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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

German Doors

I'm going to see assume most of Europe has the same doors, but for the moment I can only confirm German. I don't understand how to tell if the doors are in or out doors without getting up close and looking at them. Most of the time I just go for the quick push, if that doesn't work I go for the quick pull. If that doesn't work I assume I'm retarded and that the whole city of Kassel is laughing at me, and I walk away.

So if you see a dumb American trying to open doors in Germany, it's probably me.

Living Far Away From Work/School

I live just over an hour from the Kassel University. I've never lived more than ten minutes away from any school I have attended. A bad day in high school was when I had to drive ten minutes to school. Work after school took me exactly seven minutes to get to almost everyday.

I have to switch from a bus to a tram to get to the unviersity in just around an hour. If I take the bus the whole way it takes over an hour. If I miss the switch my trip is extended at least 15 minutes waiting for the next tram.

How do people live like this?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup Soccer

World Cup soccer is of course on every television in Germany. There are TV's everywhere.

After the German win today, the citizens of Kassel took to the streets (in their cars). They drove and honked and waved their flags for the next six plus hours. I'm sure they are still going somewhere.

It's amazing how dedicated they are to their soccer team.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Flight to Germany

The flight(s) here was easily the worst experience I have ever had with an airport/airline. The only thing that really could have gone more wrong would be for the plane to crash.

What was paid for was for me to be flown by Air Canada from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to Montreal-Trudeau Airport and after a four hour layover onto to Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

After arriving three hours early, being that this was my first time flying internationally, it seemed like this was going to be to easy. I checked two bags and had two carry-on bags. Sitting with Ben Neher, who is joining me on this journey, we asked ourself why we bothered coming so early as we had almost two and a half-hours before our flight. Soon, all hell broke loose.

We were notified that our flight had been cancelled and that Air Canada was going to book us on an American Airlines flight. I was assured, for the first time, that my luggage would be fine. As the new flight was to leave earlier we had to run 15 minutes across the airport to make it to the American Airlines terminal. We arrive there only to find out that the "nice" lady at Air Canada had failed to reserve our tickets correctly, the flight was overbooked, and that they had no idea where our luggage was. The flight was set to board in 15 minutes. We also noticed that we would be flying the two hours to Canada on a rather small plane.

At this juncture of the adventure, the American Airlines employees we encountered were nothing but exceptional. They notified us of what had happened, how Air Canada had sort-of booked us a ticket, but hadn't released control of us. Apparently, the airlines essentially buy and sell passengers to each other at the airport. One of the American Airlines employees was nice enough to call Air Canada, with very little time left to get on the plane, in order to attempt to figure out what was going on. After waiting on the phone for 15 minutes (beginning the point where we delayed the flight) she was finally able to book Ben, myself, and another lady in the same situation as us tickets aboard the flight.

As we watched the other passengers board their already late flight (it was lightly raining, so things were already a little sluggish), I asked about our luggage. The employee taking care of us called over to the Air Canada "shipping area" to attempt to locate our bags. She was told they were in transit across the airport. Another employee went to communicate with the "loading/unloading employees" to find out if they had seen our bags yet, they had not. They delayed the flight so that we could wait in the hope that our luggage would arrive from across the airport. After waiting 10 or so minutes, our luggage did not arrive and we were intelligently advised not to board the plane. We were sent back to Air Canada.

After 15 minutes of walking back across the airport to visit with our "friends" at Air Canada, we were redirected to yet another American Airlines flight to Montreal. We were told by Air Canada that our luggage had been sent to American Airlines and that there was nothing they could do about anything relating to our luggage at this point.

Walking 20 minutes to a significantly more distant American Airlines terminal, we were greeted by a not-so friendly employee of American Airlines. We encountered the same problem as last time with the release of our tickets, however, it apparently only matters for electronic tickets. My ticket was somehow transfered to paper at this point, so I had no problem checking in for this flight. Ben, on the other hand, still had an electronic ticket. Instead of calling Air Canada like the last employee did, this employee said she had no outgoing phone line (which I assumed to be a lie) and sent Ben back to Air Canada across the airport to get the mess straightened out.

