If this doesn’t make you sad about the hell we’ve wrought with our nation’s supposed war on terror, then I’m not sure anything will. Might I ask what harm would come of us “repatriating” these nine men by offering them instant American citizenship? (Of course, who knows whether they’d take us up on it, being that our military and Executive has chosen to imprison them at Gitmo, without cause, for over four years.)

RAZR side-by-side with V60c

About a month ago, I realized that my two-year anniversary with Verizon Wireless was coming up, meaning that I was able to receive a new free (or highly-subsidized) phone from them so long as I was willing to renew my contract. For a variety of reasons, Shannon and I had already decided that I should stick with VW (and that she should join onto a family plan with me), so I went hunting to see what phones Verizon was willing to provide as part of the deal. Having putzed around with a friend’s Motorola RAZR a little bit, I was happy to see that the phone was available to me for free; after going into a store and getting some hands-on time with its competitors, I went with the RAZR. Now that I’ve had the phone for about a month, I figure it’s time for a review.

For the true geeks among you, you can now scroll through comments and posts on this site by using keyboard shortcuts — pressing ‘.’ (the period key) scrolls forward, and pressing ‘,’ (the comma key) scrolls backward. Thanks to Sam Ruby for inspiring me (and for the Javascript that I used as the basis for my resultant scripts), and to MetaFilter for being a good testing sandbox.

(For those who are interested, the choice in keys comes from reBlog, the web-based syndication aggregator I use. I’ve gotten so used to scrolling between posts with the period and comma keys that I started to unconsciously use them on other sites; that’s when I knew that I should look into how to set up the shortcuts here at home. Convincing Matt to give ‘em a whirl over at MetaFilter wasn’t too hard… seeing as he was the one that turned me onto reBlog!)

Because I like polluting my home page with scary images from the depths of my CD collection, I bring you this little guessing game: Name That Band!

name that band!

(As a bit of a sidenote, Shannon and I are both ripping all of our CDs to a server so that we can put them into deep storage forevermore. As I was ripping this one, she came in and incredulously asked, “You’re not just throwing that away?!?” Fair point… but I’m a sucker for the music of my teenage years.)

The Washington Post has a neat article about a seven-foot-wide house in Alexandria, Virginia. Built by a “frustrated bricklayer” in 1830 as a way to keep noisy people and carriages out of the alleyway next to his rowhouse, the property is just 350 square feet in total; its owner uses the tiny home ass a pied-à-terre and as a place to host business associates and out-of-town guests. And since there’s no way you’re not curious, there are a few neat pictures of the interior that really give appropriate scale to the place.

This month’s Terrific, Unbelievable, Splendiferous, Must-Read Question over at Ask Metafilter: How can I measure the weight of my head without cutting it off? As of this morning, the community hasn’t yet come up with the perfect method, but the suggestions are fantastic.

Tomorrow is the annual Blessing of the Bikes, held for the eighth time at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (As you’d expect, there’s a neat picture or two of the event from last year!) It makes me miss my old neighborhood in New York City…

After excitement turned to disappointment earlier, I decided to do a little bit of investigation with Verizon Wireless as to why Shannon and my RAZR phones will occasionally take pictures that are too large to send as picture messages or email attachments. And after a little bit of on-hold time, I’ve now had confirmed for me that there’s nothing that can be done about it, and that Verizon has no intention of making the decision that can actually fix the root problem. But first, let’s take a step back for a minute, and start from the beginning so as to better understand what’s going on.

Like all other digital cameras, there’s been major pressure on the manufacturers of camera phones to increase the quality and resolution of the cameras that are built into the devices. As a result, while we once had crappy, poorly-lit 320 by 240 images coming out of the phones, manufacturers quickly moved to VGA-caliber cameras (640 by 480), and then beyond, to megapixel-size images. (Hell, Samsung displayed a fairly ridiculous seven-megapixel camera phone last year.) So it’s fair to say that the cameras in phones sold by mobile phone carriers are getting better, and that the size of the image files that are being generated by these phones is steadily increasing as a result.

Now, like any other digital camera, the users of camera phones would ideally like to get those photos off of the camera. For one reason, the displays on most phones aren’t anywhere near the resolution of the cameras, and that means that in order to enjoy the higher resolution of the images, they need to be displayed on something other than the tiny display of the phone. (After all, it was just this past February that the first phone offering a 640 by 480 display was introduced — a phone which offers a camera that takes pictures at 16 times that resolution.) For another reason, people want to share their photos, and a photo which is trapped in the memory of a camera phone is the antithesis of a shared photo. Logically, camera phone manufacturers and wireless phone providers have thus given their users a variety of methods to get the photos off of the phone, methods which include sending them via some communications method like MMS or email, or allowing you to connect the camera phone directly to your computer via a cable or Bluetooth. In our story, here’s where the idiocy begins to creep into the mix.

