Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why A More Complex Password Policy Is Not Always Better

Just about anybody who uses the internet knows that passwords are a necessary evil. And the advent of more and more complex password policies has made them even more evil. The problem is that you want the proper amount of security while still being able to remember the passwords so that you can access your accounts and information. Too simple of a password and an attacker can crack or brute force it. Too complex of a password and the user will not be able to remember it. Many organizations have tried to offer solutions to the problem, but none have succeeded thus far. Why not? Will anybody ever come up with a better solution? Well as of now the answers to these questions are unknown.

The reason is that different sites have different requirements for their passwords. Nowadays it is not uncommon for password policies to require upper case as well as lower case letters, along with characters such as numbers and symbols, with a minimum of 8 characters. Some sites won't let you use a dictionary word, others make you change your password every few months and you can't repeat the passwords that you have previously used. You can see why organizations require complex passwords, but it is causing less convenience for end users. This eventually leads to less security in the end, as people are more likely to write down their passwords and store them in clear text or even physical format that can easily be copied or stolen. Another common effect is that people will forget their password and have to have it sent to them via email. This is an absolute no-no because emails are unencrypted and you never know where your data is going through to reach its destination. Some places require what is called a pass phrase, which is basically a very long password that is essentially a phrase or sentence. Not only is this harder to remember but it is much less convenient because it takes much longer to enter and more prone to errors while typing as people can't see what it is they are typing. Biometrics are starting to replace or supplement passwords, pass phrases, pin numbers, and other security measures in recent years. But biometrics aren't the answer for most situations. Especially web sites, as most computers and portable devices don't have the necessary hardware. Some

While there is no magical silver bullet that will make everything totally secure and provide the ease of use that end users desire, the best security is achieved through multiple levels. The best way to get the most security is to combine different security methods together, such as passwords, biometrics, time based tokens, key cards, etc. These make up the security triad: something you have, something you are, and something you know. This makes it much harder for somebody to gain unauthorized access. As previously mentioned, this is hard to implement on the web so what can organizations do to increase security on the web? One way is to store passwords and phrases on your device in an encrypted database that is sand-boxed from other programs and processes and can only be accessed by the user once he or she has input the master password or phrase along with a biometric element. Multiple biometric methods can be used at once to increase security. Time based tokens or key cards are less likely to be used for things like websites. Biometric scans can take the form or iris scanning or fingerprint reading that requires separate dedicated sensors on each device to be used. More and more phones and computers have biometric sensors nowadays but it is still v 00uuery far from being in widespread use. But biometrics can be achieved using standard pieces of equipment such as a camera or microphone. A standard camera can be used to take a picture of your face, eyes, or other body parts which can then be analyzed and compared scientifically and mathematically to the data in the database. Microphones can be used to analyze voice patterns and phrases. Most cell phones have at least one camera, while many cell phones have a front facing camera in addition to the rear camera or a camera that can move from front to back. Many tablets have a front facing camera and more and more laptops and desktop monitors have built in cameras as well. Today pretty much all laptops and tablets have a microphone built in, and every single cell phone has a microphone. If these devices came with or had available to download apps to store and access passwords, pin codes, pass phrases and more it would make the task of storing and retrieving the passwords much much easier and convenient for users. Password storage apps are nothing new, I've known of them for decades now. But they are getting better and easier to use. Before they were cumbersome and hard to use properly and they presented a security issue. But if biometrics were used more I think it would make it more convenient and secure, essentially killing two birds with one stone. I think that biometric incorporation as well as browser integration and manufacturer adoption would increase the use of these types of password storage and retrieval apps exponentially. The problem is that you would always need to have your device on you to access the sites, even if you wanted to use another device to access the service. Companies like Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and others have tried to make user experience the same across all platforms so they could use this advantage to make password storage easier and more secure at the same time. Think about it: if you had an Android tablet and cell phone as well as a Chromebook laptop and a Google TV, or an iPhone and iPad in addition to your MacBook and iMac then you could store all your secure and complex passwords on one device and then have the encrypted information available on all devices via the cloud. And since all current iPads, iPhones, iMacs, and Macbooks have cameras and microphones, you could unlock your password list with up to two forms of biometrics and a complex password to provide much more security than before and then you would only have to remember one password or phrase. Of course if you want you could make the password simple to remember, which would make it less secure. But with the addition of biometrics, even a very simple password or pin code would be much harder to bypass or crack than a complex password alone. Imagine if you could quickly type in one password and just look at the phone and say a word or phrase and then you could unlock all your passwords at once. This way you could have secure access to all your sites, services, data, and files with much more convenience than currently available. I think more companies should offer this on their new devices. It would cause more people to buy multiple devices from one manufacturer also, so it would increase brand loyalty and sales in general. However like I said before there is no magic silver bullet. Biometrics can fail too. If you got into a fight and your face was bruised and bloody and your nose was stuffed up and made your voice sound different, the software might not recognize you. So while this may not be the perfect solution to the password problem, I think it is a step in the right direction. You could always have backups and alternate methods to gain access such as personal questions etc.