Forty plus minutes later Ben returns ready to finally check-in with American Airlines. After Ben finally is ready to fly, we inquire about our luggage. We're told by a different, and more friendly than the last, employee that while they couldn't check for our luggage (they somehow could last time) we should assume that it would be on this flight. Fine, I just wanted to get out of Chicago in one piece at this point.

After arriving in Canada, we were summoned upon landing by American Airlines to discuss transferring to Air Canada. We were marked as having no checked luggage. Great. After standing with an American Airlines employee while she communicated with the "loading/unloading employees" I was told that one of my bags was found and that the other one was probably there and that I should move on. Consider this bit about the bag a little dramatic foreshadowing.

Attempting to make my way through customs I, unlike Ben, had a small confrontation with a customs officer. She did not believe that reaching a connecting flight to Germany where I would study for a month was a good reason to enter the country. After she looked through every page in my US Passport for no apparent reason and asked me a series of insane and mundane questions about everything from tobacco to Chicago to firearms, I was finally allowed entrance into Canada. At this point it should be noted that I know next to nothing about tobacco, Chicago, and firearms and try to avoid the three.

Next up was the metal detector. While having no problems in Chicago, Montreal did not go so smoothly. I was stopped beacuse of one of my bags. Not having a clue what was wrong, a couple of Canadian police/security guards exchanged words in French about me. They pulled out this fancy drug/bomb sniffing gigantic Q-tip and swabbed my bag. Found nothing. They then proceeded to dismantle all my items within the bag. It turns out, I had accidentally brought a small scissors in my carry-on toiletry bag. After being scolded in French and English and losing a $2 pair of scissors that had probably been in my family since the 1980's, I was finally ready to fly. One can reasonably assume that at this point I have probably been added to the Canadian do-not-fly list.

Ben was not without his own excitement. Montreal's airport is a maze of checkpoint after checkpoint. Ben walked through one line immediately after me, but was firmly grabbed by a security guard. The security guard repeatedly stated "where are you going? where are you going?", which confused Ben. After attempting to feed Ben a line ("Germany, Frankfurt, Germany, Frankfurt), Ben finally said the magic word and was let go by the testosterone-raging guard.

Somehow, we landed in Germany six hours later, but the fun was not over. After a quick test of the German plumbing system, it was on to customs. Passing through customs quickly and without-hassle, it was on to the baggage claim. I found one of my bags right away. Ben proceeded to find his two. My next bag never came.

An Air Canada employee in Frankfurt was able to help me file a claim and after extensive research discovered that my bag was somewhere that was not Germany and would be coming to Germany tomorrow. He said they would then fly it the regional airport nearest to Kassel (which due to the distance between Kassel and Frankfurt, I can only imagine was a ten minute flight) and deliver it to me at the hotel. I just had to call with the address once I got to the hotel.

Calling over Skype internationally for pennies a minute, I was able to speak to someone in the United States (as opposed to calling somewhere in Germany) and struggle through giving them my address in Germany.

Just a few hours ago (close to 11 p.m. local time) I finally received the second of my two bags of luggage. Victory!

Somehow, I'm in Germany (and alive).

Carbonated Water

Will someone explain to me why almost all of the water in Germany is carbonated?

UPDATE: Apparently it's a state of Hessen thing, it comes out of the ground that way. I've now been told how to request non-carbonated water. Wahoo!

Euros and Dollars

After visiting a Saturn store today (which was akin to something like a Best Buy) I noticed a trend. The numerical prices for products you can buy both in the US and Germany are the same. Being that a dollar is worth less than a euro, the items are more expensive to buy here. Amusing.

The Always Off World

I have had a brutal entrance into the always off world in the past few days. For the first time in five years, I do not have a cell phone with me at all times (okay, so I do, I just don't have service in Europe). For the first time in five years, I can't jump onto a free wifi network (i.e. the one in my house) whenever I want. On top of that, I'm not exactly fluent in German, so I can't understand 25% of the signs on the streets and I understand very little of what's on the hotel television.

