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unraveling

31.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

This year's Jack o'Lantern

Happy Hallowe'en!

Second full moon of the month, just in time for trick or treat. In this corner of the world, there were happy children in "scary" costumes coming to our door, looking for a handout. I carved up this huge, misshapen pumpkin the neighbors grew, put it out at the last minute, and everyone had a great time.

Cleaning out my inbox at work, I found the PCWorld Digital Focus newsletter with this provocative feature: "Adding Depth of Field Digitally." That would be a neat trick! Too bad they were really talking about subtracting depth of field - how to make blurry backgrounds.

FedEx has an answer to the difficulties of air travel, with the Overnight PeoplePak.

RAM prices still dropping. $20 or 30 will get you a quarter gigabyte these days. PCWorld's "most popular" sorting from various vendors.

Yahoo News has an Argentina index, from which we hear from a former IMF official: "While refusing to rule out future debt crises in developing countries, Stanley Fischer, the former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund who was in large part responsible for the IMF's response to the crises, believes the emerging world has become a far safer place"...

"We are at the end of an era of crises. National balance sheets are much tidier than they were at the end of 1997," said David Lubin, emerging markets economist at HSBC in London.

Accounting is the science that can see the world as tidy when there are wars going on.

29.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Joel Spolsky, on why software so often sucks. (He had a slightly different title for the piece.) "Today, you need to know how to work with libraries of thousands of functions, representing buggy code written by other people."

The Sunday NY Times didn't come again today. Yet another call to 1-800-698-4637, more profuse apologizing, but this time an agent who was willing to take personal responsibility. She said she was going to call when she comes on next Sunday, 3pm CST. I said "the process seems to be open loop," and wondered if she knew what that meant. There is no feedback from the physical delivery process to say "yes, we received the request." The central office sends out all these requests (and a "memo" yesterday, to the "depot manager"), but they could be going into a black hole for all they know.

I said that while I found the process interesting, I was getting a little tired of calling them -- something like 10 times now, with the first try today eventually routing me to a "we're sorry, but because of call volume, we can't answer your call right now, please try again in 15 minutes or you can use our automated phone interface" which I'd already been through.

She said she'd also extend our the half-off promotion period, instead of just crediting us for the papers we hadn't been sent, and she'd try to get delivery of last Sunday's paper. On Tuesday morning now. I have their bill in hand, they want me to pay by November 4th, which might be the first day we get delivery of one of their newspapers. I'm inclined to wait and see.

We talked again about when the paper is supposed to arrive, and she assured me that they guaranteed delivery by 8:30, and that they wouldn't make that guarantee if they couldn't meet it. She didn't know whether the papers had to be flown in from somewhere (I'm pretty sure they do, for Boise), but they'd get it there by 8:30.

After I hung up, I flashed back to the end of my career in newspaper delivery. After suffering through the early, early morning work of delivering The Milwaukee Sentinel for longer than seems reasonable for a young boy, on one New Year's Day, I decided -- forget it, I wasn't going to get up, I wasn't going to get dressed and go out in the dark and freezing cold, and I wasn't going to deliver the newspaper. I would've sung "Take this job and shove it" if that song had been out then. Needless to say, my depot manager was not a happy camper about that decision, and sometime later that day, I was persuaded to actually do the job I'd been hired for, one last time. Now I guess it's payback time, 35 years later.

Ran car errands with the Prius today, disposing of our trusty old Sentra, and getting the new registration done, so we could put the license plates on. A neighbor said he'd be willing to buy the car for "$200 worth of parts," but we gave it to the Agency for New Americans instead. We get more than $200 of tax benefit, some needy refugee family will get reliable transportation, and maybe some learning on car repair. I included the well-used shop manual in the deal.

Between 40 and 50 city miles on it so far, and the mileage is up to 39.6 mpg, and still climbing. I'm really impressed with the engineering of this thing, and working to maximize mileage while I negotiate traffic has made driving interesting again.

Microsoft backs down on browser exclusivity on its second-rate MSN website, even though all those excluded browsers really were second-rate. The message, of course, was that Microsoft defines standards. The clumsy approach to expressing the message was, well, vintage M$.

I had to call up msn again, just to see it. It looks badly rendered on Opera v5.11, with fonts too small for my taste. Couple taps of the [+] key on my numpad takes care of the font size problem, although some of the paragraphs are still badly wrapped. None of the teasers or links interest me.

