Star Wars mailboxes coming, and, yes, stealing mailboxes is a federal offense


Apparently the post office is staffed by a bunch of geeks, as they’ve decided to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars by tricking out some mailboxes to look like R2D2. Apparently the USPS really knows the Star Wars audience, as they’re not gonna place them on the street where obsessed fans can steal them in the dark of night. They’ll be placed indoors under the protective eye of our nations postal workers.

Think any other government agencies will be joining the anniversary celebration? Perhaps cops will start dressing like storm troopers, or maybe the people at the DMV will start issuing licenses to fly spaceships. Hoo boy, that would sure be great! Or, they could spend our tax dollars on being efficient, but that’s not really as fun.

Make a Mii without a Wii


Still having trouble finding a Wii out there? I know, it’s tough. They’re so popular that you have to wait in line on a Sunday morning if you want one, even so many months after the release. Well, if it’s any consolation, you can still have a bit of Wii-related fun without actually owning a Wii. will allow you to create a Mii avatar, just like you can on a Wii, right on the computer. Then you can save it to your computer for export as an image or for further editing later. Sure, you won’t be able to play Wii Sports with it, but it’s still fun. As you can see by the above example, I was able to make a version of myself that I feel is quite accurate, although technically my eyes are a bit farther apart.

Google Phone coming?

Is Google entering the crowded cell phone market? That’s what the rumors say, and this might just be what it’s going to look like. Supposedly, the “GPhone” will be manufactured by Samsung with Google branding (much like Helio’s phones). It’s said to come loaded with all of Google’s services, such as Gmail, Google Maps, Blogger, et cetera. In addition, it will supposedly have a QWERTY keyboard, a 2-megapixel camera, WiFi, and 3G web connectivity.

What’s especially exciting about the potential of a Google phone is that reports state that the big G will shy away from forcing users to choose one wireless carrier, instead allowing for people to buy the phone and then use it with the carrier of their choice. This is the route we wished Apple had taken with their iPhone, and it has the potential to do wonders for the domestic cellular industry.

Vista 32-bit activation BIOS crack hits the street

You can coat anything in a rich creamy layer of activation security but the software cracking scene will still find a creative way around it. A post on Digg points to a brand spankin’ new Vista activation crack which promises to be a big pain for Microsoft.

According to the FILENetworks Blog, this Vista activation crack represents a giant leap forward from previous Vista activation “workarounds”. Using an installable software driver, the Vista BIOS emulation crack fools Vista into the belief that it is running on top of an approved vendor’s BIOS, apparently opening up validation free licensing similar to what an OEM would receive.

I don’t support the distribution of pirated software but, I do marvel at the lengths some bedroom software crackers will go to have the latest and greatest scot free.

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Design Tip – LightZone commercial quality for free

LightZone, the RAW photo converter, can cost you hundreds of dollars for the Windows or OS X versions, however, the Linux version is free. LightZone is a powerful photo editing software package based on tonal zones with an easy intuitive interface.

The Windows and OS X versions are available in a Basic edition for $150 and a Full version for $250. The Linux version is functionally equivalent to the Full version, and did we mention, is free? LightZone is copyrighted by Light Crafts of Palo Alto, CA. They do not provide online support for the Linux version however, Anton Kast, Light Crafts’ chief architect and Linux devotee maintains a separate page to keep the Linux version updated and to provide technical support.


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How to get rid of the incandescent light bulb


Incandescent light bulb, ye who sprang from the loins of Thomas Edison, thy days are numbered. Already you’ve been banned in Australia starting in 2010. Now similar moves are being contemplated in Canada and the European Union. Has the nanny state run amok once again?

This guy thinks so. He acknowledges the advantages of compact fluorescent lighting — the main alternative to incandescents, at least for the time being — including energy savings and flexibility in color temperature. But he also offers a long list of cons: They don’t produce a focused beam of light, don’t work well in extreme temperatures, can’t be battery-powered, pose a waste-disposal challenge due to mercury content, are too bulky for some light fixtures, don’t quite duplicate the golden glow of incandescents, and have higher sticker prices (though they’re cheaper to run). And, uh, they can’t be used to incubate an egg or keep your lizard warm, because they run cool.

I’d add a few more negatives: Compact fluorescents aren’t approved for use in places with high humidity (like your bathroom). Some of them don’t work with dimmers. And some people claim their flickering can produce physical distress, though others call that a myth, pointing out that modern fluorescents cycle much faster than the eye or brain can process.

Having said that, I agree that incandescents should be banned. I’ve replaced 75% of the bulbs in my home and office with compact fluorescents and use the latter 95% of the time. They light my desk by day and my reading by night. Because they dissipate less energy in the form of heat, fluorescents use one-quarter as much energy as incandescents, thereby reducing global-warming gases and saving me money every month. They offset their initial cost by lasting much longer, and I enjoy my chosen color temperature of 4,100 kelvins, the hue of late-afternoon sunlight. Oh, and if you don’t like fluorescents, you might try LED lights instead. There may even be a new breed of energy-saving incandescents from General Electric by the time the Australians pull the trigger.

So I’m in favor of the ban as long as it allows exceptions, so old-style incandescents can be used where they’re still appropriate. Climate change is a real threat and we need to modify our behavior. If people respond by acting like babies — “I can’t use my urine-colored luminescent space heaters anymore? Wahhh!” — maybe the nanny state isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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Senate panel scrutinizes credit card practices

With the threat of new regulations looming, some credit card issuers on Wednesday promised lawmakers they would ease penalties and simplify tiny-print disclosures that few consumers read.

At a Senate hearing on credit-card practices, a top executive with JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Chase Bank USA apologized to a 29-year-old Ohio man who repaid twice the amount of a $3,200 bill because of interest and fees.

“It just seemed like there was no end in sight,” Wesley Wannemacher told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Wannemacher, director of operations at his family-owned Double A Trailer Sales Inc. in Delphos, Ohio, said he was trapped in a cycle of ever-growing fees and penalties for wedding-related purchases. A few days ago, Chase erased another $4,400 he owed as of February 2007.

“Our policies failed, and we deeply regret it,” Richard Srednicki, chief executive of Chase Bank’s card services, said.

Democrat Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), the Senate panel’s chairman, said legislation may be needed to stop what he called predatory practices by credit cards, such as when companies charge interest and fees on money that has already been repaid.

“Our investigation found that even accounts in good standing are socked unfairly by little known … practices that inflate interest charges,” Levin said.

The high-profile hearing was held a week after Citigroup, the third-largest card issuer, said it will stop automatically raising rates for people who default on payments not directly related to their credit card. The practice is known as “universal default.”

Bank of America Credit Card Services President Bruce Hammonds said his company has never used universal default.

Sen. Norm Coleman (news, bio, voting record) of Minnesota, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said he was concerned about some industry practices. Coleman praised Chase for erasing Wannemacher’s debts and eliminating a practice known as double-cycle billing, which includes tacking on fees based on two prior months.

Alys Cohen, a consumer advocacy attorney, said credit card practices are predatory because of the payment structures. “They can’t pay back the small amount of principal and they’re buried by the fees and interest,” she said.

Outstanding U.S. credit card debt amounted to more than $750 billion in November 2006, according to estimates based on Federal Reserve figures. The industry has more than 640 million credit cards in circulation.

The Federal Reserve is already working on new requirements for companies to disclose various payment and fee schedules, lawmakers and executives said.

“We believe it should be a priority to shorten and simplify disclosure language and to focus on the most relevant terms and conditions,” Bank of America’s Hammonds said.

Levin said he would work with the Senate Banking Committee on legislation to protect consumers from overzealous credit card companies.