New limits for cigarette marketing: no more “light” cigarettes… Crazy!

Read this on Digg today:

From today’s ruling against the tobacco companies: “Judge Kessler ordered the companies to stop labeling cigarettes as “low tar” or “light” or “natural” or with other “deceptive brand descriptors which implicitly or explicitly convey to the smoker and potential smoker that they are less hazardous to health than full-flavor cigarettes.””

read more | digg story

Ok. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke as much as the next non-smoker with ulfactory senses still in tact, but this stuff is crazy! In Colorado where I live there has been a state wide ban on cigarette smoke in all establishments including clubs and bars. Now they are telling the cigarette companies that they are misleading the public? Come on! Do you really think that with all of the bans on cigarette smoking and continued growth in public loathing that these people just are too dumb to get it? Let’s fix the packaging now so that these people will finally “understand”? Hello? It’s a choice, people. People who smoke do so on purpose. They’re not being tricked into it.

Anyhow, I just think the government gets their hands in too much. They go too far. Use of any of the terms listed are relative terms and non of them are intentionally misleading. Does anyone really believe that any cigarette is safe? I have no opinion of the tobacco companies. They are a business like any other business that produces something with consumption risks and the government rightly did require them to warn about the use of their products. That is a good use of government authority, but this? This is just stupid. Continuing to force the companies to change their practices without expecting the “poor saps who don’t get it” to change theirs is just ludicrous. What the heck happened to people taking responsibilities for their own actions? It’s unreal.

Ok. I’m done.

Single-Sided Floppies

I just got some new old music hardware from a friend–a Roland S-330 sampler module. It only takes floppies for loading samples so I went digging through my old boxes for some floppies I can use. I found a couple, but then came to learn that not only does the system take floppies only, but it also requires them to be single-sided 720K floppies.

After doing a little research on the web I found that the trick is to take a Double-Sided Double-Density floppy, cover the hole in the disk opposite the write-protect hole with tape and then format it as a 720K disk. Sounds easy enough and fortunately it is. The only problem now is that in Windows XP the format command:

c:\> format a: /F:720

Does not work. The only option in XP is to use /F:1.44. I then dug a little deeper and came across this gem, which does the correct formatting:

C:\> format a: /T:80 /N:9

When I get a little more time, I’ll look up exactly what each of these does, but for now suffice it to say, it does the job and I have now turned several perfectly good 1.44MB floppy discs into 720K floppy discs. Who would have ever thought that might be desireable? :-D

DVD +/ RW Conspiracy

Within the course of the past year, I recall seeing packs of DVD+RW or DVD-RW discs available in small quantities–as small as three in a package. I didn’t buy any then because I really don’t need re-writeable capabilities most of the time. Usually when I back up my files, I just burn them to a regular one-timer and throw it in my disc box with my other backups.

Today, I went to two stores looking for RW discs because I have a DVD recorder set top box that I use instead of a VCR. I normally only want to watch the shows I record once and then overwrite like I used to do with tape. I figured I would probably be able to find the RW discs in small quantities, but then I discovered a little conspiracy. Now maybe I just fell off the turnip truck here and most people already know about this conspiracy, but it made me angry. The smallest count I could purchase at either store was a 10 pack (discs including cases) and it cost about $20. $20 dollars!!? I only need one disc. Um, duh, who uses these things unless they intend to re-use them. Furthermore, who buys them 10 at a time?

Anyhow, I’m sure I’ll get over it, but it just points to a deeper problem with companies these days. They only care about their bottom line–not value for the customer. I understand that business is business and in the end the bottom line is what it boils down to as far as investors go, but it seems like this sort of practice just insults our intelligence and makes us loathe them.

The Cost of Doing Business

Dell LogoAs is true for most of us who use computers to make our living, I am often asked by friends and family for recommendations on what brand of computer to buy. Over the years my suggestions have changed, but the basis for those suggestions hasn’t. With the exception of Mac users, people don’t purchase computers for intrinsic value. It is always most bang for the buck and that is what I focus on.

In the course of the past four years or so my recommendation has been pretty consistent; Dell. Most of the time when I look around for deals, Dell is right in there with the rest to provide best bang for the buck and they provide world class customer service. That alone pushes it over the top in my mind.