Patriotic sentiment for today: Richard Rodriguez, "Disunited We Stand."

28.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The second Sunday of our "subscription" to the New York Times, and just like the Yankees will be in a few hours, they're 0 for 2. They have a lovely automated interface for missing and wet papers (and getting subscriptions) at 1-800-NYTIMES, but the "physical distribution" end of the process appears null and void.

When we signed up, they said we could expect our paper by 8:30am. Calling after no-show at that hour, the recording says a replacement will be there by 11:30 Eastern time (that's an hour later, in Boise). Calling after the later no-show, the recording says a replacement will be out "today." Then later, it won't be possible to get it today, press [1] to credit your account. The live operators are friendly, courteous, and profusely apologetic about this most unexpected eventuality. During today's first call, I asked when we should expect our paper "in general." By 9:30, she said. We'll see.

Their next opportunity is to try and deliver today's paper a whole day late, we said we'd take it on Monday. Maybe they just can't find our house?

Paul Krugman keeps us up to date on the best government money can buy. Repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax retroactively to 1986 is pretty amazing. Here, corporate America, have $25 billion. Don't spend it all in one place.

27.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Graph of local sunrise and sunset time for Boise, Id. for the year

On the cusp of standard time, anticipating a 25-hour day and some light in the morning. Of course, we have to sacrifice our evening light to get it...

There might be a more effective way to introduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria into our food supply, but the use of low levels of antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock seems to have done pretty well.

Science News reports on several studies sampling commercial meat for resistant strains of Salmonella and Enterococcus. 20% of a sample of 200 packages of meat in one study had Samonella, and more than half of the tainted samples were resistant to three or more antibiotics. 86% of a sample of 407 chickens had Enterococcus faecium, and more than two-thirds of those were resistant to the potent antibiotic mix Syncercid, designed to respond to Vancomycin-resistant E. faecium.

The October 20th issue also had a sidebar about the AMA's statement warning against widespread prophylactic use of antibiotics, as carrying more risk than potential benefit.

Frank Rich lambastes the Administration for being more concerned about its special interests than winning the war. "The White House's home-front failures are not sudden, unpredictable products of wartime confusion but direct products of an ethos that has been in place since Jan. 20." Any remaining notions of the war being quick and decisive are fading. With 23 years' practice, the Afghanis aren't in a hurry.

Keep this in mind next time someone complains about the godless ACLU: they're defending an L.A. artist against that city's attempt to have his 9-11 memorial mural with "God Bless America" on it removed. I would much rather look at that than a "giant-sized painting of Shaquille O'Neill."

26.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Took delivery on our Prius last night! It's like a combination car and video game: see how high you can make the mpg go. It hadn't been reset from its inefficient dealer miles, but I got it from single digits up to 23mpg during my commute. Not sure if I'm supposed to wait until the "cold" light goes off before driving off, it's hard to be that patient first thing in the morning when it's around freezing. Pulling the lever from D to B and watching the instantaneous mileage go over 100 mpg is fun, but is that better than the regenerative braking?

Now the only problem is I want to drive more than I would otherwise. :-)

Even further out in the efficiency distribution, this was a big month for speed records at the 2001 World Human Powered Speed Challenge. Over 78 mph sustained for a mile, and 80 mph through 200 meter traps! 80 mph on pedal power, that is awesome.

The New York Times online in a big and annoying facsimile version. Yuk, I don't think I'll be going there. The most important question I have is: you're not going to screw up the great site you have now, are you?! Please say you're not.

MSN blocking non-MS browsers. Complaining that Opera's not standards-compliant enough, you have to admire their chutzpah. But what does MSN have that I want? Beats me, I just about never visit. And if I did, and it wailed at me about using IE, I'd just leave. The funny thing is, I still have IE (v5.5 - sorta compliant, sorta broken, like all their stuff), and I use it when it suits me (mostly for its simpler rendering of data in tables for copy/save as text), but that's seldom.

The little bit about it specifically rejecting Opera, but accepting it with one character changed in the string is interesting. Unknown browsers assumed to be compliant? Of course, you can set Opera to identify itself as IE if you want. I don't.

Dan Gillmor interviewed TBL on the topic: "Amaya, the browser which W3C develops as a testbed for our technologies, and which arguably has the best W3C compliance, is blocked from www.msn.com.... Running the msn.com homepage through the validator on Friday showed the site did not use valid XHTML and did not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines."

