Bad Facebook... Bad...

I have relatively low expectations for privacy in general and privacy on the web in particular. Even so I find I need to lower my standards to cope with the creepiness of Facebook's Beacon feature.

If you have a Facebook account make sure you log out before you do any online shopping.

Facebook has partnered with a bunch of online retailers and is publishing your purchase information to your facebook news feed. That means if you buy a Christmas gift for someone from and they look at your facebook page, the surprise is spoiled.

I did some digging to figure out how sites like ebay would be able to figure out who you were on facebook. This post by RadiantCore explains the technical details the details and you can see a demo of how it works here, but the bottom line is when you make a purchase the retail site checks if someone is logged into facebook. If so, it assumes that the logged-in-facebook-user is the person making the purchase and publishes a message on that facebook users news feed that they just purchased a [Insert Inflammatory Gift Item Here].

The ability to do surreptitiously pass information between websites is nothing new, but this does appear to be the first time that a social networking site has partnered with seemingly reputable online retailers to publish your purchasing habits for all to see. Seriously, how does this not violate the standard privacy agreements those sites set up?

Bottom line, to avoid having all your purchases out there for the world to see, stay logged out of Facebook when you're shopping online. As for me I'm staying logged out of Facebook and boycotting online stores that use Facebook Beacon.

How to Fix a Broken Guitar Nut With Baking Soda In Nine Steps

This a guest post by my father. Six months ago I left my acoustic guitar out and Alex and Conner broke it during a game of "Tag You're It". Just as the year was approaching when I'd get around to thinking about possibly asking someone if they knew anything about repairing a guitar, my dad liberated it from my house and worked his magic. He does cool stuff like this a lot.

Through repeated harassment, my brother and I convinced him to start writing down how he does this stuff so that future generations won't have to go 6 months without a working guitar nut.

This post has a little of everything; humor, economics, music, profanity, and even a material density chart!
So without further adieu.

How to Fix a Broken Guitar Nut With Baking Soda In Nine Steps

By James Russell

But first, what is a guitar nut? Lets start with what it is not.

A guitar nut is not a nut that you eat like, for example, pistachio or a walnut or a peanut.

It is also not a piece of metal that you put on the end of a bolt and tighten down.

It is not Reza. Well, Reza is a guitar nut but just not that kind of nut.

A guitar nut is a piece of rigid material (originally Ivory but now often plastic) that sits at the top of the neck of the guitar and supports the strings. It is about 1/4" by 1/4" by 1 3/4 inches with little slots in which the strings sit.

The strings are supported on the other end by a device called a bridge. So basically, the nut and the bridge form a fixed distance between which the strings are constrained to vibrate. By selecting string of different thicknesses and adjusting the tension on the string, each string can be made to play a specific note. But why am I telling you this? It seemed to me that any reasonably rigid material that
  1. will support the string without being compressed as the string is tensioned and
  2. not absorb the vibrations of the string and thereby create a dampening effect should do.
Satisfying those two criteria, the nut should establish an acceptable end point for the string and the physics of a vibrating string should apply and, in the hands of someone who knows what to do with the vibrating strings (this is were Reza comes in), music should emanate. But what do I know?

Step one: Go to the nearest music store that has guitar parts and purchase the only guitar nut they have for the outrageous price of $10.50 plus tax. An important part of this step is to muse over my expectation that there would be a lot of different guitar nuts of different sizes to pick from and wondering whether this store owner was a marketing genius who knew the one and only guitar nut to stock. My original inclination was to walk away and go somewhere else but since I live in the boondocks of Massachusetts, there really isn't a “somewhere else”. So I forked over the $10.50 for the bridge whose package promised improvement to my sustain and bass response. (See my comments above on the attributes of a guitar nut.) I also stopped to by a lottery ticket under the assumption that if this guitar nut actually fit, then my stars must be in alignment and I should jump on the opportunity and make millions on the lottery.

Step two: Return home and remove the broken guitar nut and compare it to the sustain and bass improving $10.50 guitar nut. Not even close. The store owner is not a marketing genius and my lottery ticket isn't worth the paper used to print it. A vitally important part of this step is to put the guitar nut in your pocket and not back on the guitar. The importance of this step will become obvious below.

Step three: Go on the Internet and find that there are a plethora of guitar nuts of varying sizes and made of a variety of materials all offering some amazing level of improvement regarding tone, sustain, response and other things. (See my comments above on the attributes of a guitar bridge and the physics of a vibrating string.) One even promised to take three strokes off my golf game. The price of a particular nut in the Internet seems to be associated with the complexity of the spelling of the material making up the nut. It should be noted that I could not find a nut for anything near $10.50. The prices were much cheaper for even the most exotic material. However, when shipping and handling was added the price jumped to $43.29, which, if I am not mistaken, is more than the guitar cost.

Step three point five: Start thinking about carving a nut out of ebony. As a woodworker, I have some ebony (a really hard African wood) and the tools to do it. An important part of this step is to muse about whether ebony is sufficiently hard to meet criteria one of my two part criteria for a suitable nut (see above). It should be noted that I do not know how long this step takes since I was still in my muse state when I finished fixing the nut.

Step four: Go shopping for Thanksgiving stuff with your wife really far away from where you live and stop at a liquor store to buy some Jack Daniels and Jameson and note that there is a music store next to the liquor store.

