There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Johnson for Heisman

Joe Drape of The New York Times takes Joe Paterno to task for overshadowing a remarkable performance by his tailback, Larry Johnson, this year and possibly costing Johnson the Heisman Trophy. It's an interesting article, and in a way, I agree that Paterno's antics with the referees were an unneeded distraction. On the other hand, Paterno has never been one to campaign for his players to win awards. Penn State just doesn't work that way. Football is a team sport, and everything in the program is geared toward the team, not the individual. The uniforms the players wear are probably the plainest in Division I-A football, with no adornments, no names, just numbers, so as not to draw attention to a particular individual. Heck, I remember the uproar among the faithful when the Nike swoosh appeared on the otherwise unblemished jerseys. That's deliberate on Paterno's part. I agree with Drape that Paterno has been unusually and perhaps inappropriately vocal and cranky this year, but I think there was probably a method to his madness, and that his outbursts were designed to help the team. In Paterno's mind, the team comes before any individual player, and that's as it should be.

I do think LJ deserves the Heisman, and I hope he gets it. He had an amazing year, and got better and better as the year went on. His performances were dominant, none more so than the 279 yards he gained in the first half against Michigan State. Early in the first half, I was rooting for Michigan State to score some points and keep the game close so Johnson could stay in the game and hit his 2000 yards, but as it turned out, that wasn't necessary. At the beginning of the year, everyone thought Zack Mills, the quarterback, was going to be the star. The Penn State Bookstore catalog I received in the mail recently sells replicas of Mills' jersey number 7, not LJ's number 5, a decision that was presumably made before the beginning of the season. Mills is a great quarterback, but honestly there wasn't much for him to do as the season wore on. There was no need for him to put up spectacular numbers, because Johnson's running was carrying the show. LJ really had a special year, and I don't think anyone who watched him run this year will forget it.

Posted at 10:02 AM
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Friday, November 29, 2002

Death by a thousand paper cuts

Zeldman points out something I've been saying for a while: Apple would do well to revisit the human interface guidelines that make OS 9 a joy to use when implementing the interface of OS X, which feels like death by a thousand paper cuts. One thing that he points out that I usually forget to is that aside from convincing Windows users to switch to OS X, Apple also has to convince OS 9 users to switch, and they're apparently not having a whole lot of luck doing that. I know I still spend over 90% of my time on the computer in OS 9, switching to OS X only when I want to develop a new feature for this web site or otherwise play with PHP and other UNIX-ish things. Zeldman nails it when he says that Apple's biggest problem is Steve Jobs, because Jobs doesn't listen to anyone. Apple supposedly Steved their human factors group when Jobs came back, which is completely inexplicable. Apple's very survival over the years has been predicated on the idea that it's easier to use than Windows. It's the Mac's Unique Selling Proposition, to use the language of the marketers out there. But that sensibility has been replaced by one where lickability is considered more important than usability.

If you want to know why using Mac OS X is like death by a thousand paper cuts, there's a phenomenally good explanation of many of the issues by John Gruber, formerly of Bare Bones Software, the company that makes the exceptionally fine text editor BBEdit that I'm using to write this. Gruber focuses mainly on the OS X "Finder", but much of what he says would apply to the entire OS. Gruber claims, and I agree, that the so-called Finder is a failure from top to bottom, a complete misinterpretation of everything that made the Mac great, or rather, a reimplementation of everything that made NeXT a failure. The niggling inconsistencies in the interface are a nightmare. Gruber uses the different functions of icons in System Preferences as an object lesson, but could have just as easily talked about the Dock and its inconsistencies. Sadly, that probably would get him dismissed as a crank; in the Brave New World of Mac OS X, if you criticize the Dock, you're a throwback, a Luddite, and you might as well switch to Windows, you loser. Gruber's article is a great explanation of how the way OS X works is the problem, not the way it looks. The problems are fundamental, not superficial ones of appearance.