Cringely describes one way to make money fast on the web: "The change of paradigm here is that Wheretolive.com is not only owned by dogs, it is owned by alpha dogs, and that alone assures its success."

Turns out the vaunted sunset provision in the anti-terror bill is just a little side show for the rubes. Declan McCullagh writing for Wired says that it only applies to "a tiny part of the mammoth bill."

Heard on the radio yesterday (?): in opposition to a second office of Planned Parenthood in Idaho, the Choose Life organization and its spokesman, ex-Congressman Helen Chenoweth-Hage calls PP a "terrorist" organization. Of course "irony" is not in Ms. Chenoweth-Hage's lexicon, so she probably isn't aware that Planned Parenthood has been the victim of anthrax scare tactics for some time.

I wonder how HCH and hubby Wayne feel about the USA Act that's just been signed into law by GWB? I couldn't find an online version of this story, but the outline is clear in my memory.

The amount of spam on my home email account was getting out of hand, finally encouraging me to give Earthlink's "trust us on the configuration" Spaminator a try. So far, so good. All 18 of the messages it intercepted and plunked in a web folder were indeed unwanted. Only 2 unwanted messages crept through in 3 days. In less time, my wife's account had 27 messages redirected, all of them garbage.

They provide an explicit way to correct false positives (messages you actually wanted), but if there's a way to tell it about messages it should have filtered, I haven't stumbled on to it.

I don't know what it is about me, but I'm drawn to the guy (or gal) who votes "no" when everyone else votes "yes." Russ Feingold explains his vote and makes me proud to be a native of the great state of Wisconsin.

I wonder how many lawmakers took the trouble to examine the particulars of the bill. Feingold notes, among many other things, that "under this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone — perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by -- the target of the investigation." He terms it "a truly breathtaking expansion of police power."

Old news: high power prices. Ken Dey, writing for the Idaho Statesman (which doesn't believe in durable links, sorry): "Prices fell to 25 cents a kilowatt hour in May; by June, they were down to about 7 cents a kilowatt hour, only a few months into Idaho Power's buyback contracts. Today, rates are around 2 cents per kilowatt hour." (My emphasis.) California has signed up for more power than they can use and is looking at getting out of the contracts.

I wondered how many miscreants would take advantage of the WTC attack to go "missing." Here's some who did, and took $105 million of other people's money with them.

Did you like your tax "rebate" this summer? Just imagine how great it would be to be IBM and have Congress pass you a $1.4 billion rebate!

24.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sports for Muslim women. Sounds like a great idea to me - a sound mind in a sound body and all. What would it be like to have gender segregated spectation, I wonder? It's so hard to imagine life in that other world. I work with and around women every day, they're just another kind of human being. The fact that we're all sexual beings just doesn't seem to matter that much. Or maybe it's just that I'm getting old. :-)

Discovered metafilter today, off the Scripting News pointer to the discussion of the weblogs.com rollover. Yet another rich medium I can't keep up with. A community weblog, with discussions. Many paths lead outward from there, such as this creative 404 Error page.

The BBC reports that "fewer than one-third of the 30 missions launched towards (Mars) since 1960 have succeeded." The Odyssey has successfully reached orbit!

22.10.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fall is closing in. I listened to the weather forecast this morning, and decided to buck the chance of a big SE headwind on my way home, and ride my bike anyway. Only a 30% chance of rain. When quittin' time came, I was pleased to look outside and see the colored trees standing still.

But it was wet, and I was mortified to have left my more than 20-year old Brooks leather saddle out in it. Fortunately not too much rain, though, and I dried it with my blue jeans as I tried (and failed) to stay below "fender speed," that point at which the water (et al.) flies off the tires and onto the back. I much prefer a gentle little misting and going slow on purpose to having the wind make me go slow.

Tomorrow the forecast is for Big Wind, up to 60 mph east of town. I hope someone goes sailing and tells me about it: I've already packed it in for the season, and am thinking snow.

Along with all the wonderful fall colors, something else to observe and think about were all the flags on display. In the rain. And on vehicles driving down the road at 35, 40 mph. It's time for those who would honor our country and its most recognizeable symbol to learn the rudiments of flag etiquette. "The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform" even in the "major" leagues, eh? No marks or insignias placed on it, no matter how much you love the NY Yankees. It doesn't go on vehicles unless you're in a parade. If you love your country and its flag, show it some mindfulness, please.