How To Make Lazy Man Macaroni and Cheese - Cooking Macaroni And Cheese In The Microwave

Macaroni and cheese is a simple and cheap meal that you can easily make in a few minutes. It may not be the best gourmet meal that you've ever had, but it gets the job done. There are many different types of macaroni and cheese that you can make and different brands and styles that you can buy. The two most popular types of macaroni and cheese dinner are the kind with elbow macaroni and powder cheese, also known as Kraft dinner in Canada, or the kind with shells and a cheese that has a somewhat thick liquidy consistency like the kind sold under the Velveeta brand name. They are both cheap and easy to make, costing less than a few bucks per box and ready to eat in a matter of minutes. They recommend cooking it on a stovetop but it is not necessary. I find it easier to make macaroni and cheese lazy man style! I use a cup sometimes for extra laziness.

So how do you make this delicacy? Well its actually pretty easy. All you need is any kind of macaroni or pasta product and some cheese product. You don't want to use regular cheese from a block. I either use the powdered cheese from Kraft macaroni dinners or velveeta cheese. Velveeta cheese can be purchased seperately from the macaroni which makes it even cheaper to make and easier to measure and store. So instead of buying a box of Velveeta shells and cheese you can buy shell macaroni for about a dollar and a block of Velveeta cheese for about three dollars, which will give you about 4 servings at about a dollar each, as opposed to the boxed stuff which costs 2 to 3 dollars or more depending on where you buy it. So whatever way you buy it you need your macaroni and cheese. Simple enough so far, right?

Next you take some macaroni and put it in a microwave safe container. As mentioned previously, you can use a cup for that added lazy man touch. I use about half a box of Kraft dinner or Velveeta shells, equal to about a half a bowl of dry pasta. Then you pour water into the container, enough to cover the macaroni entirely but not too much as to where it will boil over. Then you put it in the microwave and nuke it for a few minutes. I find 4-5 minutes works best for me but it will depend on a few things like how powerful your microwave is and how much you are cooking. Once it is done your macaroni will have a nice al dente consistency which means it is squishy but not mushy: soft but not falling apart. If necessary you can add more water if it looks like there is not enough, or drain some water if there is too much. You don't want to dry the pasta out or it will ruin it, so if it is your first time experiment a little and check it about halfway to see how it is coming along. Then you take it out and mix your cheese in. Let it cool for a bit and then dive right in and devour your nice little homemade meal. See, it wasn't that hard was it? So easy, even I can cook it! Next time if you're lucky maybe I'll show you how to cook lazy man cereal!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cheapest Energy Drinks - Get Your Energy Drinks For Less, Only Pennies Per Serving Of Energy Drink

With a normal Redbull can costing $2-3 for a single serving, energy drinks can get expensive. Even energy shots like 5 Hour Energy brand shots are multiple dollars each serving. Why spend a few bucks per can when you can spend only pennies to get the exact same energy producing ingredients that all the other energy drinks pack?

Well I found a way to get energy drinks for way less than they are in stores. And you don't have to buy in bulk or stock up on tons of cans. You don't even need to have a case of 5 hour energy bottles either. You only need one package per flavor. How is this possible? With the creation of concentrated liquid drink mixers that have recently flooded the market, such as the Mio brand. They come in all flavors and types of drinks by many different manufacturers. They have normal soft drinks like Crystal Light and Kool-Aid as well as sports drinks similar to Gatorade, in addition to the energy drink variety of mixes. They come in small containers with under 2 oz of liquid that you squirt into water and then mix. They are extremely easy to squirt into a cup or a bottle and then stir or shake up and enjoy. Some brands come in a powder or tablet form that are also mixed with water to create the drink. And with up to 24 servings per container at a price tag as low as $2.99, that comes to less than 13 cents each serving. Even if you buy a single bottle of water from the gas station or convenience store for a dollar it is still much less than a Redbull or Monster energy drink. They come in many different flavors too, so you are sure to find one that you like best. And with a whole package containing about 20 servings for about the price of one can of Monster you can stock up on all the flavors and still save a ton of money. I have tried a total of three flavors: Mixed Berry, Black Cherry and a flavor called Green Thunder. I think they are all pretty tasty, which I can't say about most energy drinks on the market. Regular Redbull and Rockstar energy drinks are hard to drink due to their strong flavor. The Mio , ZipFizz, and generic brand of energy drink concentrates and mixes are much better in my opinion, making them much easier to drink the whole serving without wasting any. Some of them do not have carbonation, making it is even easier to drink than the carbonated energy drinks you find at the store. So if you drink energy drinks regularly or are sick of spending so much just to get a little burst of energy, try out the liquid drink mixes like Mio and the even cheaper store brand products to save a ton of money. I promise it will be worth it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

No I Don't Work Here - Why Don't Salesmen Know Their Products?

