Wednesday, December 31, 2003
  Happy New Year - Sick passenger had many doctors

What?! No liability concerns from the docs?

  Washington Post: Banning Sale of 'Downer' Meat Represents a Change in Policy (

For years, the politically potent and well-financed cattle and meatpacking industries have held sway in the debate over the practice of slaughtering and marketing non-ambulatory, or downer, cattle. They repeatedly blocked efforts by urban Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans to end the practice -- which provides producers with millions of dollars of profits each year but also represents the biggest potential source of contaminated meat.

An estimated 190,000 sick or injured cattle are shipped to slaughterhouses annually, and only about 5 percent of them are tested for serious illness such as mad cow disease. Just last month, Republican congressional leaders deleted from a pending spending bill a measure banning the slaughter of downer cattle.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a longtime advocate of legislation to ban the slaughter of sick or injured cattle, said the industry has "shot themselves in the hoof" by resisting a necessary safeguard to the food system. With the industry now facing a crisis of consumer confidence and the temporary loss of European and Asian markets, he said, the Agriculture Department "has seen the light, but that's only because they've been struck by lightning."

Tuesday, December 30, 2003 Phil Goldman -- entrepreneur, WebTV founder

I met him in a reorg meeting once. I wonder what the cause of death was.

Mr. Goldman was one of three former Apple Computer employees who founded WebTV and later sold the Palo Alto firm to Microsoft in 1997 for $425 million. Mr. Goldman and the other founders, Steve Perlman and Bruce Leak, each earned $64 million.

Saturday, December 27, 2003
  PC Week: Rise in LCD-Panel Prices Squeeze PC Makers and Consumers

This is what TV manufacturers have been waiting for decades - a real reason for consumers to upgrade their cathode ray tubes. Billions of dollars of cash flow to come in to home electronics stores as people toss out the old CRT technology for LCD/Plasma/LCoS/DLP displays.

Thursday, December 25, 2003
  John Robb's Weblog - It's A Wonderful Life repatriation

Sad to see the capitalists find a loophole and sneak their fingers back into the pie after they let it go. The bright side is that the movie is dated and not in a good way. I like "A Christmas Story" these days. "I triple-dog-dare you."

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
  MSNBC - ‘Christmas Story’ still charming after 20 years

Article has a nice "where are they now" section about the actors from the movie.

  MSNBC - Are we safe from mad cow disease?

Nice to see the turnaround time on testing for mad-cow is over 2 weeks and they still haven't confirmed that it is mad-cow.

The cow, which came from a farm near Yakima, Wash., was slaughtered Dec. 9.

She noted that the United States since the early 1990s has banned the use of cow and sheep byproducts for animal feed, which cuts off a major mode of transmission of the disease.

The disease was found in a Holstein cow, which could not move on its own, from a farm in Mabton, Wash., about 40 miles southeast of Yakima. It tested preliminarily positive on Dec. 9. Parts of the cow that would be infected — the brain, the spinal cord and the lower part of the small intestine — were removed before the animal went to a meat processing plant — standard operating procedure in this country.

“We’re beef eaters,” said Carrie Whitacre of Omaha, Neb. “Plus we’re not going to get beef from Washington state here anytime soon.”

“The infectious agent is only found in the central nervous system tissue,” said Patti Brumbach, executive director of the Washington State Beef Commission. “None of that made it into the beef supply. I think once consumers understand that the beef supply is safe, it should be a short-term concern.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
  NY Times: Investigators Outline Parmalat’s Efforts to Hide Liabilities

Italians are showing the world that they, too, can play in the billion-dollar financial shenanigan shell-game.

Parmalat appears to have created finance companies in the Antilles already at the end of the 1980's essentially to dump liabilities it sought to hide from investors when Mr. Tanzi sold shares in the company to outside investors, according to people close to the investigation. Mr. Tanzi holds about 51 percent of Parmalat shares; the remainder is traded on the Milan stock exchange.

At the time, these people said, the Parmalat group, including the offshore finance companies, was audited by the accounting firm Grant Thornton. In the mid-1990's Italy introduced a sweeping overhaul of its financial system that required Italian companies to rotate their auditors every nine years. So in 1999 Parmalat brought in Deloitte Touche to replace Grant Thornton.

Before doing so, however, Parmalat effectively closed down the Antilles-based companies, replacing them with Bonlat, which was registered in the Cayman Islands. Yet while Deloitte assumed responsibility for the Parmalat group, the auditing of Bonlat remained in the hands of Grant Thornton.

Parmalat, in information for investors, describes Bonlat as a treasury center. But people close to the investigations called it a "garbage can," where Parmalat parked all manner of liabilities accrued at its various subsidiaries around the world. On its balance sheet, Parmalat declared Bonlat to be in possession of assets that included the 3.95 billion euros supposedly held by Bank of America. In fact, Bonlat's assets appear to have been non-existent, appearing only on paper, the people said.

  MSNBC - Canada keeps marijuana possession illegal

The lame duck session of the Chretien era is over and some sanity returns to the courts.


NOW, a week after Saddam's capture, intelligence analysts say a battered green briefcase found in the deposed Iraqi's hiding place gives a clear account of his eight months on the run.

