It’s black cat day again. I love (black) cats.

One thing I like a lot less is daylight savings time. It’s unnecessary and annoying. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just tell everyone to get up an hour earlier (or later) if it saves some energy? And I’m not even sure that it does.

This morning, I decided to clean my main workstation, as it’s been noisier than usual these last couple of days. Sure enough, it had plenty of dust and cat hair in it, but I also noted that a little motherboard fan was not working. I had spares, so I decided to replace it. Removing it is not easy, as it is in an awkward location, and I also had to resolder its connector onto the new fan.

That having been done, I rebooted my machine. Or, I tried to anyhow, but it failed to boot. It failed to do anything after the BIOS initialization. After a while, I realized that for some weird reason, it was trying to boot from an attached USB device. I disconnected the device, but still nothing… worse than nothing, actually, as it told me that my system disk is unbootable.

Actually, I should say disks, as I am using a dual drive mirror configuration in this computer. After poking around in it some more, I realized that I have inadvertently knocked out a cable from one of the drives. Unfortunately, reconnecting this cable didn’t help… the system was still unbootable.

And I’ve seen this before! A while back, a similar thing happened… one drive was disconnected, and when I reconnected it, the stupid RAID controller somehow managed to wipe the boot sector from both. What on Earth it did that for, I have no idea. But this is why I have a spare computer with identical drives and RAID controller… once I understood what was happening, the solution was to simply remove both drives, put them into USB cases, connect them to the other computer, and then copy over the boot sector using a raw disk editor. Easier said than done, of course, especially as I couldn’t find a raw disk editor on that spare machine (I swear I used to have one installed!) but eventually downloaded HxD, a very fine free disk editor that I have used before.

Two hours after I began, I had a working computer again. Still, it’s not a fun way to start a morning when you need both a soldering iron and a raw disk editor to get your computer working again…

Yesterday, I phoned Rogers, basically because I wanted to give them some more of my money. At the same time, I also wanted to complain; several analog cable channels still have just one side (left or right) of the stereo audio (I first reported this almost a year ago, still unfixed), and I wanted to know why they’re suddenly charging me more, claiming that a bundle discount I used to get “expired”.

To make a long story short, after being interrupted and lectured about matters of life by an impertinent representative (one example: “Why do you want to have the analog service repaired when it will be discontinued in a few months anyhow?”) I asked for his supervisor. Predictably, I was told that the supervisor was not available, but they’d phone me back in 24 hours.

That was more than 24 hours ago. Needless to say, I’m still waiting… and I’m not the only one. I am getting more and more fed up with monopolies.

It appears that the test launch of NASA’s Ares I-X rocket was successful. This is very good news indeed.

When will companies finally learn that Activation and copy protection do little to deter real piracy, only punish and alienate legitimate users? Here is something I just came across in a PC World blog:

“Microsoft support reps were still replying to users’ questions about product keys with a canned response citing ‘several reasons why a product key might not be accepted.’

“Essentially, either, ‘You mistyped it. The product key you typed doesn’t match the key assigned to Windows on your computer. Microsoft has identified the product key you entered as counterfeit,’ or ‘the product key has already been used on another computer,’ according to Microsoft.

“One person griped: ‘I Have been on the phone since 4 pm EST and I still don’t have a valid product code. Thank you Microsoft! Thank you for wasting my valuable time! Time is money and this had been a flagrant waste of it,’ wrote thatguy38.”

So all you’re trying to do is install legitimately purchased software, and you end up with a major headache, a useless computer, lots of wasted time, and on top of that you might get accused of theft. Talk about a strong incentive to either use cracked pirate copies or to forego using commercial software altogether, switching to open source instead.

Recently, I bought a television series on DVD online. One of the DVDs appears unreadable. I noticed some scratches on it, but I also noticed that it happened to carry the HD DVD label. Is it possible that one of the disks in the boxed set was mistakenly an HD DVD? Unfortunately, I don’t have an HD DVD drive in which to test it.

Which reminded me that I’ve actually been meaning to buy an HD DVD drive before they vanish completely, just to be able to read HD DVDs in case I come across any. I looked and found one online that I liked. I tried to buy it… only to be informed repeatedly by Yahoo shopping that “there was a problem saving your information and basket”.

No matter, it can wait… I’ve also been meaning to do another thing this morning, namely to buy a new Microsoft Developer Network subscription. So I went to the MSDN Web site, clicked all the right buttons, logged in with my blasted Microsoft Live ID, and presto… I was told by Microsoft that they “are unable to validate your customer information and proceed with your order at this time”.

