Palm is dead.

Palm’s founder Jeff Hawkins unveiled a new device today, and the response has been appropriately underwhelming. The “Foleo” is a $500 companion to your Treo; it pairs therewith and provides a full-size screen and keyboard, plus wifi, but isn’t useful on its own.

TechDirt lays it out:

The unspoken marketing message here is that users need to shell out for the Foleo on top of a Treo because the smartphone doesn’t deliver an acceptable user experience for mobile email. Palm would be far better off improving its outdated smartphones, instead of focusing on creating new (and pointless) product lines, but it’s really beginning to look like that’s asking too much of the company.

We’re pretty sure Palm has basically just announced they’re going under, just kind of subtly and relatively far in advance. So long. It’s been fun.

Dan Dickenson has more spot-on commentary:

Palm is in a desperate fight to stay alive at this point. Palm OS has languished horribly, so much so that when I got my Treo at work last year, the only significant different from the Palm V I had back in 2000 was that the Treo had a color display. Worse, the company doesn’t seem to have anyone focused on application design – the Sidekick thrashes it up and down the street for usability. If a company can’t innovate within their own product line in over 6 years, I can’t find any enthusiasm as they try and invent a new class of devices.

Scary Lede? Scary story.

Sometimes, a lede doesn’t really capture the story, or the truth of the matter, but when the lede is “The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease,” you pretty much know what you’re getting, right?

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will fight to keep meatpackers from testing all their animals for mad cow disease.

The Agriculture Department tests fewer than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. A beef producer in the western state of Kansas, Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone should test its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive tests on their larger herds as well.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

There is, of course, more.

Contractor Diary: First Class Seatmate Edition

For most of the last five or eight weeks, we’ve had sufficient mojo with Continental that our flights have been in First Class. This is good for all sorts of reasons, but the biggest one is the aggregate: it turns 3 hours of discomfort and annoyance into a relatively benign nap-snack-and-cocktail event. Flying still sucks, but the suck is muffled by the increased personal space, free liquor, and somewhat passable food. Also in front, the aforementioned increase in space means that even very, um, girthful companions don’t encroach on your own sovereign zone, so you win again.

Also — and this is the key part — one’s seatmates up front tend to be of a slightly different group than the random mingling of hoi polloi found in coach. It’s not a socioeconomic thing, at least not purely; most First Class fliers didn’t buy First Class tickets. Front cabins are dominated by upgraded frequent fliers who — yes — do tend to have decent jobs, and often wear fancy watches, but the important difference is attitude about flight. We do this a lot. We’re seated quickly, don’t annoy the attendants or each other, etc. In back, you run the risk of chatty Cathy babbling about her first flight, her boyfriend, her grandchildren, her dog, The fucking Secret, or whatever. In front, this usually doesn’t happen. We sit, listen to our iPods, read books, or work on our laptops.

Given all that, then, imagine our shock and horror upon discovering that, on Friday last, our seatmate was (a) dressed like a middle-aged goth pimp, in black denim, a studded belt from Motley Crue’s yard sale, and an 80s-riffic pinstriped shirt and (b) intending to pass his 3 hour flight perusing not one but TWO classy publications: Penthouse and Hustler, which were the only items he carried aboard.

Really? You mean it, Huggy Bear? What the fuck, man?

We’ve got nothing against porn, but Christ Almighty, buddy, there’s a time and a place. Someone could passably read Playboy in public — they have been, at least in years past, one of the great American magazines, and published no end of strong writing. Sure, there are pretty naked girls, but there really ARE articles in there. With PimpMan’s choices, though, no articles were on offer — or, rather, certainly no articles written for or by persons who do not move their lips when they read, or extending beyond a paragraph or two attached to shots of a positively gynecological nature. He made some attempts to shield the magazine from the attendant when she came by — which was often, as there were only 2 rows in First — but when he thought he was “safe,” he was holding them like one might read the Economist.

(He came aboard with a co-worker, who was seated across the aisle. Their conversation dried up once he realized what Pimpy was reading.)

Al Gore Rules

From his Assault on Reason, forthcoming, and excerpted in Time recently:

The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable.

A large and growing number of Americans are asking out loud: “What has happened to our country?” People are trying to figure out what has gone wrong in our democracy, and how we can fix it.

