Saturday, April 30, 2005

Note to Every Dentist I've Ever Had...

Read this. Ha.

Trailer Gem

My apologies for not having posted more regularly this week. Honestly, though, trash day was about the most interesting thing I had going, unless you count almost running over a guy on a tricycle going down the freeway in a no-shoulder construction zone.

We caught Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy this afternoon. The movie itself was fine, true to the original material in most respects and faithful to the spirit when it deviated from the actual source. However, the real killer was the trailer for Disney's Chicken Little before the movie. It starts out exactly like the trailer to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World," then the Earth exploding and the words "Don't Panic" flashing across the screen. At first, I thought there had to be a colossal flub in the projection room and we were seeing the trailer for the movie we were about to see. Then the word "Don't" falls away, and it segues into something to the effect of "Now it's time to panic. The sky is falling." I'm not sure I would want to see the movie, but that was, bar none, the most clever movie trailer I have ever seen.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Tomorrow is my very first trash day. :) I've never had to actually shlep my household refuse to the curb before (not that we have a curb per se). Growing up, that was always my dad's job, then I moved into a series of apartments where I threw my trash in the communal dumpster and it magically disappeared once a week--always on a Tuesday. 17 years in my parents' house, then seven apartments, and trash was always picked up on Tuesday. I didn't think trash collectors worked other days of the week. Apparently they do, since I have to have my bags by the street by 12 midnight Friday morning.

Yes, I know. We're still in the honeymoon phase. I'm easily enthralled by the small things of home ownership. I'm sure trash day won't be such a wonderous experience in a few months.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Slender Walk Tip of the Week

Watch out for the free webmail. Someone pays for it, usually with ads, and sometimes that involves adware on your computer.

Between blog, business, and personal, I have about four email addresses I use. One is reserved specifically for when a business or website requests an emai, so the bulk of my spam goes there. Some people use filters and folders; I use separate addresses. I've terminated the email address I formerly used for blogging communication, perspectives @ I can't be absolutely certain that was the site that was installing adware onto my computer, but something started about the time I set up that address. I'm working on moving it over to a gmail account--actually, I have the gmail account set up, but goodness if I can't remember the password I set up, so I'm working on hacking into my own email.

If you're looking for a place to get a free webmail account, ask around for recommendations for a provider that doesn't try to install extraneous stuff on your system. I've found gmail works great for the purposes I put it to, and the spam fiters are some of the more reliable at not filtering out my real emails. Feel free to post a comment with your recommendations for free webmail providers that leave your system alone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

We have computer

Took a little longer than anticipated, but we finally got moved. We're still in boxes for the most part, but managed to locate the ones with the computer and the new DSL modem so I can resume blogging.

There are two times I can guarantee the weather will not be 72 degrees and sunny: when you need to change a tire or when you are moving. Our mantra as our move-in date for the house kept getting pushed back was, "Well, it's the end of April. At least it won't be snowing." Well, the snow started falling as the movers unloaded our stuff, and by the next morning, we had darned close to a foot of it. It's all melted now, and the forecast calls for drenching rain. Maybe someday I'll be able to see this place dry. Until then, I should probably make an effort to find our plates and cups while I wait for the DirecTV installer to show up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Hiatus

I'm going to be offline for a few days as we relocate. I'm hoping to be reconnected by Sunday, so check back then.

Slender Walk Tip of the Week

One of the grocery stores I frequent has a shopper's card that they use for reward programs and discounts, in lieu of in-store coupons. Signing up for the card requires the usual name, address, and phone number.

Lie on the application.

As long as you are using the shopping cards just to get the sale price on honeydew melons and not for the buyer's reward clubs, there is no reason that you need to provide your actual address. My favorite trick is to pick an address halfway between two real ones so I don't plague anyone else with unwanted mail; for instance, if my address was 579 Main Street and my next-door neighbor was 587 Main, I would sign up with 583 Main.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

News: Senate Grows Backbone

We've found out where the Senate draws the line. Three years into a war, after the Secretary of Defense admits that there is no exit strategy--that is when the executive branch should start putting the war spending into the budget and stop trying to cast it as an emergency to be funded through supplemental appropriations.