Looks like The Powers That Be just don’t want me to spend any money this morning. No matter, I have better things to do with it… and with my time, too.

I wanted to look up Barry Newman, the star of Vanishing Point, that legendary 1971 road movie. Accidentally, I entered Newman’s name into the URL field in Mozilla Firefox. Rather than telling me that I am full of nonsense or taking me to a search engine, Firefox instantly brought up the Internet Movie Database page on Barry Newman. What can I say… I know how it is done, but that doesn’t mean that I am unimpressed by how well it is done.

First, it was the multiverse. Then came Boltzmann brains. Now here’s another intriguing idea: the cancellation of the Superconducting Supercollider project in the 1990s and last year’s failure of one of the Large Hadron Collider’s magnets at CERN are just two manifestations of manifest bad luck brought about by the fact that the Higgs particle simply cannot be discovered; that its discovery at any time in the future propagates backwards in time, causing events that prevent its discovery in the first place.

An intriguing idea, though not precisely original, as something much like it was already published in the form of John Cramer‘s excellent science fiction novel, Einstein’s Bridge. And when I say intriguing, I mean intriguing… as the basis of a science fiction story. But as the basis of a scientific paper? Another adjective comes to my mind… appalling.

There are uncanny coincidences in life, so much so that I sometimes wonder, are we all just one giant computer simulation using a less-than-perfect random number generator?

Take this, for instance… yesterday, I copied to a hard drive our collection of Monty Python DVDs. I also looked at one episode, and in it there was a sketch that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, a sketch about flying sheep. Flying sheep??? But later yesterday, here’s what was on CBC Newsworld, also repeated this morning:

Flying sheep

Yes, flying sheep. Hanging sheep to be precise, as they are being carried across the rocky terrain on the Faeroe Islands.

Or how about this: a few days ago, my wife returned from Hungary with my mother’s old laptop (actually, my old laptop, but it’s been in my mother’s possession for many years) and much to our sadness, we found that its screen got broken during the trip. I know laptop screens break regularly, but it’s not something I run across often, indeed I think this was only the second time that I have seen a broken laptop screen up close. But today, I went to the barber… who, while waiting for customers, happened to be busy transferring files to a USB stick off a laptop with, you guessed it, a broken screen.

So is this just pure randomness? Or is the world suffering because God uses a broken random number generator?

Many people consider it a “gross invasion of privacy” that someone can take pictures of their streets and post it on the Internet. “What if they see my car in my driveway?” they scream at the top of their lungs, as if Google broke some long established taboo by photographing a public street.

But wait a minute… are these the same people who readily submit to having their laptops searched, its content, personal and business, examined and scrutinized, just so that customs can catch the occasional pedophile?

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t care less if Google posts photographs of my street or my house. On the other hand, I am so concerned about real invasions of my privacy, I am willing to face the wrath of customs agents by using Bruce Schneier’s method of laptop protection against unwarranted searches.

Curiously, most of the people commenting on Schneier’s article completely misunderstand his point: it’s not that I have anything illicit or shameful on my laptop that I need to hide. That would be easy. It’s that I object to the principle of strangers going through my entire life.

The really scary thing is that so many people, citizens of supposedly free countries, already adopted such a strong police state mentality: rather than looking for a lawful way to maintain their privacy, they are discussing various ways to break the law without getting caught. What I like about Schneier’s method is that it does not involve breaking the law: all my statements to customs agents would be truthful. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished… I’ll likely be harassed more than the smartalec who just creates a hidden partition on his laptop and keeps the visible partition sterile. But, at least I’ll suffer with a clean conscience, whatever good that does.

I bought this at our favorite Portuguese bakery the other day:

In case it’s not obviously visible from the picture, it’s a sliced loaf of bread… sliced lengthwise, that is.

No, I did not ask for it to be sliced lengthwise. I’d have preferred it to be sliced the conventional way, but unfortunately, I was late to the bakery, and this was the last loaf of their uniquely tasty nine-grain bread that day. So I bought it, and they were kind enough to sell it to me at a discount.

The explanation? “New employee,” I was told. Now why do I have the feeling that this new employee will not be employed at that place very long?

Then again, it could have been worse. She could have sliced it horizontally.

I’ve received the most curious scam e-mail the other day. The message body was a brief one-liner: “Open the attachment and I will be glad to hear from you soon.” Not exactly the best way to start a scam, since in this day and age, most people know (you’d hope) not to open attachments coming from strangers.