The bag contains documents and reports that show that since the collapse of his government, Saddam commanded a phantom regime from hiding.

The briefcase holds evidence of a resistance movement run on the lines of a Ba'athist totalitarian state, with himself at the top. It contains hundreds of names - all of them now in U.S. hands.

Intelligence sources who saw the bag's contents said they were amazed both by the unexpected extent of Saddam's involvement in the resistance and by his folly in keeping this detailed dossier with him.

They say Saddam believed the reports in his green briefcase, which show he was being lied to by his acolytes. The "battle reports" they couriered to him said what he wanted to hear: that the resistance was defeating U.S. forces.

  New York Post Online: Chris Byron FREDDIE MAC'S MISSTEP

Last month the company announced something that from an accounting and management oversight point of view looked to be just about as bad as things could get: Investigators had discovered that the core financial accounts for the three years beginning Jan. 1, 2000, had been totally corrupted and that an incredible $5.2 billion in balance-sheet assets and liabilities had been misallocated.

FOR maybe the whole of the last 13 years, this entire organization seems to have been driven by just one relentless, single-minded (and totally illegal) obsession: creating a fake track record of rapid and relentlessly rising earnings growth, year after year.

If you look at a price chart of Freddie Mac's stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, you'll see the result. From the start of the 1990s all the way through to nearly the very end of the decade, the stock did just one thing: It went up, more than 1,223 percent. That's more than four times the growth rate of the Dow industrials during the period, three times IBM's rate and twice the gain racked up by General Electric.

And the OFHEO report is now telling us the whole thing was achieved by bogus accounting.

The OFHEO report points the finger of blame directly at a compensation scheme presided over by the company's top two men - Chief Executive Officer Leland Brendsel and his sidekick David Glenn - in which big bonuses were paid out to executives who could meet or exceed specified earnings-per-share targets.

How come the public never found out about any of this at the time? According to the report, the top brass simply ignored the law when it came to disclosing material information to the investing public: "A disdain for appropriate disclosure standards, despite oft-stated management assertions to the contrary, misled investors and undermined market awareness of the true financial condition of the Enterprise."

  MSNBC - A High Price for a Popular Spice

Vanilla extract prices go through the roof - almost as much as some of those resurrected Internet stocks - due to bad weather and low crop yields. But the home bakers and consumer goods companies are having to literally eat the costs since they have no pricing power.

A 4-ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract will cost you a whopping $15 these days--triple the price it was three years ago. Even a tiny, one-ounce bottle of bean extract, introduced more recently, is pushing $3.

Dreyer's, on average, purchases seven percent of the world's vanilla. That's not likely to change anytime soon; its best-selling product is Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. Ritterbush is reluctant to raise the price of his end product, he says. In the meantime the company is absorbing the 600-percent increase in price over last year.

Monday, December 22, 2003
  Sony Store salesman spreads the manure

I go into the Sony Store with someone who is looking for an MP3 player or a MiniDisc player.

Friend: "Which is better? MP3 player or MiniDisc player?

Sony Salesman: "They are both equally good."

Well, that statement doesn't help at all. The Sony MP3 player is $450 while the Sony MiniDisc player is $600.

Me: "Which one is more popular?"

Sony Salesman: "Both are equally popular."

Me: "I doubt that." and I walk away.


A $600 device for a failed media format is as popular as a $450 device for the most popular audio format on the Internet?

To quote South Park's Stan, "I call bullshit."

I will avoid the Sony Store and I will tell everyone to avoid the Sony Store. Life's too short to shop at stores that aren't going to help you.

What did my friend do? We got a non-Sony MP3 player since another friend said that Sony MP3 players suck. I guess there's a reason Sony has been losing buttloads of money.

  NY Times: Toy Retailers Find Prices at Wal-Mart Tough to Beat

Wal-Mart had the lowest prices on 92 percent of the toys surveyed, compared with a 77 percent reading in the survey last year, a Prudential analyst, Mark Rowen, said in the report. The prices at Toys "R" Us were the cheapest on 4 percent of the toys, tied with Target, which also increased its assortment of toys in time for this holiday season. Buying every single toy in the survey cost $1,692.62 at Wal-Mart, compared with $1,781.48 at Toys "R" Us and $1,877.17 at Target.

  NY Times: Three Stars of 'Seinfeld' Boycott a DVD Deal

Friday, December 19, 2003
  NY Times: Dumpster-Diving for Your Identity

  MUTE - Simple, Private File Sharing

Third generation P2P network, communication is obfuscated so it's much harder to trace the people who are downloading/uploading.

  NY Times: Parmalat on Edge as Bank Says It Doesn�t Have $4.9 Billion

Man, this looks really bad.

Parmalat, the dairy giant in this central Italian city that has shaken investors recently, appeared to be edging toward insolvency today after the Bank of America said an account holding 3.9 billion euros, or about $4.9 billion, that the company claimed to have did not exist.

  CNet: Software glitch brings Y2K deja vu

This is weak engineering. The developer who came up with this code obviously did not test the code very well. The QA team involved owns some of the responsibility. I guess they never tested to see if their code would work beyond 2003. Nice going. Will the developer who wrote and barely debugged this code face the music for this bug? I doubt it.

