Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Four Chord Song

Did you know that "all" the musical pop hits of the last few decades are really the same song with different lyrics? Just listen to the comedy rock band Axis of Awesome preform their Four Chord Song for proof.

(Foul language is used twice back-to-back before the songs start and once more in the last song. Proceed with caution.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maxed Out

Maxed Out is a documentary about the abusive practices of the credit card industry. It was created by James Scurlock.

Dave Ramsey was interviewed for the documentary. I first heard of him through Financial Peace University, his bible-based training in practical finance. Several people I know have taken this course and have nothing but great things to say about it.

Since this documentary was created in 2006, there have been many opportunities for reform. Indeed, there was great victory last year when the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 was passed. There are numerous protections in there that will benefit every one of us. I am glad that we live in a country that is not (completely) corrupt :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Goodbye GOOG-411, Hello BING-411

Google recently announced that its toll-free directory assistance, GOOG-411, would be discontinued on November 12, 2010. This is unfortunate, because I use this service from time to time.

Thankfully though, there are other companies that offer toll-free directory assistance. These include
I will be using BING-411 because it does not make me listen to ads while the other two do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

AT&T's Great Customer Serivce

When I moved to my new apartment this summer, I ordered DSL internet service from AT&T. $15/month gets you 3.0 Mb/s (for a year), which is an amazingly good deal. I ordered this service through their website and signed up to have my bill automatically changed to my credit card.

When I received my most recent bill, it said that I was past due on a payment and changed $0.24 interest. When I called AT&T's customer service, a guy answered and said,
"Hello. My name is ****. My job is to make you a satisfied customer. What can I help you with?"
Wow! I knew at this moment that this was going to go well. I explained to him the situation. He said that their online system does not always initiate the automatic credit card payment system. Then, without me having to ask for anything, he said that he would credit my account $1 and get the automatic credit card payments set up.

What wonderful customer service! I have called AT&T before with a technical problem, but the problem was not resolved so promptly. (The beginning of the conversation went something like this.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Google's Priority Inbox

I use Gmail. It is, by far, the best email service. You literally can't pay (any affordable amount) for better email service.

I would guess that most, maybe 75 - 85%, of my email is worthless. These emails are not spam or junk, they are from real people here at UWM. However, many of these emails are not for me. I am on these lists that send general FYI-type of emails, but there is always the possibility that I need or want to know about something contained in these emails.

The real problem is that these emails get in my way of reading the more important emails that show up less often. My previous solution was to create a special label, which I called "Normal", and set up filters to send these normal emails there, skipping my inbox. This worked pretty well, but it requires effort on my part to set up the filters.

Yesterday, I started using the new beta version of Priority Inbox in Gmail. I have high expectations for its effectiveness, so I hope that I will not be disappointed. I will post again in the future to let you know how well it works.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

US Bank Fail

I previously blogged about my problems with Wells Fargo. Well, for those and other reasons, I have created accounts at US Bank. I have yet to shift over to using US Bank full time (or even at all), but they are already testing my patience.

Since I rarely login to my US Bank account, I could not remember my the answer to one of my security questions. (At least that means it was a good question...even I can't figure it.)

The important text is the following.
Please contact us at 877-202-0043 for assistance.

I called this number, waited for a banker, and then finally got to speak to one. I told them that I was locked out of my account.

Now, try to guess what happened next.

The banker told me:
Ok. Let me forward your call to the department that can help you.

WHAT?!?! Your website knows exactly why I am calling. I should have been given the number that directly allows me to speak with the department that can help me.

US Bank Fail (#1...)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lock Bumping

Lock bumping is an extremely effective lock picking technique for picking a pin tumbler lock, which is (probably) the type of lock on your front door.

The following video will show you how it works.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How To: Windows Maintenance

Many people ask me to "fix" their computer, and I am always willing to do so. It is not that I can preform miracles, I have just learned and memorized the necessary steps. Well today, I am going to share these steps with you.

Many tasks brag about being doable in three steps and this one is no different:
  1. Remove
  2. Clean
  3. Update


Begin by removing anything that is unnecessary. There three areas on which to focus:
  1. Applications
  2. Files
  3. Start-on-boot entries
Uninstall any unused applications. They use disk space, increase your security risk (because they could contain an exploitable flaw), and will slow down the cleaning and updating phases.

Delete unused and unnecessary files. This especially includes temporary internet files. Where temporary internet files are stored varies with the version of Windows. However, (I believe) there is a universal way to delete them in "Internet Options" of the "Control Panel". Also, delete any unneeded/unused icons on your desktop. Having these on your desktop is akin to having a messy room. Similar to applications, unnecessary files use disk space, increase your security risk (because they could contain malware), and will slow down the cleaning and updating phases.

