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Filed in:The Web

Gmail - First Impressions

February 21st, 2005  · stk

Some time ago, there was a big bru-ha-ha about "Gmail" (Google's new email service) because they were planning on scanning user's emails, in order to present content-specific advertising. The ACLU & other such groups protested vehemently, "such activities are an affront and an intrusion on one's privacy." The fervor, eventually, died down.

Google's 'Gmail' hit the radar screen, again, when I recently received an invitation to open a 'beta' account. I signed up and then later learned that people were envious of the fact that I'd obtained an account. It seems that Google has created quite a buzz with this invitation-only approach, capitalizing on the human desire 'to have what we cannot'.

Note: If you would like an invitation, just respond in the comments section with your email address (which will never be shown on this site) and I will send you one, when I get a batch of them.

EDIT: 24-Feb ... received 50 today.

What's all the hype about? Well, for starters, Gmail is different. Instead of getting a few megabytes of storage space, you get a whopping 1000 megabytes. That's right, 1 gigabyte [GB] of space. Wow! That certainly IS different. It heralds a new era of email service: "Never delete a message again."

Beyond this concept, what is new? On the surface, not much. Don't get me wrong, Gmail offers some wonderful new features and shows a LOT of promise. One must keep in mind, however, that it is a NEW service, a beta release, and isn't QUITE ready for prime time.

The Good Stuff

  • 1000 megabytes of storage space - lots of room unlike most

  • It's a free service - we like free

  • Free forwarding & POP3 - use Outlook Express unlike most

  • Google search technology - find those messages unlike most

  • Introducing "conversations" - a new approach

  • Introducing "archiving" - also a new approach

  • Introducing "folders" - excellent new approach

  • Advertising - unobtrusive

  • HTML composing - Added in April


The Bad Stuff

  • No HTML composing - not YET anyway

  • No vacation response - not YET anyway

  • No sorting by date/author - limiting

  • Advertising - it scans your email

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Updated: 1-Jun-2005
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Filed in:Noteworthy

RFID Security Breeched

February 18th, 2005  · stk

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with identity theft, stolen credit cards, bad checks, second-hand smoke and an improper diet. Add something else to the list.

If you're one of the 150 million that have RFID (or "Radio Frequency ID") as an anti-theft deterrent ... or one of the 6 million with an RFID key fob used to wirelessly pay for gasoline ... then you should know that RFID encryption technology has been hacked.

Some grad students at John Hopkins University in Maryland, discovered that RFID can be thwarted using easily accessible, low-cost technology. With an inexpensive electronic device (<$200 US), criminals could wirelessly 'probe' your RFID car key or gas payment tag, in close proximity, then use the information to determine the unique cryptographic key. Knowing the encryption key, the thieves could circumvent the auto theft prevention system on your late model car or charge their own gas purchases to your account.

More details are contained in the John Hopkins news release.

It is Worth Noting: Credit card numbers are NOT stored in gasoline RFID fobs. Also, keyless remote controls that lock and unlock car doors do not use RFID technology. No reports of such RFID theft have been noted - to date.

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Updated: 1-Jun-2005
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Filed in:Alexandra

The Oop on Animals

February 16th, 2005  · stk

The first animal sound Alex made, was the "meow" of a cat, thank to our very own, built-in instructor (Tuxedo). When we moved to Edmonton, the dog next door (Roxy), taught Alex how to bark. With those two animals sounds well imprinted, she learned to recognize a "dog" and a "cat" in books. That became her reading staple and she ruined a good many of her books, bending the covers back to expose a page with a dog or a cat on them! If we want her to bark, all we have to ask her is, "What does Roxy say?" (Roxy barks a LOT, to the distraction of Rachel, who is trying to study, or Scott, awakened in the middle of the night. Roxy may be a nice dog, and she may have taught Alex to bark, but ENOUGH ALREADY!)

Alex has come a long way since those early animal sounds. I think we're on the cusp of a vocabulary break-thru, because she's now just starting to rapidly add new sounds AND words to her repertoire. We thought that we would preserve this moment, by recording those sounds she's learned first. Just click the FLASH audio play button |> , to listen to Alex's rendition of 8 different animal sounds. (We're partial to the bear - or lion, take your pick, because the roar and growl are indistinguishable). Trouble with the audio playback?



We'd like to teach Alex even MORE animal sounds, but we're bumping into a bit of a brick wall. We've been working on sheep, "baa baa baa", (which she thinks is a laugh, so will laugh in return), rooster, frog and goat ("maa maa maa" being too similar to "baa baa baa"). We've also discovered a problem ... not knowing what sounds some animals make!

