Blog: 2003-07

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Bob Herbert's plain-speaking populist persuasion: "Dying in Iraq," New York Times, 31-Jul-2003. Surprised he'd didn't include references to a few more of the dead soldiers, or at least note that approximately 100 U.S. soldiers have already died in Iraq, in addition to numerous others seriously injured there.

Even if the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq was not the best move, now that we've wiped out their government and destroyed much of their civil infrastructure (the infrastructure that remained after a decade of debilitating sanctions), I think we're morally obligated to help them rebuild, however they want. As a nation with moral obligations to Iraq, we cannot just "support our troops — bring them home," until that's what the Iraqi people want. Iraq needs a voice through a government of their choosing, as soon as possible.

Dilemma: if we're morally obligated to have soldiers in Iraq, how do we do that while honoring our moral obligations to the soldiers? We sent them there when we didn't have to, and now we're asking them to stay. I've heard a few people say "hey, the soldiers signed up for it," but they didn't sign up to be lied to, misused, and mistreated. How do we do right by the soldiers now, without shirking a grave moral obligation to Iraq? I don't know, though cutting veterans' benefits, as the Bush administration has tried, is an obscene first step.

Regardless, the Bush administration must be called to task for its manipulations and failures that created this Iraq quagmire, if not through impeachment, then in November 2004.

On another topic: this afternoon they've announced that Poindexter is resigning under pressure over the "Policy Futures Market" embarrassment. (I think this is more a convenient excuse to force him out, than the primary motivation.) I still haven't seen anyone mention the similarities of that project to anarchist Jim Bell's disturbing "Assassination Politics," although that essay certainly got the attention of federal authorities a few years ago.

Michael Powell, "No Choice but Guilty," Washington Post, 29-Jul-2003

My Privoxy actions file has kept me blissfully ignorant of these developments:

Rich-media ads, defined as ads that fly across Web pages, pop-ups, and any ad that includes Macromedia Flash technology, represented 32% of all ads served in the second quarter. While the 468 x 60 banner still accounts for a substantial portion of all ads served (42%), the report revealed that it has been losing ground to other, larger sizes.

—Ann M. Mack, "Large Ads, Rich Media Usage Rises," Editor & Publisher, 28-Jul-2003

Numerous ad spots on the local classical station give the strong impression that Helping Hands of America Foundation is a nonprofit charity. Using a station host as voice actor for the ad (pro bono?) was a nice touch.

That's because Helping Hands of America Foundation Inc., a for-profit company, gets its cars for free from donors seeking to help local charities and possibly qualify for a tax deduction. About 800 people a month are donating cars to the company, the result of a carefully orchestrated advertising campaign that costs about $125,000 a month.

—Jeffrey Krasner, "Where charity begins and profits proliferate," Boston Globe, 27-Jun-2003

Ziploc bag ice cream.

This article is more summary than critical review, but I'll quote his closing, which epitomizes '90s new media:

With the sale of the magazine on the table, Wolf recounts how Anker and other senior Wired employees went to a bar in San Francisco for an impromtu wake. Anker gleefully tallies up his substantial gains to the outrage of his less fortunate colleagues. "What is this, 'Sesame Street'?" Anker said. "Every man for himself means every man for himself!" The future, it turned out, would still be written by Charles Darwin in spite of Wired's best efforts.

—David Carr, "'Wired': The Coolest Magazine on the Planet," New York Times, 27-Jul-2003

Apropos of the Wired hype generation, Patrick S. Farley's "The Guy I Almost Was" is worth a read when you have a couple free hours. You'll see what I mean by around page 50, but no fair skipping ahead.

Did Jakob Nielsen type the following with a straight face?

In May 2002, .Net magazine asked a range of Web design shops to bid on the design of a seven-page website for R. Thomas and Sons Butchers, a fictitious small business. (Unfortunately the article is not available online.)

If Christian people work together, they can succeed during this decade in winning back control of the institutions that have been taken from them over the past 70 years. Expect confrontations that will be not only unpleasant but at times physically bloody.... This decade will not be for the faint of heart, but the resolute. Institutions will be plunged into wrenching change. We will be living through one of the most tumultuous periods of human history. When it is over, I am convinced God's people will emerge victorious.

—Pat Robertson, quoted by Positive Atheism's Big Scary List Of Pat Robertson Quotations

Yes, the CIA has had its elements that've done bad things, but I assume they also have quite a lot of conscientious, straight-shooting people. I wonder how they like that the Bush administration appears to have disregarded intel, misrepresented intel to the American people, had Tenet lend CIA credibility to the misrepresentations, and possibly increased threats against the US by invading Iraq. Adding insult to injury, when caught in misrepresentation, the administration has the chutzpah to blame the CIA. Does misuse of intelligence services and defense capability reflect a prudent strategy for national security? Where's an engineered coup d'etat when you need one? I'm joking about a coup (obvious bad precedent).

