You may want to check those figures, Howie

Via John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, we find this amusing story, wherein Sony CEO Howard Stringer contrasts Apple and Sony: “Apple is a marvelous company, but it is a boutique. We are a giant conglomerate.”

Well, maybe so, but here’s Gruber’s take:

As for just how giant, Sony’s current market cap is about $44 billion. The boutique’s market cap is about three times larger, at $149 billion. In terms of net income for the most recently reported financial year, Sony’s was $3.7 billion; Apple’s was $3.5 billion.

Heh.

LA LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU

TPM:

The Bush Administration’s newest tactic for policymaking is to ignore emails.

The New York Times reports today that White House officials simply refused to open an email from the EPA last year because they knew it contained a policy recommendation they didn’t like — part of the Administration’s on-going battle with scientists at the EPA over global warming issues.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

These clowns can’t be out of office soon enough. The damage they’ve done to our country will take a generation to repair.

Today’s Mistargeted Spam

From: (forged)
Subject: Get your watch now
Date: June 26, 2008 5:54:24 PM CDT
To: Chief Heathen

Did you watch the last 007 flick, Casino Royale? If you did, you probably noticed that all throughout the movie, James Bond wears an spectacularly beautiful Omega watch… and he even brags about it! How would you like to be wearing that same exact model watch?

What, you mean like this?

Delightful

Rightwing fruitcake fundie James Dobson is upset that Obama knows the Bible is a poor choice for a governing document.

In comments aired on his radio show Tuesday, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson criticized the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for comments he made in a June 2006 speech to the liberal Christian group Call to Renewal.

In the speech, Obama suggested that it would be impractical to govern based solely on the word of the Bible, noting that some passages suggest slavery is permissible and eating shellfish is disgraceful.

“Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy?” Obama asked in the speech. “Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?

“So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bible now,” Obama said, to cheers. “Folks haven’t been reading their Bible.”

and

Dobson also takes aim at Obama for suggesting in the speech that those motivated by religion should attempt to appeal to broader segments of the population by not just framing their arguments around religious precepts.

“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values,” Obama said. “It requires their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.”

Keep digging, Jimmy. Keep digging.

Marriott Redux

The designers are clearly on crack, but the staff isn’t.

The bad news, then, is that I have to put pants on. But the good news is that my pants-wearing is so the hotel staff can bring me another TV, and a piece of furniture to put it on, so that the hotel room works like every other hotel room in America.

Wacky.

Buh-bye, GM

This story makes the case for ditching General Motors from the Dow Jones Industrial Average given its poor performance lately (the stock’s at a 33-year low). GM’s market cap — the value of the firm, arrived by by the markets by multiplying the number of shares by the share price — is down to a paltry $7.5 billion (lower than Ford, which is about $11.9 billion). GM’s sales will be about $179 billion this year, but they just don’t make money on all that income, which hurts the stock.

For the sake of comparison, non-Dow member company Apple Computer has a market cap of about 20 times that (about $153 billion, with revenues of $40 billion and, you know, persistent profits out the wazoo). Cisco has similar numbers.

How To Tell If You’re An Idiot

You work for Marriott, and you design a hotel room layout where the television isn’t clearly viewable from the bed.

Front Desk: “It’s designed to be viewed from the couch.”

Heathen: “Do the people who design your hotels ever stay in hotels?”

Front Desk: “I don’t know, sir, but I’m getting this a lot, so I’m starting to think no.”

Time to cross the Courtyards off the list, methinks.

“Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits.”

Frankly, it hurts my feelings that the last president George Carlin saw was this goatfucking puritan in the pocket of the sort of right-wing moralist dirtbags that he’s spent his career lampooning.

John Scalzi, as always, has more. Mr Bosch is poetic as usual. I still remember borrowing “A Place For My Stuff” on cassette from my friend Jeff in about 1982, sneaking it home in my backpack, and listening to it in my room on headphones. Carlin’s delivery and word choice (blue or not) was a revelation, and no doubt still influences what I find funny. We are poorer without him, and with him we lose the last of the three giants of standup: Bruce, Pryor, and Carlin.

Here’s a live performance of Stuff from 1986, and no online encomium (however brief) would be complete without this late version of 7 Words, or this.

Ooops

Ten years ago, we all talked about putting Java in everything, even coffeepots, and having them on a household network for whatever reason. The Java part didn’t take, but now more and more household items are getting network capabilities — including, inevitably, coffee machines.

It turns out that such devices are really no different than anything else you put on your network, and that if you’re not careful, people will hack your coffeemaker.