Today I went to the Sprint store with a friend. While there a lady came in and asked the only person working there at the time if he could fix her phone's internet connection. I guess that she had an android and had just turned off the data connection option. I said it aloud to her that it would probably be an easy fix and briefly explained what had happened. After messing with the phone for a minute or two the guy handed it back and affirmed that I was 100% correct. He then said to me (and no I'm not joking or exaggerating at all) "Hey you used to work at Sprint, huh?" I just laughed at the absurdity of the statement. Not only have I never worked at Sprint, I've never worked in any cell phone store or even any retail outlets at all. I just found it funny that he thought the only people who would know the answer to that question would have to be a former employee.

After this, someone asked about a new phone that was waterproof, to which the salesman motioned to a large image of a Sprint Nextel work phone that had a huge rubber case to protect it. Although this phone may be waterproof, this wasn't the phone they were talking about. But the salesman persisted, saying that this was the only phone on the market that had the ability to be submersed in water. However I was watching TV earlier today and saw the phone that they were asking about. The thing is it was a Samsung Galaxy model that is only available from AT&T. So no wonder he didn't know, but come on man, there are more phones in the world than just what they sell where you work. Also while there I noticed him trying to get people to upgrade to phones that they didn't need just so he could charge them more. He went on to say how Androids were so much better because you didn't have to pay for ringtones, apps, or any other kinds of downloads while on iPhone you have to pay an arm and a leg. Once she decided on an Android phone he mentioned how there was no on board storage on Android based phones and that she needed a memory card to save anything on it. While some phones may not have a ton of on board storage, many do have a decent amount of storage on board or they come with a memory card that has a few gigs of storage space available on it. I know some phones can't capture pictures without a memory card, but that is not always the case. And many people don't ever save anything on their phones whatsoever so it isn't absolutely necessary. And then, just like all salesmen, he exaggerated how big of a memory card she needed. He coaxed her into buying a memory card that cost her like $50 extra, saying that this is the one she needed and that anything else would run out of room in no time. Now if she would have just shopped around or went online she could have found a similar memory card for less than half the price that she paid. It's just funny how people sway customers in certain ways that don't help the customer at all. He said that he didn't like iPhones and even though that is what the customer wanted, she should get an Android because they are all better. Ironically the person that I went to the store with wanted to get an Android phone and walked out with an iPhone! Go figure that one out!

I've had the same feelings about electronics salesmen all my life. I often know more about the products that they are selling than they do. I am constantly correcting them about things they say as they try to coax me into buying a product that will give them a higher commission. Once I display my knowledge the always get very defensive so nowadays I try not to do it unless necessary. This way they don't get mad at me and mess up my purchase somehow. I have never really wanted to be a salesman but now that I think of it I would be pretty good at it. I once had a friend who worked at a car dealership and he asked if I wanted a job but I turned it down because I was trying to pursue a job in my career field. But now I would take whatever job I could make the most money at for the time being. If I could sell phones, computers, TVs, or even cars I would be able to sell them like hotcakes. I'm a little shy at first but once I get confident and comfortable I am unstoppable. If given the chance I bet I could be a top seller at whatever I tried my hand at. Especially if it was an item I was familiar with. Maybe one day I will try my hand at selling for a living.

Artie Lange's Too Fat To Fish: Autobiography of Comedian, Actor, Radio Host and Now Author Artie Lange

Artie Lange has been working in comedy for years, but he got his big break when he started working on the Howard Stern Show in FM radio. He started working on the show as a replacement for head writer Jackie Martling, but immediately became much more on the show than Howard or anybody else could have envisioned. Not only did he take over Jackie's role as writer, he contributed directly to the show on-air as a quick witted sidekick who had tons of great stories and anecdotes. Artie had been in a few movies and TV shows before but the Stern Show gained him millions of fans almost over night. At the height of his career, Artie wrote the story of his life in his memoirs which he titled, "Too Fat To Fish" after the time his mother told him he couldn't go fishing with his boss, not because he was drunk and hungover, but because he was too fat to fish. Among the story of that fateful day his mother forbid him to go fishing, there are dozens of great stories in the book, both happy and uplifting as well as depressing and sad. Artie's life has ranged the gamut of emotions, and this book tells about the highs and the lows. And trust me, while there are plenty of lows there are also plenty of highs! (Pun intended).

Artie has since left the Howard Stern Show and now hosts his own show nightly on the radio and TV. Although his audience is smaller than it was when he was on the Stern Show, Artie still has tons of loyal fans and continues to make people laugh each and every night. If you are a fan of Artie Lange, or if you were a listener of Stern's radio show while Artie was on it, or even if you liked him on Mad TV or the Norm Show, Artie Lange's Too Fat To Fish is a must read book. If you have ever lost someone close to you way too early, or have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction and depression then you will relate to the story even more. Artie has lived through some amazing things and he tells all in his book. Also in the book is Artie's all time biggest secret that he never told anybody about until the day the book was released. It was too big for him to talk about on the radio, too big for satellite radio, too big for TV even. But not too big for his book. What is Artie's big secret? Well you will just have to read the book to find out! And trust me you will know it when you hear it. I was reading about quarter the way through and thought is this the secret? Then again 20 pages or so later I thought for sure I had just read it. But then when I did read it, I knew. It's that big. So find out for yourself what was too much for Artie to announce on the air and read Too Fat To Fish by Artie Lange. Buy Too Fat To Fish by Artie Lange today.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Apple's New Version Of iOS: iOS 7

Apple's mobile operating system, iOS is getting a new release later this year. The new version, named iOS 7, is set to have an entire new look as well as add many great new features. Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi called it a new beginning for iOS. iOS 7 will be released to the public later this fall.More info about iOS 7.

