couples on TV who've waited 9 years, 18 years, 50 years to pledge their undying love for each other, you'd have to be an unfeeling jerk not to feel:
The gay-marriage issue is over and done with. The upshot: love won.
That's from Anna Quindlen's Newsweek column (somewhat poorly reasoned as usual), where she also writes
Here's what I don't understand: is there so much love and commitment in the world that we can afford, as a society, to be contemptuous of some portion of it? If two women in white want to join hands in front of their families and friends and vow to love and honor one another until they die, the only reasonable response to that is happy tears, awed admiration and societal approval. And—this part is just personal opinion—one of those big honking KitchenAid mixers with the dough hook.

(None of this applies to my situation, as a pre-surgery post-hormone bisexual transgender, it would take an entire CSI episode to figure out if I'm in a marriage with the opposite sex or not.)

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

music: No Doubt and TAFKAP (Prince)

No Doubt's Rock Steady is just an average set of electro-jams and beats with various producers. Until track 12, "Waiting Room", sneaks in. Hard, nervous, desperate, edgy, erotic, then it rolls into a gorgeous descending melodic chorus “All I can do is wait for you” that perfectly contrasts everything else in the song. Way better than anything else on the album.

Love Symbol #2 of The Artist Formerly Known As PrinceCheck the credits: Written by {symbol} and No Doubt; produced by {symbol}; keyboards, background vocal: {symbol}. No more explanation needed!

Another hidden gem for my list of killer B-sides (does anyone know what “B-side” means any more?). I should track down everything the purple one has ever done, he's an inspired collaborator.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

web: quick Firefox setup guide

Here's what I set up for friends and family so they can be more productive on the IntarWub.
  • Get Firefox at getfirefox.com
  • Make it your default browser: during setup there's a checkbox "[ ] Use Firefox as my default web browser", check this.
  • Install Adblock Plus and restart Firefox. After it restarts, go to http://adblockplus.org/en/subscriptions and click Subscribe: EasyList. A filter like this says "skip anything from http://adserv - adsnew - doubleclick - ..., they're all ads." Now visit a site like cnn.com: your browser no longer downloads all the irritating ads on web sites, so browsing becomes much faster!
  • Get a Google account. It's not necessary to customize your home page (below), but you're going to want it: gmail is probably better than your current e-mail, Google Docs is awesome (you don't need Microsoft Office), Blogger is pretty good, etc.
    • If you already have a gmail mail address, you have a Google account; otherwise, go to google.com, and on the right click Sign in then click Create an account now
  • Now sign in to igoogle.com, make it your default home page in the browser (Tools > Options > Main; and click [Use Current Page]
  • Add a few things to your iGoogle home page:
    • my blog (click "Add stuff", click "Add feed or gadget" on the left, enter http://www.skierpage.com/blog/ and add me to your home page.)
    • configure the weather applet
    • add news sites like BBC news
  • Set up keywords so you can jump directly to pages without going to a search box; I have keywords for Wikipedia, dictionary definitions, and various Google map shortcuts

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web: Firefox 3 and what stands behind it

The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet.
Makes it a no-brainer that I've used Mozilla since years before there was a Firefox web browser. The idea of the project was important before it made a decent browser, it's gratifying that the project has delivered the best current browser.

Firefox 3 is coming very soon, the improvements are real (here's a short Flash tutorial/intro). Release Candidate 2 is ready right now and is great. Or sign up now to grab it on download day.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

eco: confusing the cost and value of environmental responsibility

Dear Hattie Kauffman and the newscaster who introduced you,

Our local CBS5 station just showed your piece on hybrid sales, which was in part yet another economic analysis of buying the hybrid model. It's a happy coincidence that the car model that pollutes less and wastes less fuel might save money. Even if it NEVER paid for itself, why shouldn't consumers spend their own money to reduce their environmental impact? They spend on leather seats, 19" wheels, and satellite navigation, please lecture them in a shocking exposé how those features will never pay for themselves!

Every time sloppy journalists do this they only show an inability to distinguish the *cost* of things from the *value* of things. Your news anchor introduced you with "[car buyers] still need to be sure they're getting more bang for their buck", a truly fatuous remark. I admire people who are environmental even when it costs them money, maybe you should look in the mirror and do the same.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

audio: re-playing piano when recording

I've been following pro-audio DSD since I found out it's been anointed the ultimate archive format. There's the Sonoma DSD multi-track recorder, which apparently sounds fantastic for recording. So let me buy a two-channel playback version of that with the same Ed Meitner Digital-Audio converters, and sell me the studio masters!

One of the recordings made with this gear is Glenn Gould live in concert, reprising his stunning 1955 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations; Glenn Gould died in 1982. Another one is Art Tatum re-performing "Piano Starts Here"; Art Tatum died in 1956.

These recordings are of a player piano replaying a high-definition MIDI file created by software “listening” to the original poor-quality mono record. “Zenph® Studios is a software company that specializes in the algorithms and processes for understanding - and re-creating - precisely how musicians perform. ... We’re separating musicians’ performances from their original recording medium.”

OK, my mind is blown.

Years ago I went to a mechanical music museum in England. If you've only heard a cheesy player piano banging out ragtime, you have no idea how sophisticated some of the systems were. High-end player piano was the hi-fi of its day; wealthy people would install fancy pianos and monster pipe organs that played elaborate piano rolls that captured attack, pedals, and other nuances, "recorded" by famous pianists. I heard a roll of George Gershwin performing Rhapsody in Blue and the composer's take on his own composition was radically different from recordings I've heard. Zenph is creating new piano rolls by listening to old recordings.

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