About the only thing that Gruber misses that I can think of is the maddening moving trash can, an artefact of that fershlugginer Dock. Fitts Law, one of the most basic precepts of user interface design, states that there are five places on the screen that are the easiest to reach with the cursor. The first is the current location of the cursor; there's no effort in getting there. The next four are the four corners. The targets are infinitely large, since you can't go beyond the bounds of the corners. So fine motor control is unnecessary to reach the corners. You can just throw the mouse up there and you'll be fine. In OS 9, the trash can was in one of the corners. It never moved unless you moved it. In OS X's so-called Finder, the trash can is in the Dock. The Dock's size changes depending on how many applications you have open and how many documents you have minimized. That means that the location of the trash can is different depending on a range of factors that have nothing to do with the trash can. The method of manipulating the Dock is drag-and-drop; you add items to it by dragging and dropping them on it, and delete them by dragging the item off and dropping anywhere but on the Dock. Drag-and-drop is also how you delete items; you drag the item to the trash can and drop it there. So how does the system know if you want to add an item to the Dock or delete it from your system? Good question. You have to use fine motor control to make sure you're exactly over the trash can, otherwise the Dock thinks you're adding the document. And as you move toward the trash can, the Dock opens up a spot for you to add the document, since it thinks that's what you want to do. The result is that the trash can changes position. It runs away from you! No, you don't want to throw that away! Go away! This is insane. The margin between highlighting a file as crucial and discarding it as irrelevant is a pixel. That's nuts.

Windows is fundamentally broken, and Mac OS X seems destined to join it in the usability wilderness. About the only operating system I have any hope for at this point is Palm OS, and who knows what will happen there with Palm OS 6, which is supposedly going to incorporate aspects of BeOS. The danger, of course, is that they'll break the simplicity that makes Palm OS such a joy to use. Computers are maddening.

Posted at 3:41 AM
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Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Art appreciation

In 1961, an unknown Andy Warhol gave one of his earliest Campbell's Soup Can paintings to his brother, telling him that it would be worth a million dollars some day (New York Times link, registration required). The brother's children would take the picture to school for show-and-tell in a brown paper bag. At home, it would stand on a table and lean against a wall. Earlier this month, the painting sold for $1.2 million. The family couldn't afford to keep it because of the cost of insurance. Looks like Andy was off by a bit.

Posted at 7:45 PM
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Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Geeks and solderheads rejoice!

Anyone who ever needed to purchase a resistor at 8 pm on a Saturday can relax; Radio Shack has announced that it will no longer pester you for your name, address, rank and serial number when you make a purchase. Their press release quotes Tandy president Leonard Roberts as saying that "the practice of asking [customers] for names and addresses is time consuming and annoying and is not something that endears them to us." Well duh. I have long since lost track of the number of fights I've had with Rat Shack counter rats about whether or not I was required to give them my name and address, and have even been known to walk out of the store on a couple of occasions when said rat refused to sell me that crucial resistor without signing over my first born. I noted on the report that aired on All Things Considered tonight that the RS spokesdroid felt compelled to mention that nobody had ever been forced to give their name and that it was always voluntary. I wish they had told that to their clerks when I had so much trouble.

The Newark Star-Ledger today had an article (sadly not available online) that pointed out that this meant the end of the program to track the whereabouts of every American that had been in place since Radio Shack first opened in 1921, but then clarified that by pointing out that they had only been tracking everyone since 1967. Jeez, you'd think Radio Shack's CEO's name was John Poindexter or something....

Posted at 6:03 PM
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Monday, November 25, 2002

Size matters

Here's an interesting tool I found out about on Beth Mazur's IDblog. It downloads whatever page you tell it to, then compares the size of the file to how much of that file is actually text that people will read. I thought I was doing pretty well at 56.70% of my markup actually being read (that number will no doubt change as I post this; it was 58.04% earlier today). But I had to try the king of markup, Mark Pilgrim and his diveintomark.org (see below) to see how well I stacked up. Looks like I still have a way to go. (Note that using frames gets you a really abysmal score....)

Posted at 6:27 PM
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There's still a cat...

...but after reading this, you may wonder why....

I don't want to say that taking Mischief to the cat hospital recently was in any way similar to Mark's story, but some of it sounds familiar. Just not the funny parts.