To take another example, for the first time in American history, the Executive Branch of our government has not only condoned but actively promoted the treatment of captives in wartime that clearly involves torture, thus overturning a prohibition established by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

It is too easy–and too partisan–to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America’s public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason–the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power–remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault.

American democracy is now in danger–not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess–an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole.

While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness.

Then, later:

In order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum. We must create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public’s ability to discern the truth. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the rule of reason.


Newsweek is dumb as a sack of hair

Prof. Felton deconstructs their school ratings, which are just about as boneheaded as anything we’ve heard today:

Newsweek has once again issued its list of America’s Best High Schools. They’re using the same goofy formula as before: the number of students from a school who show up for AP or IB exams, divided by the number who graduate. Just showing up for an exam raises your school’s rating; graduating lowers your school’s rating.

Seriously. Read that bold part again. (Emphasis added.)

As before, my hypothetical Monkey High is still the best high school in the universe. Monkey High has a strict admissions policy, allowing only monkeys to enroll. The monkeys are required to attend AP and IB exams; but they learn nothing and thus fail to graduate. Monkey High has an infinite rating on Newsweek’s scale.

What’s worse, they actually EXCLUDE some obviously very good schools because their students score too highly on the SAT:

Also as before, Newsweek excludes selective schools whose students have high SAT scores. Several such schools appear on a special list, with the mind-bending caption “Newsweek excluded these high performers from the list of America’s Best High Schools because so many of their students score well above the average on the SAT and ACT.” Some of these schools were relegated to the same list last year — and still, they’re not even trying to lower their SAT scores!

How to tell if your company is a douchebag

Consumerist lays it out:

  1. Are your most profitable customers those who have the most reason to be dissatisfied with you?
  2. Do you have rules that you want customers to break because doing so generates profits?
  3. Do you make it difficult for customers to understand or abide by your rules, and to you actually help customers break them?
  4. Do you depend on contracts to prevent customers from defecting?

Telcos, we’re looking at you.


Due to our own human fuckery, blogging was not possible on Sunday or Monday. Get over it. We’re back now.

Dept. of TSA Incompetence, Part Six Billion

As we all know, the ID requirement for flight these days is about airline revenue, not security. The airlines had a problem with people selling tickets they couldn’t use, so they wanted to tie tickets to individuals. Putting names on the tickets didn’t work, since any male could fly on one of our tickets, and any female on Mrs Heathen’s. However, after 9/11 they managed to get the Feds to require ID, and the problem was solved.

Sort of. As it turns out — and this should surprise precisely nobody — the new ID requirement is yet another example of the naked emperor. A CBS affiliate in Kansas City set out to see how rigid it is, and were able to get past security with a totally fabricated ID made on a home computer. Nice.

Now, seeing as how this ID thing has nada to do with safety — remember, the 9/11 guys had valid ID — we think it’s pretty funny they’re doing basically nothing to enforce the edict, but if they’re so ineffectual on this, what else are they dropping the ball on?

Oh, wait. We know that answer, too.

What Republicans think

In last night’s debate, Tancredo and Giuliani were applauded when they endorsed waterboarding (Tancredo actually said he was “looking for Jack Bauer”); Romney went on-record seeking an even bigger gulag at Gitmo, apparently without regard for the actual population of Gitmo (i.e., predominately people no American ever saw commit any crime or act of aggression).

And now there’s three

Following Emusic and Apple’s iTunes Music Store, Amazon announced today that they will open a DRM-free online store. EMI is on board, along with literally thousands of other, presumably small, labels. (No other majors are listed in the release.)

Watch the RIAA cringe!

Life in the Future

Frankly, we’ve been waiting for this one. As a kid, after too many episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, we asked our parents how long they thought before prosthetic limbs might impart an athletic advantage. Pure fiction, they told us.

Well, now we have Oscar Pistorius, an amputee sprinter facing challenges from the tnternational track & field governing body over whether his carbon fiber legs do just that.

Since March, Pistorius has delivered startling record performances for disabled athletes at 100 meters (10.91 seconds), 200 meters (21.58 seconds) and 400 meters (46.34 seconds). Those times do not meet Olympic qualifying standards for men, but the Beijing Games are still 15 months away. Already, Pistorius is fast enough that his marks would have won gold medals in equivalent women’s races at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Pistorius’s time of 46.56 in the 400 earned him a second-place finish in March against able-bodied runners at the South African national championships. This seemingly makes him a candidate for the Olympic 4×400-meter relay should South Africa qualify as one of the world’s 16 fastest teams.

