Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Backscatter X-Ray Systems Could Pose Health Risk

Here's an article too important not to share. Last time I was at LAX, I submitted to one of these scans, lacking this rather important information.

I'll always get to the airport a little early and opt for the pat-down now.


Here's the chewy, tasty part from a health perspective:

“While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” Dr Agard said.

"Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer."

David Brenner, the head of Columbia University’s Centre for Radiological Research, says the concentration on the skin – one of the most radiation-sensitive organs of the body – means the radiation dose is actually 20 times higher than the official estimate.

The researcher was consulted to write guidelines for the security scanners in 2002 but said he would not have signed the report had he known the devices were going to be used so widely.

Please make the privacy machines go away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Silk Hazelnut Creamer Review

Product Review: Silk Hazelnut Creamer


Silk Hazelnut Creamer tastes and smells like acrylic paint.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Customizing Google's Chromium Browser Using Custom Stylesheets

I finally got fed up with Windows XP, and installed Linux Mint 9 on my HP Mini 210; Mint is a vast improvement, with the exception of the clickpad, which is still a bit wonky in X11.

My biggest issue was configuring Google's Chromium web browser to use larger fonts by default, since the screen of the HP mini is such a high resolution screen. The trick was to edit the following file:

~/.config/chromium/Default/User StyleSheets/Custom.css

The contents of my file is the following:

* {
font-size : 15px ! important;

body {
background-image : none ! important;

This causes the default font size to be 15 pixels, and all body background images to go away (I hate them).

What's really cool: if you edit this file while Chromium is running, you will immediately see the changes to the default stylesheet whenever you save your changes to the file :-)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

HP Mini 210 review

A lot of people have asked me about my netbook at school. I've decided to write a blurb about my impressions regarding the HP 210 Mini.

I purchased the HP 210 after performing exhaustive research regarding other options. The biggest selling point (for me) was the availability of a high-resolution screen (1366x768). The larger size of the trackpad is also a big benefit.

This netbook is noticeably faster than my wife's Asus EEE 1000HA, and works surprisingly well for video playback (especially when using VideoLAN client to play flash video files).

HP Customer service has been EXCELLENT, and I cannot say that I have ever had a better experience with customer support from a big-box as an end-user.

However, here are several unfortunate detractors regarding this model.

1. Severe trackpad issues:

Although the trackpad is very large on this model, the click-hold-drag gesture is nearly impossible to perform on this laptop. This device actually has a "click-pad," meaning that the buttons are integrated into the trackpad itself. Want to scroll a scroll bar in a window? You'd better get used to using multi-finger gestures (or configuring the trackpad to have drag areas that correspond to scrolling). Because of this, my wife absolutely *refuses* to use my laptop; hence, two stars on overall rating. IMHO this would be a deal-breaker for many users out there.

Now that I have been using the laptop for a while, I *never* use the "click" of the clickpad. I always tap, because the only way to click-hold-drag is to use tap gestures anyway.

Furthermore, this trackpad doesn't respond well to multi-finger gestures. My wife's ASUS EEE PC 1000HA, with its Elantech trackpad, is EXCELLENT at detecting one, two, or even THREE fingers being pressed on its tiny(!) surface. If you like how you can use two fingers to scroll windows on the Mac laptops, you can forget about it on this HP -- it never works reliably.

2. The screen is *very* high-gloss. This makes it extremely hard to use in my classrooms when the lecture halls' overhead lighting is turned on. I'm considering cutting the plastic screen film with an exacto knife and replacing it with some other protective material. If the screen was as anti-reflective as my wife's ASUS EEE PC 1000HA, I would consider it to have the *perfect* screen.

3. The HPDirect website implied that the wireless card was compatible with 802.11a. This is patently false; the BIOS of this laptop actually restricts the types of wireless cards that can be used in this device, and none of them actually support 802.11a (after 2+ spending hours with tech support on phone). This is why I knocked off a star on the "features" rating.

Hopefully HP listens to this review and offers another mini that addresses the shortcomings. I really think the trackpad/clickpad issue will force customers away from the otherwise excellent HP 210.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Amazon: Item ratings

Sarah and I have been using Amazon heavily now that we are building our new home together. In particular, we have been relying on the user-supplied ratings when making our purchasing decisions.

