I’m not a National Geographic subscriber, which means that I’m going to have to swing by the library over the next week or two — the feature article on creation vs. evolution this month looks like it’ll be a great read. (Of course, I can’t deny the added appeal in the issue’s cover text asking “Was Darwin wrong?”, and the pullquote on the first-page of the feature answering “NO. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming.”)

I’m not sure why I’m so intrigued by Google’s acquisition of satellite image provider Keyhole, but I am. Perhaps it’s because it’s one more sign that Google generally operates at the very edge of the search space, looking for ways to push those edges outward; perhaps it’s because it’s another huge data set that I’m sure hasn’t been sufficiently examined. Or perhaps it’s for one of the dozens of other reasons related to information mining, the places where wildly dissimilar data sets meet, and all the cool tools that Google’s made to date. In any event, I’m anxious to see what comes of it.

red sox win!

Congrats go out to the Red Sox, rolling through eight straight to shock the Yanks, stun the Cards, and close the chapter on 86 straight years of New England misery! (And thanks go out to Dan Cederholm for permission to use his great graphic.)

My hospital distributed PocketPCs to a group of clinicians a little bit ago, me included, and I’ve spent the past week playing around with the new toy. The platform that was standardized on is the HP iPaq hx4700, in a large part because of its built-in WiFi, and that means that in most places in the hospital, I’m able to get online. Of course, because I’m such a geek, that means that any time I get bored I find myself surfing the web. I usually end up crawling around the various sites that specialize in PocketPC-related topics, and one thing that I’ve been pretty amazed by is how many of those sites don’t do jack shit to make their pages display well on the platform. In fact, most of them don’t serve anything different to PocketPC browsers, meaning that I usually spend about a half a minute trying to find the place on the page that has content, another minute or so figuring out where the navigation elements are, and then about a microsecond giving up and hitting the back button. It’s am interesting case study in not knowing your audience, and as a result, providing a substandard experience.

After being deluged this morning with news about the changes coming Thursday to U.S. check cashing laws, I did a little bit of surfing around to see what I should know. Pretty much every single resource I found said that the most important thing that consumers should understand about the changes is that you should assume that the physical, actual check that you write completely ceases to exist at the moment that it is cashed. (This is because banks will now scan checks at the point of deposit, and then process them entirely from the information in the scan.) And this means that if a bank makes a mistake processing a check — say, they cash a $100 check for $1,000 instead — it will be somewhat harder for the person who wrote the check to prove that an error occurred. The new law anticipated this, and has a remedy: substitute checks. These are images of your checks which adhere to specific standards, and carry the same legal weight as the original check; the kicker is that many of those little images of your checks that you get with your statements don’t meet the standards of substitute checks, so you need to make sure that you specifically request “substitute checks” from your bank.

This is all confusing enough that, not surprisingly, I called my bank tonight to ask that all my statements contain the substitute checks and the representative had no clue what I was talking about. She put me on hold for about five minutes, and then came back to tell me that her supervisor said all accounts will have them on the statements, but I was less than reassured. I’ll make a mental note to call back in a few days, and see if the relevant information has filtered down.

Two long pieces that are worth the time it’ll take you to read: Tim Golden’s New York Times article, “After Terror, a Secret Rewriting of Military Law”, and Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, “High Prices”. The former is an in-depth look at how, in the post-9/11 environment, the Bush Administration went about the secretive process of rewriting a slew of laws and rules to allow the unfettered detainment and civil abuse of anyone that it decided was a terrorist, and is one of the few written pieces that has made me understand just how unimportant civil rights have become under our current President’s leadership. The latter is a well-researched, impeccably-detailed trip through the problems that surround drug prices, pharmaceutical research, and physician behavior in this country; it’s really the piece that I wish I could have written nearly two years ago.

Interesting — it appears that eBay filters the email addresses that people use in their registrations, and somehow decides which it will allow and which it won’t.

For the past three or four weeks, I’ve been dutifully going through all my website registrations and changing the email addresses associated with them to new ones, all at the domain MASSHOLE.US (which I registered a few months ago). I generally haven’t had a problem; sites from Amazon to TypePad have accepted the new email addresses without issue, and the wholesale change has let me make a few changes to my email system that has decreased the amount of spam in my inbox. But eBay has not been as accepting; each time, I get an email to the old inbox saying that I submitted a change request and telling me to expect an email in the inbox of the new address which contains a confirmation code, but I never ever receive that promised confirmation email.