Verizon Wireless sells camera phones to its customers, and also offers a service named Get it Now through which customers can download photos, ringtones, games, and whatnot to their phones. Most of Get it Now is a pay service; to download a single new wallpaper or ringtone to your phone, you pay somewhere between $2 and $7 to Verizon. Because of this, the company has opted to disable any method of directly connecting some of its phones to computers — such a connection would enable users to put their own images or ringtones onto the phone for free, something which would compete with Verizon’s pay service. In our case, the Verizon RAZR V3C has specifically been crippled, loaded with firmware which disables the Bluetooth protocol that would allow me to share files between the phone and my computer. For the most part, I couldn’t care less — I’m not someone who’s itching to create new ringtones and put them onto my phone. Alas, though, there’s a specific instance in which it becomes much more important to me that Verizon has decided to sell a crippled product.

As I mentioned above, the cameras in phones have been getting better, and with a 1.3 megapixel camera, the RAZR V3C is a testament to this. If you get a good sense of its optimal light conditions, the phone takes reasonable photos, and it’s usually not a problem for me to send them along to my Flickr account or via email to a friend or two. But on occasion (twice in the past 18 photos I’ve taken), the resulting photo file size will be larger than 300 Kb, which turns out to be the limit on Verizon’s network for sending or receiving multimedia files… and in these cases, because Verizon has opted to disable the phone’s ability to connect to computers and exchange files, there’s absolutely no way to get the photo off of the phone. (On the RAZR, you get an instant little dialog box that says “ATTACHMENT TOO BIG”, and that’s the end of that.) So, in the company’s quest to lock users into its own pay service for multimedia downloads, Verizon has created a case wherein there’s no way to upload certain images, images that are created via the ordinary use of the phone’s own camera.

So, I made a few phone calls this afternoon in an effort to see what could be done about all this. I spoke with a customer service woman at Verizon Wireless whose first response was to recommend that I stop taking pictures at the highest-resolution setting on the phone; she didn’t quite get why I wasn’t satisfied with that as an answer. She then promised to look into it and follow up with me, and an hour later called me back to place the blame squarely on Motorola (the makers of the RAZR V3C phone). One phone call to Motorola’s dedicated V3C support line (800-657-8909, for those who want that number) verified that the problem was Verizon’s own limit of 300 Kb on MMS and email attachments — and led to the Motorola tech expressing extreme exasperation that his company was willing to put its products in the hands of customers via a middleman (Verizon) who crippled those products before passing them on. My final call was back to Verizon, wherein a technical support agent verified the 300 Kb limit, and also verified that Verizon has no intention of opening up the Bluetooth file transfer protocols anytime soon. (He specifically made reference to the various internet discussion group threads surrounding the current firmware upgrade, and said that it does not give OBEX back to phones which have had it disabled.) He was sympathetic to the fact that I had photos on my phone that could not be sent anywhere but to the trash can, and promised me that he would submit my complaints via a “Voice of the Customer” process that’s internal to the support division of Verizon Wireless.

I guess this just highlights to me the reality of decisions that are made outside of their relevant contexts. Verizon Wireless chose to provide a revenue-generating multimedia download service, and then opted to protect that revenue generation by modifying the capabilities of its phones. In so doing, its methods of limiting the phones’ abilities has led to loss of functionality outside the scope of the multimedia download service — and made it impossible to work around that loss of functionality. And as an end-user of one of the affected phones, I now have to make choices that just don’t make any sense, like whether I want to take high-resolution photos that might not be usable on the Verizon network, or will settle for taking low-resolution photos that are able to be sent by my phone but look crappy as all hell. It’s just plain dumb.

Praise be to the gods of mobile telecommunications gadgets: Verizon has now released a firmware for their Motorola RAZR V3C phones that re-enables OBEX. (For those who aren’t hip to the lingo of Bluetooth, OBEX is the communications protocol that enables you to transfer binary objects — think pictures, ringtones, etc. — from your computer to your phone and vice versa.) You’ll have to go to an actual Verizon storefront to get the new firmware uploaded onto your phone, but the apparent additional improvement of the user interface speed will likely make the trip worth it a dozen times over.

In the original version of the firmware for the RAZR, Verizon “accidentally” left it enabled, meaning that customers could get their pictures off their phone and get ringtones onto their phones without having to use Verizon’s own pay-per-transfer service. A firmware update four to six months ago disabled OBEX, and those who cared were pretty upset; it’s good to see that Verizon has agreed to return the functionality to its RAZRs. The funny thing is that Shannon and I have recently realized that this is actually more important than it might seem — both of our phones have taken pictures in the past month that are then deemed too large to attach to an outgoing picture message, meaning that they’re completely trapped in the memory of the phone. Now, we’ll be able to free the pictures from their tiny jails, and use them however we want!