20.10.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The cleaning man's take on a little post-modern installation: it's trash. The artist was reportedly more amused than anyone else. The gallery owners didn't get it though, they recovered the bags and did their best to recreate the pile of rubbish. Does this push the value higher or lower into the "six figures"?

19.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If you're bringing a book along to pass the extra hours involved in air travel these days, you might want to make sure it's something politically correct.

Quoted from Philadelphia's citypaper:

He proceeded through the security checkpoint and sat down to read near his boarding gate. About 10 minutes had passed when a National Guardsman approached Godfrey.

"He told me to step aside," Godfrey says. "Then he took my book and asked me why I was reading it."

18.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Spend, Spend, Spend - Patriotism or Disconnection? Jackie Alan Giuliano: "Just when we started to get access to that inner strength that comes from staying home, facing and holding loved ones, and examining one's life to find out what is really important, our leaders came on the TV and essentially told us to return to being consumers..."

The local PBS station had all four of our congress-critters on its Dialogue program tonight, and I saw bits of it in between innings. (Hey, they put up streaming video of these!) One caller tossed up a softball, asking if it wasn't time we started drilling for oil in Alaska, eh?

Larry Craig stepped right up to that bad boy, and did his best to whack it over the fence. "The American people are recognizing that energy is a critical component of defense policy," he said, or words to that effect. Yeah, that's why we're buying ever larger cars, and driving them more miles every year. It's critically important that we have enough gasoline to keep our SUVs rolling.

I suppose along with the sacrifice of our civil liberties, we're going to have to punt on the environment, too. (Craig assures us we can do it in a responsible manner, and that Tom Daschle is just playing politics. He's so sincere, darn it!) Saw Dick Cheney in white tie tonight, too, telling an esteemed gathering that they'd have to accept the changes "for the lifetime of everyone here." Crisis makes everything simpler, black and white.

And all through the process, we keep hearing that if we change our lifestyle, than "they win." Consumerism is OK. Civil liberties and a sound environmental policy? Well, we have to decide on priorities. If we stop shopping, then they win, yeah? Sounds like reality TV or something.

Speaking of shopping, it seems our Prius is going to be embargoed until late next month. Toyota makes the dealers pay a penalty if they sell the vehicle out of the demo program before the end date. The dealer told us he'd park the car in the back, and nobody would be driving it, now that we'd made a down payment. So... Toyota loses, because the car's not getting "demoed" any more, we lose because we have to wait, and the dealer loses because they have to wait for the rest of the money, too. But they don't want to lose the sale, so they won't approach Toyota with the rational argument I proposed, that having the vehicle on the road is the best advertising they can get. (Especially compared to having it parked in the back of a dealership.) The dealer's like a monkey with its fist around a piece of fruit in a skinny-necked bottle. It won't let go, so it can't get its hand out. Time for the end around...

The entertaining example of using Powerpoint to botch a great speech from history: "I was surprised that the Autocontent Wizard had anticipated my desires so well that I had to make very few changes." This took a couple years to make it through the email FOAF distribution to me, for some reason.

But it led on, to a discussion forum with Edward Tufte. Who's he, you ask? If you need to know, start at the top,

The web makes opposite ends of the political spectrum more accessible than ever. The National Review doles out previews of upcoming pieces, such as "The terrorist next door," by Adrian Karatnycky, wherein we'll explore the slipperly slope from liberal to revolutionary.

Brilliant move for a periodical, by the way -- use the web to create demand for the print publication, and make it worthwhile by putting older content online.

The spectrum includes much more than American right and American left, of course. The list of sources in the left column is fascinating and broad. I just added the Egyptian weekly, where you can read Al-Jazeera's POV, or a military assessment of the war: "The US has set itself on the course of a war without end, and without victory in the accepted military sense."

An interesting treatise about personal defense against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks is making the email rounds. "Words of Wisdom from an Armor Master" was the title on my copy, sounds like some good preparedness thinking. Someone else has posted a copy, so I don't have to do that, too. Even if you don't visit the website, it should get to you by email in a week, or month.

Tracked down the online copy with daypop, the Google! of breaking web news.

Another bit of clear thinking during the present crisis: distinguishing historical explanation from moral justification.

As Dave said, don't be drinking coffee when you try to read this page. Caution: contains language you wouldn't read from me.

What that new national ID card might look like.