Posted at 6:18 PM
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Saturday, November 23, 2002

Hurl that spheroid down the field

Allen Barra in Salon doesn't like the BCS method of choosing a champion for college football because it takes all the fun about arguing for years afterward about who was really the champion out of the equation. King Kaufman, on the other hand, argues that the BCS is okay, because it preserves all the fun about arguing for years afterward about who was really the champion, or in other words, because it doesn't work. I think Kaufman is right; the BCS doesn't work. I've argued for years that the 1994 Penn State Nittany Lions should have been the national champions. They were the most dominant team college football had seen in 50 years. They were explosive, scoring in seconds on a whim. They absoluted cremated excellent teams like Ohio State, who they beat by something like 60 points that year. (60 points! Against Ohio State!) But the voters felt sorry for Tom Osborne, who hadn't won a national championship before, and because the Lions were Big Ten champs, they were obligated to play in the Rose Bowl against a Pac-10 team rather than getting to prove who was better on the field against Nebraska. In fact, that was the season that convinced the powers that be in college football to institute the BCS, a system that substitutes the biases of a few computer programmers for the biases of all the coaches and beat reporters around the country. And you know what? It's fun to argue that Penn State should have been the champion in 1994, because it's true and it's utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

On the whole, I think the BCS is a good thing and should be kept around, because if there's anything more fun than arguing that your team should have been the champion but was robbed by the polls, it's arguing that your team should have been the champion but was robbed by faceless computers.

Posted at 6:55 AM
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Thursday, November 21, 2002

Sign your e-mail!

Jon Udall suggests that digital assertion of identity is the solution to spam, and Doc Searls calls on bloggers to traffic in signed mail. Damn, now I have to dig up that copy of PGP.

Oddly, when Laura took a class a couple of weeks ago aimed at helping her get certified as an information systems security professional, one of the claims the teacher made was that PGP was insecure. My reaction was "huh?" But their point was that it was possible to sign an e-mail so that anyone with access to your public key could read it. Well yeah, duh. But then, if you intend to encrypt the e-mail but wind up merely signing it, then I could see how that might actually be a security problem. It's been so long since I used PGP that I don't even know if there's anything in the interface to exacerbate or alleviate the problem.

(And don't miss Doc's sunrise picture just below this item. I'm awfully fond of sunrise and sunset and photos thereof myself.)

Posted at 8:28 PM
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How depressing

Mark Pilgrim updated his site to XHTML 1.1, but points out that it's really not a very good idea. I'm all in favor of The Semantic Web, but I'm not sure that breaking the kind of things Mark talks about is such a great idea in a 1.x version. XHTML 2.0 is supposed to be a really radical departure, and I think maybe that's where the breaks should be.

Posted at 8:15 PM
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Supervixxxens not allowed

Salon has a pretty good article about Daniel Clowes, hanging on the peg of an odds-and-sods collection of his comics just released in book format. It's kind of aimed at an audience barely aware of comics, but still pretty interesting. It tacks on a few paragraphs about Adrian Tomine at the end for no other reason than "here's the next guy bound for glory." Could be true, but I'd like to see an article focused on Tomine in his own right rather than as "a guy who used to live down the street from Dan Clowes."

Posted at 7:49 PM
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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

A different kind of brain

I find this article in The New York Times (registration required) about a severely autistic teenager who can express himself through writing, if by few other means, fascinating. His mother basically took it upon herself to teach him, using a very labor-intensive method, with amazing results. The young man writes poetry, and is able to explain to doctors what it feels like to be inside his body. This is apparently the first time a severely autistic person has been able to explain what it's like to be autistic. And what the doctors are finding out is spellbinding. Tito, the young man in question, apparently feels disconnected from his body unless it's actually doing something. And he can only concentrate on one sense at a time. And his mother, whose techniques have apparently helped her son so much, is now teaching other severely autistic children as well.

Posted at 9:56 PM
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Customer Disservice

This is an object lesson in how not to conduct customer support over the Internet.

Genealogical Computing magazine is published by Ancestry.com and covers exactly what the title describes, the intersection of computers and genealogy. One of their columnists contacted me this past summer because he was interested in writing about the use of weblogs in genealogical research, and my other blog Geneablogy is damned near the only one out there doing this. Sure, I said, I don't mind at all if you use my site as an example in your column. I've seen the magazine on the newsstand a few times over the years and picked it up, and it seems like a good magazine. The columnist who contacted me, Drew Smith, writes the magazine's Cybrarian column, and based on the columns I've read and such, he strikes me as a decent, intelligent, interesting person filled with good ideas. All these are things that sadly are the polar opposite of the Ancestry.com customer service experience.

