Since Nelson and I have both been grousing about Mac OS X's Terminal.app, I did some more research. Command-doubleclick will open an URL in Terminal.app, but only if the URL is one line long. Here's a better solution:
Update: I updated the suggested "word" line after finding a few holes and resorting to reading RFC 2396. I omitted '!', "'", "(", and ")" because I think those would cause more parse errors than they would solve in this context.
One of the fun things we did in Germany is take a short excursion on the Harzer Schmalspur Bahn, a narrow gauge railroad running through the Harz Mountains. The tourist train is an hour and a half run up to Brocken, the highest point in the Harz mountains. The fun thing is you get to take one of their restored steam trains. It's not often you see a fleet of 25 steam trains working every day. Other tourists liked the trains, too. quite serious. It's not just a tourist rail - it's also the most direct route through the Harz mountains, Deutsche Bahn doesn't serve it. The mountains are beautiful, full of hiking trails and forests.
Today is Gay Pride in SF. While I'm not much for the throngs downtown, I do have one thing I'm gay proud of.
I'm proud of Ken, my partner.
Wow, the new Bush/Hitler ad (WMV) is brilliant propaganda. The overt message is to discredit moveon.org and the Democrats by claiming they improperly compare Bush to Hitler. But the ad happily uses the juxtaposition of Hitler with images of Gore, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry to implicitly connect the Democrats to Nazis. It's like Karl Rove was taking notes when he watched Oliver Stone's JFK.
The ad also neuters the appropriate outrage of the Democrats. Frankly, this is the time for pessimism and rage. But the ad turns that on its head. Mean ol' Kerry, wouldn't you rather vote for nice piano music Bush?
And showing this video only on the web bypasses all sorts of pesky campaign laws. Because of the Hitler controversy this ad is now all over the mainstream media. It may be hypocritical, but it sure works.
I got a Mac laptop (12" powerbook), thought I'd try something different. Unix with a non-X interface, you have to like that. My favourite thing is the beautiful font renderer.
I just got a Mac laptop and turned it on to go through the setup wizard for the first time. What is with this thing? It's asking me for my mailing address, the size of company I work for, what industry I'm in. And I have to answer these intrusive questions before I get to use the computer I bought: there's no opt-out, no "skip this question".
Isn't Apple supposed to be the friendly computer?
I may be three years behind the times, but The Fast and the Furious is a pretty great movie. Cool cars, tight editing, and the kind of After School Special for Adults plot I love in action movies.
I'm impressed with Vin Diesel, too. I like action movie stars who do what they do well. His new Riddick Xbox game is great, does the video game tie-in better than anyone so far. Smart move forming Tigon Studios, his own game company.
Maybe one day Vin will be governor.
Dresden was the most surprising part of my trip, astonishingly beautiful. I only knew about the firebombing, followed by 40 years of communist architecture. What I didn't know is that the city is truly beautiful, with a lovely waterfront on the Elbe. And the old center of Dresden, the showpiece palaces and promenades, has been completely rebuilt with a very traditional restoration.
The pride of Dresden's reconstruction is the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, the Baroque church that was left in complete ruin after the destruction in 1945. The restored building is beautiful, using the traditional stonework techniques. As you can see in my photo above, they reused the old (blackened) stones where they could.
Yesterday was the symbolic conclusion of the reconstruction, hoisting the cupola with a British-donated cross to crown the church. The cost is enormous: $175 million or more. Imagine the pride in this restoration, coming after reunification.
I fervently want Bush to not be president any more. The administration is truly terrible. It led our country to war on false pretenses, deliberatly sabotaged the Constitution with its imprisonment policies, and is systematically wrecking the US budget with irresponsible tax and expenditure policies. Oh yeah, and there's the stated policy of torturing prisoners and hiding them from the Red Cross. Nice. And that's just the worst stuff - I won't even go into ANWAR, or gay marriage, or ...
But I feel powerless, disenfranchised. Sure, I can vote against Bush. But does voting even count? I truly believe the 2000 election was stolen. I could try to influence politics, get involved in the campaign. But personal action is sort of pointless; most of my friends already hate Bush too (and the others, well, we agree to disagree). Political influence seems to be entirely about money, not belief.