Many application want to start on boot, but the only non-operating system, non-hardware related application that I allow at boot are related to security or file synchronization (by which I mean Dropbox). There are two places in the registry that contain start-on-boot entries. To edit the registry, enter "regedit" at the run dialog, which can be accessed via the keyboard shortcut "Windows-R".
  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER -> Software -> Microsoft -> Windows -> CurrentVersion -> Run*
  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE -> Software -> Microsoft -> Windows -> CurrentVersion -> Run*
("Run*" means any folder beginning with "Run".) You should delete any registry key (which is what the contents of these registry folders are called) of a program that does not need to start on boot. Be especially on the look out for malware that is set to start on boot. How do you know what is malware, what does not need to start at boot, and what does need to start at boot? Google. That is basically how I figured out which keys are necessary, which are malicious, and which are benign. Some programs (most notably in my mind...QuickTime) really want to start on boot but have no reason to do so. If you delete its registry key, it will reappear there (eventually). I know of two solutions for this, but one of them will be discussed in the "clean" phase. The solution from this section is to leave the registry key, but disable it in the "Startup" tab of "msconfig" (which can be accessed via the run dialog). You also need to check the "'Windows/Start button' -> (All) Programs -> Startup" folder because, as its name suggests, also contains start-on-boot entries.


In this phase, we are cleaning and securing your computer of malware. I recommend the following security software:
  1. Anti-virus: AVG
  2. Anti-spyware: Spybot Search & Destroy
  3. Anti-"rest": Malwarebytes
All of these programs have free versions. If you have another anti-virus program (especially one that you paid for), just keep using that one. Otherwise, install the programs that you do not have. Update them. Then, have each one, one at a time, run a full system scan. Remove any problems that they find.

Spybot Search & Destroy also has two other important features. It has an "immunize" feature by which it secures your browsers in many ways. You have to immunize after each update. The other feature monitors registry changes. This is the other way to prevent programs from recreating their start-on-boot entry in the registry. Spybot notifies you if a registry change is requested. If it is a program wanting to recreate its start-on-boot registry entry, then you check "Remember" and click "Deny".


Now that your computer is quick and clean, we need to keep it that way. Update all the programs that can be updated. We updated the security software in the previous section, so they should already be at their newest versions.

The two most important programs to update are Windows and your browser. Internet Explorer updates are found with Windows updates. Firefox and Chrome have menu entries where you can trigger a update process.

Other common programs that can be updated are
  1. Adobe PDF Reader,
  2. Apple Software (such as iTunes and QuickTime), and
  3. Java.


I am sure that you are happy that your computer is now malware free. Did you know that I am also happy? Sure, I am happy because you are happy, but I am also happy because there is one less computer ruining the internet. Computers with malware are responsible for all of the bad things that happen on the internet, including identity theft, spam email, and DDoS attacks. Thanks for taking the time to make the internet a better place.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back to School

The University of Wisconsin-Madison finally started school on Thursday of this week (which was yesterday). I assume that almost everyone else has already started.

I am starting my second year as a Ph.D. student, which means that I am in 18th grade! lol

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Problems Traveling

I have only been on three trips requiring plane flights and they all happened within the last 13 months. I have heard horror stories about flying (i.e. delayed/canceled flights or long security lines) and now I have such a story.

Yesterday I got back from my second trip this summer to Princeton University. My flight from Madison (MSN) to Newark International Airport (EWR) took me through Milwaukee (MKE).

My flight from MKE to EWR was delayed by an hour because there was too much air traffic at EWR. This did not actually slow me down any because I was going to have to wait an hour for the train from EWR to Princeton...although I made it to the train without a minute to spare!

My flight from MKE to MSN was canceled due to mechanical failure (better on the ground than in the air, huh?). Actually, it was probably not our plane with the mechanical problem. I am guessing that another flight took our plane because their designation was much further away. Since MKE is so close to MSN, we were bussed there. Because of this, my number of actual plane flights is odd. That is probably quite unique given that I have only ever purchased round-trip tickets.

Friday, August 27, 2010

God's Number is 20

About a month ago (in July 2010), four people collaborated with Goolge to determine the fewest number of moves to solve the Rubic's Cube. God, being omniscience, already knew this. Thus the number of moves that He needs to solve the Rubic's Cube is at most 20.

Personally, I find it rather odd that this number is called God's number and that the algorithm used is called God's algorithm. It is just another way of saying that this is the optimal solution. In computer science, we talk about optimal solutions all the time (at least up to constant factors), but we never use this term.

(All I am saying is that) this is just the only use of the phrase as far as I know. Oh well.

God's Number is 20

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Parking Contradiction

I saw these signs in a parking lot on my way to school this week.