So after a couple of months of looking for GC on the newsstands, I gave up and subscribed back in September. The column in which my site was mentioned appeared in an issue published in mid-October. Despite the fact that my credit card was charged for a subscription, I never received the magazine. Okay, maybe three weeks before publication wasn't enough time to ensure I got the issue I was interested in, but maybe I can contact Ancestry.com to find out what happened to my subscription and maybe get them to send me a copy of the issue.

First stop: The Shops @Ancestry.com. Prominently featured on the front page of this section is a link for Customer Service. Sounds like the place to go. They tell you to e-mail support@ancestry-inc.com if you have any questions or concerns. That sounds like me. So I e-mailed them a polite message asking about my subscription and explaining that I was really interested in the issue that went out last month, and why.

The message bounced.

Not only did it bounce, it bounced with extreme prejudice. Ancestry.com shut down this address, and now they want you to visit a site that's basically an extended FAQ with a search engine. Okay, so I went there, and I entered the question "how can I find out about my subscription to Genealogical Computing?" I was rewarded with a page that told me how to buy an ad in their magazines. Bzzzt! Wrong answer!

At this point, I was getting a little perturbed, so I went looking for an e-mail address for some of the big guys. No such luck, just boring corporate biographies. The closest I came was an e-mail address for the editor of Ancestry Magazine, which was mentioned on the same page that told me where to buy an ad. Hmm, that might work.

The message bounced.

At this point, I've now tried three methods to reach Ancestry.com, and I'm getting more than a little pissed. I returned to the glorified FAQ and tried again. One option that's well hidden is to contact Ancestry.com if your question isn't answered by the FAQ. That option only appears after the FAQ has failed. Okay, if this is the sanctioned way to send them a message, I'm game. I added some words detailing my frustration with their byzantine support system, and asked yet again for their help.

First the system asked to verify my e-mail address.

Then they presented me with some likely FAQ sections that might answer my question, none of which had anything to do with my problem.

Then, and only then, are you offered the opportunity to actually send your message to a place where it might actually be viewed by a human being.

This is bullsh¡t. How many hoops did I have to jump through just to find out what happened to a subscription I've been charged for?

Maybe I'll hear back from Ancestry.com. But at this point, I'm not expecting much. Their message has gotten through loud and clear, and it's that they don't want to hear from their customers. Ever. I've never seen such an annoying "customer support" system, one that's clearly designed to frustrate any attempts to actually get some help.

When I first got to their main site, I saw that they had a sale on access to their databases, and I was tempted to sign up. Uh-uh. Forget it. No company that treats its customers like this is going to get me to spend that kind of money on a service when I know I'll never be able to get support for it without giving blood. Congratulations, guys, you just lost a sale for $120. No doubt you'll make that up with the savings from ever having to answer a question from a customer.

Postscript (added 26 Nov 2002): For the record, I'd just like to say that once you reach a living, breathing human being at Ancestry.com, the results seem to range from reasonably accomodating (the response I eventually received through normal channels) to above and beyond the call of duty (the response I got when I went outside normal channels). I wound up making an end run around the Ancestry.com customer service procedure that ultimately found its way to the managing editor of Ancestry magazine, Jennifer Utley. She was familiar with the article that discussed my weblog, and tells me that an envelope containing three copies of the magazine containing said article are winging their way to me even as I write this. The editor of Genealogical Computing, Liz Kelley Kerstens, was also most gracious and helpful, and I would like to thank them both.

That said, I still find the gauntlet one has to run in order to contact their customer service department through normal channels wrongheaded and frustrating. It's the epitome of penny wise, pound foolish. I know that people inside the company are aware of this posting, and I hope they take this message to heart and rethink their customer service procedure and in particular, the wandering maze they force users to enter when they need to contact the service department.

Posted at 12:05 AM
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Sunday, November 17, 2002

Cell phones make the world go 'round

Speaking of cell phones, The Guardian recently had a bunch of their foreign correspondents look at how mobile phones are used in China, Japan, Finland, and Afghanistan. So I guess I'm just falling in line with the rest of the world.

Posted at 8:47 PM
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No, you can't have my number

I sold out. I did something this weekend I had told myself I would never do.

I got a cell phone.

