Monthly Archives: October 2019

Senators propose 5-year ban on higher cell phone taxes

admin | 09/10/2019 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

The average US tax rate for most goods is 7.07 percent, but the taxman has a special affinity for wireless phone and data services, which are taxed at a whopping 15.9 percent when you combine state, local, and federal taxes. This high number may be a relic from the time when a cell phone was a luxury, but those days are far behind us; cell phones are the choice of many low-income individuals, especially those who move frequently. Now, two senators want to put the kibosh on any future tax raises for five years. 苏州美甲

Already a fierce supporter of network neutrality, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has decided to tackle rising taxes on wireless service. "Americans are being hit hard with rising costs for gas, health care, and food for the dinner table. Americans need to know that their cell phone bills won’t be the next cost to spiral out of control,” he said in a statement announcing the "Mobile Wireless Tax Fairness Act of 2008.”

Ron Wyden

The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who has previously partnered with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) on network neutrality legislation. Snowe wants an end to "these excessive and discriminatory taxes" that discourage wireless use, particularly for "low-income individuals and families" who rely on their cell phones. “By banning these taxes, we can equalize the taxation of the wireless industry with that of other goods and services and protect the wireless consumer from the weight of fees, surcharges, and general business taxes.”

According to a copy of the bill seen by Ars Technica, "No State or local jurisdiction shall impose a new discriminatory tax on or with respect to mobile services, mobile service providers, or mobile service property, during the 5-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act." Local tax raises are fine, but they cannot single out wireless service.

Should the bill pass—and it's unlikely to do so during this session of Congress—it would do nothing to lower existing tax rates, simply prevent discriminatory increases in the future. State and local governments watching the issue will no doubt take away one main lesson: if we're going to jack up wireless access taxes even higher, we'd better get jacking!

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Review: Practical Django Projects

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Practical Django Projects: Writer better web applications faster, and learn how to build up your own reusable code library (buy)
James Bennett, Django Release Manager
Apress 256 pages

Any web developer worth their salt has undoubtedly spent significant amounts of time and billable hours building (and re-building) a library of reusable code to ease future development investment on their part. If you’ve made it that far, then you’ve probably also come to a point when you’ve scrapped all the code you wrote and picked from one of the many open-source web frameworks that have done all those tasks (and more), done them well, and that–most importantly–other people maintain.

When many individuals took their first steps in web development, they were forced to write much of their code from scratch. That includes handling cookies and sessions, talking with the database and building your own SQL queries, engineering some sort of templating system (or none at all in much of PHP development), and many more man-hours of boilerplate.

These days, from ColdFusion, Ruby, PHP, Perl, to Python, developers at all levels are turning to web frameworks to do much of the dirty work.

Django is a Python-powered web framework and it's one that I’ve been a following closely since its public inception. Django has had some big wins lately with Goolge’s App Engine and is well on its way to a 1.0 release. Django has been heralded as a well-managed and disciplined open-source project that has managed to garner praise for it’s stability and performance.

Practical Django Projects is an excellent book that goes well beyond The Definitive Guide to Django, which marches through each major bit of Django with basic examples of these features. The main downfall of the Definitive Guide was that while it is extremely illustrative of the different parts of the framework, it has little to no example of how to build a real-world project you might present to a client.

This book has a strong focus on building real, battle-tested web applications from the ground up and is split into four logical portions which are prefaced with a brief introduction to Python, Django, and web frameworks themselves.

The first major section is a basic content management application which introduces the concepts of using third party applications, in this case django.contrib.flatpages, to build a project. The author demonstrates how you add these third party applications, wire them to URLs, set up your templates, and get going. James' extends the CMS application in subsequent chapter by demonstrating how a developer might add interesting flourishes such as Markdown formatting, and a search system (writing your first custom view).

There ancillary chapters are used to introduce more complex ideas and more in-depth parts of the Django framework to readers. In this section for example, adding the search system tackles building a data model for the first time.

Building real projects

The first is a personal weblog replete with multiple authors, comments, tagging, categories, link blogging (with integration). From here, the book dives into more advanced subjects such as using Django's advanced template inheritance in this real world example. Readers are encouraged to go a step further by constructing custom templating tags, a task that eludes some Django developers until well into their career.

In addition to building the base weblog, advanced walk throughs on topics such as comment moderation (via Akismet), utilizing Django's email framework to send notifications when new comments are posted, and using the built-in syndication framework to create a series of RSS feeds for the site.

The second major project is one that powers a popular website in the Django community, DjangoSnippets. DjangoSnippets is an online application that allows users to upload short code snippets with descriptions. Users can sign-up for accounts, rate snippets, bookmark snippets.