This is why I liked Dean. He made me believe that things could change. Kerry is uninspiring. MoveOn gives me some hope, but only a little.
I'm a food tourist. For finding restaurants in Europe, the Michelin Guide Rouge is information perfection. Complete data on a country's good hotels and restaurants, the red guide is truly all you need.
Best as a book, it is also searchable online. The design is fantastically dense. The German guide, for instance, is 1500 onionskin pages in a handbook size. There's a bit of information about each town, including excellent small maps for bigger towns and a line or two about major tourist destinations. Each restaurant or hotel then gets about 8 lines wherein you will find packed the name, location, contact information, hours, prices, and a couple of descriptive lines of text.
The most important thing is the listing's icons. Restaurants get 1 to 5 forks. But it's not just a 1-5 scale. If the forks are red then the place is a "pleasant restaurant", a uniquely comfortable dining room. Rare places have the valuable Michelin stars that indicate excellent service and comfort. And there's the "bib gourmand" for inexpensive places. That makes for four dimensions all for a quick scan.
The editorial quality of the reviews is fantastic (despite some recent controversy). Anything that's even in the guide will be a good meal; to my American tastes 2 forks and up is a fine restaurant. These ratings are given by serious food people, much more useful than the crappy guidance from Fodor's or Frommer's.
My most fervent wish is we could have a Red Guide for the USA. Alas, I think we just don't have the quality or culture to deserve it. Zagat is the closest we have, and it's just not the same maturity. And so peculiarly democratic!
Cory Doctorow's talk to Microsoft Research about digital rights management is hot. It's the best single description of all the failures of DRM I've ever read. The time Cory has spent at the EFF has clearly honed his thinking.
DRM systems don't work
DRM systems are bad for society
DRM systems are bad for business
DRM systems are bad for artists
DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT
But talking to MSR is preaching to the choir. The people who really need convincing are the Windows OS product strategy team, in particular the folks behind the Next-Generation Secure Computing Base for Windows (aka Palladium). Microsoft has already made the decision to destroy general purpose computing in order to protect copyright owners' interests at the expense of users.
With the DRM core baked deep into the hardware and Microsoft getting to sign a whole new set of licensing contracts, I fear the "don't work" and "bad business move" arguments will seem to have been overcome long enough for this hostile stuff to be status quo for awhile, setting everyone back.
Jet lag sucks. The only thing worse than falling asleep at 3pm is waking up at 4am, exhausted, and not being able to sleep.
Melatonin is a partial solution for jet lag. It's a pineal hormone that triggers sleepy time. The problem with jet lag is your ordinary circadian rhythm is on a 24 hour cycle, so until you adjust you're melatonin-deficient at your new local bedtime. But take a melatonin pill or two and bam, you're asleep. Without a sedative.
Because of insane FDA laws melatonin is available without a prescription, but it has a very strong effect, at least on me. I don't make a habit of taking it regularly.
Hello everyone, I'm back! Many thanks to Marc for writing the guestblog while I was gone, lots of interesting things.
I took a two week vacation to the former East Germany. It was an excellent trip, very relaxing and interesting. I took some notes on the trip that I'll play out here over the next while. The quick itinerary:
Let me just state for the record that if Apple were to release a car stereo head unit, I would be first in line to buy it. I would even replace my old, 2G iPod with a shiny new iPod at whatever price they asked. Steering wheel controls would be nice, but really all I need is a head unit with an iPod socket and nice controls. Let's call it the iDash.
The car/iPod interface has been the worst part of the iPod experience -- getting the iPod music playing out of the car speakers is ridiculously hard, and just finding a place to rest the iPod while it plays is comic. I've tried using cassette adapters, which fake out the tape deck into playing iPod tunes, but they have consistently died on me, either fraying at the cable that dangles out of the deck or frying in the heat (just like a real cassette!). I've tried using mini FM transmitters like the Griffin iTrip, but the sound quality is terrible and finding a free radio channel in the Bay Area is impossible. (I had one for a while, until some anti-enterprising San Franciscans launched a pirate radio station on it.) I've tried removing the CD changer and using an RCA adapter to wire the iPod in directly, which, modulo the cables trailing from the trunk to the front, was great for sound and stability -- until the damn thing shorted out and took the turn signals, gas gauge, and brake lights with it, a $600 repair. Now I'm back to the cassette adapter, and I pack it into my bag every day as I head out of the car. What a pain.