Joys of Homeownership

Mrs Heathen and I have spent the last several months addressing our failures as homeowners, i.e., our sudden realization that we were Those People who have a jungle for a backyard, a persistent A/C drip, unwelcome growth in the gutters, etc. As it turns out, “every 8 years” is probably not a good interval for home maintenance. In any case, think on this before you buy.

Today marks the end of Phase I, which included:

  • Backyard clearing; this was complicated by a period of benign neglect as well as the discovery, during clearing, of previously unknown precolumbian tribes living in the underbrush. Unspoiled and noble, they’re now being studied by some anthropologists at HCC while I, of course, took their land. Hey, I bought it fair and square. Cost: $400, which is still less than paying someone $25 a week to mow it.

  • Despite my best efforts with bleach and a snake, convincing the backup A/C condensation line to stop dripping on the side of the HQ required the attentions of a professional. In his visit, though, he inspected the balance of the cooling system and pronounced it ship-shape. Drip resolved. Cost: $130, or a solid bargain in my eyes — A/C guys won’t come in the house for less than a C-note.

  • Gutter-cleaning. This sounds trivial, but as Heathen Central is nearly 4 stories tall at that point, there’s no way in hell Chief Heathen’s going up there. Cost: $280. They also put an extension on the aforementioned backup condensation line, though, so that future drips won’t hit the side of the house on the way down.

  • General roof-inspection. When the Neighbor had his gutters done, he discovered some fastener issues. Said issues extended to Heathen HQ’s roof, but have been similarly resolved. Included in the gutter-cleaning.

  • Replacement of plants in the back 40. The reclaimed backyard is all in Dirt now, which isn’t so great for lounging. Phase 0.0001 has begun with YOURS TRULY actually digging holes and planting shit under the pecan (specifically: a ginger variant (2); foxtail fern (2); groundcovery thing (1); orchidy thing (1)). More to come, after Mrs Heathen and I decide on a plan. Cost so far: < $100.

Now, where’s our goddamn tax credit?

Tivo Woes

Heathen Central has, very nearly, the best DVR and TV option available today.

Strong words? Yes, yes they are. Even stronger when you realize I’m talking about a standard-definition DirecTV setup with a Series 1 Tivo, but there it is. The briefly available DirecTV HD with Tivo is probably better, but that’s about it (except for our upgrade; see below).

What we have is a Sony SAT-T60, which is a combo box containing both a Tivo and a DirecTV receiver. It preserves the digital soundtracks on HBO programming even on recording, since it just saves the stream as it comes in from the satellite and has to do no compression/uncompression for the save-to-disk task (i.e., like normal Tivos do). As a combo box, there’s no wrangling to make the DVR work with the TV receiver. And, since it’s a real Tivo and not some retarded cousin stuffed into the market by creepy TV providers and acceptable only to be people that have never seen a real Tivo, it Just Plain Works.

And I’ve had it since, oh, 2001. We thought a time or two about upgrading the drive for more space (it’s a 35 hour unit), but never did anything about it.

Well, as of yesterday, it looks like the digital audio output stage has gone the way of all flesh. I can still get stereo via a conventional pair of RCA cables, but the optical output is dead. (The cable and receiver input check out fine; it’s definitely the Tivo.) This makes me sad, since DirecTV got into a pissing match with Tivo some time ago and no longer sells real Tivos (see above about brain-dead boxes made by creepy TV providers; DirecTV is better than a cable company, but only just).

On the tech support call to finalize the diagnosis, they made a valiant effort to sell me a DirecTV DVR — I say sell; it’d be free, since I pay a maintenance fee — but I’m having none of it. I’ve seen the bullshit they think of as a DVR, and it has no place in my house. Nobody has new DirecTV-Tivos, really, and the Tivo standalone units work best with cable companies (FUCK that). (The only alternative for me is a MythTV box — if my DVR can’t be a nice, easy to use Tivo, then it may as well actually work for ME and not the cable company.)

Fortunately, there’s WeaKnees.com, who sell factory refurbished units, both conventional and HD. For a few hundred bucks, we can upgrade to a newer Tivo (series 2 instead of series 1) with a bigger HD (70 or 140 hours instead of 35); the device will be essentially a drop-in replacement, which is nice.

Maybe I should buy two. Just in case.

Er, Wow.

In the bad idea department: Agitator sends us over to Penny Arcade, where Gabe calls our attention to a truly terrible idea for a child’s snack product: Lego Fun Snacks. That’s right; fruity candies for children shaped like Legos.