The Senate attached a nonbinding resolution to the latest emergency spending bill basically saying, "You know, it's about time this stuff gets put in the regular annual budget." The whole exercise is being cast as largely a symbolic gesture, given that this is a nonbinding resolution that may well disappear when the bill is reconciled with the version going through the House at the moment. The appropriations request is expected to pass handily. If I recall correctly, every danged one of these passes handily.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Found my Cookies

Back here about a month or so ago, I mentioned my enjoyment of Delta Airlines' in-flight cookies. At the time, I neglected to mention the brand, mostly because, in spite of having nearly hurled a tray of them into a display of deli sliced cheese, I forgot the name. Finally found it. The best airline snacks are Biscoff's gourmet cookies.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Elegant Pharmacist Solution

HR 1539, should it become law, would end all this crap over pharmacists being our morals police. It even does this without requiring the pharmacist to violate his/her own moral values and fill objectionable prescriptions. The solution is actually quite clever and elegant.

In order for pharmacies to receive prescription drugs through interstate commerce (in English, for the pharmacy to get shipments of any pill or med that is not manufactured in that state), the pharmacy would have to comply with two very simple, commonsense provisions that I can't imagine anyone finding objectionable. First, the pharmacy must ensure that, if one of its pharmacists refuses to fill a legally written prescription, the prescription can be filled at that same pharmacy within four hours. Second, the pharmacy cannot employ a pharmacist who, after refusing to fill a legally written prescription, then refuses to return the unfilled prescription slip or takes other action with the intent of impeding access to the medication. Penalties for noncompliance are $100,000 fine and the patient may sue in civil court.

In effect, this means that if a pharmacy wants the capability of filling prescriptions for things like antibiotics, they have to ensure reasonably unimpeded access to things like birth control.

The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Here's a list of the committee members. From that list, it is about two clicks to get to a web form where constituents can drop an email. Communiques from constituents carry more weight.

Chased Down by 800-316-5569

I'd be willing to bet that those of you out there who found Penguin Perspectives because you were having problems with excessive calls from 888-872-2629 are now having the same issue with 800-316-5569 coming up on your caller ID 4 or 5 times a day. That's another one of Chase credit cards' telemarketers, hawking the same credit protection. For reasons I have yet to divine, they don't seem to be paying attention to the DNC request I placed through the other number.

Here's another phone number you may want to be aware of: 800-868-8618. That is Chase's privacy opt-out line. It gets you to the automated system where you can choose Privacy Choice 1 (don't share my information with outside non-financial companies) and/or Privacy Choice 2 (do not share certain listed information within the JP Morgan family of companies). I'd be interested to find out others' experiences with this automated system are. I inputted my account information and last 4 digits of my SSN three times, so I know at least one of those was correct, yet I kept getting an error message that the system did not recognize my information. Fortunately, you may also submit requests in writing to PO Box 260185, Baton Rouge, LA 70826-0185 or use their web form. According to them, it may take six weeks for this to become effective.

I also have solved the mystery of the joint opt-out between Capitol One and Chase at the 800 number. It is actually between Bank One and Chase, which are both owned by JP Morgan.

I got the Chase card because I wanted to have something in my wallet that was not a MasterCard and not owned by CitiBank. Given all the hassle I've gone through to get these people to leave me alone and not try to sell me useless services with a monthly fee that will quickly eat up the small credit line they've supplied, I'm beginning to think I went to the wrong company.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Are you ready for this?

I don't think you are. I certainly wasn't. Reuters sometimes has some weird headlines, particularly in the section "Oddly Enough," but nothing could have prepared me for the headline:

"Officials Heighten Duck Security at Summit"

You read that right: duck security, as in the security of a duck. Not even ducks, plural; one duck. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and G-7 are meeting in Washington, DC this weekend and by way of preparation, the security detail is widening the perimeter around a mallard who laid a clutch of eggs in front of the Treasury Department. You read that right, too. Widening the perimeter, which seems to imply that the duck already had a perimeter established. US Officials are worried that the protesters might disturb the duck.

If we paid as much attention to port security as we apparently do to mallard security, we wouldn't need the PATRIOT Act.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Slender Walk Tip of the Week

Pay attention to all those little leaflets in your statements. They might be your privacy policy or opt-out notice.

Banks and credit card issuers routinely stuff the statement envelopes full of crap--offers for personalized address labels and glass knicknacks and other stuff we really don't care about. However, periodically one of those little leaflets will have the company's privacy policy on it. While it's always good to know what they're doing with your information, you'll want to keep your eyes out for any sort of opt-out notice or procedure. This will typically involve calling a number listed on the number or submitting a written request to an address listed.