This has forced a huge shift in the way I live my life. Outside of the obvious time conflict with communicating back home in the United States, I can't rely on my always-on services like AIM and my Cingular cell phone. I have to plan my use of the internet to minimize the excessive expense incurred when connecting (I'm writing this offline). I do not have the ability to use Bloglines to consume all the news, photos, and 150+ blogs that I'm used to reading on a daily basis. My Germany experience so far has been like geek prison.

While this all may change in a few days when I move in with my home family, for the time being it's pretty disruptive.

Free Wifi

There is a definite lacking of free wifi in Germany. It's 10 euros for 2 hours at the hotel, and a rate somewhat similar everywhere else you go. I was able to sneak onto "free" (or unsecured networks) two networks just long enough today to place a call over Skype on my Pocket PC. Definite change in my lifestyle.

Another interesting thing to note is that while in the United States there is a prevelant amount of free wifi to be found (whether via public networks or unsecured networks), almost every network that I've come across so far seems to be secure. We're talking a consistent 9 out of 10 when you walk by an apartment building.

Germany: First Thoughts

A collection of my initial thoughts on Germany while I'm riding the train from Frankfurt to Kassel in the state of Hessen.

1. The state of Hessen is quite green. You don't see the dirt in the fields like you do in Wisconsin.
2. With the previous point made, the state of Hessen still looks quite a bit like Wisconsin.
3. German railroads rock.
4. German railroad tracks and stations seem to be quite dirty. Old track is simply disconnected and left to rot, along with old trains. The trains themselves seem to be clean.
5. There is a lot of beer here. People get on the train at 10 a.m. with beer in their hands. In the United States you would be called an "alcoholic", here that passes for "normal".
6. My ability to be an excellent reader of boiy-language has really helped so far. People here in Germany speak "German". I speak very very little. If I were to lose my ability to read between the words (most of which don't make any sense to me), I would be in trouble.
7. The cars are very small. You knew this already. The trucks all seem to have a flat front cab, unlike how it is in the United States.
8. Why are some things so different in Eruope than they are in the United States? You think it would be more cost efficient to standardize on something, rather than have to worry about all kinds of differences. The power grid comes to mind.
9. I'm writing this in a train, did I mention that's one of the neatest parts about Europe?
10. There are power lines everywhere. Next time I come here I'm bringing a bunch of shovels and making a fortune off teaching them how to bury the lines.
11. The population density of the state of Hessen is amazing. There are people all over, small town after small town. Unlike Wisconsin, the cities seem to be closer together and of a bigger size. I'll have to look that up once I have an internet connection.
12. Crap, I forgot my cell phone charger. Hopefully Motorola uses the same one in Europe (UPDATE: and they do), otherwise it's FedEx time.
13. I need to get off this train soon, time to figure out where I'm supposed to go now (i.e. how do I get to the hotel?)

Why I'm in Germany

I'm in Germany for the next month to study environmental systems in the city of Kassel. I'll be living with a host family, but until Sunday I'm actually staying in a hotel. This whole experience will of course be blogged, right here. You'll be able to follow the photos on my Flickr photostream.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Germany

Hello from Germany!

I'm still missing one bag, but all will hopefully be well tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

MasterCard (MBNA) Customer Service

The customer service for my credit card was out of this world awesome. Sure, I had to sit on hold for one minute and twenty seconds, but the person on the other end was amazing. I called to let them know I'll be travelling out of the country (so that my credit card didn't get denied while I was in Canada or Germany) and for once in my life a customer service representative was very personal, very helpful, and seemed grateful that I was being proactive.

Customer service goes a long way towards earning more respect from me.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Baseball Teams Using Video iPods

In a not-too-terribly shocking story, the Colorado Rockies are pioneering the use of Video iPods to distribute game footage to players. Pitchers are able to use it to look at batters in upcoming games and their previous matchups. Batters of course use the reverse.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Support Our Troops and the Facebook

In my ongoing quest to further understand humanity through the Facebook, I have come across another first. UW-Whitewater has a very large "I Support Our Troops" group (636 members). If you have had the pleasure of riding in a car with me, you certainly know that I stand in clear opposition to putting ribbons on your car and displaying flags all over your SUV. It's literally the least you can do, or so I thought.