Rarefied air? The banks of the Charles do have lots of duck droppings and storm pipes...

Yet, other than those breathing the rarefied air around the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., I wonder if many today would really disagree with Ridley's basic claim [...] Perhaps if one moves to Cambridge, Mass., it will still seem vital and needed. [...] Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University.

—Michael Ruse, "'Nature via Nurture': It's Genetic, Sometimes," New York Times, 20-Jul-2003

For anyone interested in the URI SRFI and Httper: I'm talking with the IO SRFI people.

A strong accusation:

Last month, out of Bulger's five hours of halting, hair-splitting testimony before Congress, the most fateful words may be his short fast answer to one question. Asked if his accounts about 75 State St. to law enforcement were truthful, he said, "Oh, sure." Bulger's story to the FBI was false in 1989 and his assurance to Congress was false last month. He says he gave the money back. But he really kept it. Someday, it may add up to a double dose of perjury.

—Gerard O'Neill, "Questions remain about Bulger and 75 State St.," Boston Globe, 21-Jul-2003

Unfortunate Word Choice Of The Day:

And while we're on the subject of patriotism, let's talk about the affair of Joseph Wilson's wife.

—Paul Krugman, "Who's Unpatriotic Now?," New York Times, 22-Jul-2003

That US Army Reserve recruiting photo: One Weekend A Month, My Ass!

The Opinion links disappeared from today's NYT home page, missing a harsh editorial: "A Bloody Peace in Iraq."

Email to a photographer friend:

Subject: one of the best shots i never took

I'm sitting here laptopping, camera in laptop bag 3 inches from hand.

This cleaning lady in pink uniform shirt is leaning over a balcony, wistfully watching a tango class practice below. Been there unmoving for 5 minutes. Nice lighting.

Taking this particular shot would be incredibly invasive.

It's such a great scene, I could cry.

Oh good, she finally left.

Difficult to reconstruct technical meaning from journalisfuscation, but it sounds like HP might be working on shredders that appear to destroy documents while actually making reconstruction easier:

Other projects, like Mr. Brassil's at Hewlett-Packard, focus on designing a shredder that leaves telltale traces on the documents it destroys, allowing them to be pinpointed later.

—Douglas Heingartner, "Picking Up the Pieces," New York Times 17-Jul-2003

I recall years ago that some photocopiers secretly stego identifying information into their prints, purportedly to aid tracking of counterfeiters. We've seen less secretive identifying information inserted by some other media devices, such as some word processing and email software. Political dissidents and corporate whistleblowers beware.

To commit a sentence like that is to subtract from the sum of human knowledge.

—Robert Fulford, "They should know better," National Post, 15-Jul-2003

If you too have had it with the Galeon2 fiasco, to the extent that you're willing to endure the XUL fiasco:

apt-get install mozilla-firebird mozilla-firebird-dom-inspector
apt-get remove --purge galeon

When Pink Floyd sang, "We don't need no education," they could not have foreseen the advent of research projects with titles like "Another Book in the Wall?: A Cultural History of Pink Floyd's Stage Performance and the Rise of Audiovisual Gesamtkunstwerk, 1965-1994."

—Alex Ross, "Rock 101," The New Yorker, posted 7-Jul-2003

Pardon the third-generation quote:

John Schwartz wrote about Wired in Newsweek upon its premiere. The headline read "Propeller Head Heaven: A Techie Rolling Stone." Inside the article, he quoted "an anonymous industry analyst saying: 'It's just hard to continually watch people breathe their own exhaust and not wonder when they'll asphyxiate.'"

—Max Watman, "Getting Tired," New York Sun, 15-Jul-2003

At the ML, where free copies of every issue of Wired were handed out to students, that rag was jokingly referred to as The Media Lab Journal. There was also a joke that you weren't allowed to graduate til you'd appeared in Wired. Remember all those photos with green flash filters? That was the green light.

I keep overhearing elevator speeches and other such MBA-type modes of interaction, all of which reek of insincerity. OK, it's not really insincere, in that it's well-accepted convention, but so many of these people just never turn it off. They're always on, assessing your utility, cultivating you as a resource, managing your perceptions, speaking in empty code. Some people seem to like that game. It makes business happen. Playing the game shows you're savvy enough to know how to play it. We know something about that game; we just think it's counterproductive.

