External USB Hard Drives: A Deus Ex Machina

So a laptop I recently got through the university has a rather odd defect in the keyboard, so I have to ship it back to the manufacturer for repair. However, I only figured this bug out after I spent a couple days setting the computer up which, for me, includes dual booting and installing Linux.

Thus, the problem is that I need to backup my configuration (and data) before sending it away in case they wipe the drive clean or end up giving me a new laptop (presumably of the same model). Luckily, we purchased an external hard drive last week which gives me a place to do such a backup.

Using a Linux utility for copying partition images (i.e., similar to Drive Image or Norton Ghost) on a bootable System Rescue CD, I was able to mount the USB hard drive in Linux and copy the partition images as well as a backup of the Master Boot Record to the new hard drive.

Now, provided the USB hard drive doesn’t go bad in the time it takes to get the laptop back :), I should be able to restore the system in less than an hour if need be!

Software Piracy in China

I read an interesting article in IEEE Spectrum about the problem of software piracy in China. According to the article, 92% of software loaded on Chinese PCs is pirated (yea, I know, it’s kind of dubious how they could come up with such a statistic). For Europe and the US, the figure is 36% and 22%, respectively.

According to the author of China, Inc., there’s a widespread, though seldom spoken, view that the government is to some extent intentionally lax about cracking down on piracy since it is essentially “one of the greatest industrial subsidies in the world.”

However, the article also points out how the piracy hurts the native Chinese software industry. Companies like Microsoft and Adobe can afford the piracy hit of China since they reap so many profits elsewhere in the world. However, a Chinese company will generally have to make profits in China to be successful, but the widespread piracy makes it difficult for such companies to be profitable in their native country.

That Unimpressive Energy Bill

You know it can’t be good when Senators that voted for the bill have this to say:

“Finally, by pure exhaustion, we’re going to stagger across the finish line, emaciated and without much to brag about,” Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said in an interview. “The only way we got the energy bill was to pick a lot of the meat out of it. This is not a particularly impressive bill.”

You know something’s wrong when even the more liberal Democrats are complaining about the staggering costs:

“This bill digs us deeper into a budget black hole,” said Democratic Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. “It fails to decrease our dependence on foreign oil; it rolls back important consumer protections; and, finally, it undermines some of the fundamental environmental laws that our citizens rely upon.”

Feingold tried to block the bill by arguing it exceeded congressional spending limits, but the Senate rejected that move.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the transportation bill does a whole lot better. Though, I guess it’s a matter of perspective…quotes on the bill from the same Washington Post article linked above:

  • George W. Bush:

    I am pleased that Congress met these objectives in a fiscally responsible way and without raising gas taxes.

  • John McCain:

    I wonder what it’s going take to make the case for fiscal sanity here?

Single Parents and Poverty

Interesting statistics about the correlation between poverty and single parents. Unfortunately, the proposed solutions in the article are a bit of hand waving:

Isn’t it worthwhile to spend more time and resources helping young people to understand the economic implications of single parenthood before they become single parents?

This makes the debatable assumption that people generally make rational decisions when it comes to marriage. I think there’s a significant portion of times in this situation when decisions are made based on reasons beyond pure logic.

Wouldn’t it make sense to rethink our relatively recent easy acceptance of out-of-wedlock parenting?

When can rethink a lot of situations, but that really does nothing to alleviate the problem.

And might it not be a good idea to work at restoring the influence of the community institutions, religious and civic, that used to help strengthen families?

Seems to me religious institutions in particular are very strong right now. I don’t really think they’re going to get much stronger. Plus, this approach requires the rather unpopular action of telling people they’re wrong and need to re-evaluate their decisions until they get them “right”.

Strengthening marriage is by now means an easy problem. It’s kind of like the extremely low savings rate in America. Statistics can tell us what’s more likely to be “good”, but getting people to do it is something completely different.


Another useful site is BugMeNot which is kind of a dynamic database of log-in’s and passwords for all those content website that require free registrations if you don’t want the hassle of keeping track of a bunch of log-in information.

The Futility of Customer Service Email

Sometimes I wonder why some companies even give you the option of contacting customer service via email if all they’re going to do is ask you to call their 800 number. How about just getting rid of the email option if it’s just going to be a useless step?