A Facebook group takes two or three clicks to join, depending on if you're invited in. That is literally the least you can do. Please, to the 636 of you, do something else. Pay your taxes, send care packages, send post cards to people you know in conflict areas, or call them. Joining a Facebook group is a worthless motion towards supporting our troops.

It's hard not to support the troops. I struggle to think of ways not to support the troops. Do you shoot back? Do you not pay your taxes? Do you throw stuff at them when they come back? Everyone who pays a dime in taxes is supporting our troops. It's easy to put ribbons on your car, join Facebook groups, but you're not accomplishing anything. Maybe the best way to support our troops is to run out there and fight with them, however, I don't see many SUV-driving, ribbon-flaunting people rushing to do that.

I got a quick laugh out of this though by noticing that the number 1 related group was "Country F*&king Rocks".

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Micheal Jordan Buys Chunk of Bobcats

Michael Jordan is now part of an NBA basketball team that isn't in Milwaukee, hurray! Over the course of the last couple of years rumors have been circulating from time-to-time about Jordan buying my beloved Milwaukee Bucks. One of the things that has always been said is that Jordan wanted the Bucks because they were the second closet team to his home in Chicagoland, outside of the Bulls, who he won't be buying any time soon. This has always scared me as Jordan could up and move the team because of the coming Bradley Center situation (to somewhere warm), or just manage it into the ground like he did with the Washington Wizards in the early 2000's.

Thankfully, good news has arrived. Yesterday Michael Jordan became the second-largest owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, based in his home state of North Carolina. I can sleep at night again, knowing that Jordan will do (or not do in one's case) two things in the near future. First, he will run the Bobcats into the ground, somehow (just give it a year or two). Second, he will not buy the Bucks and move them to Las Vegas. Victory is mine!

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Fans to Manage Minor League Team

In what I think is a pretty cool announcement, fans are set to manage a minor league baseball team out of Schaumburg, Illinois. The Schaumburg Flyers, an independent team, will turn over such decisions such as the batting lineup, fielding positions, and the pitching roster for the second half of the club's season.

I think I may actually have to drive the hour and a half to go to a game later this summer.

Fans to Manage Minor League Team

In what I think is a pretty cool announcement, fans are set to manage a minor league baseball team out of Schaumburg, Illinois. The Schaumburg Flyers, an independent team, will turn over such decisions such as the batting lineup, fielding positions, and the pitching roster for the second half of the club's season.

I think I may actually have to drive the hour and a half to go to a game later this summer.

Jay-Z Boycotting Cristal

It appears hip-hop's love affair with Cristal champagne is coming to an end. The issue comes after some choice comments by the managing director of the company that produces it, including this one...
Asked by the magazine if the association between Cristal and the "bling lifestyle" could be detrimental, Rouzaud replied:

"That's a good question, but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business."
Rapper, entertainment mogul, New Jersey Nets part-owner Jay-Z is leading a boycott of the product now and is pulling the product from his chain of sports lounges. Will the word be gone from hip-hop forever? I would guess not, but we'll have to wait and see.

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Boo to New Gigantic Mall in Milwaukee

The owner of the Mayfair Mall is looking to build a new mall in the Pabst Farms complex outside of Oconomowoc, a Milwaukee suburb. I say boo! At a time when a growing trend is to move downtown into a condo, I'm opposed to the development of something far out into the country. I would love to see General Growth Properties, the company proposing to build the mall, build a multi-story mall downtown or along I-94 West in the core of the city, such as near Miller Park. Milwaukee doesn't need another excuse for "white flight".

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Track Your Time in Firefox

LifeHacker pointed me to this neat Firefox plug-in called TimeTracker that will keep track of how much time I actually spend browsing (Bloglines, Facebook, Flickr being the big three I spend my time in) the web. I'll post the results here. Any guesses for how much time I spend in a web browser a day? I'm going with about 4 hours.