Again, the author walks you through the entire process (spanning many chapters) of using Django’s built-in Generic Views to avoid writing code for common web application scenarios (list/detail views, etc.), user registration systems, adding in syntax highlighting, and advanced form handling and processing.

The final, and best, section of this book covers a few topics that have personally revolutionized my understanding and how I think about developing my Django applications. James goes to great lengths to explain the philosophy behind Django’s concept of reusable applications.

The idea here is that one should strive to develop small, tightly-focused, and loosely coupled applications (or modules) that can be plugged into any application to add instant functionality. In fact, a large portion of what makes Django such an attractive framework—it's auto-generated admin interface, and copious add-on library—are developed in this exact same fashion. It's one of the reason's Django is so powerful and easy to adopt.

James’ own django-contact-form or Nathan Borror’s blog, places, people, profiles applications are excellent examples of this philosophy. This chapter details logical tests that a developer can apply to his applications to determine if any portions can or should be split into their own reusable applications. James then goes on to demonstrate a series of best practices a Django developer can adhere to when writing their URL handlers, views, and templating structure to ensure that their applications can be reasonably customized by another programmer. In the final pages of this section, James goes over the process of packaging your applications for easy distribution with distutils and handy documentation tips.

With few Django books on the market at this point, I would recommend Practical Django Projects to anyone who has at least cursory experience with web development or web frameworks. By going through the two substantial projects in this book, a competent developer can hone their Django skills to a level that some have reached only after months or years. This book is short for the amount of useful information it will impart on you; at a thin 256 pages, you’ll be speeding through chapters at a nice brisk pace that satisfied my scatterbrained personality.

If you’re seeking a reference text containing of the high points of the Django API, you can always stick to the online documentation (which is excellent), or pick up a copy of the Definitive Guide to Django.

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Self-healing epoxies: certified Kosher

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Recent developments in self-healing epoxies have shown that it is possible to recover 100% of the initial fracture toughness (a measure of damage tolerance) via a new method that has the added bonus of eliminating toxic and harmful organic solvents from the final product. How safe are the new solvents used in this research? One is used in medical applications, while the other is food-grade and certified Kosher. 苏州美甲

Structural materials have traditionally been heavy and bulky, as that tends to maximize strength and damage tolerance. But composites are gaining favor as lightweight structural materials, and epoxies are appearing in structural settings, where they're combined with reinforcing elements such as carbon fiber. Epoxy is brittle by nature, and although improvements in toughening agents have helped to make epoxy more damage tolerant, there is still much room for improvement.

It might be a shock to some, but not all carbon fiber use is in overpriced sports equipment and poorly modified cars. Carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) is now extensively used in industries where light weight and high performance trumps all, such as aerospace and wind power generation. Although upwards of 95% of the load in a well-designed CFRP part is carried by the carbon fibers, it is transferred to the fibers via the epoxy matrix.

Cracks and damage to this matrix can be most detrimental to its secondary properties, such as fatigue life, fracture toughness, and moisture ingression. Even small impacts can spawn a network of difficult-to-detect microscopic cracks in the epoxy, meaning that structures have to be designed to tolerate this possibility. Detectable cracks are orders of magnitude more expensive to repair than those in an equivalent metal structure, so the potential demand for self-healing epoxy is very significant.

The new paper describes not only new solvents, but also epoxy monomers (many monomers make up an epoxy polymer chain), that provide significant gains in healing efficiency. The authors enclosed epoxy monomers and solvents in microcapsules that are mixed into the epoxy while it is still liquid and uncured. After the epoxy has cured, when a crack initiates, it ruptures the microcapsules, and the epoxy monomers and solvent go back to work, repairing the break.

The authors postulate that another mechanism behind the healing is the encapsulated solvent dissolving and swelling the surrounding cured epoxy. This process may release residual catalyst that was not consumed by the initial curing and this kicks off additional curing that seals up the crack. The addition of epoxy monomers increase the efficiency of the healing by flowing back into the crack and fully sealing it. Healing is not instantaneous; epoxy takes time to cure, especially at room temperature. Multiple healing events in the same specimen are possible, however.

Like most preliminary research, it has a catch (meaning more potential research!): healing efficiencies "decreased only slightly over a month," which could be spun as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how important you think that slight drop is. Regardless, the implications for economically maintainable epoxy-based structure are huge.

Advanced Functional Materials, 2008. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.200800300

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Game Review: Chocobo’s Dungeon (Wii)

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It's funny that recent conversations have had us thinking about retro-style games with new graphics, as Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is a fitting example. The game takes a ridiculously old-school style of gameplay—that of the great dungeon crawlers known as "roguelikes"—and gussies it up with the Final Fantasy trimmings. 苏州美甲

The game's story focuses on Cid and Chocobo, who start on the search for treasure in the hopes of making an Airship but end up in a strange land where they have to unravel a time-related mystery that requires crawling through dungeons to unlocked the lost memories of the people. The writing is simple—though the localization team does deserve credit; I'm pretty sure the expression "same diff" wasn't in the original—but it does provide enough of a framework to keep you plodding from dungeon to dungeon.