"A strange game this parking is. The only winning move is not to play."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 7): Best of the Web

Today is my last "Ode to TED" day. I am sure that I will post more TED videos in the future because they are so good.

On this final day, we are going to watch a video from TED that is not by TED. TED has a "Best of the Web" section and today's video is certainly deserving of that title. It is about how all of life is becoming a game because of pervasive technology.

NOTE: This video has a few uses of strong language. I give it a PG-13 rating (to be safe).

DICE 2010: "Design Outside the Box" Presentation (DICE link)

(Sorry that this video goes over my side menu bar.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 6): Siftables

Welcome to the penultimate "Ode to TED" day.

Siftables are an ingenious invention with amazing possibilities. My favorite part is the lack of need to explain the interface. Even though people have never seen them before, they will either know what to do from the beginning or have fun trying to figure it out. This is also one of Shannon's favorite TED videos.

TED2009: David Merrill demos Siftables (TED link)

(The length of this video is 7:12.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 5): Laws that Choke Creativity

Welcome to "Ode to TED" day 5.

Larry Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and a champion for the rights of the little guy in today's digital world. For example, he is one of the founder of the Creative Commons, one of the best solutions to content management in the internet age. It is the Creative Commons with circumscribed "CC" logo that Lessig refrains from specifically discussing towards the end of his talk.

I was first introduce to Lessig and his views my sophomore year of college in Philosophy of Technology (Phil 343). Our text book was Lessig's Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0. Among other many other things, Lessig did a great job explaining why our digital age has created such tension among society, copyright holders, and the law.

TED2007: Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity (TED link)

(The length of this video is 18:59.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 4): Institutions vs. Collaboration

Yay, day 4 is actually happening directly after day 3!

This video is about something about which I am very passionate. It is about how the internet is able to bring people together to work toward a common goal. So... watch, learn, and hopefully, join a group online and contribute to something bigger than yourself in a way that was not previously possible.

TEDGlobal 2005: Clay Shirky on institutions vs. collaboration (TED link)

(The length of this video is 20:49.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 3): Classical Music

Ok, so this is my blog and I decide when a day is an "Ode to TED" day. Well, today is "Ode to TED" day 3.

This video is the most enjoyable TED video that I have every seen. Sure, I still learned a lot from it, but I don't think that is the point. Watch for yourself and see what you think.

TED2008: Benjamin Zander on music and passion (TED link)

(The length of this video is 20:46.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 2): Choice

Oh, no. Yesterday, I completely forgot to continue my Ode to TED week. Well, today shall be "Day 2".

Today's TED video is also one of the most popular of all time. It is about the negative aspects of choice.

TEDGlobal 2005: Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice (TED link)

I am making today a double feature! I just watched a new TED video that is also about the negative aspects of choice, but from a slightly different perspective.

TEDGlobal 2010: Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing (TED link)

(Sorry that the embedded video is too large. I had no "choice". FYI, the video length is 24:09. You can also watch this video from TED's site where it will not be cut off.)

I was reading some of the comments about the second video. One person had this to say:
Apple limits choice because they know too many choices confuse buyers and increase chance for buyers remorse - thus, they only offer a few products in each line that are clearly distinguishable. Other tech companies like LG, Samsung, and HP produce so much variety that they have almost no solidified brand reputation.

~Ari Melman

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ode to TED (Day 1): Hans Rosling

TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences curated by the American private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading" (Wikipedia: TED (conference)). Basically, TED has some of the most fascinating videos on the web. This week-long "ode to TED" will introduce you to some of my favorite TED videos.

Hans Rosling is a Swedish professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute, one of Europe's largest medical universities. In 2006, he gave one of the most popular TED talks of all time. The talk is about the misconception of "First World vs Developing World" and uses the most amazing data visualization that I have ever seen.

TED2006: Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen (TED link)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Software Recommendation: MobaXterm

If you are ever in Windows without install rights and need a Unix terminal with an X server, then I recommend MobaXterm.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Google 411

UPDATE: Google discontinued this service. Apparently the purpose of this service was to collect many examples of people talking to help improve their voice recognition software.

Google's 411 telephone service, known as GOOG-411, is extremely helpful. I use it often to find either find a business in the first place or to find the address or phone number of a business.

It is not always perfect. For example, my family is in Rochester, MN for my dad's surgery. When we were trying to figure out how to order pizza from Zadeos Pizza. According to GOOG-411, the two results for "Zadeos Pizza" in Rochester, MN are:
  1. Zadeos Pizza, 303 Elton Hills Drive Northwest, (507) 281-1330
  2. Zadeos Pizza North, 3120 Wellner Drive Northeast, (507) 281-1330
(The links are to the online version of the GOOG-411 search results.)

