Jul 08

Free Wall Street Journal: Part Deux

In the previous entry, I explained how you could read full articles at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by tricking wsj.com into thinking you originated from Google News. Basically, any WSJ traffic from Google News is allowed to view the full article.

My previous solution was awkward kludge, but it got the job done. Of course, I should have known there was an easier way to do it. The problem is two-fold: the Journal site checks the referer and the URL parameter. So, if you can change the referer and rewrite the URL’s to include the URL parameter, the entire site will be in subscription mode.

Step 1: Change the referer to appear as if traffic is originating from Google News. This is easy with the RefControl extension for Firefox. Just install the extension and set the referer for any traffic to “http://online.wsj.com” as coming from “http://www.google.com/news”. See screenshot below.

Using RefControl to changes referers

Step 2: Rewrite all URL’s on the WSJ site so that they include the Google News parameter. In other words, take all links on the site and add “?mod=googlenews_wsj” to the end. With the referer set manually and the modification in place, you should be able to view the full articles. So, how do you rewrite the URL’s on the WSJ site? I recommend creating a Greasemonkey script to do this, which should be pretty simple. When I get some more time I might do it and upload to my defunct userscripts library.

Jun 08

How to view full WSJ articles for free

The Wall Street Journal is a pretty good resource for business news. I say “pretty good” because it has an annoying pay wall and it’s now owned by Rupert Murdoch, who I find tacky (Fox News, regardless of its politics, is lowest common denominator viewing). I do have to wonder about the profit margins on newspaper advertising if a business like the WSJ can’t reliably make enough money selling advertising on its own site that is relies on a subscription model. Maybe this is just a testament to the success of its subscription model?

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Jun 08

Radical minimalism is modern asceticism

Apropos of my last post, I came across two very relevant pieces. One on the success of paper as an interface (we forget that paper is a successful technical achievement) and one in Time on radical minimalism.

This flight from materialism seems to be part of the national zeitgeist. Many of us are overwhelmed by modern life in all its complexity and ambiguity. At a certain level, has modern life become opposed to our basic nature? Partly due to temperament, I look back and wonder if we lived better lives a few generations ago when the tendency was to stay near family and to live simply with more humble expectations for what life had to offer. Aside from advances in prosperity and medicine, have we improved the quality of our lives?

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Jun 08

Free books for the Kindle

A while back I broke down and bought the Amazon Kindle, which I love. I have been waiting for a perfect ebook reader since I would like to get rid of any material possessions that are not necessary. Let’s face it, books are pretty useless unless you’re actively reading them. Books are an inefficient medium in that they are heavy and take up a lot of space.

One of my goals is to reduce my material possessions to the absolute minimum. Like many people I no longer own CD’s for music (having sold them several years ago), but I have also been scanning in all paper records and photos and have sold a lot of furniture and junk on Craigslist. I would eventually like to get to the point where my possessions consist of: a car, some clothing, computing tools, and a few personal effects.

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Jun 08

Out of the live oaks at twilight

In the past I have speculated on other animals that have adapted to the human environment. Here in the Hill Country north of San Antonio, deer should be included in that group. In the absence of wolves and mountain lions, they have no natural predators and, unlike in rural areas, people will not hunt them near homes.

Deer are perfectly suited to the wooded, exurban enclaves where they can melt away into the shade of nearby live oak groves. They breed in prodigious numbers and are the subject of countless vehicle collisions. With their crepuscular lifestyle and effective dull camouflage, they live beneath our notice. Unless they eat up your flower beds or run into the road in front of you, you have little reason to notice them, which is odd given their ubiquity. Around here they keep the buzzards busy and fat. Buzzards are another animal that do well near humans. They clear up roadkill and tend to keep their distance. Although, when I was down on Broadway Avenue a few weeks ago I saw a pair of Black Vultures roosting in the courtyard of Sterling Bank, so they can be a nuisance.

The deer around here come up to the house in the evenings to see if we will throw out any corn, which we do on occasion. They are both tentative and bold. I have noticed something interesting. With respect to getting a handful of corn, does are more bold than bucks. The does and fawns will come close, but the bucks always stay farther out and sniff the air, interested but dubious. What accounts for this difference in behavior? Territorial-ness? Aggressiveness? In humans, do we find something similar?

May 08

Later borns and provocation

Birth order theories are interesting, especially with regard to first borns and later borns. Here’s an article from Time Magazine, The Power of Birth Order

Even more impressive is how early younger siblings develop what’s known as the theory of mind. Very small children have a hard time distinguishing the things they know from the things they assume other people know. A toddler who watches an adult hide a toy will expect that anyone who walks into the room afterward will also know where to find it, reckoning that all knowledge is universal knowledge. It usually takes a child until age 3 to learn that that’s not so. For children who have at least one elder sibling, however, the realization typically comes earlier. “When you’re less powerful, it’s advantageous to be able to anticipate what’s going on in someone else’s mind,” says Sulloway.