I opened the attachment anyway. Well, I’m allowed to. Dare I say, I’m qualified to. I opened it because it was just an ordinary plain text file and I was curious. And yes, I had ways of knowing that it was safe even before I opened it.

Here is what the attachment contained, in its entirety:

Dearest

With Due Respect and Humanity, I was compelled to write to you under a
humanitarian ground. My name is MRS. JULIE BRYANT; I was married to late
Dr. ADEL BRYANT, a contractor and diamond dealer for Thirty-two years
before he died in the year 2005. He died after a brief illness that
lasted only four days. Since after his death, I decided not to marry
again. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of $3.8 Million in a Bank in Spain and the money is still there. Recently, My Doctor told me about my condition due to my cancer problem and having known my condition. I have decided to handle over this money to a honest and god fearing Individual, group organization that will utilize this fund for the services of mankind, helping the motherless homes, orphans, widows, as desired by my late husband when he was alive. I want you to always remember me in your daily prayers because of my upcoming Cancer Surgery, although I am not afraid of death hence I know where I am going. With God all things are possible. As soon as I receive your reply, I shall give you other information’s on how you can receive this money from the bank. I will be glad to hear from you soon. Yours faithfully MRS. JULIE BRYANT Reply me at mrsjuliebryant@btinternet.com Rosemaira Romero TICKET No: 20511465463-7644 REF No: 5687SPL876 BATCH No: SPYU6868 You have just been awarded the sum of 950,000,00 Euros Only which was won by your E-MAIL Address in our EUROMILLIONES de la Primitiva Lottery Promotions here in spain madrid. Do get back to this office with your requirement via (Lottery Trusi Agent) Name: Eduardo Daniel Email address: eduardo.daniel@btinternet.com Email: mr.eduardodaniel@gmx.com Names :............ Address :................ Country :................ Phone No :.............. Occupation :.............. Age :..................... Sex :................. Mrs. Anita Perez , (Lottery coordinator Angel Sharon angelsharon@rediffmail.com Dearest With Due Respect and Humanity, I was compelled to write to you under a humanitarian ground. My name is Mrs Angel Sharon; I was married to late Dr. ADEL BRYANT, a contractor and diamond dealer for Thirty-two years before he died in the year 2005. He died after a brief illness that lasted only four days. Since after his death, I decided not to marry again. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of$3.8
Million in a Bank in Spain and the money is still there.

Recently, My Doctor told me about my condition due to my cancer problem
and having known my condition. I have decided to handle over this money
to a honest and god fearing Individual, group organization that will
utilize this fund for the services of mankind, helping the motherless
homes, orphans, widows, as desired by my late husband when he was alive.
I want you to always remember me in your daily prayers because of my
upcoming Cancer Surgery, although I am not afraid of death hence I know
where I am going.

shall give you other information’s on how you can receive this money
from the bank. I will be glad to hear from you soon.

Yours faithfully
Mrs Angel Sharon
Reply me at angel.sharon@btinternet.com

Yes, that’s three scams in one e-mail. Or rather, two scams, but one repeated with two different names. The e-mail purportedly came from a “Mrs Angel Sharon” so presumably, the last of the three was the scam that they intended to send. (Note though that in this last variant, they changed the name of the widow but neglected to change the name of the husband to match). So what am I supposed to do now? Reply to all three, in the hope that I get twice the $3.8 million inheritance in addition to the €950,000 lottery win? Or perhaps I’m better off spending my limited amount of time answering some of the other e-mails I got, like the notification from a Peter Olu telling me that the government of Nigeria is ready to send me my contract payment of$4.5 million, the note from a Dr. Robert F. Johnson letting me know about a consignment briefcase of $2.5 million, the e-mail from Sgt. Tom Kennedy in Iraq who wants to give me$8 million out of $20 million that he’s trying to smuggle out of the country, or the notification from no less a personage than Robert Muller from the FBI, letting me know about the$10 million I am about to receive from Nigeria?

Do people still fall for these dumb scams? They must, otherwise they’d no longer be in circulation. And sometimes I am inclined to think that those who are greedy or stupid enough to become victims of these scamsters deserve what they get. Now, is there a way to tell scamsters that an e-mail address that has been in circulation for over 15 years does not belong to a likely victim? Guess not…

Breaking news on CNN:

But is it really a good thing? Who else agreed with Iran that inspectors should be nuked?