Two things about this seem off. First, the phone number for both results are the same (but the addresses are different) and the naming structure is not parallel. The naming structure would be "parallel" if there were both "Zadeos Pizza" or if second result was named "Zadeos Pizza [direction]".

The correct answer is that the first result should be
Zadeos Pizza South, 1021 15th Ave Southeast, (507) 282-5898.
The worst part about all of this is that I do not know how to inform Google about their mistake. According to this GOOG-411 page, the GOOG-411 results come from Google Maps. However, this also seems incorrect because the Google Maps search results for "Zadeos Pizza" in Rochester, MN is has both of the two correct results as well as the incorrect GOOG-411 result.

I was able to use the "report a problem" link to inform Google about the mistake in Google Maps, but GOOG-411 does not have a "report a problem" link. I figure that either this link is missing on accident, or Google decided that GOOG-411 does not deserve its own "report a problem" link since it is really just a different front end to Google Maps.

I think my pesudo-bug report here proves that GOOG-411 needs its own "report a problem" link. Let's go Google. Help me (and and your other passionate users) help you by adding a "report a problem" link for your GOOG-411 service.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Blue Gold: World Water Wars is a documentary about the increasing scarcity of drinking water. I tried to avoid using bottled water even before watching this. One think that I learned from this film is how "bad" bottled water really is.

There are several ways to obtain this film from its website. However, my preferred method is via bittorrent, accompanied by a donation. And don't worry. Sam Bozzo, the maker of this film, supports this method as well.

I prefer this for two reasons. The version downloaded via bittorrent has no restrictions; you can watch it when you want and how you want. Also, donating directly to the film gives them a much larger percentage of your money.

Here is a trailer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Copyright Education: A FedEx Kinko's Case Study

Wake up class. It is time for some more copyright education.

Does everyone remember our previous lesson? It was about a KODAK photo printing kiosk that I found in a Target store. This time, our case study is from a FedEx Kinko printing store where Shannon was printing some resumes. Reviewing the KODAK case study will help significantly in today's case study.

Ok class. Let's begin.

This notice is next to a computer.

Copyright Law Notice:
The Copyright Law of the U.S. (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of reproductions of copyrighted works. A computer program or software protected by copyright may not be copied without the authorization of the copyright owner, except that a copy may be made in accordance with §117 of the Copyright Law for backup purposes for protection in the event that the original software malfunctions. FedEx Kinko's Office and Printing Services, Inc. does not authorize the use for this computer of the reproduction of copyrighted software other than allowed under §117. The person using this machine is responsible for and would be liable for any infringement. Our primary objective is to take care of your needs. We sincerely appreciate your understanding and cooperation in complying with the FedEx Kinko's copying policy.
Who can spot the first sentence with a false statement? Well, it is the second sentence.
A computer program or software protected by copyright may not be copied without the authorization of the copyright owner, except that a copy may be made in accordance with §117 of the Copyright Law for backup purposes for protection in the event that the original software malfunctions.
Like last time, copying software can be legal by fair use. Specifically, the two (court approved) fair uses are
  • modification of copyright software for personal use (Galoob v. Nintendo) and
  • making copies in the course of is a fair use, when it is the only way to get access to the "ideas and functional elements" in the copyrighted code, and when "there is a legitimate reason for seeking such access" (Sega v. Accolade).
The second reason that the sentence is wrong is similar to last time. Even if the copyright owner does not "authorize" the copying of their software, it is still legal to do so if the copyright of the software says that it is legal to copy the software. The most popular software copyright with this property is the GPL.

You might be wondering, "why would the copyright owner copyright their software under a copyright like the GPL if they do not authorize copying?" The easiest explanation for this is that the copyright owner changed their mind, such as when the copyright is sold to another party.

There are no more factual errors in this copyright notice, but there is an interesting contradiction yet to be discussed.
FedEx Kinko's Office and Printing Services, Inc. does not authorize the use for this computer of the reproduction of copyrighted software other than allowed under §117. ... Our primary objective is to take care of your needs.
If the "primary objective" of FedEx Kinko is to serve their customers, then they would allow there customers to do any legal activities (such as copying GPL'ed software or copying any software for fair use).

This sign was next to a location where someone would connect a laptop.

The Copyright Law:
The Copyright Law of the U.S. (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of reproductions of copyrighted works.

The Person using the reproduction equipment is liable for any infringement.

For more information on the laws regarding copyrights contact the United States Copyright Office at 202.707.3000.

The FedEx Kinko's policy requires written permission from the copyright holder in order to reproduce any copyrighted works.

Our primary objective is to take care of your needs. We sincerely appreciate your understanding and cooperation in complying with the FedEx Kinko's copying policy. Thank you for your business.