Today I was musing about how useful the Amazon ratings are. However, Sarah had a very good insight: "Really, who actually spends time rating all the stuff they buy off of Amazon?"

"Hmmm. People who like to waste time, I suppose."


Maybe Amazon ratings aren't all that useful...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Correct Modelines for Panasonic TC-P42G10

Getting the picture from my Linux media box to be centered and clocked properly on my Panasonic plasma display has been quite challenging. This is because the TC-P42G10 furnishes incorrect EDID data to my computer through the DVI interface (shame on you, Panasonic!) that resulted in an off-center display and a vertical refresh rate ever so close to 60.01 Hz.

Centering the image in the display was not terribly challenging. The big mystery occurred when the television would cleanly display my Linux desktop; however, once a full-screen video started playing, the screen would go blank. It took me many hours to figure out that rounding errors in the calculated pixel clock caused the video refresh rate to be greater than 60 Hz. This, in turn, would cause the television's firmware to treat the video as invalid input -- resulting in a blank screen and no sound.

Furthermore, the latest Linux kernel drivers for ATI cards employ a new interface called kernel modesetting, or KMS. This means that, instead of the X server, the Linux kernel handles the probing of EDID information and configuration of all video timings. Because KMS is a new interface, there is no way for the user to easily specify his or her own timing information to the Linux kernel. Therefore, booting with the kernel option nomodeset is required to disable KMS and allow Xorg to handle mode changes.

Here is the modeline for Xorg:
Mode "1920x1080p"
DotClock 145
HTimings 1920 2016 2060 2200
# (67.5 kHz)
VTimings 1080 1084 1096 1125 # 60 Hz.
Flags "-hsync" "+vsync"
Using this in the /etc/x11/xorg.conf had changed a little bit since the last time I had to do x11 hacking. Here's how we do it in 2010:
Section "Device"
Identifier "Configured Video Device"
Driver "radeon"
Option "NoDDC"
Option "IgnoreEDID" "on"

Section "ServerFlags"
Option "AIGLX" "off" # Enabling this option seems to screw up firefox

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "Configured Monitor"
HorizSync 15-68
VertRefresh 32-61
Mode "Original"
DotClock 148.50
HTimings 1920 2008 2052 2200
VTimings 1080 1084 1089 1125
Flags "-hsync" "+vsync"
Mode "1920x1080p" # <60 Hz.
DotClock 145
HTimings 1920 2016 2060 2200
VTimings 1080 1084 1096 1125
Flags "-hsync" "+vsync"
# <(67.5 kHz)
Mode "1920x1080i"
DotClock 72.5
HTimings 1920 2016 2060 2200
VTimings 1080 1084 1096 1125
Flags "-HSync" "-VSync" "Interlace"

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Default Screen"
Monitor "Configured Monitor"
Device "Configured Video Device"
DefaultDepth 24
SubSection "Display"
Depth 24
Modes "1920x1080p"
And there you have it.

Update: I found another test video that caused screen blanking, and had to back off the pixel clock even further to a value of "145."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Steal My Idea 3: Stacking borosilicate glass storage and bakeware

Technically, this isn't my idea. It's more of a combination of ideas based on my wedding registry-provoked comment-hunting exploits on Amazon.com.

I've used Pyrex storage-ware and bake-ware in the past. I find that the biggest problem with bakeware is that it has straight sides that do not stack. This means that if I have two nine-by-thirteen glass baking pans, they can't be stored efficiently in the cupboard.

On the other hand, storage-centric glassware often has very gradual taper. This taper is great for stacking the articles in the cupboard; however, the taper is so gradual that the glassware wastes a considerable amount of space inside of the refrigerator.

So, how about creating a line of stacking glass bakeware? Design the glassware so that it has a steep-as-possible taper, so that it takes up a minimum of space in the refrigerator. Perhaps this bakeware could be designed so that it can accommodate both glass and plastic lids.