The real meat here is the dungeon crawl, as is true of any roguelike. A huge array of randomly-generated dungeons, weapons, items, abilities, and more can be found to customize your character. Though you'll move your character in real time through the dungeons, combat is deceivingly turn based: you move a step and your enemy gets to move a step, you attack and your enemy gets to attack. As you move, you'll gain back health and skill points but you'll lose energy which you must keep up by eating. Sometimes you'll use your various abilities to mix things up in battle and once in a while you'll fight a boss. It's dull. Believe me. But the joy of play is derived not from the simple one-button combat but rather the grind itself.

Chocobo's Dungeon uses the job system to make the grind even more involving than normal, which is welcome since combat gets awfully repetitive. Chocobo can find and unlock new jobs based on those found in all many games in the series: the staple Knight, White Mage, and Black Mage will get you going before you unlock some of the more prestigious classes like Ninja and, my personal favorite, Dragoon. Each of the jobs has a variety of abilities that you'll need to use in order to overcome the game's various (and often challenging) dungeons.

Thankfully, the game isn't as ridiculously difficult as are some other roguelikes: death relieves you of all your money and items, but your equipped gear is no longer destroyed, so you won't have to worry about saving precious items for fear that they might quickly be lost. However, death is still suitably frustrating: I've had a few brutal wipes, which hurt especially bad after you manage to best an Esper and get the powerful one-use summon item.

Dungeon crawling isn't the only thing you can do in the game, though. There's a collection of solid mini-games that you can access after a few hours. The most prominent one is the Pop-Up card game, which is the exact same one featured in the other Final Fantasy Fables title, Chocobo Tales. Players can find a ton of cards by defeating monsters in dungeons and finding hidden phrases for a particular character. It's a solid card game, as it originally was, and it's nice to see they kept the online multiplayer for the Wii release.

Like most Square-Enix games, the music is particularly nostalgic. Anyone who's played Final Fantasy VII will get tingles up their spine when Chocobo first makes his way to Stella's farm, and the snippets of voice acting don't hurt, either. The visuals are a sight for sore eyes grown accustomed to the greys and browns of the current generation. The familiar graphical style fits with Square's recent titles. Surprisingly, the game does boast some nice effects: depth of field, in particular, is used expertly to set Chocobo's Dungeon apart. The general feel of the user interface is decidedly old school, but the trademark polish is abound.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon is a neat little title and fills the RPG void on the Wii for fans of the genre. It's decidedly old-school in design, but the Final Fantasy trimmings make this one of the better contemporary roguelikes around. If you can look past the cutesy gloss (or embrace it), then you'll likely find yourself in a great Wii grind. Just make sure you're ready for the according monotony.

Verdict: Rent
Developer: h.a.n.d.
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Wii
Price: $39.99
Rating: E10+
Other recent reviews:

Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes
Final Fantasy Tactics A2Secret Agent ClankThe Incredible HulkDas Keyboard Professional

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Microsoft bans TinyURL from Windows Live Messenger (Updated)

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Microsoft employs a server-side SPIM filter on its Messenger network for blocking malicious URLs in order to keep its users safe from the spread of malware. The system doesn't always work, however. Most recently, Windows Live Messenger users have reported that, a popular URL-shortening service that gets over 1.5 billion hits each month, is being blocked. Since the site can be potentially used to help send users to malicious websites, Microsoft may have done this intentionally. It may even be possible that there is currently a piece of malware out there that uses TinyURL to redirect users to a malicious site. Either way, TinyURL is being blocked regardless of what site a given URL redirects to: 苏州美甲

Microsoft has blocked domains on the its instant-messaging service before, but last time, when YouTube and DeviantArt was blocked, Microsoft blamed its third-party partner that manages the URL blocking and explained that the blocking of a specific URL or whole domain is determined by multiple factors. Microsoft apologized for the blunder, but did not further detail how legitimate URLs were mistaken for harmful ones. This time, it's not clear if Microsoft considers TinyURL to be a legitimate site; we'll keep you posted as this story develops.


A Microsoft spokesperson told Ars: “We are very serious in our efforts to block virus, malware and other harmful URLs from being passed on to our customers. We’re continually working to improve this process so that we can keep our customers safe without having a negative impact on your Messenger service. We are aware that Windows Live Messenger is currently blocking the URL This URL is being blocked unintentionally and we are working to take the appropriate steps to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and disruption this may be causing our customers.”

As of 4:00pm PDT, was unblocked from Windows Live Messenger.

Further Microsoft bans links from instant messages

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