You never really think about it till your a parent, I suppose, but just what sound DOES a rhinoceros make? A giraffe? A rabbit? An ostrich? Are we at odds because we're not as familiar with African and Australian species? Are these animals simply mute? These are but a few of the perplexing questions that nag at the parental mind.

Alex learns what we teach her and she does it well. We've been so focused on animal sounds (because she's so cute, doing them), that she's lost the ability to call a cat: "kitty cat". Try as we might, every effort to get her to say "kitty cat", is faithfully rewarded with a realistic "meow".

Sit back, relax & listen to the short audio file of "Alex - on Animals". Enjoy!

EDIT (18-Feb-05): Yesterday, Alex went grocery shopping with Rachel. As they were ringing up, the cashier noticed an abundance of bananas. She looked at Alex and said, "You know, if you eat all these bananas, you'll turn into a monkey." Monkey? Well trained, Alex promptly responded with the monkey sound you hear in the audio file. (The cashier just about fell over, laughing, from this unexpected response!)

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Updated: 22-Jun-2005
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Filed in:Alexandra

Keeping Our Toddler Busy

February 15th, 2005  · stk

New ideas are continually added to the bottom of this growing list, in red, as we try them out. Click "Read full story", at the bottom.

Because I'm "Mr. Mom," the burden to keep our toddler busy during the day falls on my shoulders. She will often entertain herself for an hour or so at a time, but just as often, she's bouncing off the walls, getting into so much mischief. She REALLY wants to go outside, but with temps hovering at -20°C, with snow and ice covering the ground, outside just isn't an option, in Edmonton, during the winter. She's getting cabin fever, just like we're ALL getting cabin fever! (It's our first Edmonton winter & Rachel is from British Columbia and I was raised in sunny southern California ... so ... the adjustment has been difficult, at best).

Finding new stuff for Alex to do has been a challenge, but if I don't, then she's down eating cat food out of the cat's dish, or pulling of wads of toilet paper off the roll and stuffing them into the toilet bowl, or pulling pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards, or pulling books off the bookshelf!! It's enough to drive me crazy.

She has toys, but "That's old stuff, Daddy," she seems to say. "I want something NEW to do!"

Rachel bought me a Valentine's Day gift, a book titled "The Toddler's Busy Book" (containing 365 creative games and activities to keep your 18-36 month-old busy). Many of them are geared toward the older kids, but it does provide many good ideas. My goal has been to do something new with Alex, be it big or small, every day.

I need your help! If you have any ideas to keep our 15-month-old toddling girl busy, please email your idea! (or add a comment, below)

So far, the things I've done to help spice up Alex's play have included (a growing list):

Alex's "New-Activity" List

1.  "Threaded String" - I took a foot and a half's worth of string and threaded it through a colored block having a hole in its center. I tied off the block and threaded several more blocks, giving it to her to explore threading and unthreading. (She was pretty keen on the threaded string, but didn't fully grasp the 'threading' process. However, she NAILED the whole 'unthreading' thing right off the bat and within about 2 minutes, had all of the blocks off the string.) Later, we discovered that the front end of the string was too limp, so we attached a thin plastic rod, like an oversised needle. This helped a LOT!

2.  "Balloon Stick" - (I thought this one up myself, thank you very much! ;) ) It's kind of a spin on a ball and paddle. I tied a bunch of rubber bands together, until I had about a foot's worth. Then I blew up a birthday balloon and tied it off at one end. I attached the other end to a 10-inch-long colored stick & gave it to Alex, to explore 'bouncing'. (She really liked grabbing on the rubberband and pulling on it AND the balloon, but the bouncing part, while fun to watch Daddy do it, was a bit beyond her grasp. She enjoyed watching the balloon on the end of the string, however, and hauled the whole thing around for some time.)

3.  "Milk Jug Bucket" - (Another original!) As we just ran through 4L of milk, I rinsed out the plastic jug and cut a hole in the upper portion, leaving the spout, handle & lid intact. The opening was large enough to allow some objects through, but only to a certain size. (She stuffed it full of giant legos, then hauled it around the house with her all morning. I emptied it for her, when it was time to put the legos away, so she can start all over again tomorrow).

4.  "Food Boxes" - OKAY, I kinda cheated today. But I did say 'big' or 'SMALL' and this one definitely fits in the "small" category! I gave Alex an empty cereal box (big 750g box) and an empty 1kg 'animal cookie' box. Don't laugh! She loves boxes, so I knew that they would be a big hit. (She puts all of her blocks into them, shuffles them around, dumps them out ... she's quite the little organizer!)