James Gandolfini Dies From Heart Attack At Age 51

A few days ago the actor that played the mob boss Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini, died at the age of 51 in Italy after suffering a heart attack. It is very sad when somebody dies, especially when they are still pretty young. I know because my dad died at the age of 55 from a heart attack and I still have a hard time coping with the loss of my best friend and father. James was a great actor and many people loved the hit TV show, The Sopranos, mainly because of his great acting. I don't think anybody could really take his place in this role. He was such a great actor that many people believed that he was that way in real life, that he sounded the same, acted the same, dressed the same, that he was the same person as the character. That means that he was so good that he actually convinced people that he was in fact Tony Soprano.

I was listening to the radio today when the host was talking about his death. He was reading from an article that was in a newspaper that was describing his last night. The tone of the article seemed to be demeaning and rude towards the actor. It stated that at his last meal he ate and drank a whole bunch and insinuated that it caused his heart attack. It stated that he had 2 plates of fried prawns slathered in a mayonaise sauce, before his main course of fois gras. In addition, he had 4 shots of rum and 2 pina coladas before he finished off with 2 beers. The newspaper seemed to think that 8 drinks over dinner was outrageous and that the meal itself was much more than one man can handle. It said that his son had to look on and watch his father eat this while he was FORCED to eat his own meal, like James hoarded all the food and drinks to himself and made the kid eat scraps! As the radio host said, who doesn't eat their own meal in this day and age? Who goes out to eat and gets their own food? Who gets to eat whatever they want? Who gets to have multiple drinks at dinner? Who could ever follow up a few shots with more drinks? And who could ever drink beer after that? And who would ever eat 2 plates of fried prawns? And who would ever want fatty duck liver? The news report seemed to imply that the food and drink was the cause of his death. That one single meal was the reason that he died that night. That perhaps if he didn't drink those drinks that he would still be alive. Well maybe if he lived his entire life differently he would have had a different outcome. Maybe if he ate only vegan food and didn't drink he might have lived longer. But you don't know that, he might have had hereditary problems that lead to his heart attack. He could have died anyways no matter what he ate or drank. Even if he didn't die that exact night, his body was getting weaker and weaker and a heart attack was iminent. I believe that even if it didn't happen that night it was bound to happen soon. I guarentee that he was much happier having lived his life how he wanted than if he were to live it how everyone tells him he should. I believe that James Gandolfini should have been allowed to eat and drink whatever he wanted and live his life however he wanted. If he wanted to eat fried foods and drink with dinner, God bless him! It was his last meal and the reporters are acting like he should have been ashamed to eat like that. I hope everyone could get to enjoy their last meal. We never know when it will be our last, so we should enjoy it while we can. My father was forced to fast before he went to the hospital so they could do tests on him. He ended up never leaving that hospital so he never even got to eat a last meal. His last meal was probably some dinky little microwave dinner days before he died. That makes me sad just to think of it. I wish I could have taken him to the best dinner ever and that he could have ate and drank his way to being fat and full over a great dinner with his family. And that is what James Gandolfini did. He ate a great last meal with his son in Italy. A great dinner with his beloved family in a beautiful country. If anybody said that about my dad I would be so angry at them. Let him live how he wanted and now that he is gone, let him rest in peace. Who cares what his last meal was, it is nobody's business. I hope him and his son had a great time and that his son will remember that dinner as a great memory for years to come. I cherish all the memories of my dad and am grateful for every moment that I ever got to spend with him. I bet that Gandolfini's family feels the same way, and they don't need reporters throwing in their 2 cents on the situation. Shame on the reporters who tried to put their own spin on the story of Gandolfini's death. Live and let live. If it is not your business, then leave your rude opinions to yourself. Rest in peace James Gandolfini, you were a great actor.

Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Post Merger

It's been a while since Sirius and XM merged. A few things have changed, but most things have stay exactly the same. Before the merger was approved, there was a lot of talk about how it would make things so much better and lower costs for the consumer while providing more channels and content.