I have a good reason. Friday night on my way home from work, I did something really dumb. I ran out of gas. Since I was on a limited-access highway at the time, my options were kind of limited. I basically limped along on the shoulder to the next exit, pulled the car over, and turned on the blinkers. Then I started walking. It was a bit over a mile to the convenience store, where I found a poor, neglected pay phone, almost completely in the dark, from which I could call AAA. After making the call, I went into the store to buy a soda for the long trek back and was delighted to see a police officer there, who I cadged a ride back to the car from. Then I sat for an hour waiting for AAA to show up with some gas. What a pleasant way to start a weekend.

Just last week, I was discussing with one of my cow-orkers why I didn't have a cell phone. "I'm Amish," I told him. "I evaluate a technology, and if the potential for disruption to my life exceeds the benefit, I don't use it." As of this weekend, the benefit started to exceed the disruptive potential. So Saturday morning, Laura and I went to the store front of the friendly local monopoly and added a second line to her existing cell phone account, which is a fair bit cheaper than me just getting my own account. The funny thing is that once I had made the decision to get a phone, geek lust struck, and I spent part of Friday night looking at the phone company's web site to see what kind of phones were available. I wound up going with the cheapest Motorola I could get, and didn't sign up for any of the extra features, like browsing the web from my phone, but the phone can do it if I decide I'm willing to pay the money. One step at a time....

We'll see if it changes anything. I suppose it's bound to. I still like the idea of being unreachable when I'm in the car, but the idea of being able to reach out and touch someone when I need to is awfully compelling. How long before all the pay phones disappear?

Posted at 8:24 PM
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Saturday, November 16, 2002

The voice of an American

My good friend Kim Andrew Elliott has an op-ed piece in today's The New York Times about "public diplomacy", propaganda, unbiased news, and why America needs to focus on the last of these in its efforts to talk to the rest of the world. Kim is the audience research officer for the Voice of America and has been involved with international broadcasting for many more years than I'm sure he would want me to point out, so he knows of whence he speaks. The following two paragraphs seem to encapsulate the heart of his argument:

I have been doing international broadcasting audience research for 25 years, and I am not aware of any persons huddled by their radios to hear about the achievements and values of the United States or any other country.

People do listen to foreign broadcasts if they are in countries where information is controlled by the government. They listen to the stations that best provide a credible substitute for the news they are not getting from their domestic media.

Sadly, I know that Kim has been on about this for years, in places like that august journal, Foreign Affairs. I doubt anyone in power will pay attention to this article, either. Ideology seems to trump research in politics. (Thanks to my friend John Figliozzi for pointing this article out.)

Posted at 2:59 PM
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Thursday, November 14, 2002

Robert Fisk is frightened

Robert Fisk has been a correspondent in the mideast for something like 30 years at this point. The right wingers hate him, but I doubt there's a western reporter with more experience of or a better understanding of the Islamic world. He's also got excellent sources. So when he says that "the most impeccable sources" confirm that the voice on the tape that was recently released is indeed Osama bin Laden, I don't doubt him (especially when he spells out exactly how trustworthy the rest of his sources in the article are). I also take it very seriously when he says he's frightened by what the tape means. His parsing out of what's happened to bin Laden since September 11 is very interesting.

Posted at 9:00 PM
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Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Cannon Law

Well, I know that the tree pulpers of America were busy over the weekend while mail delivery was cancelled for Veterans' Day, because we had twenty-five (25!) catalogs show up in today's mail. 21 were addressed to Laura, including three (3!) from Victoria's Secret alone. Two of the four I received were duplicates of ones Laura received. It's a wonder I didn't get a hernia dragging the damned things in from the mailbox when I got home.

If you, too, suffer the onslaught of dead trees from dozens of marketers, you might find this page, posted by the evil overlords of the bloodsucking direct marketing industry, helpful. Send them your request on paper so it takes more effort on their part and wastes more of their money and doesn't cost you anything more than the cost of stamp. Not that it will help all that much. We sent our names in a few years ago, and it kept stuff down for a while, but Laura has bought enough stuff from enough places that all 25 of the catalogs that showed up today are from companies that we've actually done business with. <sigh> Any catalogs addressed to me go straight to the recycling bin. Goddamnit, if I want to buy something from you, I'll go to your ƒµ¢<ing web site. Don't send me any more ƒµ¢<ing catalogs.

Junkbusters is a good source of information on how to fight the assault of the marketers.

I used to be more tolerant of junk mail. I would just grumble about it. Spam poisoned that well. Now I want to stuff it into a cannon and fire it into a line of direct marketing executives like a well-placed free kick from just outside the box in soccer. Better yet, stuff the executives into the cannon....