Here's the FAQ page: PTC "Timeout" Issue Frequently Asked Questions. Jan. 10 2004, "inifinity" will arrive.

  CNet: Court: Net music subpoenas not authorized | CNET

This should slow down the RIAA.

But in a strongly worded ruling, the appeals court sided with Verizon, saying a 1998 copyright law does not give copyright holders the ability to subpoena customer names from Internet providers without filing a formal lawsuit.

"In sum, we agree with Verizon that (the law) does not by its terms authorize the subpoenas issued here," Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote.

  Macintouch - Digital Cameras

Here’s a small story you might enjoy: My father and Dave Packard (the “P” in H-P) were childhood friends, growing up together in Pueblo, CO. In 1994, a couple of years before they both died, I took my dad to Los Altos to visit Dave at his home. At breakfast one morning, Dave posed the following question to us: “We have a plant in Idaho which makes one million inkjet cartridges a day. We sell them to the wholesalers for about $17 each and the retailers sell them for $25-30 each. How much do you think they cost to make?” The answer: “They [Inkjet ink cartrdiges] cost $0.50, 25¢ in labor and 25¢ in parts.”

Thursday, December 18, 2003
  Mercury News | 12/18/2003 | Wal-Mart launches online music store

200K songs @ US$0.88 for the trial version. It officially opens next spring. Apple made iTunesMS available thru AOL now.

  The Globe and Mail - Scott to receive gold

Woo hoo!!! She should get a big ceremony to replace the stolen gold medal ceremony she was deprived of. That it's taken over one year to resolve this is sad.

The court also ruled on Muehlegg's Olympic doping offence. Muehlegg lost his gold medal in the 50-kilometre event, also for taking darbepoetin. However, the IOC allowed him to keep two other golds. Those now go to Norwegian competitors.

It took uncommon courage for the sport court to recommend that the IOC strip all the medals from Lazutina and Muehlegg, two superstars of the sport. The athletes can legally argue they passed all the required drug tests earlier in the Games.

The credibility of cross-country skiing would also be shattered by the disgrace of its champions. In her career, Lazutina claimed 10 Olympic medals, six of them gold. Danilova won three golds and two silvers. Muehlegg won two golds, a world championship and a World Cup title.

The court also ruled that the IOC pay the arbitration costs of 36,000 Swiss francs ($38,140 Cdn). The IOC was also ordered to pay Scott 8,000 Swiss francs ($8,475 Cdn) to help with her legal fees.

  NY Times - Microsoft and Spitzer Sue Alleged Spam Ring

I was just thinking how nice it'd be if Eliot Spitzer would go after spammers as fervently as he has pursured stock market abuses. The lawsuit targets Scott Richter, #3 on the Spamhaus ROKSO Spammer list.

  The Globe and Mail - Lost in Translation chosen Toronto critics' favourite of 2003

Huh??? This film is one of the worst films I've seen this year. It was mediocre to begin with but all the movie critics' praise made the viewing a total letdown - this film is vastly overrated. Bill Murray is the highlight in the gfilm but it's not one of his better performances - CaddyShack comes to mind. For Yuppie trash who are moaning about how boring their upper-middle class or better lives are.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
  National Post - Rogers doubles Internet speed

National Post - Rogers doubles Internet speed:

Residential customers using Rogers high-speed cable Internet service can now expect download speeds of three mega bits per second, double the service's previous speed. The change was quietly instituted at the start of December, Taanta Gupta, a Rogers spokeswoman said yesterday.

Don Blair, a Bell Canada spokesman, said the telecommunciations giant has no plans to alter its high-speed Internet packages.

Currently Bell's regular Internet package, priced at $44.95 per month, provides 1.5 mbps, half of the speed Rogers is offering. In order to match Rogers, customers would have to turn to Bell's "ultra" service, which currently costs $69.95.

Mr. Blair said in addition to the added speed, the company's "ultra" service has several different features, including security enhancements.

Fast forward one week...In the Globe and Mail: Bell to boost DSL speed:

The company said it plans to boost the peak speed of its Sympatico High Speed Internet service for residential customers from the current peak of 1.5 megabits per second to as much as 3 Mbps. Bell Business Internet customers using the high-end 3 Mbps service will move to up to 4 Mbps, the company said. Upload speeds are also being pushed to 800 kilobits per second for both services, a five-fold increase.

The company said the price for its DSL services won't change, and "more than 75 per cent" of its business and residential high-speed customers will get the faster DSL service in the first quarter of 2004. It did not specify when the rest of its customers would be upgraded.

More than half of Bell's 1.4 million DSL subscribers use the Internet for bandwidth-intensive tasks such as on-line games and sharing digital photos [Ed. Note: ...and sharing MP3s, porn, and bootleg movies], according to Charlotte Burke, senior vice-president of consumer Internet services at Bell Canada, while businesses are increasingly using their Net connections for things such as videoconferencing.

"By doubling our speed and increasing our upload performance, we give our customers a much larger door to the Internet," Ms. Burke said when announcing the DSL upgrade.

BitTorrent and other P2P systems should like the increased upload speeds. Now about those bandwidth caps...