It is a sticky situation because they were originally two separate services which used different bandwidths. The problem is that old XM radios must still pick up the XM service and vice versa for Sirius radios. They don't want to anger current customers who have old radios by requiring them to buy new equipment so they have to keep the services separate. This means that there is too much redundancy in the two services that would not be there if they could merge the two into one chunk of bandwidth. For instance both Sirius and XM need a music channel for new country songs. Customers of both services want this so they need to have it on both. Before the merger there was a new country station on both services. Now that they have merged, they operate one single station but they broadcast it simultaneously on both services. So for arguments sake, lets say that each service can provide 50 music channels and 50 talk channels. So in total that could be 200 channels but since most of the channels are broadcast on both that means that there are must less individual channels. So instead of having a total of 200 channels, there are only a total of 125 individual stations. Of course, these numbers are totally made up but the idea is the same.

However the two services are not exactly the same. Instead they have slightly different channel lineups to fit different tastes. But since some of the channels are more popular than others, especially certain sports and talk stations, they broadcast the most popular ones on both stations. There are many differences with the talk channels on the two services. They do allow you to get the most popular XM stations that are not available on Sirius and vice versa, but they require you to pay more to receive these channels. For instance if you like Howard Stern and you have XM you have to pay extra. If you have Sirius and want to have all the sports channels that are on XM you have to pay extra. So while the most popular channels are broadcast on both services they require you to pay extra if you want some of the extra channels. This is not fair to the consumer as they are being broadcast to your device but they block them out unless you pay for them. They said it would be cheaper for the consumers and that they could buy channels 'ala carte' meaning you could pick individual channels that you want and only pay for them. Well this is not possible right now. You have to pay the standard fee, which is about $16 a month if you pay annually. If you pay monthly the price goes up. If you want to get the best of XM of best of Sirius packages you have to pay extra. If you have additional radios, you have to pay extra for each radio. If you want to be able to listen to satellite radio on the internet, either through your computer or portable device like tablet or phone, you have to pay extra. Before the merger, internet streaming used to be free. So instead of providing more to their customers for less, they are providing the same for more or and if you want additional channels you have to pay even more. I can understand why there is some redundant channels on each service and some unique channels on each. But I can't understand why they don't provide all the redundant channels for free. Well I do know why and the reason is MONEY. And I also don't know why they now charge for streaming when it used to be free. Ok I do know why, and again it is for the MONEY.

When Sirius and XM were applying for a merger they had to convince the government that it was in the best interest for the consumers and that it was not a monopoly. The two companies told the FCC, the FTC and whatever other governmental agencies that they would provide a better service for the customers if there was one satellite radio company than if they remained competitors. But so far they haven't made it better at all. All they have done is consolidate all the channels and make some additional channels available to customers for a monthly fee. So in the end they just added a few premium channels to each service, and by premium I mean you have to pay for it. They haven't made anything cheaper for anybody. And I think if they were still competitors there would be a lot more innovation in the market. Before the merger both companies were trying as hard as they could to bring top of the line, high tech radios to the market to compete for customers. But now there hasn't been any innovation at all as far as I can tell. The radios available now are no better than the ones from 5 years ago. Before the merger the radios were getting smaller and smaller, adding capacity to store content, and adding many other features. But now they have stopped trying to innovate because they no longer need to compete with another satellite radio company for customers. They think that if you want satellite radio that you will get it, and since they get money no matter what service customers go with they get paid in the end. But they are thinking the wrong way. They may not have to compete for customers with another satellite radio company, but they are in fact competing. They are competing with devices like iPods and other Mp3 players, smart phones and tablets, and heck even regular radios. Someone might be considering getting a satellite radio but with all the other options available they might reconsider. One thing that is good for them is that smartphones and other devices that can access the internet can stream satellite radio online. So if you have an iPhone or other smartphone, you can pay for satellite radio service and listen to it via your phone. However there is so much content available for free or for a very low price that paying $15 a month or more is not very appealing. Sure you don't have to pay for extra hardware but most people don't want to pay for something when they can get a comparable service for free or close to free. Satellite radio has good content that is not available anywhere else, but most consumers these days are not interested. You can stream music online from tons of internet radio stations. You can even listen to news, comedy, and other talk stations online for free. So the only thing they have going for them is their unique name brand content that people want, such as sports and famous talk personalities like Oprah and Howard Stern.

So while Sirius and XM were spending all of their time and effort to compete with each other and eventually merge with one another, they dropped the ball on competing with all other content services and devices. If they were focused on providing great content at a great price, along with offering competitive devices, they might have been able to increase their market share. But no, they thought inside the box and lost their edge. Howard Stern has been at Sirius since 2006, and arguably this is what caused them to overtake XM in market share and customer base, eventually causing them to merge. He fulfilled one 5 year contract and is now in the middle of another. But in 5 years who knows where he will go. If another company can pay more for his show and he wants to take it then Sirius XM is out of luck. And whether you like him or not, he is a very large piece of the Sirius XM puzzle. His 2 channels are the most listened to stations on both Sirius and XM services. If he leaves for another broadcast company, possibly an internet based streaming service, then all his listeners will follow and leave Sirius XM in the dust. If this happens I believe that it is a very real possibility that they go out of business. Sirius XM needs to continue to innovate by coming out with better radios and more channels and great unique content that is not available anywhere else.