Posted at 6:11 PM
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Monday, November 11, 2002

We dress like students, we dress like housewives

Dan Gillmor paints a grim picture of Life Under the Republican Yoke. I wish I could say I disagree with him, but he seems spot on to me. Some of the responses to the column are pretty funny. I particularly like the last guy, for whom the worst possible thing he could think of to describe Dan was to say he was on the LEFT. Ohmigod! Not that!

Posted at 9:41 PM
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Sunday, November 10, 2002

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night

Don't mourn. Organize. (via Backup Brain)

Posted at 11:37 PM
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Food as weapon

The Observer reports that the odious dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is orchestrating food distribution in such a way as to starve his opponents to death during the famine currently developing in the country. Mugabe's thugs are preventing distribution of food aid to supporters of the opposition. Neighboring countries that have supported Mugabe as he's made a mockery of elections in his country should be ashamed of themselves. He's the worst kind of evil thug. Maybe if he had oil the rest of the world would be interested.

Posted at 9:13 PM
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Saturday, November 9, 2002

Clarified Spam

RFC 2616 clarifies what was happening with the attack on my server. The RFC defines HTTP 1.1. Section 9 defines the various methods in HTTP, such as GET or POST and even the relatively obscure PUT. I didn't realize that there was a CONNECT method, but section 9.9 of the RFC contains this single paragraph:

This specification reserves the method name CONNECT for use with a proxy that can dynamically switch to being a tunnel (e.g. SSL tunneling [44]).

So what happened was that the scum at 216.144.230.51 through 216.144.230.56 had for some reason decided that my server was an open proxy, which is one of the more recent approaches to server hijacking that spammers have taken, and were trying to spam through it. Hence the attempts to access my server using the CONNECT method. I'd never really thought about how spammers would use open proxy servers to send spam, but now I know. I wish these bastards would get thrown in jail for theft, because that's what they do amounts to.

I suppose I can take some solace in the fact that none of their attempts through my server were successful, according to my hosting service. So while the scum-sucking leeches thought they were spamming, they were getting a 403 Forbidden message every ten seconds instead. It still pisses me off, though. And I'm still not pleased that I never heard back from eWAN about my complaint about what one of their clients is doing.

Posted at 10:38 PM
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Prescription for an ailing party and country

Paul Krugman's column in yesterday's The New York Times seemed to sum up The Current Situation very clearly to me.

What hasn't changed is the fundamental wrongness of this administration's direction. Too many pundits, confusing politics with policy -- or engaging in sheer power worship -- imagine that a party that wins a battle must be doing something right. But it ain't necessarily so. Political victory doesn't make a bad policy good; it doesn't make a lie the truth.

He even offers a prescription for the Democrats (something that's admittedly not in short supply at the moment, but I like the approach Krugman takes here):

It's obvious what the Democrats should stand for: Above all, they should be the defenders of ordinary Americans against the power of our burgeoning plutocracy. That means hammering the Republicans as they back off on corporate reform -- which they will.

Whether the Democrats actually do any of this stuff is anyone's guess. But if they don't do something like what Krugman proposes, the so-called emerging Democratic majority may be a long time coming. It should help, though, that the Republicans backing off on corporate reform should, sadly, ensure that the economy remains in the toilet as retail investors continue to stay away from the market in droves. Not that I want that to happen, but it seems like an inevitable consequence of Republican policies. Bad for business, good for businessmen.

Posted at 2:58 AM
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Mars Retreats

Well, the server attack finally seems to be over. My logs for yesterday were blissfully free of any requests to connect to port 25 of J. Random Server. Doing a traceroute on the IP addresses had confirmed what ARIN's whois server showed me, that the IP addresses where the attacks were coming from (216.144.230.51 through 216.144.230.56) were owned by a company called eWAN, so I had sent off a complaint to the address listed in whois as a technical contact there, but I never heard back from them. Bad eWAN. Those hosts are still up responding to pings, so I assume they're attacking someone else, since they weren't getting any love from me.

In the spirit that led Steve Martin to call for the death penalty for parking tickets lo! these many years ago, I'd like to call on the authorities to authorize the death penalty for spammers and server hijackers.

Posted at 2:39 AM
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Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Thank you, OBL

Joshua Micah Marshall pretty well sums it up:

Well, that really could have gone better.