The first two times I tried the change, I figured that their system was just temporarily broken, and that I would be able to try again at some later time without problem. When it didn’t work a third time, I contacted their customer service via email (using the support pages that they provide), but a week later had not received any reply whatsoever. I then tried to make the email address change a fourth time, failed to get the promised confirmation email, and tried contacting their customer service again, but similarly never got a reply. That kind of rookie behavior pissed me off a bit, but I assumed that I’d eventually get some kind of response. Alas, tonight made two weeks of complete eBay silence.

On a lark, I just decideded to try to change my email address to one on my normal domain, QUESO.COM — and lo and behold, the confirmation email arrived instantly! I then tried again to use the MASSHOLE.US address, and still haven’t received any confirmation email. I can only assume that the difference in the two behaviors is rooted in the fact that MASSHOLE.US contains an objectionable word… but the fact that their system fails silently in its rejection, leaving me completely in the dark as to whether this is actually the case, is unbelievably frustrating. Of course, in the end, I don’t know which is worse: the way that the system is set up, or the nonexistent customer service that exists to support that system.

Shannon and I watched Nine Innings from Ground Zero today, and liked it a lot. Granted, it helps that we’re Yankees fans — the documentary uses the resurgence of the Yankees during the 2001 Playoffs as the centerpiece of the story, so it’s obvious how it would appeal to the fans in us. But it’s also a nice look at how the Yankees and Mets played a role in New York City’s healing, and easily brought tears to our eyes about a dozen times. If you get HBO, it’s probably worth a view.

Jesus, our election system is so damn broken. So let me get this straight — Republicans are allowed to pass an amendment banning the use of federal funds to pay independent United Nations elections monitors, and then use $360,000 of political money to pay partisans who are supposed to make sure that everything is up to snuff? Can there be any less of a doubt why there was a loud call for international monitoring this year?

As Rafe finds himself wondering what motivates people to consider reelecting President Bush, he should meander over to the website of the Lone Star Iconoclast (the Crawford, TX hometown paper) and read some of the letters to the editor that were received after the paper’s endorsement of John Kerry. Some choice clips (all spelling and grammar courtesy of the original authors):

It sounds like you’ve gotten on the “Flip/Flop” bandwagon and I sincerely hope that ALL Texans will ban your newspaper. Anyone that would speak of a sitting President of the United States as you have and all the rest of the liberal press have should be banned.

If Kerry wins, it will because the American public has been inadequately informed. In the Bible it is recorded that in Hosea’s time, the “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”. (Hosea 4:6) It is no different today. The Bible also says, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8) Ignorance destroying a people is not brain science. As far as Kerry being “unstable”, that can be explained in secular terms such as schizophrenic or pathological liar.

Your options listed in your iconoclast article regarding President Bush are nothing more than fabricated lies that are extremer left-winged liberal hatred.

You should be ashamed of what you printed about President Bush. I for one, hope you fold for this stupid article. You really gave Kerry a lot of fodder for his smear campaign. You must be a room mate of Bill Burket at the local insane asylum. My God people, this is your President, your neighbor. Are you trying to have your 15 minutes of fame at President Bush’s expense?

I wish I lived in your city so I could cancel my subscription and boycott anyone who advertised in your paper. To be this stupid You deserve your candidate Kerry.

Your reporting is biased and childish and you rant and rave like a renegade who can’t quite find the cause that he is seeking, so you make things up as you go. I will be glad when one day soon, I try to pull up this website and I find that you are no longer in business. I must ask. Are you redneck or stupid, or both? I have to guess that you must be both, because either one alone would not be quite enough to pull off a moronic blunder such as you have. As many, many thousands of others, I am thoroughly disgusted and appalled. Proud to be a supporter of the greatest president this country has ever seen, George W. Bush.

And, my personal favorite:

You have just made fools of yourselves. With the moron you put on msnbc.. Notice the old barn in the back ground. You could probably get a better spokes person there! Lets see how far your ratings go down. Your gonna indorse a candidate that waived a vietnamiese flag in public and went against his own fellow servicemen, and can’t tell the same story twice the same way. You have just lost major credability,, Not just state wide but nation wide.. I would be looking for a good bankruptcy lawyer.. Your gonna need it! You need to change your web site for home of George Bush to traitor of George Bush! Mr. Smith go fit yourself for a turbin, because if your candidate wins we will all have to wear one and learn arabic..