Maybe some people would respond unfavorably to less-than-straight sides. However, this would make for a larger and more crunchy-delicious brownie crust :-)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ath5k: Orinoco ComboCard 11A/B/G in Linux (Mint 9 'Isadora,' Ubuntu 10.04 'Lucid')

I discovered that my Orinoco ComboCard no longer worked when I upgraded from Ubuntu 9.10 to Linux Mint 9. The reason for this is that the ath5k kernel module does not recognize the ComboCard's PCI device ID. According to lcpci -nn:

03:00.0 Ethernet controller [0200]: Atheros Communications Inc. Device [168c:0200] (rev 01)

As of Linux kernel version 2.6.32, the ath5k driver does not seem to support 802.11g on the Orinoco ComboCard 11A/B/G. However, 802.11A works splendidly with this card, assuming that the driver is told to recognize it as a valid target.

In order to convince the Atheros driver to work with my card, I created the file /etc/modprobe.d/ath5k.conf :
install ath5k /sbin/modprobe --ignore-install ath5k && { echo '168c 0200' > /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ath5k/new_id ; }
I performed the following to append ath5k to the list of modules to be loaded at start-up:
echo ath5k >> /etc/modules
This is so much easier than modifying the kernel module code to recognize the PCI device ID of the card!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wow, thanks, DMV!

Oh, what's this I see, in the mail?

A sweepstakes!!


Printing Envelopes on Canon ImageClass MF6530

Setting it up has been a hassle, but the MF6530 has been printing envelopes more reliably than any printer I have ever owned. I use the freely available MS Word clone, OpenOffice 3.2, and Microsoft Windows.

Here are some tips to get things started:
  • You must load envelopes into the multi-purpose tray FACE DOWN and with the flap (the part that you lick to close the envelope) towards the REAR of the printer. The pictographs on the multipurpose tray illustrate the envelope's flap on the same side as the control panel on the front of the printer -- and this doesn't work. Rotate the envelope 180 degrees with respect to how it is shown in the pictographs, and you're good.
Printer Setup
  • Using the "Additional Functions" and the -, OK, and + buttons, select:


    and press OK. Make sure that DEFAULT SETTINGS is set to COPY and not SCAN. This makes it easier to enter the paper size if you don't elect to program the printer to use the multipurpose tray's standard settings (MP TRAY STD SET set to ON), and instead want to enter the paper dimensions every time you put new paper into the multipurpose tray.

  • Press OK to exit the menu, and choose:


    This option warrants some explanation. With MP TRAY STD SET set to OFF, every time you insert paper into the multipurpose tray, the printer will prompt you to enter the paper size. This is helpful if you routinely print on a wide variety of paper in the multipurpose tray. However, for printing lots of envelopes in a mail merge, this is kind of useless.

    Press OK, and make sure MP TRAY STD SET is set to ON. Press OK again, and the printer will go into a submenu where you can set the paper size and type for the multipurpose tray.

  • Select:


    and press "OK"

    SELECT PAPER SIZE will show in the display. Use the (-) and (+) keys to select FREESIZE. Press "OK" again, and get ready to measure your paper with a metric ruler.

  • The following options are obvious. Keep the measurements of your envelope handy, you'll need them to specify the size of the page in the word processor later on. The first setting shown will be:


    Press OK and enter the vertical size of your envelope in millimeters, pressing OK to confirm


    Press OK and enter the horizontal size of your envelope in millimeters, and press OK to confirm.


    Press OK to display SELECT PAPER TYPE. Choose "ENVELOPE" if you're printing envelopes. Press OK again.

  • Settings for the multipurpose tray are now complete. You can press the "Additional Functions" key to exit the settings menu.

OpenOffice Document Setup

Now that you have the printer set up properly, you'll need to configure your document so that the page size matches the size of the envelope. In OpenOffice, create a new "Text Document." Choose the menu option that allows you to change the size of the page by selecting (from the menus): Format -> Page
  • Make sure you have the "Page" tab open. Under the Paper Format, choose "User" -- it's buried within the list of page sizes -- and type in the width and height of the envelope. If the width of the envelope is greater than the height, also click the "Portrait" radio button. To the right of the page size, in the Paper Tray drop-down option list, choose the "Multi-purpose Tray" menu option. Choose some reasonable margins (e.g. 10mm) and click "OK."