Why is opting out important? Here are excerpts from the actual privacy notice from the company that I have my car loan through:
"We collect the following kinds of nonpublic personal information:
-Information we receive from you, for example, information on applications or other forms, such as your name, address, and social security number
-Information about your transactions with us and our affiliates, such as your account balance and payment history
-Information from and about your transactions with nonaffiliated third parties, such as your purchase of certain automotive or financial products"

"We may disclose all of the nonpublic personal information we collect as described above to companies that perform marketing services on our behalf or to other financial institutions with which we have joint marketing agreements. We may also disclose nonpublic personal information about you to nonaffiliated third parties as permitted by law."
No way am I going to agree to allow them to sell my information, including SSN, payment history, and customer transaction history to anyone they darned well feel like unless it is actually prohibited by law. Opting out is good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


I'll confess that I have no idea what the practical applications are, but that does not make it any less nifty that researchers have actually managed to freeze light.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Heading Things Off at the Pass

I'd be willing to bet that, if this barrage of high-profile dead people slows down in the next couple of months, we're going to get down to a rash of paranoia surrounding the proposed changes to 22 CFR 51. That is Chapter 22, Section 51 of the Code of Federal Regulations. the section of the federal code that deals with passports, which, in unrelated news, citizens will need in the near future to re-enter from Canada and Mexico. The least controversial of the proposed rule changes would invalidate a passport if the check used to pay the passport fee bounces. The part that seems to be raising the most ire is the proposition to put radio frequency ID tags in the passports.

A primer: RFID tags are small chips that transmit information by radio waves to a receiver/decoder unit. One of the current uses is pet tracking. All three of our cats have chips the size of a grain of Uncle Ben's implanted between their shoulder blades (I watched the implantation when Sonja got hers, and it's no worse than a rabies shot). Should one of our cats get lost, a vet or animal shelter can pass a scanner near them and get a unique ID number, which the vet or shelter can call into the American Kennel Club to find our name, address, and phone number. The basic principle works the same on any of the myriad other uses of RFID: a scanner picks up a tidbit of data that is transmitted by the chip.

That, of course, is where the idea of putting the chips in passports runs into resistance. The information is transmitted over the air and can be read by anyone with the proper scanner and in range of the radio transmission. The current fear is that people will be targeted in crowds by unsavory elements (nay, even terrorists) because they are literally broadcasting that they are American citizens. The chip would actually contain biometric data--a digital version of the passport photo--which the paranoid elements fear may also be misused if it is intercepted. Again, I stress that the likelihood of this happening is probably quite remote.

Fortunately, all this paranoia is unfounded. There are technological solutions the federal government is looking into to limit data skimming. There is also a very low-tech way to foil potential data skimmers. According to Thingmagic, a company that designs RFID chips, "Any conductive material can shield the radio signals." They suggest that a laminated anti-static bag, such as the ones that computer chips and memory are routinely packed in, would shield the passport transmission from prying eyes. For those of us who don't have any of those lying about, Thingmagic also says that aluminum foil will block the signal. If you're really concerned, make your passport a foil hat (or pouch). Sounds crazy, but it is supposed to work.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Camera Snoops

At work today, I encountered a woman who went to great lengths to explain to us that she had heard that one ought to hand over one's credit card face down to foil people with camera phones who might snap a picture of the card to steal the account information. By the way, if the glare is right, you can read the credit card numbers in reverse by looking at the back of the card.

Here's an article on that goes into greater depths on this. When I first heard this, I grabbed Elie's camera phone and tried it out. Granted, his was a middle-of-the-line camera phone a year ago and quality has improved, but I had to hold the camera about four inches above the card before I could get an image that might have yielded information if blown up properly--quite a lot of work for one credit card number. In short, as Snopes also explains, the current level of technology makes card number theft by phone unlikely, though don't discount it in the future as the resolution and features of camera phones gets better.

Snopes goes one step further in investigating the problem. According to them, technology is adequate to snap shots of open checkbooks from 3-5 feet away. Credit cards only have card numbers, names, and expiration dates, but checks have the checking account number to the place where most people keep the bulk of the funds they use to live on, bank routing information, name, address, and possibly phone number, and I've encountered people who seem to think they should print their social security numbers on their checks (a colossally bad idea). As with so many of these paranoia-spreading rumors, there are much bigger related worries one can have if one insists on being worried about something. I heartily recommend checking out before you get too uptight about anything you hear via mass-forwarded email (and definitely before you send it to me).