  NewsForge | City of Austin pilot proves works - Updated

NewsForge | City of Austin pilot proves works - Updated:

"The City of Austin recently completed a group of pilot studies on the use of open source software in its day-to-day business. According to a message posted this morning on the Austin LUG mailing list by Scott Brown, the results are in, and as a result, as many as 80% of the city's desktops may be migrating from Microsoft Office to"

But the king of user-centred computing reviews, Walt Mossberg, has this to say about StarOffice and its lesser cousin,OpenOffice. StarOffice Improves Performance, but Still Can't Rival Microsoft:

But as I said last year, this program is mainly for light users preparing basic documents who either can't afford Office, or hate Microsoft so much they'll live with some complexity and limitations.

  MSNBC: Online job scammers steal millions

One way around the security checks that online shops are using is to use local residents as dropoffs and have them forward the packages out of the country. Scary. Why people would hand over their SIN and bank account numbers is beyond me - unless they needed the bank account for direct deposit?!

Catherine had unwittingly signed up to be part of a new scam that's raging on the Internet, dubbed "postal forwarding," or "reshipping fraud" by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. According to authorities, thousands of job seekers have been caught up in the con.

"It's out of control," Barry Mew, spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service, said. "My phone rings off the hook. ... There are hundreds more like (Catherine)."

At best guess, Mew said, the con artists have already made off with between $5 million and $10 million. One major credit card company has seen losses of $1.5 million to the scam, and a payment processing company for an Internet site is out $1 million, he said. Mew declined to name the companies.

The council found 5,000 consumers had participated in the scam from July to October, enabling con artists to steal $1.7 million from those eight sites during that 120-day period. A host of other fraud attempts were stopped by the sites. Total attempts to steal merchandise using the reshipping scam add up to an estimated $500 million, said Susan Henson, spokeswoman for the Merchant Risk Council.

One flavor of the scheme is designed to circumvent fraud protections at mail order companies and Web sites while stealing popular items such as handheld computers, digital cameras and DVD players. To avoid raising suspicion, the con artists make sure the shipping address -- the address of the "recruit" -- is in the same state as the billing address on the stolen credit card. To do so, the con artists have a wide variety of employees and stolen credit cards to choose from. They have also managed to change billing addresses on stolen credit cards so they match the recruit's locale. Some 1,300 accounts were updated with new billing addresses at one credit card company victimized by the con artists, Mew said.

Recruits are also at risk of identity theft, since they usually give the con artists their bank account information and other critical data while signing up for the job.

She also learned a disturbing lesson about human nature when she sent an e-mail to all her 17 "co-workers," warning them that the job was really a scam.

"One guy wrote, 'I don't care where the money is coming from,' " she said. "It's amazing this person wrote this to a stranger. The FBI's going to take a look at him."

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
  San Jose Mercury: Sun co-founder to leave Cisco post

Hmmm. Bill Joy leaves Sun, Andy Bechtolsheim leaves Cisco...

Bechtolsheim was one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems, along with Vinod Khosla, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy. While he was at Stanford University, Bechtolsheim developed a high-performance computer with a built-in network that he dubbed a workstation because he was tired of waiting for computer time on the Stanford system. Khosla approached him about starting up a company around the workstation and paired him with McNealy, who was earning an MBA at the time.

Bechtolsheim left Sun in 1995 to start another company, called Granite Systems, a developer of network switches. In 1996, Cisco acquired Granite for $220 million, and Bechtolsheim became a vice president and general manager of Cisco's gigabit switching business.

Bechtolsheim also has made some savvy investments of his own. He was an early investor in Google, where he wrote out a check for $100,000 to the two founders, Sergei Brin and Larry Page in 1998 at an investor meeting. He made the check out to Google, and since no entity yet existed, it forced Brin and Page to set up the company in order to cash his check.

CNet has some more info: Cisco's brain drain continues

Bechtolsheim wasn't available for comment, but according to reports in The Wall Street Journal he has gone to work for a start-up he helped found called Kealia, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Little is known about Kealia. The only information given on the company's Web site is its address in Palo Alto, Calif. The company was incorporated in 2001, according to public documents filed in California. David Cheriton, who co-founded Granite with Bechtolsheim, is listed as the chief executive officer of the new company.

Cheriton's involvement could be a clue as to what the company is developing. He is a computer science professor at Stanford University and leads the Distributed Systems Group. His research includes areas of high-performance distributed systems and high-speed computer communication with a particular interest in protocol design. This technology could be used to develop servers that distribute streaming content such as video across the Internet.

Another key piece of evidence that supports the streaming video theory is that Bechtolsheim has filed at least six trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect words that have "stream" or "net" in them.

  San Jose Mercury: After long manhunt, a huge payoff

Hickey eventually found out that Hussein's security apparatus - those who protected him - was built around about five families.

"Once we learned who is who, who did what, it allowed us to work our way up those lines," said Hickey. "It's like being a detective, except we do it in a more dynamic, less stable environment."

By July, Hickey was hearing about a man who could possibly help him find Hussein. He was a member of one of the five families. The man, whom Hickey described as "middle-aged with a very large waistline," was a key figure in the guerrillas' campaign against the coalition - one of the 55 in the card deck of the coalition's most-wanted Iraqi fugitives.

"This individual was the member of a very important family, a family that owns many properties in this area and Tikrit," said Hickey, who spoke at the farm where Hussein was captured.