  • The part that ties it all together is in the print dialog box. Once your envelope is ready, choose File->Print... Next, make sure your Canon MF6500 series printer is selected, and click the Properties... button. Under the Page Setup tab, make sure that the "Page Size:" dropdown is set to "Custom [Name Fixed]." And, more critically, make sure that the "Output Size:" drop down option is set to "Match Page Size." The Orientation field does not seem to matter.

  • Press OK to save and close the Print Properties dialog, and press OK to begin printing.

Hopefully, you're done at this stage, and your envelope is flying out of your machine. However, If the printer beeps, blinks madly at you with orange lights and says LOAD PAPER TRAY: FREE and CHANGE REG'D SIZE -> COMMON SETTINGS, you've got something wrong here. To clear a mad, blinking Canon, use the "Additional Functions" button and choose "3. PRINTER SETTINGS." Press OK, and press the (-) key to scroll to "10. RESET PRINTER." Press OK, toggle "RESET PRINTER" to "ON" by using the (+) key, and press OK again to clear the error condition. You can always turn the printer on and off, but doing a soft reset is probably easier on the printer's power supply.

Feel free to experiment with MP TRAY STD SET set to OFF if you print stock of different sizes. If you have this option "OFF," I find it easiest to deal with the printer in "COPY" mode. After inserting paper, by pressing the "Paper Select" button, I can highlight the LED that corresponds to the multifunction tray; the user interface then prompts to enter the size of the paper that has been inserted.


Steal My Idea 2: Make "Debit/Credit" selection button obsolete, get rid of customer loyalty cards

I wish I could change the world for the better and "more efficient," all at once. If you implement my idea, I'll give you a cookie.

There's no technical reason that magnetic cards cannot identify themselves as "debit," "credit," or "gift" cards. Add card-type identifiers to magnetic stripe data. This would eliminate a confusion/nuisance step in payment at lines in all supermarkets across America, and probably save everyone a small amount of money (and annoyance).

Also, if you're a bank, give consumers an option to include a "telephone number" field inside of magstripe data that can be used (legally) to identify customers for coupon programs (e.g. Safeway Club, Von's Club, etc.). Allow customers to opt-out if they don't want this "vendor field" identifying them. Why not simplify everything into one easy step at the supermarket?

Steal My Idea 1: Mirrors in Luggage Carousel Area

I'm tagging posts with "Steal My Idea" -- little ideas to help people improve the world.

Here's an idea to solve the problem where people crowd around luggage carousels: install mirrors ABOVE the luggage carousels. Everyone, including people standing around in the back of the crowd, will be able to see what's on the carousel.

Also, the airport might be able to get away with a smaller luggage carousel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Monitoring the progress of a compressed tar file

Here's a fun UNIX trick that I came up with while attempting to prepare a Ubuntu 9.10 tar file for a Solaris BrandZ installation.

Suppose that you want to monitor the progress of the creation of a tar file on a remote machine -- and you forgot to specify tar's -t option when creating the tar file. No problem! Use tail +1; e.g.:

tail -fc +1 ubuntu9_10.tar.gz | tar -tz

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Windows 7 x64: Process Explorer Privilege Elevation Annoyance

Today I installed Process Explorer on a Windows 7 x64 machine. I discovered that elevating the privileges of Process Explorer to view information about all system processes results in an annoying dialog box:

"Windows cannot find E:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Temp\procexp.exe. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again"

In order to get rid of this annoying thing, I needed to change permissions on the folder containing procexp.exe; I granted "Users" "Write" permissions on the folder, and the meddlesome dialog box went away.

MFT Weekly Log Form

I updated the California BBS MFT Weekly Log Form 37A-301A. There was an error in the calculation in the couples, family, and children hours.

You can find the new form at:


The old form has been removed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

California MFT documents

Here's a much better version of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences MFT Experience Verification Form 37A-301a For Hours Gained ON or AFTER January 1, 2010.

Click on the "Download" link in the upper left corner to download the PDF.

This one is actually editable in Acrobat, so you can type your information right into the spreadsheet.

I don't know why they don't do this kind of thing to the forms on their website. I guess it takes a bit of extra time, but it sure would save everyone trouble.

The URL is: http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B6DUDITRID-cYzQwYzBhYzYtMjNkNS00YTBlLThiMmQtM2Q0NTlkYWM2ZjM0&hl=en