What a freaking disaster.

We got through Reagan, we'll get through this. We got through Reagan, we'll get through this. We got through Reagan, we'll get through this. We got through Reagan, we'll get through this....

Posted at 7:44 AM
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Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Early and often

The other day I was reading something online about yet another power grab by the rich and powerful at the expense of us lowly peasants and found myself thinking, "but what can we do about it?" Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that there's one thing that we can do about it, and we just happen to have the opportunity to do so today.

Vote.

No excuses.

Posted at 8:01 AM
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Monday, November 4, 2002

Unlucky Luciano

There have been many times in my genealogical research that I've been grateful for the Italian state's slavish devotion to record keeping. Unfortunately, there's a down side.... (Article found on the Reunion Talk mailing list.)

Posted at 6:23 PM
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What the hell is an Asilomar?

The omnipresent Christina Wodtke heads a group of people who have way too much stuff to do so where in the hell did they find time to do this who have started up an organization to provide a home for the field of information architecture. It's called The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture, which gives it the nicely palindromic acronym AIfIA. I think it would work better as AI4IA, because it's easier to pronounce and makes the symmetry between AI and IA more pronounced, but no matter. They've got an interestingly Cluetrainish set of theses that nail to the wall the reasons why you need an Information Architect. And, proving that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, they actually define information architecture on the site. Hopefully that will kill the threads on SIGIA-L about what information architecture is once and for all (but I doubt it).

Posted at 12:06 PM
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Priceless, indeed

Next time you see something in your e-mail that's apparently a rude, crude parody of an ad campaign, think about it a little further. It could actually be part of the ad campaign itself. The Guardian explains, and uses a couple of examples that probably wouldn't be mentioned in a family newspaper in the US.

Posted at 8:19 AM
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Sunday, November 3, 2002

Hindustan Ambassador

I'd heard that there was an older car originally designed by the British auto manufacturer Morris that was still being made in India, the Ambassador. Turns out that today, you can even get a version of this venerable old geezer that runs on compressed natural gas. I wonder if it would pass US emissions standards running on CNG....

Sadly, the manufacturer's web site doesn't deign to mention this classic, preferring to concentrate on a boring modern car it licenses from Mitsubishi.

Posted at 10:23 AM
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Their messages will reach us, their messages will teach us

Galileo, the space probe to explore Jupiter which was launched 13 years ago, is about to die. NASA is about to put it out of its misery:

After circling the solar system's biggest planet for seven years - five more than originally planned - Galileo is virtually blind, has trouble speaking and its mind is starting to go.

But not before asking it for one more trip, for old time's sake.

Posted at 9:34 AM
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Saturday, November 2, 2002

Harvey Pitt is on the roof

It looks like Harvey Pitt, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, may finally have slit his own throat. This story by the Associated Press is the first sign that the White House has given up on him. They're saying they haven't, but they're not exactly giving him a ringing endorsement. The message I get from this is that he's toast. And a good thing, too. He's been a complete disaster for investor confidence in the market, a toady of the now-discredited accounting industry.

It wasn't enough that he backtracked on the nomination of John Biggs as the head of the commission that would look into auditing because his accounting overlords considered that Biggs might actually do something. He originally supported Biggs, then withdrew his support in one of the more blatant examples of an administration flunky buckling under to their masters in industry, despite widespread acclaim for Biggs and his approach to making the accounting industry more accountable. That wasn't enough to get the White House to abandon him, since they're basically all corporate flunkies themselves. But now, the reports coming out that Pitt didn't tell the rest of the SEC that the accounting industry's preferred candidate, William Webster, had been complicit by omission in accounting fraud himself through his position on the audit committee of a company now under investigation, appears to have been too much for even the bush leaguers in the White House. It makes it absolutely crystal clear that the criticism of Pitt for being in the pocket of the people interested in perpetuating the status quo is true. And that destroys investor confidence in the transparency of the markets, making it seem like the whole game is rigged against the little guy. With that attitude, normal people will stay out of the market, and ensure that Bush's abysmal record on the economy will continue.

Even Bush seems to realize this now. I see this article as the equivalent of telling the vacationing friend whose cat you're watching that the cat is on the roof. The only question at this point is whether Webster will have to go too. He certainly hasn't done his reputation as an honest civil servant any favors.

Posted at 6:00 PM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2017, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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