Holy Crap!

We said, and many agreed, that we were amazed that Gonzales actually made us miss Ashcroft, but we had no idea how true this was. Check this out:

On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought.

Yeah, that’s right; Ashcroft wouldn’t sign off on the illegal wiretapping that his successor embraced so fully. As Wired puts it: “You know a government surveillance program is getting a tad iffy when John Ashcroft balks at giving it his John Hancock, even just for a while.”


Jerry Falwell is dead. We’re sure it’s awful for his family and loved ones and all, but here at Heathen Central we found the Rev. to be a strikingly divisive character who spent his career misrepresenting Christianity as some sort of faith-based cudgel. America and the world are better off without that brand of pseudo-piety. Do not forget that it was Falwell who said this, in the days after 9/11:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’

More: BoingBoing has a link to a list of some of his other odious quotes, including:

  • “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals”
  • “It appears that America’s anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men’s movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening.”
  • “Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions”

Catching up and Blogging from 30+ kilofeet

Did you notice how lame our press was during the run-up to the Iraq war? Yeah, us to. Fortunately, so did Bill Moyers. His documentary on the subject is viewable online. We don’t think “enjoy” is the right word, but it’s damned well something you all out to watch.

Here’s part of the problem:

Just consider that, as Moyers notes, there has been no examination by any television news network of the role played by the American media in enabling the Bush administration and its warmonger propagandists to disseminate pure falsehoods to the American public. People like Eric Boehlert have written books about it, and Moyers has now produced a comprehensive PBS program documenting it. But the national media outlets themselves have virtually ignored this entire story — arguably the most significant political story of the last decade — because they do not think there is any story here at all.

Homegrown Nutjobs

Sure, the Taliban is scary — and quite far from mainstream Islam — but American Protestantism has its own brand of nutbird frootbat fundamentalism. Check out what Bill Barnwell to say about The Troubling Worldview of the ‘Rapture-Ready’ Christian.

Once you begin thinking of the implications involved, you begin to see why this doctrine is so dangerous to everybody. Dispensationalists seem to have a preoccupation with war. In fact, right now, dispensationalist mega-church pastor John Hagee is preaching that a war with Iran is not only the right thing to do, but is prophetically inevitable. Apparently, Bible prophecy demands a showdown with Iran. You see, if you aren’t on the side of war, then you aren’t on the side of God. Talk of peace now becomes irrelevant. It’s God’s will that we be militarists.


The dispensationalist view of Daniel 9:27 provides some troubling implications as well. They don’t care that tearing down the al-Aqsa mosque would result in a regional war and cause all sorts of global distress. This would not be a bad thing in their minds. They believe that it was all foreordained and is a sign that the end of the world would be soon upon us.

Also, if you buy into these interpretations, talks of peace in the Middle East are futile. Jews and Muslims must continue killing each other at high rates. And who will be the one bringing peace to the Middle East in this popular end-time paradigm? Not Jesus, but the Antichrist. Therefore, talk of Middle East peace during this current “dispensation” is not from Jesus, but the Antichrist. When dispensationalists hear talk of peace summits or treaties in the Middle East, they assume it must have evil origins and be antichristic. If that’s the cause, why bother trying to make the world a better place? All we need to do is be good Christians and wait for our ticket out of this earth and make way for the Antichrist.

Is it a rerun? We can’t tell.

We first encountered the tale of the Cement Cuddlers some years back, and were pretty certain we’d posted about it here, but vigorous grepping suggests not. Enjoy.

I had been thinking for a long time about making cement filled teddy bears. I wasn’t exactly sure why. At first it was just a perceptual curiosity I wanted to experience, and I wanted others to experience. I liked the idea of someone being handed what appeared to be a fluffy stuffed animal, only to have it go tearing through your relaxed fingers like a lead meteor.

The Christmas shopping season seemed an ideal time to get them on the shelves of Los Angeles toy stores, so late in November, members of the Los Angeles Cacophony Society gathered in my backyard to gut several dozen plush toys and replace their innards with Portland’s finest.

