Author: Joe Wilcox

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Man on the Train

Wednesday afternoon, while on the D.C. metro, I saw a homeless man working the train for change. Lots of loafers beg for money around Washington; they’re professional beggars whose job is collecting handouts, sometimes pretty aggressively.

But this guy looked truly down on his luck. I’m not tall, about 1.6 meters, and this guy, sporting a well-weathered sleeping bag, was shorter than me. He shuffled politely through the subway car, asking people for money. What surprised me was just how many folks gave him money. Unlike the professional beggars, which more typically use disposal cups, this guy took cash by hand. Like the others, I gave him some change; I wanted to give more but hadn’t hit the bank machine before going on a trip to New York. He literally got all that I had to give. 

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NeoPets Alarm Clock

Rousting a kid is every parent’s morning nightmare. Those kids cling to the pillows the way leeches used to stick to our backs at the old swimming hole.

Two weeks ago, my daughter picked up a Pocket NeoPets electronic game, at the local Target using her allowance money. Promptly, at 7:30 each morning, the game buzzes to feed her critter—a Fairy Poogle, I do believe—and she hops out of bed with urgency no alarm clock could muster. It’s a parent’s dream situation. 

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Voter Profiling

I guess privacy doesn’t mean much during an election year. According to a Reuters story by Andy Sullivan, politicians are “drawing detailed profiles” of voters. Mr. Sullivan quotes Grassroots Solutions founder Robert Richman as saying, “It’s pretty scary, the stuff you can get on people”.

It’s funny how politicians often talk big about protecting people’s privacy (except maybe with regard to Homeland security). But in the crunch, some won’t hesitate to mine data the same as businesses. 

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Racism and Naiveté

Growing up in Northern Maine, a white wonderland in more ways than just snow, doesn’t seem like the best place for exposure to other races, or even cultures. But, my hometown Caribou also was where many kids from “the base”, as in Loring over in Limestone, went to school.

My best buds growing up tended be a different color from me, like the Chung brothers, Davis and Winchell. Not that I noticed. I was colorblind to skin. I remember learning about slavery, civil rights, and racism in eighth grade, a concept that made no sense to me. 

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If You’re Political, Then say So

Should journalists make political contributions? That’s a quandary raised in a today’s Washington Post story by reporter Howard Kurtz. The situation is this: Some news organizations allow staffers—and that includes editors and reporters—to make political contributions. Such contributions could infer bias and so tarnish the contributor’s and/or news operation’s neutrality.

As a former journalist too often disgusted by the news media misbehaviors, I’m in favor of the contributions, as long as there is full disclosure. My reasoning is simple. Reporters, editors, and publishers are people. That means they do have biases and even agendas. But the mask of so-called neutrality often hides the real story behind news stories. I like the idea of those purporting to deliver unbiased news stories and analyses offering readers insight into their political leanings. 

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Microsoft vs Mac Marketing

I want to take a look at just one of the ways Apple, with its puny computer marketshare, out-markets Microsoft. It’s all in the presentation.

Gander at these two websites: Apple’s iLife `04 and Microsoft’s Plus! Digital Media Edition. Each site hawks the respective company’s digital media suite. But, Apple does a much better job making its product enticing. [Update: 10/2009: Links removed because the original websites are gone.]

Mac’s Movie Preview Screensaver

When Macs are really cooler than PCs, they’re “Duh, that was so obvious”. My nine-year-old and I cruised through our local CompUSA this afternoon, and, as is customary, we bopped into the Mac section. She stopped at an iMac that was running the “Peter Pan” preview. When she reached to turn up the volume, the preview disappeared, leaving her with the Mac OS X desktop.

Stupid me, I started looking for QuickTime, figuring th preview had been playing in the open application. Smart daughter reasoned, “Maybe it was the screensaver, dad”. 

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Windows gives Macs the Boot

My daughter attends an elementary school in Montgomery County, Md., where Windows PCs are booting (pardon the bad computer jargon pun) Macs out the door. Her school is due for an upgrade next year.

Montgomery County is supposed to have one of the better school systems in the Washington, D.C. area, because of the tax base of cities like Bethesda, Chevy Chase, or Rockville. Wherever the school system spends its money, computers haven’t been a priority. My daughter’s school runs aged beige (that means pre-1998) Macs and first-generation (that means 1998) iMacs; a few 1999 version G3 towers are around, too. It’s my understanding that many of the computers were purchased through a Macs for schools program—one of those deals where folks turned in receipts to a local supermarket. So, much for the tax base.