Friday, April 08, 2005

Dromedary Drama

Here's a tip for airline baggage handlers who want to steal things out of checked baggage: if you're planning on stealing something unique--say a camel costume--for goodness' sake do not wear the camel costume when you drive across the tarmac back to the terminal.

Here's the Reuters article. Qantas is apologizing to the owner of the camel suit and looking into disciplining the baggage handler.

For those of us on the other end of the baggage check, the TSA provides a few hints: pack all your things in see-through bags inside your suitcase and use a TSA-approved lock if you want to lock your suitcase. However, these, much like the shoe checks, don't really do anything to protect you. Seal-a-meal-ing your stuff just means your stuff won't get grubby paws on it while the handlers decide if they want it. The TSA-approved locks get the approval because baggage screeners have keys to them, but the TSA gives the following warning along with their list of approved lock manufacturers: "However, time pressures may require screeners to cut these locks rather than open them because there are many manufacturers, each using multiple master keys." Yep. You shell out ten clams for a lock the TSA screeners can unlock and relock, and they still may use the bolt cutters and leave your luggage unlocked for the rest of the trip.

On the other hand, my father-in-law has a solution that actually keeps checked baggage safe from unscrupulous screeners and baggage handlers: check your bags at UPS (or DHL or FedEx) instead of the airport.

The Missing the Point Awards

I know, it isn't a catchy name like the Darwin Awards. I'll work on that. Every so often, I come across people or situations where someone has just completely missed the point. For instance, the DayRunner 5-ring personal organizer with calendar, address book, notepad, and slot for your PDA that is supposed to replace the paper calendar, address book, and notepad; or the guy I passed on the road the other day clearly wearing his hands-free cellphone headset and holding the attached cell phone up a foot from his face a cheek level.

Today's MTPA was spotted outside the Sam's Club. The shrubbery planters surrounding the parking lot had a fresh layer of barkdust, spread out in a neat even layer--on the pavement surrounding the planters.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Study Sez...

A new Nielsen study finds that, among other things:
40% of US households own a gaming system of some kind
23% of gaming households own all three types of systems (PC, console, and handheld)
8% of console owners own all three major consoles--XBox, PlayStation and Nintendo. Child's play, I say. Real gamers also require at least one Sega system.

The study also shows that men are spending more on video games than music. Not surprising, though, given that the going rate for an MP3 download, assuming one actually pays for it, is about 99 cents per track, and games run $15-$50 per game. Girl gamers 25-54 years (that would be me) old split evenly between playing alone and with others, and we spend 5 hours playing alone and 3 hours en masse.

I'm not sure if they would count Maya in my video gaming clock. Yourself Fitness is not your typical video game, more of an interactive personal fitness program. Maya is the virtual personal trainer from the program. I relate to her as a person so that I feel obligated to follow through with the goals I set within the program. Whatever it is, and whether or not it counts as gaming, Maya already has me sticking to an exercise routine longer than anything else I've tried. Very nearly a week now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Slender Walk Tip of the Week

You can get un-registered from the federal Do Not Call registry without knowing it.

If I know my readership, you all are probably registered with the federal Do Not Call registry. These registrations are valid for five years, so sometime in 2008, we all have to remember to re-register our phone numbers. However, you may find yourself needing to re-register before that. Your phone number might be delisted from the registry for several reasons, including, but not limited to:

-Changes in your service, includes changes in your calling plan or adding or removing additional services (e.g. call waiting or voicemail)
-Reconnecting your phone number after a service interruption
-Changing your phone number

OK, that last one is pretty obvious, but the FCC mentions it nonetheless. Basically, if you change anything about your phone service or get disconnected, you should confirm your registration at as soon as your service is back to normal. If you find yourself getting a lot of telemarketing calls, confirm your registration with the FCC to make sure you didn't get bumped off the list.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Slender Walking

I'm going to institute a new feature here at Penguin Perspectives. Given the reaction to the series on getting rid of Chase's telemarketers, I've decided to post similar tips every week. I'm going to shoot for Wednesdays for Slender Walk Tip of the Week.

Why Slender Walk? Slender walking is a penguin behavior used when a penguin walks through a colony to his or her nest site or wherever he or she happens to be headed in the interior of the penguin mass. Penguins are, in spite of popular perceptions, rather territorial creatures, and will defend their nest sites from other penguins that look like they're encroaching. Given how tightly packed the colonies can get, this makes getting from Point A (say, the water and food source) to Point B (say, the animal's own nest site) somewhat interesting. The slender walk posture--as skinny as possible, beak pointed up, and flippers held close--makes the penguin as non-threatening as possible to its colonymates as it walks by others.