Update: well, maybe nevermind this. It looks like Verizon isn’t being as accommodating as was first thought to be the case — apparently, most people won’t get OBEX back on their RAZR phones. (It’s only people who had an older version of the firmware, the one with OBEX enabled to begin with, who are seeing it present in the latest update; everyone else is reporting the same crippled behavior.) The folks over at Howard Forums are still trying to get to the bottom of the issue, but for now, I’m not sure that anything’s different (except for the improved speed in the interface).

I noticed a bit of weirdness in the Google index today, weirdness that I don’t really understand.

For a few years, if you searched Google for the phrase “incredible day,” (or Yahoo!, or MSN), I was the top hit, linked to the bit I wrote about going on a visiting nurse service call and getting to be a part of saving an infant’s life back during my pediatrics internship. This always amused me (if only because I’ve never considered myself the caliber of weblogger to merit a top-Google-hit on pretty much anything); from time to time, I’ve checked in to see if the search results have changed, and they’ve stayed pretty consistent. Sometime over the past few weeks, though, Google’s results did change — I’m still the top hit, but now Google oddly links the phrase to my page about copyright infringement complaints. I’m comfortable admitting that I don’t know a ton about how the search engine giant builds its indices, but from what I do know, I can’t figure out what caused this difference.

Alas, I can only fix that which I can control. So for the mean time, I’ve changed the script on my site that associates phrase-based URLs (like “copyrightInfringement”) with actual posts, and now it looks for page requests referred by Google searches for “incredible day” and does the right thing with them. At this point, I don’t have to do anything to handle the same searches over at Yahoo! or MSN — they’re still pointing to the right place.

Fun fun fun with web scripting…

Update: Between the time I posted this entry and now, Google’s index has now moved an Ariana Huffington post above mine on the page of “incredible day” results. Interesting!

After last month’s forced resignation of Andy Card, today’s forced resignation of Scott McClellan and retooling of Karl Rove, and [future date]’s inevitable loss of the service of Donald Rumsfeld, this is complete genius. Especially the P.S.: “We want you to know it was a hard call whether to lose you or Karl. He really agonized over it.”

Oh my god, I remember being mesmerized by the Sesame Street pinball number counting clip every single time it came on when I was a kid. I could be in our family room doing something else entirely, and as soon as I heard the chant-like number that starts the video, I’d drop everything, stare at the funky colors, and get into the music. Just listening to it brings back so much.

Some things I never knew: the song is officially titled “Pinball Number Count,” there were eleven versions of the video (two through twelve, with no version ever done for the number one), and the song was sung by none other than the Pointer Sisters. Awesome. (Via Matt.)

Ahhhh, it’s that time of year again, when people enjoy a uniquely Massachusetts (and Maine!) holiday off of work, and either run 26.2 miles through the suburbs of Boston or drink an unreasonable amount of beer while cheering on the former group from the sidelines. Myself, I’m aiming to be a satellite member of the latter group, watching the runners and the drinkers from the comfort of the sidewalk in Brookline’s Washington Square. This will be the fourth year of watching the Marathon for me; three years ago, I happened to be here scouting out places to live on Marathon Monday and watched the runners as they made their final turn onto Boylston Street, and for the past two years I’ve retired to the much less crowded spot in Washington Square. It’s always a bit inspiring to see people twice my age jaunt by with a smile on their faces and energy left for the last three miles (but let’s be clear, I’ve never been so inspired as to feel that a 26.2 mile jog would be anything but sheer torture for me!). I’d love to be able to cheer on a few runners I know (or, since I’ll be at mile 23, I’d love to help resuscitate them when they collapse on the pavement after having recently crested the famous Heartbreak Hill!), but the official Boston Marathon site — the only place to find out bib numbers and keep track of a runner’s progress — has been horked all morning. Hopefully, it’ll come back up in time for me to get the info I need and wander up to Washington Square in time to see the elite runners come through!

In the days leading up to the 110th Boston Marathon (and in the spirit of all-Bill-Simmons-all-the-time), everyone who cares about 20,000 people running 26.2 miles (on roads graciously cleared of Masshole drivers) should read the Sports Guy column from just before the 2003 Marathon. It’s a question-and-answer format, and is as ragingly hysterical as everything else Simmons has penned.

Q: Why is it that you can’t buy most products unless they have tamper-proof packaging, but when you run the marathon, you eagerly accept oranges and water from complete strangers who might be raging psychopaths?
A: No idea.

