Now that I regularly use an aggregator I've found they're great for personal blogs but not for everything. Many sites just have lousy feeds: Daily Python URL and Fucked Company (via newsisfree) are both content-free. Gametab also doesn't syndicate enough content; kind of a special case since Gametab is itself an aggregator. Yahoo's most emailed contains too much new stuff and isn't sorted: I only want the top 10 items a day.

The more vexing problem are Slashdot and Metafilter. The aggregator experience is impoverished. The strong design is lost in an aggregator. And the comments that make both sites so interesting don't come through at all.

I'm loving the linkblogs. If you want the linkblog experience without the setup try the aggregators Hot Links or I prefer following linkblogs from just a few folks, it's more personal.

  2004-02-29 19:08 Z
The San Francisco Bay Area is building a 400 mile network of trails around the bay. The Bay Trail project started in 1987 thanks to Bill Lockyer's SB100.
Maps are available, as is this fantastic overview from the SF Chron. I just took a walk in Burlingame. It's an awfully commercial area but the airport view is fun.
  2004-02-28 20:44 Z
One of the microgames in WarioWare is funky fountain, a bidet simulation. "The object" is a cute little starfish flower.
The sprayer nozzle in the game is much like the one in the Toto washlets at Google. In the game you aim the spray; in real life the washlet's accuracy is rather alarming.
  2004-02-27 17:15 Z
Fresh Air has a review today of remastered versions of the Jefferson Airplane albums. It looks like there isn't a box set. Amazon makes it remarkably difficult to find them, here they are at $13.98 each:
  2004-02-26 18:39 Z
A couple of the blogs I read have gone grey today in a show of support for the Grey Album.

But because I read these blogs in an RSS reader, the only way I know this is because they said so. Their posts are rendered in the same uniform black-on-white-with-no-graphics that everything else is. RSS readers are convenient, but they sure are visually dull.

The Grey Album is really great. Matt has it for download.

Update: OK, so several folks have noticed my trick of colouring this RSS entry. It's not a complete solution: for instance, this text should be green but it's not in RSS. More in a week or two after some experimentation.
  2004-02-24 15:58 Z
It's way harder than it should be to have a CGI script do something asynchronously in Apache. The root of the problem is that it's not enough to fork a child, you have to close stdin, stdout, and stderr. Only you can't really close them, you have to reassign them.
import sys, os, time

print "Content-Type: text/plain\n\n",
print "Script started"

if os.fork() == 0:
    # Reassign stdin, stdout, stderr for child
    # so Apache will ignore it
    si = file('/dev/null', 'r')
    so = file('/dev/null', 'a+')
    se = file('/dev/null', 'a+', 0)
    os.dup2(si.fileno(), sys.stdin.fileno())
    os.dup2(so.fileno(), sys.stdout.fileno())
    os.dup2(se.fileno(), sys.stderr.fileno())
    # Do whatever you want asynchronously
    os.execv('/bin/sleep', ['sleep', '5'])

print "Process was forked"
This is explained pretty well in Perl and in Python. It's a shame that sys.stdin.close() doesn't work.

I still haven't seen a good explanation for why Apache doesn't send partial output from a CGI: Apache says it doesn't buffer and neither does python -u. Grr. Ah ha, mod_gzip does buffer, unsurprisingly.

Thanks to Marc for research help
  2004-02-21 21:09 Z
After two days of using an RSS aggregator I have seen the light. My RSS feed now contains full entries, not short ones, reversing an earlier decision. Truncated feeds are so obnoxious in an aggregator I had to change immediately. My apologies to my long suffering readers.

I still don't like the blandness and detachment of RSS readers. Oh, and my RSS 0.91 feed isn't going to validate. I'll be switching to Atom soon and deprecating RSS.

  2004-02-18 17:20 Z
After months of resistance I set up a news aggregator today: FeedDemon. I also checked out sharpreader, newzcrawler, and awasu. I picked FeedDemon because its UI was the easiest to use after 3 minutes' evaluation.