I would love to know what sick bastard at Kellogs came up with this genius idea. I just spent the first three years of my sons life trying to get him not to eat blocks, and now you’re telling him they taste like fucking strawberries. Thanks a lot assholes. Seriously, how in the hell did this ever get past their legal department. You can’t tell me that this isn’t a lawsuit just waiting to happen. I can only assume that their next product is fruit flavored thumbtacks.

How To Tell If You’re An Idiot

You work for the AP, and are trying to convince the world that Fair Use doesn’t exist.

Some geniuses at the Associated Press has started promulgating the policy that bloggers and web sites must pay them to link to and quote AP stories — just like we just did, below, with the story on Big Bird. The AP thinks that Heathen should PAY them because we quoted an excerpt of the story, and never mind that people interested will click through and read the whole thing, thereby adding value to the AP’s content and the AP’s paid distribution channels (like Yahoo News, to whom we link below). Usage such as this is typically seen as Fair Use, and requires no license or permission. That’s how references work. It’s how research works. And it’s how the web works — and, as noted, how the web drives traffic to interesting sites and stories, a dynamic that you’d think the AP would be embracing.

This move is a stupendously bad idea, and impossible to defend legally besides, and the AP deserves to be heartily embarrassed as a consequence. And it gets worse: read the link above (to the analysts at Techdirt) to learn more about how the AP seems to think they can prohibit you from quoting them if you say bad things about the AP, for example. This isn’t idle policy; they’re actually acting on it.

Big Bird Is a Constant

From the Mississippi office, this profile of Caroll Spinney, the 74-year-old who’s been the man inside the Big Bird costume for nearly 40 years.

NEW YORK – On the street, Caroll Spinney is a 74-year-old of modest proportions. On the job, transformed into Big Bird, he stands 8 feet 2 inches tall and is 6 years old.

Being Big Bird is sweaty, physical work. But Spinney, who has worked on Sesame Street for nearly four decades playing both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has no wish to be anywhere else.

“I can’t imagine willingly walking away from Big Bird and Oscar,” he said.

George Will on McCain on the Gitmo decision

This is nice. Also, it means McCain’s lost Will.

WASHINGTON — The day after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo are entitled to seek habeas corpus hearings, John McCain called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” Well.

Does it rank with Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which concocted a constitutional right, unmentioned in the document, to own slaves and held that black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect? With Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which affirmed the constitutionality of legally enforced racial segregation? With Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the wartime right to sweep American citizens of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps?

And then:

McCain, co-author of the McCain-Feingold law that abridges the right of free political speech, has referred disparagingly to, as he puts it, “quote ‘First Amendment rights.’” Now he dismissively speaks of “so-called, quote ‘habeas corpus suits.’” He who wants to reassure constitutionalist conservatives that he understands the importance of limited government should be reminded why the habeas right has long been known as “the great writ of liberty.”

No state power is more fearsome than the power to imprison. Hence the habeas right has been at the heart of the centuries-long struggle to constrain governments, a struggle in which the greatest event was the writing of America’s Constitution, which limits Congress’ power to revoke habeas corpus to periods of rebellion or invasion. Is it, as McCain suggests, indefensible to conclude that Congress exceeded its authority when, with the Military Commissions Act (2006), it withdrew any federal court jurisdiction over the detainees’ habeas claims?

As the conservative and libertarian Cato Institute argued in its amicus brief in support of the petitioning detainees, habeas, in the context of U.S. constitutional law, “is a separation of powers principle” involving the judicial and executive branches. The latter cannot be the only judge of its own judgment.

In Marbury v. Madison (1803), which launched and validated judicial supervision of America’s democratic government, Chief Justice John Marshall asked: “To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained?” Those are pertinent questions for McCain, who aspires to take the presidential oath to defend the Constitution.

Dept. of Neat Software

Sometimes, I use my cell phone to call someone because it simplifies the process. My iPhone has all 600+ contacts in my address book in it; looking up a number there and dialing gets me talking to someone faster than looking up the number (on the phone or on my computer) and manually dialing the house phone. I can’t be the only person who does this. Trouble is, my office is on the first floor of a 3-story building, and my house is sheathed in metal, so my cell doesn’t work all that well in here.

The upshot is that I’ve often wished for a way to click a number in my address book and have it be dialed automatically. This used to be pretty common, when we all used modems, but who has a modem anymore?

Well, thanks to their sponsorship of Mac-blogger John Gruber over at Daring Fireball, I just discovered Dialectic. I tell it to dial any number from my address book, and sets up a connection using my Vonage account; my phone rings, I answer, and then other side starts ringing. How cool is that?

Even better: It plays nicely with Quicksilver, so talking to someone is never more than a couple keystrokes away. This is awesome.