  MSNBC: Hussein confidant became informant

U.S. officers declined to reveal the informant’s name, saying they needed to protect his identity so he could continue to provide intelligence.

Hickey described him as a native of Abou Ajil, a hamlet slightly north of Tikrit, the regional capital 10 miles northwest of Dawr. Tikrit is populated by many members of Hussein’s security forces and has been the site of some of the fiercest resistance against U.S. occupation. Hussein’s birthplace, the village of Auja, is located close by.

At 5 p.m., the informant told his interrogators that Hussein was actually in Dawr, directing them to two farmhouses on the edge of town. An hour later, Hickey had 600 soldiers moving toward their prey.

At the first farmhouse, they found a man believed to be Hussein’s cook, according to soldiers involved in the raid. At the other house, they discovered the man’s brother, who was believed to be Hussein’s chauffeur and drove an orange-and-white taxi found parked outside.

The soldiers, however, did not find Hussein.

The final breakthrough came as the troops had narrowed their search on the farm. Suddenly, in an effort to lead the posse away from Hussein’s hiding place, the detained cook and driver broke away from their captors and tried to flee, said soldiers involved in the operation. The informant, however, drew the soldiers’ attention back to the spot where he said Hussein would be found, the soldiers said.

As 1st Brigade troops surrounded the area, Special Forces troops investigated the site, pulling aside a rug on the ground and lifting a Styrofoam lid concealed underneath. There, they found the shelter.

Under standard procedures, Hickey said, the next step for the soldiers would be to clear the hole by dropping a grenade or opening fire into it. But before they could, a pair of hands emerged, raised in surrender.

  HNN: How Do We Know that Iraq Tried to Assassinate President George H.W. Bush?

  MSNBC: Keeping the capture secret 14 hours KB 833786: Steps that you can take to help identify and to help protect yourself from deceptive (spoofed) Web sites

Monday, December 15, 2003
  AP: A villain vanishes

All of the 81-year-old Lee's closing scenes were cut from the film, which opens Wednesday. The move has angered thousands of hard-core fans and may confuse the casual moviegoer who wonders why one of the story's main villains has simply disappeared.

In the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, Saruman escapes his tower and overtakes the Shire, a peaceful Hobbit homestead. His death comes at the end of the books when Frodo and company try to eject him from their village.

Jackson never filmed that particular subplot. Instead, he shot an alternate climax for the wicked wizard character that he intended to place at the end of The Two Towers.

But that didn't work out, either.

Lee, who was an acquaintance of Tolkien's, has said he has read the trilogy every year for the past five decades. The real cost of offshore outsourcing CD-burning software prompts patent suit

Optima Tech seems to have a patent on treat-CD-R-like-a-hard-disk software - stuff like Roxio DirectCD or Ahead's Nero InCD.

  NY Times: The Growing Market for Bigger Buttons

The baby boomers are going to force a change in product packaging and design as their senses become less flexible.

  NY Times: A Small Piece of Fiber on Ground Yields Big Payoff for U.S.

In the first sweep through the area, the soldiers found nothing, according to a narrative provided by military officials. Then they combed it again. That was when one noticed the fiber. Only a sliver was evident under the dirt where he was standing. But the soldier thought it was strange.

He and some comrades yanked at the mat, and it came up to reveal a styrofoam slab with handles. They pulled on them, and the plug came loose from a shaft leading into the ground. The soldiers were prepared to throw a grenade into the gloomy depths when two hands suddenly appeared.

The soldiers reached down and pulled out a man, disheveled, bearded and apparently disoriented from the cramped underground confines where he had been hiding.

"I am Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq," the man told his captors in halting English. "I am willing to negotiate."

A special forces soldier replied, "President Bush sends his regards."

Visitors to the shaft today could see that it dropped down about eight feet into a coffinlike space made of concrete, its roof supported by wooden beams. At one end is a ventilator fan, and a steel pipe supplied ventilation near the floor. A small neon bulb provided some light. The space was just large enough for a man about six feet tall to lie down.

The military said that Mr. Hussein had had an assault rifle and a pistol with him, but today the only items visible inside were a plastic bag and some Q-tips.

Friday, December 12, 2003
  Copyright Board Freezes Private Copying Levies for 2003 and 2004

Blank DVDs aren't included in the levies at all.

  Awful Plastic Surgery


  National Post: Low incomes, big returns

The largest bank in Canada dips its toes into the lowly cheque-cashing business.

Thursday, December 11, 2003
  CNet: Virginia files felony spam charges

#8 on the Spamhaus's Top Spammers for November 2003

  CNet: Microsoft workers cash options for $382 million

Employees in the United States who are due to receive less than $20,000 from the program will be paid in one installment later this month, while those due more money will be paid in two or three installments over the next three years.

Staggering the payments is designed to increase retention, as employees need to remain with Microsoft to receive the payout.

The formulas also involved taking the average selling price of Microsoft shares between Nov. 14 and Dec. 8, during which time the shares had an average value of $25.57.

The company said 51 percent of eligible employees took part in the program, with 344.6 million of the 621.4 million eligible options being tendered.

