Friday, September 30, 2005

Flak jackets and Ebay

The Huffington Post cites a Yahoo News article by former soldier who served in Iraq. He tells the tale of a soldier who joined the march to Baghdad wearing a flak jacket that his mother found for him on Ebay. And what advertisement do you suppose shows up alongside that article?

Click to see full-size screen shot.

Those ad robots do some funny things at times. A more sophisticated robot would have changed the Clothing image to a flak jacket.

It is remarkable how US soldiers have to outfit themselves, given what we're spending on this war. A marine who took part in the invasion told me that he bought a consumer GPS device at Best Buy before he shipped out. He said it was much more convenient and user-friendly than the government-issued mil-spec GPS, which was large and heavy and had a clunky user interface.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Gmail serves Hallmark ad while displaying ... Hallmark ad

A friend celebrated her birthday recently, so I sent her an online card. I used Hallmark's free e-card service. I've used them before, so I'm on Hallmark's mailing list.

So it wasn't a surprise that I received an ad via e-mail from Hallmark. What did surprise me is that Gmail served up an ad from ... Hallmark. I wonder what Hallmark paid for that ad. Quite an irony to pay for a targeted ad that's keyed off of your own content.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

30 days hath September, but Sony hath 31

For years now I've used Imagestation to host my photos on the Web. They are trying to turn this free service into a revenue generator -- or at least achieve cost recovery. I've got gigabytes of images stored online for free.

Now they want me to convert to "Silver" membership at $9.99 a year, half off for the first year.

Really, it's not a bad deal. But they've given me until September 31, 2005 to decide.

The only problem with this: September hath 30 days, not 31.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Something's rotten about these apples

Apple Computer has been bombarding me with mail urging me to buy a Mac so I can get a free Ipod Mini. Actually, my household already has a Mini, and its hard drive died a month ago. More importantly, Apple has released the Nano, which is solid state and a fraction of the size of the Mini.

And Apple has removed the Mini, only about 20 months old, from its catalog.

The Mini was a remarkable piece of engineering. The Nano blows it away. Apple was courageous, and wise, to replace the Mini with the Nano.

Everyone understands the purpose of a fire sale. What I don't understand is why Apple is pushing an item no longer on its catalog -- a product prone to hard drive and battery failure. If the "free" Mini comes with a warranty, it's going to cost Apple big bucks in the long run.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Camels invade campus of a large Midwestern university

Suddenly, there were camels on campus at Michigan State University today.

The vice president for university relations, Terry Denbow, found a new friend.

As did a computer nerd:

But an MSU student discovered absolute, unconditional, true love:

Click to see full-size images. For the complete collection of photos of the camel invasion, please see . You have to subscribe to Imagestation, but it is free.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ipod Mini, reborn diskless

As predicted, but sooner than expected: Apple replaces the Ipod Mini with a diskless wonder.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

From Agony to Ecstasy

Sometimes the irony is palpable:

Carnival Sending Three Ships for Refugees

The Associated Press

Saturday, September 3, 2005; 6:11 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Three Carnival Cruise Lines ships have been pressed into service by the government to provide shelter for as many as 7,000 hurricane victims.

The Ecstasy, the Sensation and the Holiday will be pulled from regular use starting Monday at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The cost of the charters was not disclosed.

The idea of using cruise ships to house the displaced is a good one; how else can you bring thousands of hotel rooms online instantly? But the names of the ships are definitely ironic.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Matching Katrina victims and families: General Delivery, and cell phones

CNN just reported that the USPS has created a new ZIP Code for refugees at the Astrodome.

People can send mail to:

[name of person]
General Delivery
Houston TX 77230

What a simple yet clever idea! The address of "General Delivery" has a rich history: someone could travel to a town, inform friends and family that they would be there for a while, and pick up mail at the post office addressed only to their name with the "General Delivery" address.

An idea over 150 years old that could match people to their loved ones. Bravo to the USPS!

The problem of helping relatives contact loved ones who lived in New Orleans is massive. The former mayor of New Orleans says his wife's mother, elderly and infirm, cannot be reached. They do not know if she has been saved or has perished. If a former mayor can't get vital information about a loved one, who can?

There are many attempts to use the Web to match refugees with family members. (One of the major ones is the Red Cross site at: ). But how many refugees have access to the Internet in order to register? Suggestion: a major cell phone provider offers free phones and three months of free service to refugees. The cost to the company would be minimal, but the benefits to victims could be extraordinary.

To make the cell phone scheme work in both directions, you'd have to set up a registry of names and numbers; there is no directory assistance for cell phones. With a registry, a relative or friend could call an 800 number, ask for the phone number for John Q. Smith, get a cell number to call and hopefully connect with a loved one.

Friday, September 02, 2005

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of levees."

A chill went down my spine when I heard this quote from President Bush:

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of levees."

-- President George W. Bush, on Good Morning America, September 1, 2005

I flashed back to when I heard Condeleeza Rice say:

“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people…would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile”

-- Condeleeza Rice, May 16, 2002

Of course many people anticipated the breach of the levees. A decades-long project has tried to shore up the levees, and the Bush administration cut the budget for the project in order to stanch the bleeding of the Federal treasury in order to fund the war in Iraq. The Army Corps of Engineers built the levees to withstand a Category 3 storm. The disaster planning community has known for years that a hurricane could mean total disaster if it hit New Orleans. FEMA has ranked New Orleans as among the top 3 disasters waiting to happen. See:

... and this Scientific American article entitled "Drowning New Orleans" from October 2001.

Of course one could've imagined that terrorists might hijack a plane and crash it into a major landmark. Intelligence agency reports warned about the risk long before 9/11. See:

This administration is good at anticipating some things that never happen, as Wolfowitz and Cheney predicted that American troops would be greeted as liberators in Iraq.

But when disaster strikes, why, gosh, no one could have predicted that.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Tulane University's postings on Katrina: poignant stuff

Go to and see how that distinguished New Orleans institution is using the Web to communicate with the university community how it is handling the crisis. Obviously Tulane has suspended classes; they've also sent a number of students to a college in Jackson, Mississippi for safe harbor.

The university has repurposed their Web site for communications about the hurricane's aftermath and Tulane operations. The messages are directly from the university president, Scott Cowen.

Cowen's words are not only informative; they tear at your heart as you contemplate what that small slice of the New Orleans community is going through, along with all those who have fled -- as well as those who have not. From Cowen's August 30 posting:

As I suspect you all know, there is no contingency plan that could ever be developed to respond to what the area and the university are experiencing. However, all of us at the university are totally committed to doing whatever it takes to get the university operational as soon as possible. I hope you will be patient and understanding of our situation as we work our way through the complexities.

It is difficult to describe what this situation feels like for those involved. It is surreal and unfathomable; yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our focus is on the light and not the darkness.

Scott Cowen

Click to see full-size screen shot.