A slightly different identity card: we're from America, and we're here to help.

14.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Aerial view of our 2001 pumpkin

It's pumpkin time again. Supermarkets across our country have tons of them jauntily catching our eye, plump, orange and bountiful. Most people buy them for decoration, to carve up into scary jack o'lanterns to keep evil spirits away.

We keep ours whole and alive through the month, and sometime in November cook it into food. On the one hand, they're an extravagant waste, a sort of bourgeois potlatch. Perhaps the annual crop could be considered a bit of insurance against lean times. If we found ourselves short of food for some reason, they could get help us through a hard winter.

Afghanistan is looking at a very, very hard winter. They could probably come up with something more useful to make out of all those pumpkins than holiday decorations. Not that we can drop them out of cargo planes, of course...

PlayStation -- the catamaran, not the electronic toy -- obliterates the transAtlantic sailing record, besting the old record by almost 2 days. They did it in less than 5 days, at an average speed of more than 25 knots. Along the way they set the 24 hour speed record, covering 687 nautical miles in one day; more than 28.6 knots. They were powered by a cold front's southwest wind, and reportedly did it on one reach: no tacks, no jibes.

Nice piece from the LA Times on weblogs coming of age.

We bought a print NY Times today, practicing for when our subscription starts next Sunday. The page of obituaries on the back of section B was really poignant. It'll take them most of a year to cover all of the people who were killed in the attack on Sept. 11.

An amazing first person account of the scene in Kandahar before the bombing began, and last week:

"When night came and the Taleban were gone, people would hold weddings and parties with music and women danced because there was no-one there to stop them," Mr Ahmed said. "For just a few weeks, it was like another time, long ago."

Design for a Faith-based missile, by Richard Dawkins. Somehow secular humanism doesn't seem quite so scary anymore, eh?

"Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from. It came from religion."

13.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our stellar Rep, Butch Otter, has apparently labeled The Nature Conservancy, Idaho Conservation League and Idaho Rivers United as "extremist environmental groups." That's bad enough, but the scary part is how many Idahoans probably agree with him. Boise Weekly's new column of short takes, "Blink," reported on the Sept. 22 editorial in The Spokesman Review.

In the Weekly's excellent piece on the (past) glory years of Idaho politics, they inserted "(Senators)" before Perry Swisher's comment about Craig and Otter, and gave me a start. Butch has only made it to the House, so far; Mike Crapo is are other senator, thank you. (Still no permanent archives there, alas, so if you want to see the cover story, you need to get it while it's hot.)

Also adding flavor to politics in our fine state are upstanding individuals such as Ed Dunne, who proposed an ordinance (I suppose) for the city of Post Falls requiring, among other things, that "residents, schools and businesses who support or work for the U.N. would be required to register with the city so that other residents can track any United Nations activity taking place within our city." (my emphasis). The Review has Mr. Dunne's piece available for inspection, too. "While our rights are inviolable by government, the U.N. says rights can be limited whenever it deems it worthwhile to do so." Hmmm.

This is the first time I've visited The Spokesman Review's website. It's quite well done for a small newspaper site. One thing I particularly like is their implementation of reader comments: each story has a trailing form inviting feedback, which is checked for length (I assume), and aggregated on a separate page, with links back to the original stories. Most trailing comment indexes have clumsy interfaces and feel like graffiti on the original article. This approach elegantly recreates the feel of Letters to the Editor, always one of the most entertaining features of a newspaper.

In the current crop, for example, we see a response to the story about Muslim support for Bush's promise to destroy bin Laden: "The mouse's are quivering, the eagle is souring."

2001.10.12 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Another of the many "base 3" calendar days. The recent "binary" days depend on eliding the "20" from "2001." Without that cheat, of course, it would be game over for eight thousand years. But we have a plethora of legitimate base 3 (trinary?) days before us:
2001.10.20, 2001.10.21, 2001.10.22
2001.11.01, 2001.11.02
2001.11.10, 2001.11.11, 2001.11.12
2001.11.20, 2001.11.21, 2001.11.22
another 8 in December, and 40 next year. If I counted right.

After thrashing around on the weblogs-com Yahoo group awhile, I finally found the page where the list of updated weblogs is. I thought it would be on weblogs.com, but no.