We called them, “Cement Cuddlers”.

Click through for the whole story. It’s brilliant.

The HBO Chief Technology Officer is a disingenuous hack

He’s down on the term “Digital Rights Management,” preferring instead “Digital Consumer Enablement” on the theory that if you call it something else, nobody will notice that it sucks:

Digital rights management (DRM) is the wrong term for technology that secures programmers’ content as it moves to new digital platforms says HBO Chief Technology Officer Bob Zitter, since it emphasized restrictions instead of opportunities.

Speaking at a panel session at the NCTA show in Las Vegas Tuesday, Zitter suggested that “DCE,” or Digital Consumer Enablement, would more accurately describe technology that allows consumers “to use content in ways they haven’t before,” such as enjoying TV shows and movies on portable video players like iPods.

Hey Bob? Bullshit. Music is going DRM-free already; it’s only a matter of time before video follows suit. DRM has already failed in software, and will certainly fail with music and video. We suspect you’re more of a numbskull marketing droid than an actual technologist, and that you don’t actually understand what you’re talking about, but that doesn’t excuse the outright dissembling nature of this decidedly Orwellian coinage.

It sort of goes without saying that this was in Florida

Armless Driver Escapes Police:

Michael Francis Wiley of Port Richey, Florida has no arms, only one leg, and is one of the “most accomplished traffic violators” in Pasco County, according to news reports. Yesterday, police chased Wiley, 40, in a “suspcious vehicle” but he managed to outrun them. Wiley steers with his shoulder stumps. A few years ago, he attempted to elude police in a green Corvette speeding along at 120 mph. He has such a terrible record that driving at all is a felony crime.

Part of Wiley’s resume also includes spousal battery and assaulting a state trooper. Without using arms, which he does not have.

Contractor Diary: Telecommunications Edition

Why automatic cell billing is a potentially bad idea
You don’t notice when, after one month of 100% travel, you blow the top out of your cell plan
What do you mean by “blow the top out of”?
$325 instead of $160 for March.
How we noticed.
We really want one of these, but our carrier isn’t carrying it yet. We logged into the site to get their customer service address, and saw what the current bill is.
And that was?
That’s what we said. Among other things. Actually, at first we thought it was some sort of auto-billing failure, and the amount represented several months. No such luck; thanks to the combination of a 100% travel job and some drama on the nonprofit side, we spent some 2900 minutes on the cell last month. Oops.
So what did you do?
Called them and begged for mercy.
How’d they react?
The first-line un-empowered drones were pretty unhelpful; they were willing to credit half the minute overage (i.e., $200 of about $400) on the April bill if we agreed to up the contract, but frankly we wanted more than that.
Why? What are you, some kind of entitlement freak?
In a word, yes. First, it’s absurd that the penalty for going over is so high — Cingular charges 45 cents per minute for any overage, versus less than a dime a minute for our plan minutes. While they clearly need to provide a disincentive for folks to constantly exceed their plan (i.e., for provisioning and bandwidth planning, it’s best to have a good idea how much Joe Blow is going to be on the phone in a given month), they’re just as clearly enjoying the financial ass-rape associated with plan overages. Furthermore, we’ve been with Cingular — nee Houston Cellular — for nearly 13 years, minus a year or two slumming with other carriers. We spend a decent amount a month normally, have two lines with them, and are — crucially, as it turns out — up for renewal now.
Escalation Uber Alles
At the next level, we got a guy who could only repeat the “half of the overage” mantra over and over, and we were about to give up when he mentioned the plan change would likely force a contract renewal. Uh, no thank you. We pushed and pushed, politely, on this point — and mentioned again that, since we’re not on contract now, and since we’re actively shopping for phones, it seems like this would be a great opportunity to reduce that bane of cell carriers, churn. Under no circumstances were we willing to take the coerced contract re-up for only $200. Getting in that situation would make us pretty certain, we noted, to look elsewhere in the coming weeks for our next wireless carrier
Did it work?
Yep. After a few more go-rounds on the party line, the second-level guy went away for a while to talk to his supervisor (as our request; it’s all about the escalation). When he came back, they were offering more than we’d overtly requested: complete April overage refund + a no-new-contract rate plan change.
And so who are you likely to deal with at upgrade time?
Whoever has the Nokia, unless that answer remains “no US carrier”.