  Seattle Times: Similar bogus ads examined by FBI

Old school scams. At the last minute, put an ad in the paper touting great deals on plasma TVs, etc., take the credit card orders and never ship the product. Downside: The bad guys now have your CC# and probably your name and address.

  NY Times: At I.R.S., a Systems Update Gone Awry

The current IRS debacle has been making waves for a couple of years now. It doesn't make the consultants on the job, Computer Sciences Corporation, look good. I don't think the IRS managers of this contract and the consultants are communicating very well.

The I.R.S. says it can still process returns and send out refunds on time, but its dependence on the 1960's-era Assembler and Cobol computer languages makes it difficult to investigate and resolve taxpayers' problems. Finding a record using the existing system can take a week; the new system is supposed to do the job in seconds.

"This is not about a one-time delay," said Larry Levitan, chairman of the Oversight Board. "Every single major project under way experienced a significant delay in time and overrun in budget - not two or three out of five, but five out of five. What we have here is a five-year track record of absolute consistency of cost overruns and delayed deliveries."

"If they don't produce we will make a change," Mark W. Everson, the I.R.S. commissioner, said of the contractor, even though experts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh said that starting over with a new company would "probably result in different but no fewer problems along the way" - and delay the new system, which is called the Customer Account Data Engine, by two or three years.

Paul M. Cofoni, president of the Computer Sciences unit running the project, CSC Federal Sector, said "in the early part of the program we did a poor job of defining" what needed to be done. But that was in large measure because the I.R.S. had no records of many changes to its old system, he said, and was reluctant to approve specifications for the new system until it could be sure the system would be able to find and display all the old information.

Mr. Cofoni said that many of those problems were being addressed.

"I can actually see daylight now," he said in a telephone interview. "We were given an action list of 46 items to be done in 30 days, and 85 percent of them were. We're at the point where we are starting to deliver, and when we're done people are going to say this is an outstanding, award-winning system."

In a report being distributed to the Bush administration and Congress, the Oversight Board said that it had not seen improvement in three years, and added that Computer Sciences' performance "must be monitored very closely and if significant improvements are not demonstrated quickly a change should and must be made."

While the project to modernize the main file-keeping computer has encountered serious problems, other technology projects have worked, including a system developed by Computer Sciences that tracks the status of refunds and quickly routes calls from taxpayers to appropriate people to answer questions.

Mr. Levitan said that Mr. Rossotti brought technological coherence that has averted disaster. But he also says a collapse is inevitable without a new system, because the few people who could keep the old system functioning are close to retiring.

  BugTraq: Internet Explorer URL parsing vulnerability

If you display the File.Properties dialog for that page, the real URL appears.

Dec 12 update: The Secunia text exploit puts a null terminator after the 0x01 character which stops the display of the full URL. However, in the File.Properties dialog, you can still see that there's crud after the ".com".

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
  BusinessWeek: Boeing: What Really Happened

Condit had been steeped in the Boeing culture for more than 30 years. He caught the eye of Boeing's top brass almost as soon as he arrived at the company in 1965, fresh out of Princeton with a master's degree in aeronautics. Early in his career, he solved a vexing problem by calculating the force of the vortex created when jumbo jets take off. This allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to develop rules for safe spacing between jumbos and smaller aircraft, rules still in effect today.

On the 777, for example, Condit made some inspired design breakthroughs, most notably switching to software that allowed Boeing to go directly from a design on the computer screen to the factory floor, avoiding expensive mockups. But Condit wildly overshot his initial budget. The plane was budgeted for $6 billion in development costs but ultimately cost $12 billion, say close observers. "We were milking money from the 767 and the 737, and that money was going right into the 777," said one former high-ranking Boeing exec. "Even though it's a wonderful machine, on a stand-alone basis, the 777 is not a commercial success."

Former CEOs Bill Allen and T. Wilson both eschewed the trappings of corporate privilege. Wilson lived in the same middle-class house during his whole career at Boeing. When Condit succeeded Frank Shrontz as CEO in 1996, Boeing had three small corporate jets, and senior execs were required to fly commercial airlines to stay in touch with their customers. Now, Boeing has a fleet of corporate jets, including a 737 for Condit, done up in English-library style.

  NY Times: Trampled Shopper Has History of Injury Claims Against Stores

Tuesday, December 09, 2003
  America West moving faster than the hub-and-spoke airlines

From USA Today, America West fliers supersizing seats, this program allows passengers to upgrade their coach seats to first class in the four hours before a flight takes off.

I saw this on PBS's NBR TV program. A web article can be found here, America West to put ads on tray tables Microsoft -- No security bulletins for December

  NY Times: Fund Inquiry Informant Discloses Her Identity

A spokesman for Mr. Stern said last night that he was "incredulous" to learn that one of his employees had been the whistle-blower in the funds investigation and denies that Ms. Harrington ever questioned Canary's mutual fund trading. The spokesman also said that while Ms. Harrington had nothing to do with the mutual fund trading by Mr. Stern and Canary, she did remain an investor in the Canary fund until this past spring.