Some essential features:

  • Correctly load relative image links. I was amazed at how many aggregators don't work without a hostname in the <img> tag.
  • Support for gzip and conditional GET.
  • Atom support. It's not hard.
  • Ability to deal with poorly formed XML. Yeah, I read the debates. Any developer who thinks their user wants to know about a badly encoded & in line 23 column 8 is plain wrong. Hassle the developers, not the users.
  • OPML import and export. The actual format may be dumb, but the ability to share a list of channels is important when evaluating software.
  • Tranquility.

I like a few things about FeedDemon:

  • Browser window on the side: tall rather than wide.
  • Clever newspaper view. I don't like the available styles, but it's customizable.
  • Tabbed browsing.
  • Single key to read through all unread articles.
  • Customizable blog-this command
FeedDemon isn't perfect, but it's pretty good. The beta is significantly improved over 1.0.

One thing I've learned is finding syndication feeds is harder than it should be. Autodiscovery helps but NewzCrawler was the only aggregator with it built into MSIE where I need it. The worst thing is folks who publish 9 different syndication formats. I don't want to have to choose, I just want good bits.

I'm still unhappy with one thing: the visual blandness of an aggregator. Everyone's blog looks the same! It's no better than eight months ago. We need a way to rationally apply CSS to Atom. It's a hard problem.

  2004-02-17 00:35 Z
While Bush has been successful in nation destruction, his failure to bring any sort of security to Iraq or Afghanistan certainly echoes his famous contempt for nation building. Afghanistan is so insecure they probably won't hold an election this year, two years after the US took over their government. And check out this map:
Hey, half the country is safe enough to travel in!

Iraq started out better with an educated wealthy populace and no cold war battle history. But fourteen years of US sanctions and two US wars has destroyed a lot of the infrastructure, even its hospitals. And the security situation is only getting worse, averaging 1.5 coalition casualties a month and over 10,000 civilian casualties. The targeting of Iraqi civilian police is particularly unsettling, a determined campaign to prevent law and order.

The moral consequences of destroying countries and not rebuilding them is bad enough. But the practical consequences are worse. The Bush administration's foreign policy is undermining US security.

  2004-02-16 19:26 Z
They're marrying homos in San Francisco and there's no stopping them! The SF Chron has a good roundup about it: how it happened (blame Bush), the political advantage for the mayor, the political history, and the marriage mill scene. See also this firsthand account.
I think this move in SF is brilliant. It creates a sense of inevitability around gay marriage in the US, following on the near misses in Hawaii and Vermont and the unstoppable gay marriage decision in Massachusetts.
  2004-02-15 18:28 Z
amniotic fluidaqueous humourbilebloodcerebrospinal fluidcolostrumlymphmilkmucoussalivasebumsemensweatsynovial fluidtearsurinevaginal secretionvitreous humour
This post is dedicated to Karl
  2004-02-15 17:53 Z
Many mailing lists obscure users' email addresses in their archives. I'm nelson@xxxxxxxxxx in a lot of archives. The theory is this protects users from spammers. This is dumb. Spammers already have my address. All this mangling succeeds in doing is makes it harder for legitimate people to find me.

Email addresses are not secrets.

Update 2004-02-18: Thanks to Justin for CDT's report claiming that most spam comes from scraped email addresses. So maybe obscuring is useful afterall?
  2004-02-15 16:39 Z
I'm at ETech where everyone is online. There's WiFi everywhere, a Wiki, an IRC channel, lots of blogs. And much like at Gnomedex, I'm pleased and dismayed at the extent of the Internet side channel.

Today I'm particularly aware of another cost of having net access at a conference: attention exhaustion. At a normal conference your attention is divided between talks and hallway chatter. Here you've also got your laptop competing for attention, what with IRC heckling, blogs, blogging, random net surfing, foolishly trying to keep up at work. No wonder I'm so tired!

Life used to be slower.

  2004-02-11 04:55 Z
I have a PowerPoint presentation that won't open correctly when my laptop is online. I can open it and display the first 16 slides but then the whole Powerpoint process hangs (I can't even close the window). After about 90 seconds PowerPoint recovers and my presentation looks fine. Alternately, if my laptop is offline it loads immediately.