It’s not just Vonage; this thing’ll work with damn near anything (Bluetooth cells, landlines, Asterisk systems, BroadVoice, CallVantage, CiscoIP, countless softphones like Skype, etc). It’s not free, but it’s cheap enough ($25) that I’m almost certain to buy it.

Oh, yeah: It’s Mac-only. Suck it, Windows dorks. LOL.

More on Habeas

The Rude Pundit on the decision:

…[I]f you think yesterday’s Supreme Court decision was a pile of shit, then you believe that the United States has the right to hold foreign nationals without allowing them to challenge their imprisonment in fair, open courts. You believe that a special court with special rules of evidence and special procedures is the only means through which a presidentially-designated “alien enemy combatant” held at a United States-run facility can even say, “Umm, do you have any proof I’m anything more than a fuckin’ goat herder who was wandering in the right field at the wrong time?” You believe that the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions (except in the narrowest possible interpretation) do not apply to prisoners held at Gitmo. And you’re absolutely hysterical, batshit insane over the idea that a human being held without ever being told why might get to ask.

That’s it. Every right-winger’s rant about “terra! terra! moooslims!! terra!” really boils down to wanting Big Daddy Gummit to be able to snatch anyone from anywhere and hold them for as long as they want, with no recourse for the victim. That’s 100% antithetical to everything our government is supposed to stand for (and let’s just set aside for a moment that the GOP is supposed to be the government-hostile, drown-it-in-a-bathtub party); the right of habeas corpus was enshrined as natural law hundreds of years before our noble experiment took off, and our own Constitution notes in no uncertain terms that the right cannot be revoked except under extraordinary circumstances.

It’s significant, by the way, that the Constitution phrases it that way: the right cannot be taken away by the state. It says nothing about the State granting us such rights because the rights are ours, period. The State is not the source of our rights and liberties. It’s an institution we the people have created to ensure the safety of those rights while entering into a social contract to provide other services impractical to handle absent a construct like the State. Unlike apologists for the current Administration, our founders did not view the Bill of Rights, or Habeas, as legal technicalities to be subverted to serve some short-term gain. They viewed them as the natural order of things, a codification of the rights of man endowed by the Creator, whomever you believe that may be, and as truths that should not and cannot be legitimately abrogated.

True patriots still understand this, and behave accordingly. Believing an imprisoned man ought to be able to challenge his captivity in a fair court doesn’t make us weak, and doesn’t give aid and comfort to the enemy. It just means we truly believe in the principles of liberty and equality. Doing otherwise means we don’t. To abandon that core belief is to hate what this country should stand for, and must stand for again.

Dept. of Geeky Gun Humor

This comparison of the owning experiences of an AK-47, an AR-15, and a Mosin Nagant is well worth your time — I mean, if you have more than a passing familiarity with what any of those things are. (Don’t miss this, Frank.)

“The Barack Obama of Automobiles”

Go read this longish Atlantic article on what could very well turn out to be the first real game-changer in the automotive world — produced, improbably enough, by General Motors. The GM people my age know is a company made of Fail; few folks in the Heathen orbit and generation have ever even considered a GM product outside of the odd Corvette or Camarao (hi, Edgar) — especially if you eliminate the early, independent years of Saturn as an aberration — GM eventually absorbed the division and destroyed its independence and with it, its value.

Well, that may change. The Volt is a new kind of hybrid that GM is in very-nearly-bet-the-farm mode over. It’s electric-first — there’s an on-board gas engine, but its job is to run a generator, not drive the wheels. The wheels turn with electricity, never gas. Set to go 40 miles on a charge (i.e., more than the average commute), the Volt will mean that most owners buy gas only once in a blue moon. And GM wants it in showrooms for 2010.

They might just make it. And if they deliver on these promises and manage to escape their seemingly inevitable Fail gene, Heathen might just buy one.

This Video Rules

So, it’s for a David Byrne song, right? And it’s comprised entirely, at the first level of analysis anyway, with naked dancers. However, the real meat of the video is what they do with the black bars covering the dancers’ naughty bits. Just watch. Really.

UPDATE: Well, shit, the video’s gone. I’ll see if I can find another copy.

SCOTUS to POTUS: Drop Dead

As it turns out, at least five Americans still believe in the Constitution:

The Supreme Court ruled today that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

In its third rebuke of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners, the court ruled 5-4 that the government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

The fascist wing — Scalia, his mini-me, and Bush’s twins — dissented.

LOLZ

Remember the Denon cable? There’s a satirical Amazon review:

A caution to people buying these: if you do not follow the “directional markings” on the cables, your music will play backwards. Please check that before mentioning it in your reviews.