Ms. Harrington has more than 20 years of experience on Wall Street, and was named to a 1997 list of the top 50 women in finance published by Euromoney, a trade magazine. She spent 11 years at Goldman, Sachs, where she was a managing director in fixed-income sales and trading, and two years at Barclays Capital, where she was co-head of bond trading. After leaving the Hartz Group, Ms. Harrington became chief investment officer of SP Capital, an investment fund established by owners of the New York Mets. She is now in the process of starting her own investment firm.

Ms. Harrington follows in a line of women who have informed on potential misconduct in their employers' operations. Sherron S. Watkins was an Enron vice president who warned top executives about the company's accounting problems months before its collapse. Cynthia Cooper, an internal auditor at WorldCom, uncovered a strategy of disguising billions of dollars of expenses as profit. The longtime FBI agent, Coleen Rowley, exposed the bureau's failure to heed evidence of terrorist plots before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. A former chief accountant for the European Commission, Marta Andreasen, challenged the parent European Union's accounting system.

  NY Times: Airline Economics: Fasten Your Seat Belt

No one of that era was a greater visionary than Juan Trippe, who in 1927 took charge of Pan American Airways' single mail route between Key West, Fla., and Havana. Eight years later, the airline started its famous China Clipper service and opened routes to Japan, Singapore and Australia. It eventually linked the United States with 85 countries and became the dominant force in commercial aviation.

By the end of 1978, the industry had made $5.45 billion in cumulative historical profits, a number that had grown almost every year since the beginning of commercial aviation. But between 1978 and now, the industry has gone into the red, mostly because of difficulties in shedding those earlier inefficiencies.

For example, the foundations for work rules and wage scales in today's labor contracts — much of the industry is unionized — were laid before deregulation. Many industry experts say the contracts are overly generous, given that the industry is deregulated, though unions argue that their skilled employees deserve such wages. Analysts estimate that labor costs make up about 40 percent of operating expenses.

IN the last couple of years, the biggest airlines have been trying to renegotiate contracts to squeeze more productivity out of workers. Bankruptcy laws gave United Airlines and US Airways the leverage they needed to negotiate changes, and American Airlines, the world's largest airline, persuaded its unions to accept $1.8 billion in annual labor concessions after the bankrupt airlines set a precedent. But many experts say such efforts may be short-lived, because these unions historically negotiate wage increases once the economy improves.

These airlines rely on a complex computerized system called "yield management," which aims to maximize the amount of money each airline gets from each passenger. This system results in dozens of air fares with widely varying restrictions existing for a single route, and sky-high last-minute fares often bought by business travelers.

The airlines depend on the small number of travelers who are buying those last-minute fares to turn a profit for them. But during this last economic downturn, many businesses shunned such tickets and told employees to stop traveling or buy cheaper seats, whether on traditional airlines or low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.

  BusinessWeek: U.S. Programmers at Overseas Salaries

I don't think most real programmers are as greedy as the Internet boom made them out to be. I'd expect MBAs to be more willing to jump ship for more $$$. For techies, it's the programming challenge that's more important. The employers are in control these days. But when the economy starts improving, this type of employer power will wane.

And then Jon had a brainstorm. What if he offered Americans the jobs at the same rate he would be paying for Indian programmers? It seemed like a long shot. But it also seemed worth the gamble. So Jon placed some ads in The Boston Globe, offering full-time contract programming work for $45,000 annually. (He had decided that it was worth adding a $5,000 premium to what he'd pay the Indian workers in exchange for having the programmers on site.)

The result? "We got flooded" with resumes, about 90 in total, many from highly qualified programmers having trouble finding work in the down economy, Jon says. His decision: "For $5,000 it was no contest." Jon went American. And the outcome? "I think I got the best of both worlds. I got local people who came in for 10% more (than Indians). And I found really good ones."

  Washington Post: AOL Cuts Jobs in Consolidation Move

The employees, mostly software developers and engineers who focused on various aspects of the core AOL product, worked in San Diego, San Francisco and Mountain View. The San Diego and San Francisco offices will be shuttered by the end of the year, and development work in California will be concentrated in Irvine and Mountain View.

Monday, December 08, 2003
  National Post going to subscription-based access

If they get the same response as the Ireland Times, then this is a big mistake.

Enjoy full access to this story during our trial period. After January 24th, 2004, complete access will be limited to registered 6-day National Post print subscribers.

Vin Crosbie's analysis of charging for access for newspapers: The Albuquerque Journal as a Bad Paid Content Model

  CNet: MS to drop older products

Win98, Office 2000, Office XP Developer, and SQL Server 7 are among the products put out to pasture. Nice way of getting Sun to do some of your dirty work.


AND these two companies [Ed. Note: Zi and Magic Lantern] are only the tip of the 13D iceberg at Lancer.

There's a company in Colorado called World Wireless Communications Inc. that Lancer has never filed a 13D for either. Yet the hedge fund group clearly owned at least 28.8 percent of the company's stock - and probably more than that - at the time the group collapsed. I'd be looking for a 13D from the receiver regarding that puppy any day now.

Likewise, there's a now-delisted American Stock Exchange company called Envision Development Corp. that Lancer secretly bought 11 percent of - directly from Envision's chairman, an ex-con named Andrew Evans - at an 85 percent discount from the market price three years ago. No 13Ds were ever filed for that transaction, either.