One thing that I believe they should try is to get some of the more popular podcasters to join their service. Currently they play a few different podcasts on some of their channels, but they are not unique: you can download them on your computer or portable device for free. If they had most of the top podcasts unique to their service they might be able to gain some more customers. If Joe Rogan, Mark Maron, Adam Carolla, Chris Hardwick and others were only on Sirius XM then they might just be able to gain more customers. But that is just an idea, I like podcasts and I like satellite radio, but the fact is I used to pay for Sirius but now I cannot justify the expense. Instead of listening to Howard Stern all the time, I listen and watch clips of his show that I can find online and listen to some of my favorite podcasts. If these podcasts weren't available for free then maybe I would pay for the service.

A few years ago, Sirius launched a service that allowed video channels to be streamed into cars alongside the existing audio channels. There was only 3 channels at the time and they were all geared for kids. This was for parents who wanted an additional source of entertainment for their kids in the back seat. But this service was only available on a few select Dodge and Chrysler vehicles that were new at the time. I think the service only lasted one year - they promoted it for a few months and since there was no demand they dropped it. They stopped allowing people to sign up for it and allowed the current customers to have the content for the rest of their contract and then they stopped broadcasting it for good. Although there were only 3 kids channels and it was only available in a few cars and minivans, I think it was a pretty cool and innovative idea. Plus it didn't help that it was a little pricey for the service. But if they would have kept it going for a while, enticing more auto makers to offer it in their vehicles and acquiring more channels and content I think it could have actually amounted to something. Even if they only added one channel, I think they could have made it a very neat and desirable service. They could have 2 cartoon channels for the kids, one for Disney and the other for Nickelodeon, as well as one news and weather station and maybe another channel with various TV shows and movies. This would allow kids to watch cartoons while mom drives them to and from school and other activities. Families could get live video entertainment in their cars so they could watch in the back seat on a road trip. Businessmen could watch the news while they are being driven to work. Moms could watch Oprah in the front seat while they are parked waiting for their kids to get done with soccer practice. Video content obviously takes more bandwidth than just audio, but with compression and lower quality audio, I imagine that a video channel could take about 1.5 times the amount of space of a music channel. Taking a few channels away so that they could add some video channels seems like a good compromise to me. Especially if they could make it so the audio could be picked up by all radios but the video could only be seen with a video receiver. That would allow them to have a station such as a news and weather station that you could listen to on a radio and watch the accompanying video on a monitor with a video receiver. I believe there is a lot of potential with this service and I am very disappointed that it never amounted to anything. I think if it was offered on all SUVs and minivans for a reasonable price, a lot of people would buy it. They only had it on less than 5 vehicles so of course not that many people purchased it. It wasn't even advertised so most people never even knew about it. It is stuff like this that is causing them to go out of business. They spent all the time and effort and especially money in research and development and creating the compatible devices and marketing the products for whatever short period that they did, and then just threw it all out since they stopped offering it. Why even go through with it if you are just going to discontinue it a year or two later?

Since Sirius XM want to keep the two service separate, they should brand them differently and market them accordingly. Instead of having two identical services that just confuses the customer, they could provide different kinds of services that tailor to different markets. For example, Sirius could keep the video streaming service and offer more kid and family friendly content as well as content marketed towards women and parents, along with more relaxed and calmer music like jazz and country western. On the other hand, XM could be branded more towards adults, offering more sports stations and explicit comedy and entertainment channels as well as adult talk shows like Howard Stern and Bubba The Love Sponge, along with music like hard rock and rap. At least this way people would have reasons to choose one over the other. Right now the main choice is which sports you like better and if you want Howard Stern or not. This would make it easier to choose which service you wanted as well as make each service stand out more as having unique content. This could remove a lot of the redundant channels and make way for unique ones. Most people who listen to Martha Stewart won't listen to Eminem's Shade 45 rap channel, and most people who listen to Howard Stern won't tune to the slow jazz station. They should realize this and tailor their service to the different demographics.

And then there is the case of the 'ala carte' channels. This was promised by both companies before they merged. It was one of the main reasons that the merger was approved. They said it would be cheaper in the end for most customers and not lead to a monopoly. But they haven't implemented the ala carte option. You have the choice to get the standard channels or to pay extra to get a few additional channels. There is no option to pay less if you don't want certain channels. If I don't want Nascar then I should be able to pay less to not receive it. If someone has Sirius and they hate Howard Stern, they still have to pay for his channels. But they haven't come through with any of the promises that they made before the merger. There is a monopoly. There is no innovation. And only time will tell how long they will last without making these changes. If someone wants to pay for only a handful of channels they should be able to do so. This might cause some customers to pay less, but what about the current customers who might pay for more? What about all the new customers that they could acquire if prices were lower? Sirius XM was greedy and they didn't follow through with any of their promises, and they are going to pay for it in the end. I don't think that they can sustain themselves with their current operating procedures. Howard Stern can't talk forever, he will retire sooner or later and Sirius XM will be toast after this if they don't do something to keep them in the market. I like Sirius XM and I like radio in general, so I hope they don't go the way of the dinosaurs. But I don't know if they can stop it from happening.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Flying a Person With Balloons: Can You Really Actually Fly With Balloons?