Please see a FedEx Kinko's team member to obtain a Copyright Permission Request form.
It is the prerogative of FedEx Kinko to stipulate what services the do and do not offer, but their "primary objective" is certainly not "taking care of your needs" if they burden you by requiring you to go above and beyond what is required by law in order to create a legal reproduction of a copyrighted work.

With such taxing requirements to carrying out a legal activity, it is clear that FedEx Kinko is "primarily" concerned for copyright holders and only secondarily concerned for their customers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another Wells Fargo Secret about Cash Advances

I previously revealed a secret about Wells Fargo's overdraft protection. The crux of the secret is that any transfer from a credit card to savings or checking account is called a "cash advance" and costs an extremely high interest rate. Well, here is something else that everyone should now about cash advances at Wells Fargo.

Like the story of my previously revealed secret, this one starts with a mistake of my own. After being paid today, I initiated a transfer of funds to begin the bill pay process. I meant to transfer all of the money that I would need to pay off my credit card and other bills to my checking account (from my savings account). Instead, I transferred all of this money to my credit card.

"Well crap," I thought, but this should not be a big deal. I should be able to cancel the transaction because it is only pending; it has not actually happened yet. No dice. Not me nor "anyone" at Wells Fargo can do anything for me until the transaction has "posted" (according to a Wells Fargo customer service agent). Ok, time for plan B. Since my credit card balance is negative, I should be able to transfer that "negative" money to my checking account without the penalties associated with a cash advance because I am not advancing any cash. I only want to advance cash that already exists...no advancing going on...right? NO, NOT RIGHT!!!!
I am very unhappy with Wells Fargo at this point. I even have another story in the queue that I am refraining from telling until I know how it will end! In the span of four months, I have had four "issues" with Wells Fargo. This is completely unacceptable. How can Wells Fargo expect to keep my business if they keep giving me a reason to leave every month?!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Church Volunteer

I was a volunteer in church today partly because I sat in the front row and partly because the pastor has spoken to me before and thought that I would do a good job.

I uploaded the section of the sermon in which I am volunteering to YouTube (see below). Pastor Tim did not tell me what I would be doing for him, so all of my actions are solely based on his verbal cues. If you listen closely, when he tells me that I am going to be Jesus, you can hear me respond with "That's a good role."

If you want to see the whole service, you can find it at the website of Blackhawk Church. The sermon is called "Forgiving Myself" and is in the series called "Forgiveness".

Anyway, here it is...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Open Letter to Verizon, AT&T, etc.

Dear Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and other cellular phone companies,

Is it really necessary for our government to make a law that early termination fees (ETFs) should prorate to $0 by the end of the contract?


Tyson Diddley

Further reading

Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting a Passport Book

I applied for a passport book today. Although it was not that difficult to figure out what I needed to do, it was difficult enough to warrant a summary of my own.

Before I get started, did you notice how I said "passport book" instead of just "passport"? That is because there is also something called a passport card. A passport book allows you to do everything that a passport card can do and more. The main benefit of a passport card is that it is cheaper. There are some other differences as well.

My instructions apply for
  • a native born US citizen that is
  • at least 18 years old and
  • applying for a passport (book) for the first time.
What to bring:
  1. All pages of the form on this page with the last two pages filled out.
  2. A certified birth certificate (where "certified" means that it has a raised seal). Note that it does not have to be the original. They will keep your birth certificate and mail it to you with your passport book.
  3. A driver's license.
  4. A photocopy of the front side of your driver's license on one page and a photocopy of the back side of your driver's license on a second page. If this is too difficult, they can (probably) make these copies for you where you apply. They did where I applied.
  5. Two recent pictures of yourself that satisfy many requirements (see step 6) or just apply at a location that can take your picture for you (see below).
  6. The ability to pay a $75 application fee (via check or debit card) and a $25 execution fee (via check, debit card, or credit card).
Finally, bring these materials to an "acceptance facility", which is otherwise known as "a place to apply for a passport". I recommend that you find an acceptance facility that can take your picture "on-site" since their requirements on the pictures are so strict.

See you abroad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls

On Tuesday, Shannon and I went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Their version of the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit only lasts until June 6th.

At the beginning of the exhibit, there were many artifacts, including pots, coins, (chest) ossuaries, medical tools, makeup tools, oil lamps, and probably some more things that I am forgetting. My favorite were the coins (because there were probably the type of shekel mentioned in the Bible) and a particular ossuary. The display said that the ossuary probably belonged to Alexander Son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus. Upon reading Wikipedia about Simon of Cyrene, it says
A burial cave in Kidron Valley discovered in 1941, belonging to Cyrenian Jews and dating before AD 70, was found to have an ossuary inscribed twice in Greek "Alexander Son of Simon." It cannot, however, be certain that this refers to the same person.
There was also a model of Jerusalem accompanied by a few aerial photographs.