Here's where SirCam gets ugly. October 16th, it randomly selects victims for mass deletion of computer files. According to Wired's report, it only attacks computers that use "Date/Time" system settings in the "Day/Month/Year" format, not m/d/y as typical in the U.S. This is computers that run Microsoft's WinXX operating systems, of course, but also Mac and Unix systems with a sufficiently bad implementation of a PC emulator. Your chances are 1 in 20 if you've been suckered into executing the attachment under the "I send you this file in order to have your advice" notice, and don't get it cleaned up in the next couple days.

New word for the day, courtesy of skepdic.com: pareidolia. "The illusion or misperception of a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct" according to them, it's not in my American Heritage 3d ed. The man in the moon, Jesus in a tortilla, Satan in the smoke from the World Trade Center, and so on.

Also, apophenia, "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena." (Is there a word for that feeling you get while paging through a dictionary and you realize by the fore and aft headings that the word you seek is somewhere on the current two pages?)

An interesting collection of maps concerning Afghanistan.

I wish more software companies took the approach FogCreek is using: "Michael added a dialog box to CityDesk for sending feedback. He also wrote some very spiffy code that catches any unhandled exception on any copy of CityDesk running anywhere in the world, prevents the app from crashing, and pushes the exception info up to our FogBUGZ bug tracking database here in New York City."

The 2002 Toyota Prius in opalescent ice green

Looks like our next car is going to be a Toyota Prius. We have to wait a while to take delivery, though.

So, the House and the Senate have both passed anti-terrorism bills. "Passage of the bill, by a vote of 337 to 79, was the climax of a remarkable 18-hour period in which both the House and the Senate adopted complex, far-reaching antiterrorism legislation with little debate in an atmosphere of edgy alarm, as federal law enforcement officials warned that another attack could be imminent. Many lawmakers said it had been impossible to truly debate, or even read, the legislation that passed today."

The House put a 5-year limit on at least some of the provisions, apparently the only significant compromise in favor of civil liberties.

More from the NY Times:
Asked about complaints that lawmakers were being asked to vote on a bill that they had not read, the chairman of the Rules Committee, Representative David Dreier, Republican of California, replied, "It's not unprecedented."

Powerful message from Thomas Friedman to ObL. He puts in terms of an answer Bush might have given the recent videotape, rather than calling on the US media to censor him. Good idea.

11.10.01 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One month from 9-11, so much seems forced into that perspective. I read the announcement about Bush's news conference while it was happening, so I missed the event, but the NPR commentary following made it sound like I didn't miss much. The news was that he had a news conference, and ended it with a closing statement. Is that really new? Seems much better to have the last word in mind, rather than end on what seems like a good question.

On other channels, Paul Bass, writing on alternet, gives us A Consumer's Guide to the Bombing, and the ACLU's detailed analysis of anti-terrorism legislation under consideration.

From last Sunday's NY Times Magazine: This is a Religious War. "If faith is that strong, and it dictates a choice between action or eternal damnation, then violence can easily be justified. In retrospect, we should be amazed not that violence has occurred -- but that it hasn't occurred more often."

Big ideas in the feature piece: Islam's tolerance was premised on its position of power. The separation of church and state is a radical change in human history. America's religious nature is a rebuke to fundamentalism: it says we can be redeemed by choice, rather than by coercion. It really is a war about freedom.

10.10.01 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something in a binary day, not much else to say.

It's not that I joined the five major networks in deciding to report only good news, though. I would have liked to have seen ObL's full video presentation, actually, instead of the brief, repeated sound bites. Does our National Security Advisor really think our homeland security will be improved by filtering out the unpleasant parts? ObL's audience is not in this country, it's in Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and so on. Wouldn't it be better if we knew what they were hearing, so we might better understand news from those countries? Covering our ears as we tell each other to have a nice day doesn't seem like the recipe for success.

On the other hand, some of his audience probably is still in this country. That's what the reported "100% certainty" of another terrorist action is all about... Not a pleasant thought.

Thank goodness the web serves up news from other countries too. This piece from The Times talks about Tony Blair's nuanced press releases, and the claim that more than 2/3rds of the hijackers didn't know they were on a suicide mission.

Brian Livingston says he's happy to stick with W2K, rather than XP. His reasons are persuasive to me.