For thousands of years people have been wanting to fly like the birds. The airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers in the early 1900's, but there were many attempts to fly in different manners before that. Blimps and balloons were some of the original ways for people to fly. Hot air balloons and blimps have increased in technology but they are not in very common use nowadays. So can you fly yourself with using a bunch of regular party balloons?

If you listen to the Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, then you have undoubtedly heard the saga with the show staff and Howard Stern himself trying to convince a frequent caller named Eric the Midget to fly himself using balloons. At first Eric didn't want to do it, but then it all changed when he wanted something out of the show. At first he wanted Howard to get him tickets to a movie premiere that starred his favorite WWE wrestler. That did not pan out but then he said he would do it if they allowed him to come into the studio to meet Katherine McPhee, the singer who competed on American Idol. He went back and forth a dozen different times, first saying he wouldn't do it, then saying he would do it, then saying that he was willing to do it but that it was impossible so why even attempt it. And of course we've all heard the story of the balloon boy who was in the news a few years ago. A man said that his son was in a chair being suspended in the air by only balloons. But eventually it turned out the boy was never in the balloons. Balloon boy didn't really do it and Eric the midget never even tried it, so the question remains: Can you fly yourself using only balloons?

Apparently you can fly yourself with balloons. It requires larger balloons than the standard balloons that you will find at a kids birthday party. The balloons to use are the larger 4 foot balloons that are able to carry about a pound of weight each. Eric the Midget is only 85 pounds so you could easily do it with under 100 balloons. I found a website that shows a man flying himself in a lawn chair attached to a bunch of balloons. He used 105 of these balloons and achieved a pretty decent amount of altitude. I also heard about somebody doing the same thing on the Late Night with David Letterman Show, but I could not find anything about it. The guy who was able to fly himself using balloons flew over 3 stories high, so I could see why Eric would be a little apprehensive about doing it. He wanted a harness and helmet but Howard didn't want him to wear anything: he thought that the balloons should be directly attached to him with no safety equipment. Howard first wanted to do it inside in the radio studio but I they realized that there was not even close to enough room for all those large balloons. Eric eventually stood his ground saying that he wouldn't do it because Howard and the other people on his show made fun of Eric so much that he got mad at them. He attempted to call the celebrity herself and tell her to not appear on the Howard Stern Radio Show on satellite radio. It turns out that she eventually changed her number as it appears that Eric called her a few too many times. So he never got to fly with balloons, but at least now we know that it is possible. If a grown man in a lawn chair can do it then an 85 pound little person could definitely do it. Will Eric ever fly with balloons? We may never know. But is it possible for him to do it? Yes it is!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Why Is The Work Day 8 Hours and Work Week 40 Hours?

In the US, the average work day is from 9-5 which is 8 hours. Some people may work different hours but almost everybody works a standard 8 hour day. And if you work 5 days a week that equals 40 hours of work each week. But this wasn't always the case. As little as a century ago there was no standard work day and most workers did not take Saturday and Sunday off. In fact in 1914 Henry Ford decreased the work day from 9 hours to 8 hours for his employees. They worked 6 days a week though, so their work week consisted of 48 hours. Most companies at the time still worked their employees much harder than Ford, and did not suit. At the time most workers were working about 60 hours per week. The machines in Ford's factories allowed the workers to work less and still manufacture enough parts to build their cars. In the same way technology has allowed workers to work less and less every decade. Our great-grandfathers were probably working about 50% more than most of us do today. But with computers and the internet, as well as automated machines and factories, the average full time worker only needs to work 40 hours per week. In 1946, the government limited work to 40 hours per week for all federal employees. Today the average non farm private sector worker works 34.5 hours each week.

Of course some people work a lot more and many work less than 40 hours a week, but 40 seems to be the standard in our country as well as many other places around the world. In 1995, China adopted the 40 hour work week as well. In 2000, France adopted a 35 hour week for it's workers. The average work week in The Netherlands is under 30 hours. The European Union has enacted laws that limit the working hours to 48 hours in a week (except in the UK and Malta). Mexico also has a law that limits the work week to 48 hours or less, but it is rarely observed or enforced. In Australia the maximum is 38 hours per week. In Brazil they work 8 hours a day on weekdays and 4 hours on Saturdays for a total of 44 hours per week. In Columbia the maximum amount of work is 48 hours per week. Some workers in India work as much as 66 hours per week, however many workers only work 40-45 hours. In Samoa workers work an average of 30 hours a week. In Papua, the Kapauku people believe that it is bad luck to work for 2 days in a row. While the !Kung Bushmen work only 2 1/2 days in a week and usually less than 6 hours a day when they do work.