But somewhere in the course of the last two years, in my own experience, something has changed. I purchased a laptop myself from Dell in October 2003. Knowing that laptops can be troublesome, I purchased the extended three-year warranty. That would soon prove to be my only saving grace.

Dell Inspiron 5150When I bought my laptop, I bought the best. I upgraded everthing. I got the 60GB 7200 RPM hard drive, DVD Rewritable drive, 1GB of memory, Firewire, and USB 2.0. It is was a smokin machine. I use it for my work and it has really helped my productivity when it comes to build times (especially compared to the 500Mhz PIII I had before it).

For the first year of owning it, I didn’t have any problems, but shortly after the one year anniversary, something happened. When I plugged in my laptop, the OS would not reflect the change in the battery monitor. I called Dell and they had me send it in. After transferring all of my work files to a backup computer, I sent it in and they turned it around pretty quickly. What I didn’t know was that this was the first in a downhill trend that has plagued me since.

Since that time Dell on two occassions has sent me parts that I could replace myself, but I have also had to send it in two times since and I am now on my third motherboard. Just last week, my sound card, which is integrated on the motherboard died and I am now in need of a third motherboard replacement which puts me on my fourth motherboard.

I recently did a search on eBay for my model of computer and found several of them for sale with bad motherboards, to be salvaged for parts. As best as I can tell the people selling those are the folks who bought the computer, but didn’t spring for the extended warranty. What a lesson to learn the hard way. If it had been me, I would be out $2500.00 after one year.
I understand that businesses have to reduce their costs to compete and that means that they have to cut corners, but the most egregious part of the whole ordeal to me is the fact that every time I call Dell, they add insult to injury by sending me to a call center in India.

I don’t want to sound ethnocentric here. I think India is a great country that focuses on technology and is becoming a real reckoning force in the field especially as it relates to computers and software development. The issue for me, though, is the fact that when I call in, my brain has to kick in to a high language processing gear in order to understand what the call center folks are saying. I know many of these folks have spent a lot of time learning to speak English clearly and are doing very well, but over the phone it is almost always necessary for me to have them repeat what they’ve said multiple times.

The end result of making these calls, leaves a lot to be desired. I often walk away feeling frustrated. Sometimes I go away feeling patronized. I’ve sometimes had to raise my voice to get my point across. In the end, I still have to go back through the same process of moving my work files to my backup computer. I then move my backup computer into my office (it’s a noisy desktop I just keep networked in a different room where no one is bothered by the sound) and set up the monitor and run a 50′ CAT5 cable to my network router. It’s a pain and takes time away from my work.

The bottom line is that it seems Dell, as well as others, have gone too far in the cuts they’ve made. I can’t imagine why you would offshore your call centers other than costs and that, frankly, demonstrates making the customer a secondary concern.

Dell was a great company when they were winning awards for their customer service. If they are still winning awards it is probably because everyone else is worse at it than they are. My question is when my family and friends ask me now to recommend which computer to buy, who should I tell them? It won’t be Dell. Lately I’ve been suggesting that people buy a Mac. I know they have their problems as well, but at least if you become a cult member you’ll feel better about it when things go wrong. Cults tend to do that to people.

I will make another call to Dell today to get my laptop fixed again. They are requiring me to send it in again for this third motherboard replacement. I know there is a point with Dell when they will provide you with a replacement, but frankly, I would settle for the same computer but one that is reliable. I’m afraid that’s not possible because there seems to be a defect with these motherboards, but I certainly hope that it gets resolved in some agreeable way (to me) by October 2006, when my three-year warranty runs out.

‘Firefly’ is Good Sci-Fi

Firefly TV Series
In many ways the only aspect of the TV series ‘Firefly’ that is science fiction is the fact that they use space ships and hover crafts. Even the weaponry is good ole’ fashioned gun powder and bullets (with a few exceptions where lasers are introduced). The point here though is that good story telling is what sets good television shows and movies apart from the rest. I like the sci-fi context, limited as it may be, in ‘Firefly’, but more than anything I think it is a great show that really enables you to relate to the characters. Though they are used frequently, special effects merely enhance the story rather try to become the story as so many shows and movies try to do these days (especially movies).