Any self-coding bloggers reading? If so, and if you're signed up for weblogs.com's update list, here's the sort of thing you can add to your perl code to perform the ping request, using the LWP::Simple module:

$ping = "http://newhome.weblogs.com/pingSiteForm?" .
        "name=Views%20from%20Ft.%20Boise" .
	"&url=http://fortboise.org/blog/";
get($ping);

You can also do it with SOAP 1.1 or XML-RPC, but that would be a lot harder for me to figure out. I'd have to find (and install, presumably) some other module.

9.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Judith Miller admires the timing of bin Laden's threats. How clever of him to queue up his latest finger wagging to follow the assault from the US. "I'm a little disturbed that his press people may be as good as ours," one official lamented. Oh well, it's not the press people who will decide this, is it? Will press reports sway the majority of Muslims to forswear their religious beliefs and replace them with megolamania?

Similarly, Ben MacIntyre of The Times casts the Bush vs. bin Laden media blitz as a central act in the drama, with suitably dramatic writing. "The battle for the Muslim mind."

The FTC Chair, on internet privacy: get over it. Our government apparently can't be bothered with privacy issues anymore.

One of the more gruesome pictures of Microsoft monopoly, combined with an onerous bill working its way through Congress, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act. As Dan Briclin writes, copy protection may rob the future of today's works of art.

Another airline passenger breaks into the cockpit, but this time there's a happy ending. 10 passengers help subdue him. F16s scrambled to escort the plane to a safe landing at O'Hare. The skies aren't as friendly as they used to be, but they might be a lot more cooperative.

7.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reported by AP, along with Putin's voicing support for the allies' action in Afghanistan: Russia also called on the international community to use all its political strength to help Afghanistan overcome the current crisis to "assure its democratic future."

We're at the beginning of what Bush called "sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations," and I doubt very much that this country is "filled with fear" as ObL's latest videogram was translated in one report. ("Filled with horror," in another, may be accurate.) Some of us are saddened by the need for military force, some continue to question if it's the best response, but I expect the majority are strongly in favor of it. The terrorists' organizations will collapse long before we will.

The combination of strategic attacks on military targets, and the distribution of humanitarian aid shows again that this is a battle (Rumsfeld said "this 'so-called' war" in his press conference today) like no other.

5.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Turns out that the Bush administration took that email about "bombing them with butter" seriously. $320 Million aid for Afghanistan!

WriteTheWeb on yet another brand of (not yet released!) blogging software, Moveabletype. I tried GreyMatter briefly, I setup a site on Userland's weblogs.com (which I'd like to delete, but Userland won't let me). And I wrote my own simple software for aggregating daily postings into the monthly blog you see here. It's too humble to call a "Content Management System," but it meets my needs - I have all my data local, I can update the site at the touch of a button (which runs a perl script), I can change the style when it suits me, without puzzling out someone else's layers on top of CSS, and I can enhance the "system" when so moved, as when I added the little "link" graphic with the "permanent" URL for each day's entry recently. (I'd set up the permanent URLs early on, but didn't publicize them explicitly.)

Doc Searls on Post-industrial journalism. A beautiful blog entry.

Take a Gander at this: on the hospitality of strangers, or "where did all those planes go when we closed our airspace?"

Google reports on the Zeitgeist (pointed to by the First Monday article "The Effects of September 11 on the Leading Search Engine").

4.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I generally don't like getting telephone solicitations of any kind (and was happy to pay the state of Idaho $10 for 3 years residence on the big "do not call" list). I've been curt to some, but I do try not to be rude, unless they abuse my patience. The other night I got a call from a fellow Sierra Club member, looking for my help with a literature drop. I must've been relaxed, had my guard down; I said "yes." Was it our shared beliefs? His quiet, pleasant voice? Was I in a good mood for some reason? I don't remember, but he went a step farther: would I be willing to call other people, asking for volunteers?

Incredibly, I said yes to that, too. So tonight I left my comfortable home and went to a small office downtown, and joined my caller and two other volunteers, and punched in more than a hundred phone numbers, spoke to thirty or forty people.

Hi, my name is Tom von Alten, I'm a Sierra Club volunteer. May I speak to ______, please? I'm calling about our fall campaign to help protect the Owyhee Canyonlands and the Boulder White Cloud Mountains. As part of that campaign, we're going to be doing a literature drop in local neighborhoods, on (date), and we're looking for people who can help for a couple hours. Are you interested?

Only two people cut me off before I finished that little spiel, one with "I'm sorry, I'm not interested," and another with "I can't afford any more money, I'm sorry." I had one outright yes, and a couple strong maybes, and a lot of answering machines, a (very) few busy signals, a lot of people who had other plans, who might have other plans, or just weren't interested, thanks.