Case in point, we signed up for SBC/Yahoo’s $15/month DSL deal at Best Buy. The Best Buy employee has no idea whether I have to be at home the day the service activation is scheduled to occur. So, I go to SBC’s website, follow the “Contact Us” links to send their customer service an email asking whether or not I need to be at home when the service is activated. If ever there was a question that could be answered via email, this was it: a yes or no question that deals with a very common procedure. Their email response: this matter would be best dealt with by talking to a live operator, please call our 800 number.

What in the heck is the point of giving me the email option? I don’t understand.

I Passed My Prelim!!!

Last week, I cleared one of the final obstacles before graduation, my prelim exam. I’m a little late posting this news since I had to wait until that was finished before setting up this blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the weird world of academia, the prelim (in our department, at least), is where you form a committee of four faculty members and give them about a two hour presentation of what you’ve done and what you plan to do, research-wise, before graduation. They, in turn, give you suggestions of how to refine your dissertation work before your final defense. It definitely feels good to have it over with. Now comes the work of completing everything that needs to be done before graduating and starting a job search (which is a rather grueling process, particularly to try to go into academia).

The Joke That is Credit Card Signatures

Every wonder whether anyone pays attention to your signature on receipts when you use a credit card? As the guy has humorously proved in two parts, the answer is a resounding NO (unless you try to buy like three plasma screen TVs). Also, check out his further investigations into tollbooth payments and the sense of humor of US senators. Throwing about a dollar’s worth of oranges into the tollboth basket and leaving IOUs…that’s golden.


What would you reveal to the world if you knew you would remain anonymous? Find out the answer for others on PostSecret, where people send in anonymous postcards that artistically reveal their secret. Some are funny, some disturbing, but it keeps your interest as you just keep on scrolling to read more. Check back every Sunday when a new batch is posted.

What’s So Great About America

From Arrested Development, George Michael tells it like it is:

Say what you want about America – thirteen bucks can still get you a heck of a lot of mice!

In what has to be one of the funniest random lines I can remember!

Thank you Benjamin Franklin…

Or whomever invented the concept of libraries that allow me to watch the entire first season of Arrested Development on DVD free of charge. This show is the funniest sitcom on TV by like two orders of magnitude. Dare I say it’s the only one of which I’m aware that actually makes me laugh out loud.

If Seinfeld was the first sitcom to refine the concept of having all the main characters be superficial and rather unlikable, then Arrested Development takes it to a whole new level. Since people seem to love lists, I present the ten reasons why this show is hilarious (and the best sitcom since Seinfeld):

  1. Tobias has to wear cut-offs all the time since he suffers from a rare disease (that afflicts two members of the German parliament!) making him a never nude.
  2. Gob (pronounced like Job in the Bible), the aspiring magician doing all his magic shows with The Final Countdown blaring in the background.
  3. Gob riding everywhere on a Segway. Segways are just funny.
  4. Tobias, while suffering depression from his failing acting career, accidentally joins the Blue Man Group while looking for a support group.
  5. Henry Winkler (a.k.a. the Fonz), the most incompetent lawyer known to man doesn’t want to read the plea bargain because it’s “too thick”.
  6. Ben Stiller as the great magician, Tony Wonder, who randomly coughs stuff up as part of his show and created the Use Your Allusion DVDs since Guns and Roses already had rights to Use Your Illusion
  7. George Michael reviving the Jerky Boys phone gags.
  8. Lindsay and Tobias deciding to have an open marriage and then neither is able to get a date.
  9. The family has to use a stair car for airplanes to get around town.
  10. Gob failing in his magic trick to escape from prison because he can’t find a private bathroom to pass the key he swallowed.

Admittedly, the show is an acquired taste because it’s so different that the I Love Raymond mold of sitcoms. But, watch about three episodes and you’ll love it. And, lucky for you, the third season starts September 19th on Fox and the second season is out on DVD on October 11. Of course, you can always check your local library for the season one DVDs ๐Ÿ™‚

Quote on Technology

From Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of the C++ programming language:

I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.