I took her to the 'Dollar Store', to load up on inexpensive supplies for her 'new activity a day' thing. She had fun, making eyes at a 4-5 year-old boy & following him around. "Why is she following me?" the boy asked his mom. "Because she likes you," she replied. Boy did she! I had to go pick her and put her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, just to get her to stop following this poor boy. (Alex loves people). We picked up a variety of goodies - blocks, colorful plastic containers, crayons, toy cars, colored twine, magnetic letters, balls, etc. All for about $10.

At the suggesion of one of our readers, I bought some inexpensive Scotch tape, which is reported to entertain for hours. (Unrolling sticky, inexpensive tape has GOT to be better than unrolling toilet paper and stuffing it into the toilet). THANKS for the suggestion, Ann! I'll let you know how it works out.

5.  "Sheet, A Fort!" - Rachel doesn't have classes for a week (UofA is having a "Reading Week", whatever the heck THAT is?) Anyway, she's home and it was laundry day. Mr. Mom was off the hook for a day, but Mrs. Mom is 'into' this whole new-thing-a-day! She took some living room furniture, re-arranged it a bit, then hung sheets off of it to make a cotton fort. Alex played in it a bit, but it doesn't look like she's keen on forts yet. A+ for effort, though, Mom! We'll have to try it again in a few months, as she may have more of an interest then.

6.  "A Bobbing Oop" - For the 4th time in her life, Alex went swimming! Rachel bought a community-league membership for $15CAD, which gets us into various natatoriums around town for free, a couple of hours a week. The nearby pool had a community swim from 12-2PM on Sundays, so we bundled the Oop up and went. She loved it! She was sent down the kiddie slide a few times, with much delight (until Mom tried from the very top & on her way down, Alex fell backwards and bumped her head. Then Dad missed the catch and the precious, but very unseaworthy baby, sank rapidly. Coughing a sputtering, she was rescued from the depths & the episode soon forgotten. (Only the parents remembered how clumsy they were)!

Rachel has informed Scott that "reading week" at the University of Alberta was started some 40 years ago, in an effort to relieve mid-winter stress & an attempt to reduce student suicide rates. Now you know.

7.  "Day Care Girl" - For the 1st time in her life, Alex spent time in day-care! (It was very EXCITING for the Oop, and very NERVOUS for the parents. :-/ All day, we said, "I hope she's OKAY." "Think she's OKAY?" "I bet she's having fun!") We needn't have fretted, she had a great time. In fact, she was so excited by all the new things and people, that she didn't go down for a nap. (She made up for it when she came home).

We dropped her off at about 10:30AM and picked her up at 4:30. It gave us some needed time. Studying for Rachel (midterm the first day of classes after the reading break) and web-stuff for Scott (embedding Flash Audio).

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Updated: 25-May-2009
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Filed in:Relatives

Costa Rica Trip

February 15th, 2005  · stk

Scott's parents have recently returned from a 3-week trip to Guatamala and Costa Rica. They had a very busy time and Marilyn commented, "We were so active, that I need a vacation from my vacation!"

They traveled in a group of about 15 people, which they said, "was a good size."

I did my Master's Thesis research in Costa Rica, during the early eighties. I spent just over two months there, traveling extensively over the Nicoya Penninsula and around the Gulf of Nicoya. I was very eager to hear of my parent's impressions and amazed at how much they did, while they were there.

In Guatamala, they saw volcanos erupting, visited a remote village where they speak a Mayan dialect (one of 60 dialects in the Country), sampled unusual fruits (zapota), saw giant carrots over a foot long & measuring 4-5 inches across, and visited the ruins of the ancient Mayan capital "Tikal".

They traveled more in Costa Rica than I ever did, touring San Jose (the capital), visiting the lush rain forests along the Caribbean coast (where they spotted the lethargic three-toed sloth & went white-water rafting down a class-III river, recently swollen from flooding). They spotted colorful poison frogs, howler monkeys, toucans, & white egrets. At the hotel, they drank and ate with a "Tony" Toucan, who helped himself to fruit off their plates! They visited a school and were treated to lunch at a student's home, helping to prepare their meal and sampling authentic, local fare. En route to Lago de Arenal, they got to squeeze sugar cane using an old iron press, sampling the juice & drinking "guardo" (the National drink). They saw tons of howler and capuchin monkeys and witnesses "Jesus Christ" lizards.

What's a "Jesus Christ" lizard? "You know, the ones that walk on water and when you see one, you say, 'Jesus Christ! Look at that lizard!'," Dad explained. Ha ha.

Witnessing more volcanic eruptions, snorkeling, mud baths, horse-back riding, a ride on a 75-foot catamaran, seeing 12-foot-long crocodiles, hiking in the steamy jungle ... Good God! No wonder they need a rest!

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Updated: 15-May-2005
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