No Privacy From Google

Google's Picasa Web Albums apparently have a small little glitch. There isn't a real privacy feature. With a little guess work you could find a "private" album of Google co-founder Larry Page.

People point at Microsoft and yell security, but Google's stock goes up on a day when something like this comes out. Weird.

$2.32 Million Worth of the Black Nintendo DS Lite Gone

Oh no! Nintendo lost a shipping container carrying $2.32 million of the black Nintendo DS Lite.

I can only imagine how one goes about organizing the theft of a shipping container and then the distributed resale of all the devices.

Weird Al Wants You To Buy His CDs

Parody artist Weird Al has indicated on his website that he makes more money if you buy his CDs vs buying his music via iTunes. Weird.

How many other artists do you think are caught in a weird situation like this?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mark Fletcher Leaving Bloglines

Mark Fletcher founder of online RSS reader Bloglines is leaving the company. Bloglines was acquired by Ask not too long ago, and Mark has decided it's time for him to move on to his next start-up. What will that start-up company be? He's not sure yet.

Bloglines is my RSS reader of choice so of course I'm sad to see the visionary founder leave, but I'm excited to see his next project.

Buy Drugs at Home Depot

Apparently if you shop at Home Depot you sometimes can get a little more than you're asking for. Some customers have found excessive amounts of marijuana and others have found cocaine.

Google is Crazy

Hurray! I'm not alone in the anti-Google-hype camp. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch is right there next to me and has a really good breakdown of why Google just isn't that amazing.

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NFL Players, Mandatory Camps, and Their Contracts

Is it just me or do NFL players really not have to follow these contact "things" they have. They don't show up for mandatory mini-camps and nothing happens. They demand a new contract, they get a new contract. They want to hold out, they hold out and eventually get more money. When the hell is a team going to stand up to a player? They all seem to do it for maybe a month, and then they cave in.

Deion Branch's incident is the latest of what seems to me to be a pandemic of players choosing not to honor their contracts.

I wish I had the choice to not honor my contract and get a raise because of it. Come to think of it, I wish I had an NFL contract period.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Judy Robson

I just sent my Wisconsin State Senator Judy Robson a $4 campaign pledge. She talked about bringing a train to Chicago into Janesville, I was sold. My $4 won't go far, but my vote will certainly go further.

For the record, I chose $4 because it was the amount of money in my pocket.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Match Made in Hell

The devil and his sidekick (you decide which is which) have teamed up. Dell has agreed to preinstall Google web and desktop search software on their computers. You don't even have to wait for your brand new Dell computer to have spyware toolbars now, the Google toolbar will be there from the start.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated "the real reason we do this is for users, turn the Dell machine on, and everything is integrated right there. (This deal) is a turnkey solution for search." Customers will be happy about this I'm sure, at least until Google's stock tanks along with their retirement fund and they receive a casual reminder everytime they use their computer (not that I have an opinion or anything).

Dell claims that "our motivation is to deliver customers tools that enable them to search and organize information quickly and easily, right out of the box...Dell customers will have the option of choosing Microsoft as their default if they prefer." We'll see how smoothly that actually works for people.

It would certainly be nice if these companies could just ship computers with no third-party applications preinstalled and let the consumers choose.

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Vista Beta 2 Tour

Ars Technica has a quick tour of Windows Vista Beta 2.

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Nokia Turning Cell Phones Into Webservers

Nokia has been experimenting with installing a webserver on their cell phones. If this idea catches on this could be a huge boost to phone functionality. Users would be able to access their phones via their desktop or laptop computers and browse their photos and contact information. Other cell phones would be able to access your phone and browse your pictures. Calendar sharing would become a lot easier. This is a brilliant idea that could become a social network on steroids. Incorporate some GPS data and the possabilities are endless.

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PDF Creation Won't Be in Office 2007

Creation of PDF files was supposed to be included in Office 2007 as a built-in product feature. Adobe has apparently changed its mind though and doesn't want anything to do with giving away free PDF creation in Microsoft Office. iTWire has the story.

I was excited for PDF creation to be included in Microsoft Office. This would have made creation so much easier for the average person, which would have been an improvement to document distribution.