Many people have never even heard of ‘Firefly’ and may never hear of it since the series was cancelled back in 2003, the same season it started. This is a sad reality. I’m not sure what the culprit was, but it was never given the chance it should have had. As I said earlier, it is a really good show. My wife and I both enjoy it which is often not the case with sci-fi. We have now finished watching the whole series and find ourselves quoting it all of the time. My wife’s favorite line is from an episdoe when Zoe says to Wash (they’re married) “do you remember that sex we were going to have, ever again?” It’s my wife’s new favorite threat when I’ve done something that she doesn’t like. Now don’t get me wrong–the show is much more than clever lines, however, the lines like these and others really demonstrate relationships more like you see in real life. The show’s characters relate to each other in ways that make sense–they seem real.

Another aspect of the show that is just great is the way the episodes work together to draw a much larger picture. In relationship to my previous point, the “real”-ness of the show is demonstrated by the fact that when Joss Whedon (the writer) introduces an aspect of a character, he doesn’t expect you to just accept it. He demonstrates is further in later shows. He revisits aspects that really help us to relate even more.

For instance, when Malcolm (the ships captain) first met Jayne (the ships mercenary and block head–yes it’s a guy’s name), he was working for someone else. In fact he was pointing a gun at Mal. In the process of negotiating his way out of that predicament, Mal convinces Jayne (who is a bit of a simpleton in some respects but was hired for his muscle) to come and join him rather than shoot him by offering him better pay. Jayne accepts and turns on his previous boss. We are not left to just accept this about Jayne. In fact, Mal knows all along that because Jayne betrayed his previous boss, he is capable and even likely to be a traitor against him as well.

Whedon addresses this in the “Ariel” episode where they sneak into a hospital facility on this Aliiance planet (called Ariel). By the end of the show, though the plot to conspire is foiled when the Alliance turns on Jayne as well, we are led to believe that Jayne got away with it because none of the crew seems any the wiser of his plan. But then, Mal, out of nowhere, cold-cocks Jayne and interrogates him about his treachery. He then locks him in the outer bay of the ship and opens the outside door a bit while they are about to break atmo[sphere]. He gives Jayne something to think about and threatens to leave the door open. Once Jayne has been convinced that what he did was wrong and his absolute loyalty was required, Mal relents by closing the lock so Jayne won’t die. He then walks away. The show ends.

From this one incident, Mal is able to show mercy to a traitor, but by doing so purchases his loyalty. What a great story line. It really helps us gain respect for Mal as a great leader on his ship, and demonstrates that he believes that though being a traitor has been a major characteristic in Jayne, Mal believed all along he could change and helped to bring that about.

This is just one example of the neat nuances of this under-appreciated television series. There are many fans, my wife and I included, who would like to see the series continue. We borrowed the series from the local Library after seeing the movie ‘Serenity’ which was created as a last ditch attempt to revive the series (to no avail, but that is a different story). I am now planning to buy the series. It is really that good. I think it would be smart of Joss Whedon to make the whole series as it is now available as free video downloads online with someone like iTunes. I think this could very well create the size following it would take to get it off the ground again. I doubt Joss has the power to do this as the rights are probably not his, but it sure seems to me to be a good way to create a larger fan base for a series that is just downright good.

Welcome to Long Pointers

Welcome to Matt Long’s weblog. Here you’ll find blog entries relating mostly to programming and mostly using C# with the .NET framwork.

Welcome to Matt Long’s weblog. Here you’ll find blog entries relating mostly to programming and mostly using C# with the .NET framwork. From time to time I solve programming problems that have an elegant solution and there is often a methodology or at least a code snippet I want to share with others. This is the place where I intend to do that. If you are looking for Matt Long’s company, it is now called Skye Road Systems, Inc. You can view the website at

If you’re wondering about the site name “Long Pointers”, well it has a bit of a double meaning. Those of you who are reading this who are programmers may already understand it, but for others, a long pointer is “a 64-bit pointer that may point to an object outside its current process space”. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about. Most programmers don’t worry about it anymore either, because it was something you only dealt with in the C programming language, which by most accounts is antiquated and these days primarily used for embedded devices and legacy computer systems (with some exceptions). The double meaning comes in because my last name is Long and I am providing programming tips (a.k.a. pointers) on this site. Call it cheezy. Call it what you will. It’s here to stay.