After a few displays about finding the scrolls, we got to see a facsimile of the of the Great Isaiah Scroll. Created circa 100BC, it predates the previous oldest copy of Isaish by 1000 years. Finally, the next room contained actual dead sea scrolls. They were pieces ranging in size from a softball to a fingernail and set between glass. After this room, there were a couple more hallways with other examples of old copies of the Bible.

The model of Jerusalem reminded me of a thought that I have had before. I think that people should make famous buildings, such as the temple at Jerusalem, into virtual worlds (not unlike World of Warcraft or Second Life) that can be explored via computer. What better way to learn what the temple looked like than to explore it?!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Thought about Colors

Colors are full of themselves.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Love Madison 2010

In Madison, I attend Blackhawk Church. Not last weekend, but two weekends ago (the weekend of Sunday May 2nd), Blackhawk had their second annual church "service" called Love Madison. Instead of having a traditional church service (in a building, singing songs, praying, listening to a sermon), about 2,700 of us went out into the community and volunteered our time in many, many different ways. I am told that there were over 100 service projects.

My project involved removing invasive species (Buckthorn and Garlic Mustard) along a trail in Verona, a city 20 minutes southwest of Madison. We had about 25 people in our group. The job was supposed to last four hours, but we worked so quickly that we got done an hour early.

Here are some action shots:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So much for Protecting My Identity

A few months ago, I wrote about how I created a second checking account to use for online purchases from websites that I did not completely trust with my (sole) credit card information. The idea is to keep this account empty at all times unless I am going to make an online purchase from a shady site.

Well...I do not make online purchases that often, especially from websites that I do not trust. So today, Wells Fargo decided to close my second checking account because it was inactive and without a balance.

Do you see the irony?

Now I have to waste my time to create the account again (and get a straight answer the conditions under which an account is automatically closed). The whole point of getting this account was to save me the time and money involved with the theft of my identity. Of course I would rather have an account mistakenly closed than have my identity stolen, but I am not happy that this is costing me time when the whole point is that it is supposed to be saving it.

When I opened this account, the Wells Fargo employee told me that I had to transfer $100 into the account, but also said that I could transfer it back right away. No one ever told me that I needed to do anything to keep the account from automatically closing.

This is not the first time that Wells Fargo has neglected to give me all the pertinent information. Do I have any hope that it will be the last?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Different Beliefs

People who know me would say that I like to argue. I think that "argue" has such a negative connotation. I prefer either "debate" (which sounds formal) or "discuss" (which sounds informal). When having a discussion, the ultimate goal is to convince others that your beliefs are correct and that they should have the same beliefs. However, there is a much is much easier goal to achieve that is also worth the effort.

Everyone knows what are the two most controversial topics: religion and politics. I enjoying having discussions on both topics and I hope that my thoughts below will help you to enjoy them (or at least not hate and avoid them).

If you want to convince someone else of your beliefs, it is probably necessary for this person to also understand your beliefs. More specifically, this person needs to know why you believe the way you do. Based on this observation, I find it productive to understand why others have the beliefs that they do. This does not need to involve any changes in my beliefs. In return, people are likely to reciprocate and try to understand why I have my beliefs. This puts them one step closer to believing the why that I do, but obtaining this goal has another benefit as well. If you know why people have their beliefs, then you can better formulate an argument that will be convincing to them.

At this point, I would love to give an example of a discussion that I have had where the conversation not only ended with everyone retaining their original beliefs but also with everyone understanding why others had their beliefs. Unfortunately, I do not have an good example that I feel completely comfortable sharing online. If you think you have a good example, please share it in the comments.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Favorite Season

My favorite season is summer. I enjoy wearing less clothes (does that sound bad?) and I would rather be too hot than too cold.

Shannon's favorite season is fall, which is part of the reason that we are getting married in October. Now, you do not have to agree with your spouse about everything. For example, my favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate, Shannon very much dislikes chocolate, and I have no plans on changing my favorite flavor of ice cream.

However, I have decided that I would be willing to change my favorite season from summer to not winter. Why? Because I am so elated winter is over and spring has begin (not officially, but actual weather wise).

I only know of one plus that winter has over the other seasons. In winter, no thought is needed about what coat to wear (if any). Everyday, you wear your winter coat...no questions asked. Yesterday, in my blinded love of spring's arrival, I left without a coat and had to walk in the rain twice. At least rain drops are not painful like the bitter cold is.