Step five: Go into the music store, reach into your pocket (see Step Two above), take out the broken guitar nut and say, “Do you have one of these?” At this point, the guitar fixer guy takes out a box full of many different sizes and types of guitar nuts. Things are looking up. After comparing many different nuts the guitar fixer guy declares, “This one is pretty close.” It was in fact close but not exact. My opinion is that this is definitely close enough and the price of “two bucks” sounded pretty good. Then the guitar fixer guy says, “Ya know ya can fix the one you have with Super Glue and baking soda. Ya need the thick Super Glue and ya mix in some baking soda. Put it on the part that is missing and it gets as hard as a bastard.” I quickly took out my Pocket Reference for Materials Management (which I have with me at all times), looked up “hard as a bastard” and was impressed. (See an extract of the Pocket Reference at the end of this document). Now “hard as a bastard” is pretty hard and at least as hard as both criteria one and two above. I really like the idea of fixing the guitar nut with baking soda because nobody wants to fix anything any more. Just trow it out and get a new one. So I bought the “two buck” nut as an insurance policy and finished buying the Jack Daniels and Jameson.

For everyone who slept through your materials engineering classes on the Brinell Hardness Measures of particular materials:

As a woodworker, I am very familiar with cyanoacrylate glue. It is the real name for Super Glue only it comes in much larger bottles and in different thicknesses. I always have the thick stuff on hand so I was eager to get into the shop and try it out.
Step six: On the way home, stop at the original music store and return the $10.50 guitar nut and watch as the store owner puts the nut back on the wall in its lonely place and wonder how many times it has been through this process.

Step seven: Get about 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda and a few drops of thick cyanoacrylate glue. Mix them together. Put the paste on the part of the guitar nut that is missing. Spray on some accelerator (so it gets as hard as a bastard faster). Repeat until the missing part is more than filled in. File down the excess glue/baking soda mound to the exact shape of the guitar nut. File in a new track for the string.
Step eight: Put the repaired guitar nut on the guitar and tighten all the strings (fully expecting the pressure of the string to fracture the glue/baking soda mix). Be amazed that it holds together and that the string that is sitting on the repair has improved sustain and improved bass response.

Step nine: Play the guitar.

Think Outside The Bottle and Save Elle!

This weekend an old sigh school friend (we'll call her Elle) told me "I gave up bottled water after I read your blog post, and now I'm severely dehydrated."

Since I wrote the My Water Bottle post a surprising number of people have shared their experience with "Giving up bottled water." I'm thrilled by how many people the post reached, and at the same time disappointed that the message I got across was to "Give Up Bottled Water" instead of to "Switch to Tap."

I think the reason the switching to tap water has been so easy for me is I never really thought of it as giving something up. To the contrary I've always thought of switching to tap as getting something.

  • The $2 per bottle that I keep in my pocket to buy DRM free music from amazon.
  • Sticking it to the corporations that marketed brainwashed me into thinking I needed bottled water.
  • The knowledge that the air is a little cleaner for my kids.
  • The ability to drink clean water without having to sponsor oil producing middle east governments that like to lash and jail women for being raped.
Fortunately there's a new group called Think Outside The Bottle that has found some great ways to explain why people should switch to tap. More importantly, they let me set up a Think Outsite the Bottle pledge page we can use to save poor Elle from her severe dehydration.

Click on the image below to learn more and (optionally) take the pledge to switch to tap water and save Elle. If you decide not to take the pledge and Elle dies of dehydration its on your head. I already signed it.

XO Laptop Camp Out

Some people camp out for movie tickets. Other people camp out to be one with nature. I camp out for the chance to play with a staggeringly overpriced $100 laptop before Christmas.

Today camped out on my couch and placed my order for an XO laptop (A.K.A $100 laptop) through the XO Giving Program just after 6am when the ordering system opened.

Paying $400 for a $100 laptop sounds really silly but there are a bunch of reasons I'm really excited about it.

  1. A Good Cause: The OLPC program provides a mechanism for education to the poorest kids in the world. By purchasing a laptop I'm also paying for a laptop donated to a kid that can use it to learn.

  2. Mass Production Goal: The $100 laptop currently costs about $200. They can only bring the costs down by mass production. That means 3 million laptops need to be made before they get the costs down to $100. My conspicuous consumption is actually helping the program.

  3. The Geek/Eco Factor: The specs on this thing are really impressive. It runs on only 2 watts! Besides getting to use a seriously optimized laptop, I'm interested to see what its like to use a machine powered by a hand crank or solar power.


Halloween was a lot of fun this year. While Allison stayed home to scare smile off intruders, the boys did some serious trick-or-treating.

Conner was particularly impressive. He refused, under any circumstances, to let hold of his bag of candy. When it got to heavy he used two hands and dragged it. When he lost his balance and started falling down a stairway he grabbed onto his candy bag with both hands, instead of reaching for the banister. Fortunately I was there to catch him.

Alex was a consummate professional. He went for density of houses with their lights on, and even conserved energy by insisting that Conner do all of the knocking on doors. At one house, Conner wasn't knocking hard enough to get the attention of the homeowners. Alex, stood right next to Conner and yelled encouragement to knock harder. After a few seconds Alex, not having lifted a finger, turned and asked me to help knock because "Conner wasn't strong enough." As a parent I've come to recognize requests like this as "Teaching moments" and I did my part to teach him by laughing at his request.

When we got home the boys dug into their loot. After a few pieces candy the most amazing thing happened. They asked for apples... Christine and I just stared at each other in disbelief as an unspoken "Holy crap we are good parents!" passed between us...

And that's how the boy's ended up eating apples after trick-or-treating...

For the leaves they are a-changin'

It occurred to me that people come from all over the world to see the colors I see every day on my way to work. So this year I stopped to enjoy them and took a few pictures.

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