In much the same way that a penguin wants to get on with its life without attracting attention from the others in the rookery who might attack it, most of us want to be able to go through our lives without being bothered too much by marketers. Hence we, like the penguin, have to learn how to slender walk through our commercial lives, trying not to do anything to be perceived as a target. Slender Walk Tips of the Week aim to show how to do that.

Chase Telemarketing Redux

A few days ago, I got a comment from a reader who tried my suggestion for removing oneself from the Chase credit card telemarketing list, and I thought I might as well respond to everyone, just in case the problem he had is a widespread phenomenon. Apparently, in the middle of trying to delist himself, he was transferred from Chase to Capital One. Without digging a lot deeper, I can't explain why this would happen, particularly given that Chase is owned by JP Morgan and Capital One is not. One would think that companies with two entirely different parent companies would not have interconnected telemarketing system. Nonetheless, here's how I would suggest dealing with the situation.

First, add yourself to the Capital One Do Not Call list. However it happens that one arrives in their system, one might as well take the opportunity to get off their list. As far as I'm concerned, the more internal DNC lists one can get on, the better.

Second, look at alternative methods of getting on Chase's (or whomever's) DNC list. The easiest alternative method is to just pick up the phone when they call, interrupt the caller after he (or she) reveals the company, and politely tell them to place this number on their do not call list. The key to this is to be polite but firm. As much as we all dislike telemarketers, they are still just people doing their jobs, and being a prick to them will not expedite your request any. For those of us with no patience for waiting for the telemarketers to call again, which is how I figured out the callback thing in the first place, there is always the option of calling customer service (don't be surprised at some lengthy hold times), or mailing a written request. I'll have to look into where the best place is to send these written requests.

Owing to the great response I've been getting from the stop Chase telemarketing series of posts, I'm going to devote one blog a week to similar issues. Feel free to send suggestions to the address at the right.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Selective Morality in the Workplace

The New York Times has an editorial saying exactly what I have said long before now: if your sense of morality does not allow you to fully discharge the duties of your job, find a new line of work that conforms to your moral compass. Pharmacists who refuse to fill legally written prescriptions for medicine that a physician has deemed necessary and appropriate for that patient have no business behind a pharmacy counter. Margaret Sanger was arrested for distributing birth control devices, but family planning is legal now, and should be available to any patient with a legally written prescription and no contraindications, no matter what the personal beliefs of the pharmacist.

Not saying, of course, that pharmacists should be just prescription vending machines. Pharmacists play a vital role in the delivery of health care, even more so now that doctors don't have or take the time to fully explain the treatment regimen they prescribe. The pharmacist my family went to while I was growing up was just as important to our family's medical care as our physicians were. When a medication I had to take caused intolerable nausea, my pharmacist was the one who told us how to minimize the discomfort and potential harm, allowing me to continue my treatment. When another person's allergy medication failed to work, the pharmacist was the one who discerned that one of the inert ingredients in the pill was the allergen for which the medication was being prescribed. In the days before databases, he knew what my family should never take, but that decision was based entirely on our medical needs, not his moral judgment.

I find it odd that all the refusals to fill prescriptions based on moral values is confined to birth control and emergency contraception. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, but these pharmacists seem to have no problem dispensing weight loss drugs or cholesterol lowering medications that help people avoid the consequences of chronic gluttony. Even if the pharmacists' moral compass is confined strictly to curtailing the consequence-free indulgence of our lust, though, should we not also be hearing more about people being denied prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis, or is it just women who aren't allowed to have sex on their terms?

Friday, April 01, 2005


First, let me preface this by saying that the death of any human being is a somber occasion. I'm not Catholic and I may not agree with a lot of the positions of the Catholic church, but I have always found Pope John Paul II to be an honorable and decent man.

That said, I find the way the Vatican confirms the death of a pope very amusing--as far as anything about the death of a world leader can be amusing. According to a report on CNN Headline News, after all the heart monitors and brain scans and such show that the Pope's vital signs have ceased, a top Vatican official (I forget which one) gets in the late Pope's face and calls his given name three times, then taps his forehead. I understand that the Vatican stands on ceremony quite a bit, but this is essentially yelling "Booga! Booga!" and slapping his forehead to make the results of the MRI official.