So while we don't work like they do in Papua or the !Kung people, we certainly work a lot less than our forefathers did in this country only decades ago. So next time you are working overtime just remind yourself that you are lucky to live in these times, with computers and technology to make your job easier. If you were born 100 years earlier you would likely be working almost twice as hard as you do now! And of course you could always move to somewhere like Samoa where they work much less.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pop-Ups and Pop-Unders

Pop-up ads are nothing new. Neither are their ugly evil twin the pop-under. They have been around a while and most browsers do a decent job at blocking a lot of them. However they don't block them all because some sites legitimately use pop-up windows. If browsers blocked them all then many sites would lose part of their functionality. But you would think that most users by now have figured out that these unwanted windows that appear out of nowhere are simply blatant advertisements. But they haven't. And some pop-up and pop-under ads tailor directly to these users who are unaware of this type of spam. If you've spent any amount of time surfing the web then you have seen the ads that try to disguise themselves as system windows or an application that is telling you have viruses or something of that nature and you need to download their software to fix it. And of course there are the ads that promise to make you a millionaire with only a few hours of work.

Personally I don't use any plug-ins or add-ons that would block them because I know that some sites do use them legitimately and I don't want to miss out on any of the functionality. Anyways most modern browsers will block multiple attempts to open separate windows and give you the option to open them for that site. But sometimes this doesn't work for some reason and I still get attacked by a seemingly endless amount of windows that come out of nowhere. As a web developer, it is my duty to keep use of pop-up windows to a minimum. And if a client requests a pop-up window I politely tell them that it is a bad idea and why they should try and figure something else out. I have used them in the past - for legitimate site functionality and for advertisements. The ads that I've tried in the past don't perform well at all. I've gotten a few clicks on the ads, but none that convert. So while I may have made a few pennies for a couple of wild clicks, pop-up and pop-under windows have never gotten me any sales or leads. So if you are thinking of using pop-ups, think twice. And if you are thinking of using pop-unders, I highly suggest not to. If a person leaves a page it is because it doesn't interest them, you don't need to keep attacking them with windows that they won't see until long after they leave your site. Sure you may get a few pennies CPM but it is not worth it to annoy your visitors. If a person gets annoyed by your site it is very unlikely for them to come back. And I bet that Google and other spiders can detect them in your page source and I guarantee that they don't like it. So think of pop-up and pop-under ads like drugs, and just say no!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What You Need To Know When Hiring Somebody

Today, with so much information available and the ease of storing and retrieving information, many employers keep vast records of their employees - even when they are first hired. Some of this information is important to the job at hand and will be needed in the future. Some information is just for emergencies, such as emergency contact info. Other facts might help the employer plan the schedule, like if you are married and if you have kids. However I think that a lot of the information is unrelated to the hiring process and really none of the employer's business.

Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, hired many workers during his life. So it is certain that he knew a thing or two about the hiring process. But in contrast to a lot of the ways that most employers do things, he did not care about anything other than the job at hand. Therefore he only kept a small amount of information on the men he would hire. Ford wrote in his book My Life and Work, that "In hiring a man the only data taken concerns his name, his address, his age, whether he is married or single, the number of his dependents, whether he has ever worked for the Ford Motor Company, and the condition of his sight and his hearing. No questions are asked concerning what the man has previously done."

This might be shocking to some. Most employers are so hung up on people's past performance and education - whether they went to a good school, if they graduated, what degree they got, what their major was, how many jobs has he had, how long was he at said jobs, is there any gaps in his job history, has he ever been in trouble with the law and if so what for, and on and on. Yes it might help you find a good employee. But it might also help to weed out a great employee just because he doesn't look perfect on paper. The great employee might be overlooked for a merely mediocre one just because one person's parents had money to send him to a better school or a person wasn't able leave the state to attend a better university. There are many reasons that you might be overlooked in an interview, but the only real way to know if a person will be good for the job is for them to actually do it. At the very least, ask questions and pose scenarios that might come up at the job to the candidate. When evaluating prospective workers, I don't care about their education or past work history. All I care about is the job at hand. So if I am hiring a writer, I may want to see his past writings. If hiring an artist, I may want to see her past artwork. But many jobs can't be judged in this fashion, so it can be really tough to determine who to hire. I know this so I can see why some employers want to have a way to judge people and determine who is the best candidate. But really there is no perfect way. Some people might get nervous and not do well in an interview, but that doesn't mean they aren't qualified. Just because a person is good with people and quick on their feet doesn't make them fit for the position either. So really there is no perfect way to determine the best person for the job. Some jobs require more information than others, but don't ever judge people solely on what it says on their resume. Don't just hire somebody because they went to your Alma mater. Also don't pass somebody up because they didn't go to school or they got an unrelated degree. You never know what people are good at and how they might perform at a job unless you give them a chance. It might take longer to weed out people if you give a few people the chance to try their hand at it for a few weeks each, but in the end you will find the best fit for you and your company.