There's a busted Hollywood movie company called Total Film Group Inc., of which Lancer controlled more than 50 percent, yet for which it never filed any 13Ds. Ditto for a gas and oil outfit called Continental Southern Resources. And for a company called Lighthouse Fast Ferry. And for something called EPL Technologies . . . and on and on.

In other words, last week's two 13D filings simply confirm what has been obvious all along - that the Lancer fund had been operating year after year in open and flagrant violation of the law, yet neither the SEC nor anyone else chose to do the first thing about it, even though the evidence was staring the regulators right in the face, right in their own files.

As for the supporting players in this farce, well, none of them has suffered even so much as a wagged finger, though they, too, are easy enough to identify.

  Seattle Times: Wal-Mart changes the face of business in Mexico

Last year, 585 million people -- nearly six times the population of Mexico -- passed through its checkout lanes. With 633 outlets, Wal-Mart's Mexican operations are by far the biggest outside the United States.

Its sales represent about 2 percent of Mexico's gross domestic product -- almost the same as in the United States. Analysts say it now controls something approaching 30 percent of all supermarket food sales in Mexico, and about 6 percent of all retail sales -- also about the same as in the United States.

Friday, December 05, 2003
  NY Times: 2 Makers of Flu Shot Say They Are Out of Vaccine

Nothing better to cause a panic than the news that the product is scarce!

Thursday, December 04, 2003
  Toronto Star: Cannibal's confession shocks court

Using the pseudonym "Franky," he posted Internet ads saying: "If you are 18-25 you are my boy" or "Come to me I'll eat your delicious flesh."

More than 400 people responded, among them Brandes, a 43-year-old Berlin computer specialist.

  Seattle Times: 'Ultra' trail runners embrace wild and wintry days

Also in January, the Bridle Trails Winter Trail Running Festival held at Kirkland's always-muddy-in-winter Bridle Trails State Park includes a 50K that begins at 3 p.m., with most of the race taking place in the dark. (And, more than likely, cold.)

It also features ankle-deep mud, standing water and manure puddles hundreds of yards long. (Maybe it's better it's held in the dark; you can't see what you're running through.)

  MSNBC: AN orange a day may fight cancer

  Linux vulnerabilities galore

If the guys who are making the software can't keep their servers safe, what chance do customers have???

Debian: userland can access Linux kernel memory

Using this bug it is possible for a userland program to trick the kernel into giving access to the full kernel address space. This problem was found
in September by Andrew Morton, but unfortunately that was too late for the 2.4.22 kernel release.

Gentoo alert 200312-01 (

Don't forget that one of the GNU Savannah servers was also compromised. Streisand loses fight against online aerial photo

She lost the fight and tons more people saw her home than if she had just kept quiet. Brilliant strategy. Maybe she's going to sell the house? Her lawyers still get paid whether she won or lost...

Her suit, filed in May, sought $10 million and removal of the image. Wednesday, she lost on all counts. The judge also ordered her to pay Adelman's legal bills, which total at least $100,000.

Further, Streisand and her home -- both inside and outside -- were shown in photos included in a 1998 People magazine cover article she consented to about her at-home wedding to actor James Brolin.

``The simple fact is that `the bell cannot be unrung.' ''

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
  National Post: Support for gay marriage at 31%

No idea if the questions asked in the survey, by the National Post, a conservative newspaper, were similar to the questions in the previous surveys. If you look at support for some sort of legal union for gay people, then the majority of respondents support the idea.

When asked in the COMPAS poll to choose one of three options, 30% said marriage should include only heterosexuals, and 37% said the definition of marriage should stay intact but a new category that includes same-sex unions should be created.

Only 31% said traditional marriage should be opened to gays.

  National Post: Too many generals spoil the forces: study

"Even though the Canadian Forces has been reduced by 50% over the last 40 years, overhead (measured as the increase in supervisory groups) has increased in the same time frame by 300%."

This May, for example, there were 7,872 troops awaiting or receiving training. "Given that the recruiters are annually pumping 5,000-6,000 candidates into an individual training system that was downsized in the 1990s to handle fewer than 3,000 trainees a year, one should not be surprised to discover that thousands of paid but unqualified ... people are waiting to begin or to complete [basic] training," the study notes.

Col. Marsh, a former senior army planner, is scathing in his analysis of the military's purchasing programs, which eat up scarce defence dollars by requiring equipment be bought at a premium from certain Canadian manufacturers.

"The Department of National Defence paid an exorbitant premium for these regionally manufactured trucks, a premium estimated at 250% of the original manufacturers' retail price. In other words, the DND should have obtained twice the number of vehicles for the same price, or paid half as much for what it got."

  Globe and Mail: Ontario auditor warns of dangers

Obviously each dept has their own priorities. There should be some minimum level of service that each dept is required to meet.

If the Environment Ministry is lax in its inspections, the same cannot be said about the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services and its obsession with ensuring that videos have the correct rating sticker.

Although there were only eight complaints about video stores in the 2001-2002 fiscal year, ministry officials conducted 1,599 inspections. By contrast, they conducted only nine inspections of collection agencies although there were 3,340 complains.

And the Ministry of Community Services has high regard for the work done by secretaries. Officials there signed off on an agency's budget that called for a secretary to be hired at a salary of $178,000 a year. The job never was filled.

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