Too many head units don't provide auxiliary input, and all the solutions on the market are half-assed and clunky. A fantastic Apple head unit would be an amazing tool for the iPod, and would really change the car stereo experience.
Microsoft wasted a bunch of money on car PCs a few years ago. Wouldn't it be funny if the iDash gave Apple a entry point to automotive computing?
Mark Frauenfelder blogged today about the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM), a futures market run by the University of Iowa for studying predictions of political elections and other events. I love the idea of these markets and have been following them closely. While the Policy Analysis Market caught some well-deserved criticism last summer, I didn't think it was a crazy idea, but that it was more poorly explained than poorly conceived.
I was following the IEM during the Democratic Presidential primaries, and was disappointed with the results of what I saw. These markets are sometimes claimed to "predict the future," and rightly so in that they can expose upcoming events that are for whatever reason non-obvious by conventional wisdom. It was not obvious to me that Howard Dean would suffer such an upset in the Iowa Caucuses, placing behind Kerry and Edwards when all the polls were showing a different result. After the shoes had all fallen, I went back to the IEM to see if these futures markets -- based, after all, in Iowa -- had been able to predict what many of us had missed.
It seems they did not. Graphs of the market's activity show Dean and Clark (who placed sixth, behind Kerry, Edwards, Dean, Gephardt, and Kucinich) leading right up until the day of the caucuses, January 19th. Edwards, who placed second, wasn't even offered as a separate contract until after the caucuses were closed (he was included in the "rest of field" contract). I've created a detail graph of the end-of-day contract prices (drawn from here) for Dean, Kerry and Clark in the days leading up to the caucuses, and they don't show any clue that Dean was headed for a fall.
No one has claimed predictive markets are perfect, nor that they can forecast everything -- just that they tend to outperform other predictive measures. I'll be interested to see if this idea takes greater hold over time, and gains in effectiveness as it involves more participants.
It's interesting to read about Accenture and the award of the "Virtual Border" contract from the Department of Homeland Security. This Reuters article, like a recent NY Times article on the same topic, talks about the attempts by the House of Representatives to prevent Accenture receiving the contract, since Accenture's corporate headquarters is not in the US -- it is in Bermuda.
What's unfortunate about these articles is how obliquely they talk about the reason Accenture is based in Bermuda. According to Perfectly Legal by David Cay Johnston, the sole point of this is to reduce the corporate taxes Accenture pays -- they are essentially shopping for a nation with laws most favorable to their incorporation. In a chapter entitled "Profits Trump Patriotism," Johnston talks about exactly this conflict between national security and awarding government contracts to quasi-foreign corporations -- including Accenture. It's too bad the explanation of this issue isn't more clear in the articles covering it -- especially since Johnston is a Times reporter.
I do think this is an interesting and important issue, and I'm glad to see the House taking some action on it.
Update: The article in Thursday's Times has a somewhat better explanation of the issue.
I had a fine time watching the new Harry Potter movie last weekend -- you know it's a better movie when it features a tree with more personality than some of the characters in the earlier episodes -- but was driven further down the road of hating movie theaters, which once I loved.
Movie theaters are increasingly hostile environments. At this one showing, we had:
It would certainly be cheaper to buy the movie on DVD and own it forever, than to watch it once for nearly twice the price; the popcorn would be better, cheaper, and faster, and could be topped with real butter instead of "topping"; the water would be tastier, colder, and available for $1.49 per 100 cubic feet; and the talking would be sanctioned or actionable. Plus, no ads. It's no wonder home theater is booming.
I've been reading a great book about World War II military intelligence -- one of those nonfiction books that makes you think no fiction writer will ever be up to the task. I was enjoying it as "pure" history (is there any such thing?), but today realized that it is incredibly useful for thinking about recent news regarding Ahmad Chalabi and Iranian intelligence, and the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq generally.
The book is The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War, by Thaddeus Holt (just published). The author, a former Deputy Under Secretary of the Army, describes with precision and wit how first the British and then the American military learned to deceive Germany and Japan regarding the Allied force strength and intentions. It's the sort of book I would send to a Hollywood producer buddy if only Hollywood had any shot at not screwing it up (*ahem*).