Monday, April 5, 2010


In the university community, we have our fair share of skateboarders. Whenever I walk past them, I always enjoy watching them attempting to do a trick. Do you know what I (almost) always see?...They don't land the trick. I would say that I only see a trick landed no more than 10% of the time. To me, that says that these skateboarders should do easier tricks. I mean, how could you possibly enjoy doing something like that when you fail so often?

If you are a skateboarder, please respond with your thoughts :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thoughts on my Safety

Last weekend, Shannon and I went to a pre-marriage retreat. It was not the most fun I have ever had, but here is something funny that came out of it.

While doing an activity to access the amount of genuineness in our relationship, I was asked to respond the following statement with a "Yes", "No", or "?":
My partner makes me feel safer with him/her than with any other person.
My first thought was about my physical safety, so my response was "No"...I feel equally safe with almost all people. Later that day, we were joking about my response and only remembered the beginning of the statement:
My partner makes me feel safer...
Then I thought that my answer should be "Yes". Assume that someone was shooting at me. If Shannon is with me, then there is a small (very small ;) ) chance that a bullet would hit her instead of me.

But that thought was followed by another. If someone is shooting at us, then I am in more danger because I will be putting myself in the line of fire so that I get shot instead of Shannon.

Therefore, I concluded that "my partner does not make me feel safer with her than with any other person" because when I am with her, I am responsible for her safety and my own.

...married life is going to be dangerous :(

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Update to Previous Firefox Post

Thirteen months ago, I wrote a blog post in which I said that I wanted a plugin for Firefox that would clear my cookies (and all other history related material) accept for site preferences.

Well I am happy to say that Firefox 3.5 has this feature by default. I am not sure if this was the first version of Firefox to have this feature because I have not been paying close attention. Also, I have known that Firefox 3.5 has had this feature for a least a few months now but am finally getting around to bloging about it. In fact, the newest version of Firefox is already 3.6.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Protocol with Police Car

Did you ever notice that whether a cop wants to pass you or stop you, your response in both situations is the same?
  1. Slow down,
  2. Pull over, and
  3. Stop.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Recent History and Near Future of Wikileaks

Wikileaks is a website that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents, while attempting to preserve the anonymity and untraceability of its contributors (Wikipedia: Wikileaks).

Recently, Wikileaks has announced that it needs money before it can continue publishing leaked content, so it is asking for donations. They have raised $130,000 but need $200,000 for operational costs and another $400,000 if the staff are going to get paid.

In the near future, Wikileaks could become more powerful than it already is. First, Iceland is considering passing a collection of laws which will make it an ideal location for Wikileaks to call their home. Second, the video in the previous link has someone from Wikileaks talking about an idea for them to generate their own revenue. Instead of publishing leaked content immediately on their website, Wikileaks will sell the "first rights" to a traditional news company. This company will get to see the leak content first in order to write the first story about it. When that story is published (or maybe shortly after), Wikileaks will make the leaked content available on their website.

I think that this sounds like a great idea. It provides news outlets with good content and stories, generates revenue for Wikileaks, and maintains the confidence of whistle blowers that their identities will remain anonymous.

I would like to wish the best of luck to Wikileaks as they start this next phase.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wells Fargo's Secret about Overdraft Protection

Now that I have bills to pay, two things have happened. First, I started using Wells Fargo's online banking's bill pay feature. Second, I wrote a check for more money than I had in my checking account. Oops. I had the money, it was just in my savings account. I forgot to check the amount of money in my checking account.

Anyway, let me show you what Wells Fargo has to say about "What is the fee for using Overdraft Protection" (and I use my credit card, so I will only show that portion):
When there are insufficient funds in your account to cover a check, withdrawal, or automatic payment that you have authorized, and you have Overdraft Protection, we pay the Item and charge you an overdraft protection transfer/advance fee.

One overdraft protection advance fee will be assessed each day your credit card provides Overdraft Protection, regardless of the number of items that post to the account. The fee is dependent on the total amount of the advance:
  • $10 if the total of Overdraft Protection advances for the day is less than $25.00.

  • $12.50 if the total of Overdraft Protection advances for the day is $25.01 - $100.00.

  • $15.00 if the total of Overdraft Protection advances for the day is $100.01 - $500.00.

  • $20.00 if the total of Overdraft Protection advances for the day is more than $500.00.
We will transfer the exact dollar amount to cover the overdraft, subject to a minimum Overdraft Protection advance amount of $25.00. If the amount of available credit on your Card is less than $25.00, we will transfer the amount of the available credit.
In my situation, I was short about $12 and had plenty of credit. How much should I have been charged?

Now guess how much I was actually charged?