Two households had old friends in them, and it was nice to chat. One of those has a gravely ill man, another who suggested I give his son a call. (His son was a maybe, in spite of not being a Club member.) One fellow was going to be gone, having the stitches in his transplanted cornea taken out, and I talked to him about my father's recent corneal transplant. A couple people were caretakers of older parents, and couldn't get away that long.

My voice was soothing, clear, I was to the point, friendly, a little persuasive but not pushy, understanding, sympathetic. Most of the people I talked to felt a little better for having talked to me, I think, and I felt better having talked to them. Answering machines, no answers, disconnecteds and the three busies moved me further down my ten pages of list, but didn't make me feel better.

And even though I didn't need a reminder, I got one that phone solicitation is dreadfully difficult, work that weighs on one's psyche. This was better than most: not quite a cold call, not really "solicitation" (as defined in some legal document), closer to associates calling one another, asking for help with something that offers mostly invisible, internal rewards. Maybe it was even building community in a little way. Not such a bad thing to do.

And for the next few callers that get through the AG's screen, I'll be a little more gentle, a little more pleasant to the person on the other end of the line, even if I don't care for the business.

2.Oct.2001 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Southwest Airlines CEO James F. Parker: "We are willing to suffer some damage, even to our stock price, to protect the jobs of our people." There's a refreshing sound bite!

Talking about firms that are laying off people, Yahoo's DailyNews: "Dell -- which was the only firm, out of 10 leading technology and e-commerce companies that made significant job cuts earlier this year, to respond to requests for an interview -- said its layoffs were one part of an overall strategy to control operating expenses...." Their representative "told the E-Commerce Times that the job cuts have not hindered the company's ability to stay competitive."

Outside observers are not so sanguine:
"When you cut people you are losing intellectual capital, you're affecting your reputation, you are penalizing future recruitment efforts, and that is not going to be felt in the short-term pursuit of financial gain over the next quarter," Gartner vice president and research director Diane Tunick Morello said. "That's not rocket science."

Excellent discussion of security measures resulting from 9-11, and what good they may or may not do, in the latest crypto-gram.

Signs of snake-oil: "new and unproven security measures, no real threat analysis, unsubstantiated security claims." And the cost is the unnecessary sacrifice of personal freedom. The reference implementation is El Al's and we're not paying attention to what they've done which is demonstrably effective. Slate's rundown on the reasonableness of what's happened so far is succinct.)

The section on regulating cryptography is especially worth reading: "As more and more of our nation's critical infrastructure goes digital, we need to recognize cryptography as part of the solution and not as part of the problem." Lots of references for additional reading.

How can you help? Speak about the issues. Write to your elected officials. Contribute to organizations working on these issues. This week the United States Congress will act on the most sweeping proposal to extend the surveillance authority of the government since the end of the Cold War. If you value privacy and live in the U.S., there are three steps you should take before you open your next email message:

1. Urge your representatives in Congress to protect privacy.
- Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
- Ask to be connected to the office of your Congressional representative.
- When you are put through, say "May I please speak to the staff member who is working on the anti-terrorism legislation?" If that person is not available to speak with you, say "May I please leave a message?"
- Briefly explain that you appreciate the efforts of your representative to address the challenges brought about by the September 11th tragedy, but it is your view that it would be a mistake to make any changes in the federal wiretap statute that do not respond to "the immediate threat of investigating or preventing terrorist acts."

2. Go to the In Defense of Freedom web site and endorse the statement.

3. Forward this message to at least five other people.

We have less than 100 hours before Congress acts on legislation that will (a) significantly expand the use of Carnivore, (b) make computer hacking a form of terrorism, (c) expand electronic surveillance in routine criminal investigations, and (d) reduce government accountability.

Please act now.

01.10.01 Permanent URL to this day's entry

One of those binary days - five more coming this year, then an 8+ year wait.

More (threats of) terror in NY. "This is how it is because this is how it has to be," said one law-enforcement official. "This is a police state now."

With the president of Pakistan speculating about what's next in Afghanistan, I'm wondering how likely the boasts of being able to beat another superpower are. Last time, they had us helping them. In the new world order, Russia's on our side now.

The FTC cleans up some of the scum on the web. Sounds good to me!

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 01-Nov-2001 18:17:26 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/200110.html