Presumably the program has found something in my slides that it wants to check online and the 90 seconds is a timeout. How do I find and expunge that something?

Networked apps are great until your network flakes out.

Update 2004-02-15: lazyweb failed me. So did ethereal. I was able to figure out Powerpoint was trying to make an SMB connection with a 60 second timeout, but not to where. Final workaround? Pray for 60 seconds.
  2004-02-10 21:59 Z
For the second time this year someone's stolen my credit card number and used it to buy Internet services. The account is only three months old! The first time it was gambling; this time it's astrology. I trust my credit card company to make it right, but what a pain! We really need a more secure billing infrastructure. Credit card numbers are not secrets.
  2004-02-09 16:22 Z
It's amazing how quickly the Web has become essential to intellectual life. It seems inevitable now, but it wasn't at the time. I've been on the web for ten years now (both publishing and reading; one of the breakthroughs of the Web) and in that time my thinking has evolved some, but mostly in the direction of complacency.

Looking at my old email so many funny things jump out. The verb "mosaicable". Connecting locally in Oregon as a way to start on the Web (thanks, Eric Tilton!). Convincing my college to let students publish without editorial approval. Debating whether to use the GN server to stay Gopher compatible. Confusion about how to write HTML, simplistic guides. Explaining the web to some very brilliant scientists. And my own contribution to Web development, html-helper-mode.

Two things made the World Wide Web succeed over University of Minnesota's Gopher or Brewster Kahle's WAIS. Everyone knows about the importance of inline images in Mosaic. But a much more subtle success factor is the Web's decentralization. Making it easy for anyone to publish was a revolution. WAIS was centrally adminstered, requiring help from someone else to bring your site into the network. Gopher was a bit more decentralized but it was still hard to publish a new page without involving an admin. By contrast anyone could set up a Web page and start linking it to other pages. And so they did, and so the Web was born. It feels permanent.

Inspired by Justin Hall's 10 years of
  2004-02-08 18:52 Z
I just finished listening to the abridged audiobook version of Walter Isaacson's superb 2003 biography of Benjamin Franklin. A very contemporary biography, briskly narrating the man's long life and highlighting his contributions to America and the way he both created and exemplified a uniquely American intellect.

What impressed me most about Franklin was the combination of practical businessman, intense intellectual, and statesman. The man was one of the best scientists and thinkers living in America at the time with many inventions to his credit. He was also a successful self-made businessman and spent the majority of his life shaping the political future of the United States. Well travelled and warm and human, too. I do not think we have such well rounded people today, certainly not in politics.

  2004-02-07 02:27 Z
Jon Carroll nails the impact Dean has had on the Democratic candidates:
Whoever the Democratic nominee is, he should thank Howard Dean for leading his party out of the darkness. The electorate is energized; people are finally paying attention to the Bush bunco schemes. Good going, Howard; whatever happens, you done good.
  2004-02-06 16:46 Z
Remembering my user ID on every website is harder than remembering my password. Sites have different rules for what your user ID can be and they have to be unique on the site. Is it 'nelson' or 'nelsonminar' or 'nelsonm' or 'nelson352' or '' or what? I try to use my email address everywhere.

Not anymore on eBay. From my mail today:

eBay is constantly working to provide a safer and easier trading experience for our members. In our ongoing efforts to prevent unsolicited and possibly fraudulent email, we have decided to allow only User IDs that do not include an email address. This policy takes effect immediately.
So many things are wrong with this. First, they should let me choose my own risk level. Second, they chose a crappy username for me that I had to change; now my account is branded with the suspicious "user changed his ID" for 30 days. Third, they sent me this notification as an email; fraudulent emails about your eBay account are one of the biggest scams on the net. Finally, I suspect the real reason for all this is to make it harder for folks to contact each other directly and bypass eBay's auction.

The ironic thing is they support Microsoft Passport for signon. Passport keys your identity to your email address.

  2004-02-04 16:42 Z