Wells Fargo charged me $10.28. What Wells Fargo never told me about overdraft protection is that they charge me interest when they loan me my own credit and that interest starts accumulating immediately. What a scam! If I pay with my credit card directly, I do not have to pay interest for about 30 days. Since I did not pay off any of my credit card charges until the normal due date about 14 days later, I accumulated 28 cents interest on the $10 that I owed Wells Fargo.

No one at Wells Fargo never told me about this. All they ever say about overdraft protection is "it is a free service that will only cost you a once-a-day fee when you use it". Then, if you read this amazing story, you will start to think that the workings of overdraft protection are a secret even to Wells Fargo (or at least those that interact with customers).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

China's Deception

China: Chinese people fully enjoy the freedom of speech...

Tyson: Wait...excuse me, China...is that really true?

China: No, because you didn't let me finish my sentence.

Tyson: Oh, sorry. Please continue.

China: Chinese people fully enjoy the freedom of speech and have immediate access to adequate information in accordance with law.

Tyson: Are you finished? Is that the whole sentence?

China: Yes, basically.

Tyson: Oh, I see. So the Chinese people don't actually have any free speech then because you have a law that essentially says "no one can say anything unless we approve of it", correct?

China: Well, yes...but that does not sound as good as the way we stated it.

Tyson: Right...

(Source: ars technica on China, US vie for mantle of world's biggest hacking victim)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy is Almost a Dictator

While reading this ars technica story about Italy wanting to bring the effective banhammar on user generated content websites, I read the following paragraph:
As PBS show Wide Angle pointed out way back in 2003, "It is difficult to overstate the influence [Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi has on everyday Italian life. Besides running the country, he also enjoys direct and indirect control over 90 percent of national television, he has built up Italy's biggest publishing house, controls its biggest film distribution network, and has major interests in the financial services and real estate sectors."
This guy is everything but "The Dictator of Italy".

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Geek Speak

Philip Guo is a Ph.D. student in computer Science at Stanford University (which is one of the best CS graduate schools in the nation). Even though he is probably a geek, he was able to explain why geeks (of which I am one) have so much difficulty conversing with non-geeks.

Read his blog post called "Geek behaviors present during conversations" to understand why you don't like talking to me :(

Monday, January 25, 2010

Participating in Government

I did something today that I have never done before. I sent a letter to my (Iowa) senator, Tom Harkin. The letter I wrote, which can be found below, was about the Open Textbook Act of 2009.

In this context, "open" means that the content in the textbooks is free (...well, it means more than that). Thus, the cost of a physical textbook would only come from the process of printing and shipping the book. For an electronic book (an ebook), it would be free! For colleges, that means that college students much less for physical textbooks for nothing for ebooks. For K-12 schools, it means the the school district would have thousands of dollars a year!
Hello Senator Harkin,

As an Iowan, recent alumni of Iowa State University, and advocate of open culture, I would like to say that you should support the Open College Textbook Act of 2009. You have great influence over this bill because it is currently in your US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Please give this bill more attention so that it can reach the senate floor. This type of bill is very innovative and too good to simply let it "die" in committee.

Thank your for your service in the US Senate and reading my letter.

~Tyson Williams

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second Checking Account to Prevent Identity Theft

After talking to Wellsfargo about another issue, the banker recommend that I create a second checking account solely to make online purchases.

The balance of this secondary checking account will almost always be $0. When I want to buy something online, I transfer money (using online banking) into the account and make the purchase. If my information for this account is stolen, then I will make a fraud claim. While Wellsfargo investigates, this account will be frozen. But since I only use this account for online purchases, it will not disrupt my life...I still have access to my credit card (which I use for purchases in real life), my savings account (which contains most of my money), and my main checking account (which I use to pay bills). After Wellsfargo determines that I was not responsible for the fraudulent purchase, I will get back any stolen money and not be charged any overdraft fees.

Because the fraud risk associated with this account is so low, I thought of another benefit of a secondary checking account. I often purchase products from Google (i.e Google Checkout), Amazon, Barns and Nobel, and Newegg. Each site recommends that I save my card information with them so that it will be easier to make purchases in the future. Normally this is a bad idea since it is just one more way that your card information could be stolen. Now I will be less risk averse and choose to store my secondary checking account information with these sites.

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Internet Remix Culture

I previously spoke about the Internet remix culture twice (here and here). Now I remembered something that a friend of mine created.

YTMND - Davy Jones wants the coin

My favorite part is the music...I loved playing games in the Donkey Kong series.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brian Williams on Mark McGwire

On January 11th, Brian Williams opened the nightly news in the following way:

Brian was later interviewed on the Dan Patrick [Radio] Show to explain his choice of words that night.

I agree with Dan that the news should be presented from a neutral point of view and that Brian did not do that with this story.

My question to Brian is:
What did you actually want to say?