Later-borns, however, don’t try merely to please other people; they also try to provoke them. Richard Zweigenhaft, a professor of psychology at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., who revealed the overrepresentation of firstborns in Congress, conducted a similar study of picketers at labor demonstrations. On the occasions that the events grew unruly enough to lead to arrests, he would interview the people the police rounded up. Again and again, he found, the majority were later- or last-borns. “It was a statistically significant pattern,” says Zweigenhaft. “A disproportionate number of them were choosing to be arrested.”

May 08

Creativity and sensitivity

Ran across this in a recent NY Times article on memory:

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.

This phenomenon, Dr. Carson said, is often linked to a decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Studies have found that people who suffered an injury or disease that lowered activity in that region became more interested in creative pursuits.

Pardon the disjointed thoughts here.

Pronounced sensitivity to external and internal stimulus is a hallmark of what we regard as classical creativity or “original thinking”, but which might be better called creative aestheticism. Creative aestheticism is really only one type of creativity.

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May 08

Wherein I realize my limitations

I flew back in to San Antonio after tying up some very loose ends in Dallas. I hadn’t seen my Dad in a few days and was ill-prepared for dealing with him. He’s gotten more belligerent and difficult over the last week. I thought my brother was exaggerating or just being a wuss about dealing with him, but clearly he was not. Dad is just very difficult as a result of his head injury, which is unfortunately rather typical in such cases. I had to run him back into town to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and he didn’t want any part of it. It took me about 30 minutes just to get him into the car. Then it went downhill from there. The whole enterprise took three hours.

The thing that is hard to remember is that you cannot argue with a brain injury. There are certain things that he has to do like wear a neck brace and use a walker, but if he does not feel like doing it, no amount of bargaining, solicitation, or badgering will work. It’s especially difficult in my case since my Dad is 6’3″ and about 265 pounds and not afraid to mix it up even in his weakened state. A lot of times you feel like a lion tamer, dancing around with a chair and flimsy bull whip, ducking in to lob a quick, “Hey Dad, please wear your neck brace.” Luckily, he’s been good about taking his medicine and letting us give him shots. It seems to help if you can make him feel like he’s in control.

Anyway, the thing is, it’s tough. From the moment you get up until you go to bed. It’s not just dealing with Dad. It’s dealing with Dad and everything else you normally have to deal with, like making money and keeping the wheels on with the rest of your life. It’s harder than anything I’ve ever had to do before (Not that I have ever had it rough. I know now that I have not.). The upside is that everything else I have ever worried about in the past has become so much easier in comparison. All my previous problems and anxieties seem laughably easy. When he was first in the hospital and we thought we might lose him so we were there around the clock, I thought that was hard. That was really nothing. It was emotionally draining, but it was not work. Our present situation (which is way more complicated than I can go into) is both emotionally draining AND work. That wouldn’t be so bad except that it’s hard to see any positive outcome. Life is just different now. Everything is different now.

May 08

Generational Conflict

Funny article on the brewing conflict between the so-called “Generation X”, of which I am a member, and the Millennials, ie. anyone born after 1981 or so.

That’s why the time has come for Generation X to unite. We need to call bullshit on these naive, self-important crybabies trying to rob us of what is rightly our own. Remember how the Baby Boomers all turned into self-serving, narcissistic assholes who deified Michael Douglas in the ’80s? The time has come for us to turn into assholes, too, minus the Michael Douglas part.

I suppose it’s natural for people who regard themselves as “young” to experience anxiety when they realize that they are actually progressing through the next arc on the wheel of life; that someone else moving up to take their place. When you’re a child you’re excited about the freedom of adulthood and you’re relatively naive. When you become a young adult, you exult in the richness of new experiences and novelty. Later adulthood seems to be a period of improvement and optimization. You’re learning more about yourself and coming to terms with Life in general.

Generational anxiety is understandable. As you get older, there’s definitely a feeling that you no longer belong in the world of your younger colleagues. I suppose this feeling happens to some degree to every person as they move through the stages of their life; 70-somethings wistful at the sight of a hard-charging 50-year-old. The main consolation seems to be that Life reveals new treasure with every passing year. Like the rings of a tree, we grow in experience and wisdom layer upon layer, stronger and stronger with every season of life.

May 08

No more Exchange: MilkSync for Blackberry

Remember the Milk!A while back I ditched Microsoft Exchange to save some money, which made it more difficult to sync my PIM between my desktop and handheld. Even though I liked having everything synced through Exchange, the cost was annoying for something so simple. With basic Blackberry service you get your email quickly, so it seemed like overkill to pay $20 extra a month just to sync tasks, calendars, contacts, etc. Shortly thereafter, Google released a nice Blackberry app to sync Google Calendar to the Blackberry Calendar, which replaced the Exchange calendar syncing for free. After that, the only thing missing from Exchange was synced contacts and synced tasks.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Remember the Milk were nice enough to build a new Blackberry app to sync your RtM tasks with your Blackberry. MilkSync effectively costs $25 a year since you have to have a pro membership to use the app. It’s worth it.

Now the only thing missing is Exchange-less over-the-air syncing of your Blackberry contacts. You can get contact data if your contacts are in Gmail using the Gmail mobile app, but it doesn’t sync with the Blackberry Address Book. Hopefully, Google will release a tool to do this.

Google will sell a lot of phones if they release similar tools for the Android platform.