Played around with using PLT's bundled to scrape Ebay (Ebay's HTML as parsed by HtmlPrag), and got it to work, but is not particularly well-suited to the task. Time for more looks at Oleg's, Kirill's, and Jim's various transformation and query tools.

Everyone knows it was the monolith:

Then, some 50,000 years ago, some profound change took place. Settlements in Africa sprang to life with sophisticated tools made from stone and bone, art objects and signs of long distance trade. Though some archaeologists dispute the suddenness of the transition, Dr. Richard Klein of Stanford argues that the suite of innovations reflects some specific neural change that occurred around that time and, because of the advantage it conferred, spread rapidly through the population.

—Nicholas Wade, "Early Voices: The Leap to Language," New York Times, 15-Jul-2003

A kernel hacker asked me, "What's this about you, Customs, and electronic equipment strapped to your head?" We determined he'd probably heard a garbled version of the Steve Mann's airport incident story. My only connection to that incident was a post to an email list for wearable computing researchers:

From: "Neil W. Van Dyke" <>
To: "David P. Reed" <>
Cc: , ,
Subject: RE: [wearables] letter to editor: Understanding The Mann
Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2002 18:29:13 -0500

It seems to me that, if the intent is to promote social acceptance and understanding of "cyborgs," airport security is an unfortunate choice of vehicle.

In the wake of 9/11, as the American Zeitgeist once again embraces new incursions on civil liberties in the name of 'security' and 'patriotism,' and with airport security one of the most visible and relatively benign measures, I imagine that fringe-element computer geek wackos with homebrew electronic devices strapped to their chests do not make for sufficiently sympathetic characters in the popular mind.

Is abuse of cyborgs a commonplace problem? Are there better examples than being mistreated by post-9/11 airport security personnel?

This seems to be the official site for those Operation: Hidden Agenda playing cards.

A German colleague joked, "Do you know where these Germans are marching through? Man, the EU thingy is going better for us than we planned."

I was a little surprised that Google didn't theme the logo on for Bastille Day this year, but at least they did on

Nice summary by Krugman, and I may have to start reading USA Today:

Yesterday USA Today reported that "some in the Bush administration are arguing privately for a C.I.A. director who will be unquestioningly loyal to the White House as committees demand documents and call witnesses."

—Paul Krugman, "Pattern of Corruption," New York Times, 15-Jul-2003

Thus far, has not seen fit to publish my submitted entry for their Who's Who in Internet and Computer Technology:

Van Dyke, Neil W.   Pioneering inventor of social software and ontology mechanisms for the Semantic Web. Graduate of Brown University and MIT. In 1999, cryptically declaring the world "not ready for the gift of Oooontle," Van Dyke fled to a compound outside Halifax, where he is rumored to have lured two dozen brunette Canadian women as apostles.

I'm looking to redesign UriFrame as pure-functional objects and do a SRFI on it. Comments?

The FDA has estimated that merely revealing trans fat content on labels would save between 2,000 and 5,600 lives a year, as people either would choose healthier foods or manufacturers would change their recipes to leave out the damaging ingredient. [...] FDA had considered putting a footnote on labels recommending eating only a little trans fat, but consumer testing found that had the unintended consequence of scaring people back to foods high in saturated fat, said Stephanie Childs of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which lobbied against the move.

—"Food Labels to Reveal Levels of Little-Known Fat," AP via New York Times, 09-Jul-2003

I've found you can do almost anything if you have an orange traffic cone and a jumpsuit.

—someone on IRC

Some representative fireworks from our secret uncrowded grassy spot in Boston: red, blue, green, yellow, and smile. Also impressive, but less pretty, was the shock & awe.

Released w3mnav.el version 0.5. This might be incorporated into official w3m soon.

Packaged up Franz ELI Emacs Lisp Files. I'm thinking of making Quack use their protocol, rather than gratuitously reinventing one.

Released Quack version 0.22.

Released HtmlPrag version 0.6, which contains a portability bug fix by Scott G. Miller and a few minor changes.

The boat sits on wooden struts. It has never touched water. I ask Huang when he plans to move it. "Whenever the water reaches it," he says. Huang is shirtless, a skinny, square-jawed man with efficient ropelike muscles. Later, when I ask if he's worried about the boat's not being tested before the water rises, he gives me the slightly annoyed look of a shipwright hassled by diluvian reporters. Huang Zongming is a righteous man, and he knows that his boat will float.

—Peter Hessler, "Letter From China: Underwater," New Yorker, issue of 7-Jul-2003, posted 30-Jun-2003

Earlier to... 2003-06

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