I was disappointed. I consider myself an audiophile – I regularly spend over $1000 on cables to get the ultimate sound. I keep my music-listening room in a Faraday cage to prevent any interference that could alter my music-listening experience. Sending any signal down ordinary copper can degrade the signal considerably. While ordinary listeners might not notice, to somebody with even a rudimentary knowledge of sound, the artifacts are glaring. Denon should have used silver wiring (hermetically sealed inside the rubber sheath to prevent any tarnishing, of course), which has a significantly higher conductivity than copper. Furthermore, Denon needs to treat the wires they use in the cable with a polarity inductor to ensure minimal phase variance.

Needless to say, I returned the cable and wrote an angry letter to the so-called engineers at Denon.

Wonder how long that’ll last?

And we wish him luck

In late 2003, Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen, was detained in Macedonia (en route to vacation) by local officials because he has the same name as some terror watchlist person. The Macedonians eventually released him (1/2004) — at which point he was snatched off the street in Macedonia by Americans, who stripped and beat him before flying him to Baghdad and then, eventually, a CIA interrogation facility in Afghanistan where he was repeatedly beaten and interrogated. By March, he was taking part in a hunger strike to protest his detention. At some point, American officials realized that perhaps they had the wrong guy, but refused to do anything about it. Finally, in late May, they flew him to Albania and released him at night on a deserted road.

al-Masri has brought suit against the US for his kidnapping and torture, only to have the suit dismissed on national security grounds. He has now gone to court in Germany to force his government to seek the extradition of the CIA agents who kidnapped him in 2004; we hope very much he succeeds, but we’re cynical enough to know he won’t. Justice isn’t something our government is particularly interested in when it’s inconvenient.

Apple: Made of Win

The WWDC keynote was today, and Apple has just raised the bar for the entire mobile phone world in a way even more threatening to the smartphone status quo than the intro of the iPhone 1.0 last year. Even if we skip the SDK — and you shouldn’t, since what you can do with an iPhone makes all the other smartphones look stupid — it’s still a gamechanger.

The new software, for all iPhones, includes:

  • Bulk copy/move/delete operations
  • Contact search
  • Full iWork document support
  • Complete support for Word and Excel documents

Thereby closing some glaring usability gaps in an otherwise tremendous platform. (To be fair, most people don’t have 600 contacts in their phones — but I do, and that made me really miss search.)

Add to this a new service called MobileMe (replaces .Mac; $99/year) that provides over-the-air sync of not just email but also addresses and calendar data. It works with native Mac tools (iCal/Address Book) as well as PCs running Outlook, and includes access to incredibly rich web apps for all that data, in case you need it. Exchange + Blackberry Enterprise Server? Who needs that?

Additionally, iPhone 2.0 includes optional support for Exchange and Cisco VPNs out of the box, including the ability to remote-wipe a lost device.

That sound just then? Someone in Canada shitting their pants.

And that’s not all. The new iPhone 3G, as expected, got introduced today. It includes data speeds approach Wifi as well as an integrated GPS. It’s also slightly slimmer, has a flush headphone port, and the 8GB model is only $199. Available July 11 in the US (and 21 other countries; 48 other countries to follow).

I said I wouldn’t upgrade immediately, and I really meant it. I just got my iPhone a few months ago. But at $199 for the speed bump and GPS, it’ll be hard to say no. I’ll still wait for a month or two post-launch to ensure no problems surface, but DAMN.

Death of the Wild

The backyard has been reclaimed. We thought we might find a lost civilization back there, or at least George Lucas’ long-gone sense of shame, but it turns out it’s just dirt.

New plants are the next step.

More Catholic Chicanery

Douglas Kmiec, an otherwise Republican law prof at Pepperdine has been denied communion by his priest because he expressed an endorsement for the pro-choice Barack Obama rather than the (presumably) pro-life McCain. Kmiec remains pro-life; he’s just done the math this time around and believes that on the whole, Obama is the better candidate for our country in spite of his disagreement on the subject of abortion. In other words, like most voters, he knows he can’t get everything he wants, and he’s happier with the set of values promoted by the Democrat this time around.

And for that, his priest and church are punishing him. They are of course free to do so, since the church is a private entity, but it is very, very difficult to see how this should not result in an immediate re-examination of this diocese’s 501(c)(3) status. Churches pay no taxes on their income, but to keep it that way they must stay out of politics; from IRS.gov:

Currently, the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

And more from here, also at IRS.gov:

…[V]oter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

Let them, and any church, behave any way they want — but they shouldn’t get a free ride if they decide to ignore the rules under which they operate.