There are times I laugh my ass off when I read the latest Bill Simmons has to say in his Sports Guy column over at ESPN.com, and then there are times when I laugh my ass off and recognize him as a total genius. From his mailbag column this week, in which readers email in questions for him:

Q: I love TiVo, but why can’t I change the name of my saved shows? In the days of the video, I could tape what I want, change the name to “Broncos Highlights — 1994” and rest assured my wife would never look at it. Now, if I TiVo something she might not like, “Naughty Nurses” is right on the saved list. Has there ever been a better product with such an obvious oversight?
—Brendan Lane, Darnestown, Md.
Sports Guy: You’re a genius. They should add a special feature called “TiVo Camouflage” for an extra $9.95 a month. Every time you record a movie like “Naughty Nurses,” TiVo Camouflage automatically changes the title of the show to something concurrently running on the NFL Network. That can’t miss.

Seriously, this might be the best thing ever.

Awesome — Vice President Cheney threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals home opener yesterday, and was resoundingly booed from the moment he stepped foot on the field through the moment he disappeared back into the dugout. (You can listen yourself here, although it’s Fox News, and the producers unsurprisingly muted the crowd for a few seconds in the middle before giving in and letting us hear the disapproval.)

Wow — I never realized that Google uses different sources for the maps it displays on its own Google Maps app and the ones it serves to developers who use the Google Maps API.

Looking around for a Google Maps mashup of the 2006 Boston Marathon route, I found this little application over at Running Ahead. I meandered my way to the intersection at which I usually plant myself to watch the runners go by, but I realized that the Running Ahead application didn’t allow me to bookmark that specific view so I headed over to the normal Google Maps site to find the intersection and bookmark it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I zoomed in and noticed that there was an entire street missing — Danforth Road was present on the Running Ahead map, but just wasn’t there on the map being served up on the “regular” Google Maps site. Looking more closely at the two maps, I noticed that the one at Running Ahead had a copyright notice for Tele Atlas, and the one at Google Maps was copyright NAVTEQ; noticing that Danforth Road is also missing on the NAVTEQ-based Yahoo Maps beta, I figure the source of the map data is what explains the difference.

Apparently, the differences aren’t just limited to the roads on the maps; the NAVTEQ sources provide satellite imagery at a higher resolution than Tele Atlas, meaning that Google Maps can zoom in closer than anything that’s user-generated via the API. I’m sure there are other differences, as well; now, I know enough to pay attention and find them!

Just a quick public note to Dan Cederholm (the man behind SimpleBits), his wife Kerry, and his three-month-old Jack to say glad everything went well! Jack just underwent surgery at the fabulous Children’s Hospital Boston to correct two congenital heart defects, and is recovering quickly enough to be out of the intensive care unit. Go Jack!

Over at Slate, John Dickerson has a great article arguing that the most important point to focus on in the is-it-a-leak-if-Bush-authorized-it debate is that regardless of the answer, the whole situation makes clear how hypocritical our President is, and how little we can trust the words that come out of his mouth. (Remember, Scooter Libby’s grand jury testimony only confirms something that’s been discussed out in the open for a while now.)

Since the beginning of the Valerie Plame investigation, Bush has been firmly on-record as saying that leaks of information will not be tolerated. With quotes like “If there’s a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,” “somebody in our government wanted to show off to his family, or her family, in between Christmas and New Year’s by leaking information in the press that he or she thought would be helpful to the government,” and calling the NSA wiretapping leak “a shameful act” that is “helping the enemy,” it’s hard to then argue that Bush’s choice to authorize his staff to leak information from the National Intelligence Estimate is anything but pure hypocrisy.

The sum of everything that we’ve learned about the Bush Administration — the deceit in the run-up to the war in Iraq, the approval of use of torture in our treatment of prisoners, the authorization of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens on U.S. soil (something the Administration is now saying it can do even if both participants in a phone conversation are within national borders!), the brazen lobbyist influence within the White House, and now the authorization from the Oval Office to use classified information for political ends — is so much worse than anything which occurred during Clinton’s eight years in office, and yet it was then that we as a nation found ourselves wrapped up in impeachment hearings. It’s all just stunning.

I’m sure that there are people who find them annoying, but I think that the new Washington, D.C. Metro advertisements are pretty damn cool. It’s a format that the ad design folks can probably be pretty creative with, and it’ll be neat to see little movies outside the windows of the train…

Oh, this makes me sad — NASA’s Spirit rover definitely has a bum paw. Fortunately, it has five other paws, but its engineers will still have to navigate around any terrain that might put the little guy in danger of getting stuck.

“Rep. Tom DeLay will drop out of his re-election race.” The bigger they are, the harder they fall…