I have hated Adobe Reader for a long-time, for amongst many other things the painfully slow load times. Here's to hoping that Microsoft decides they want to kill the PDF format now and attempt to replace it with their new format XPS. I'm sure that will load faster and result in my browser hanging a lot less often, two things Adobe has been unable to get under control.

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United States Falls in World Cup Opener

The United States soccer team got beaten pretty badly (0-3) in their opening match against the Czech Republic. I can imagine that this will crush the television ratings for the next United States game against Italy. ESPN has the rest of the story.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Want Blog Traffic?

Seth Godin shares the secret(s) on how to get traffic to your blog.

Evil Overlord

Wisconsin .NET Users Group

Dave Wanta will be presenting on Regular Expressions on Tuesday at 7 p.m at the Medical College Building in Milwaukee.
In this presentation, Dave Wanta will present an introduction to Regular Expressions, commonly known as Regexes. This presentation will cover the basic Regex operators, metacharacters, and pattern matching. From there, we will move into advanced groupings, replacing, and logic branching. Come prepared to learn, as most of this presentation is performed writing Regexes, rather than simply talking about them.


Learn more and sign-up!

As a reminder, Wisconsin .NET Users Group meetings are always free! I hope to see you there.

Starting a Career in the NFL

When you have been drafted and are set to play in the NFL, you should not break into houses. You should be thankful that a team drafted you after you've been accused of sexual assault and pleaded no contest in a seperate DUI arrest.

A.J. Nicholson, of the Cincinnati Bengals, disagrees.

Best Buy

What would happen if you flooded a Best Buy store with non Best Buy employees that are dressed very similar to the actual Best Buy employees? Improv Everywhere found out.

Update: As Adam's comment indicates, his blog post did prompt me to put this up here. If Adam wishes to take me to blog court I can show him that I have an existing post written on the computer in the MSOE HDW office from sometime in May that never got posted. Thank you Adam for reminding me to post this great story to my blog!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bucks To Unveil New Logo

In case you missed the initial announcement, the Milwaukee Bucks are set to unveil a new/updated logo and color scheme during the NBA Draft on June 28th. The new uniform will come sometime in September.

OnMilwaukee.com has a look at a leaked copy of what is believed to be the new logo.

Bring on the green and red.

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Missing Milwaukee's Whale Wall?

Are you missing the whale wall in Milwaukee that used to be on Courthouse Annex just above Interstate 43? Windows Live Local, Microsoft's rocking map service, has managed to capture a lot of Robert Wyland's other whale murals with their, above and beyond the competition, Bird's Eye View feature. The Bird's Eye Tourist blog has the list.

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NBA Website... Not So Good

The website for my beloved National Basketball Association (NBA) is painful to use. Outside of being setup, what I think is, rather poorly. They use this moving advertisment on the top of the page, it opens up as a huge banner ad, but shrinks down to some marginally sized ad. The movement is really painful for people trying to actually read the site. Also, the site is painstakingly slow to load with all the graphics displayed initially and then the movement on-top of the graphics loading makes it feel like my computer is a 386 for a few seconds (yes, I do have other windows open at the same time). Commissioner David Stern, please do something!

Side note: The NBA has podcasts and RSS feeds of news. Two huge thumbs up for that!

Pentium Price Cuts Ahead

Don't buy that new Pentium processor quite yet, Intel is going to slash prices by 60 percent on July 23! Dual-core chips are will drop in price by 15%. Bloomberg.com has the story.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Steve Jobs

Here are a couple of signs that Steve Jobs is going through a mid-life crisis.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Face Transformer

What would you look like if you had a different heritage? The Face Transformer answers all of your questions. It's quick and easy to use, give it a shot.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Yoda Backpack

You want to buy this Yoda backpack!

Monday

I wish I could wake up in the morning and not have a clue what had happened for the past weeks. I would call that day "Monday".

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Trailer

Who Killed The Electric Car (trailer) looks like a winner to me. I'm going to go see it.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Who Killed The Electric Car (trailer) looks like a winner to me. I'm going to go see it.