It’s not hard to see where at least these people are coming from…

Well, wasn’t that game seven less than fun. I’m happy for the Sox that they’re in the World Series (and finally have the chance to avenge the infamous E3 in 1986!), but it pains me that they went through the Yanks — outright embarrassing them with a first-time-ever four straight postseason wins — to get there.

Good luck, Red Sox!

Yep, I want the Yankees to win; yep, I’ve been crushed by the last three nights of my beloved Yankees forgetting that they have, you know, bats in their hands that are capable of, whaddyacallit, hitting the baseball. More than anything, though, I’m excited that, after the game tonight, this series will come to an end. Three straight nights of white knuckles and minimal sleep, and I’m pretty much toasted. You’d think that being on what felt like permanent call to the hospital last year would have prepared me for this paltry few-day stretch of baseball, but somehow, it didn’t.

Oh, and I couldn’t agree more — mama mia, did the fans at last night’s game reflect poorly on the Yanks. I’d hope that some time was spent by stadium officials today looking at video footage, and that there will be a few people turned away at the gates tonight…

In the past five weeks, my email scanning log shows the following statistics:

  • Total incoming emails: 40,128;
  • Number of those emails which were not spam: 1,386 (3.4%);
  • Number of those emails which were spam: 38,742 (96.6%).

In addition, about 100 emails have slipped through the cracks in that time period (they weren’t caught by SpamAssassin for whatever reason), which means that that percentage increases to 96.8%. I’m in the middle of modifying things with my mail system that should decrease that number massively; right now, for a variety of reasons, I receive email sent to any address at queso.com, and that’s the main reason why I get so much spam. I’m fixing all those reasons, though, so I expect to see a bigtime reduction in the next few weeks.

For those of you who are also watching the ALCS matchup between the Yankees and Red Sox: the infield fly rule. Who knew you could learn something new during about the rules of baseball during a playoff series?

I’m rarely one to hawk affiliate deals, but I got an email from Dell tonight that has a few offers in it I’d imagine might be exactly what some people are looking for. Here they are, for those who’re interested:

  • Take 30% off of any Inspiron laptop priced at $1,299 and above; enter coupon code “NKDP1HNP271J00” at checkout.
  • Get a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 system with 512 Mb memory, double-bay CD drives, and a 15” flat panel display for $499; click on this link or put in eValue code “1-D24BSDU”. And then, use coupon code “FMRRQRTFFK2LV0” at checkout to get an additional $70 off!

Both of these offers end on 10/18 at 5:59 Central time.

In an effort to stem the flow of spam to the addresses I use for domain name registration, I decided today to set up a new mail account for all my registrations, use sendmail’s plussed users feature (also here) to be able to give each registrar a different email address, and then put a set of tweaked spam filters on that account. I started going through all the registrars I’ve used, and successfully changed my email address with four of them. When I got to GoDaddy, though, the interface would not accept the new email address, and after talking to them on the phone, it turns out that their system does not accept plus signs in addresses. The technical rep didn’t know why this restriction exists, and his supervisor said that there’s no changing it.

It’s an odd decision on their part, given that the plus sign totally valid according to the RFC which governs such things; it’s as if they also decided that their system wouldn’t accept registrations for domain names with the letter “z” in them. And given that sendmail is the most used mail transport agent in the world, it’s hard to see why GoDaddy would enforce a restriction that actually has a specific function in the application, but whatever. All in all, it’s funny for a company which exists to support the internet standard of DNS to be so clueless when it comes to another internet standard, email.

I had an odd Linux crash this morning that I just don’t understand. I got a call from Shannon saying that the webserver wasn’t responding; I tried to ping it, and it didn’t respond. In fact, no services (web, mail, FTP, ssh) were responding, so I walked over to the machine, and while it was running (I could hear the fan spinning, and the lights on the front were lit), I couldn’t get anything at all on the monitor. I ended up having to hit the reset button, after which it came back up just fine.

Looking through the logs, there is truly no clue as to what happened. The main log (/var/log/messages) shows that the IMAP server processed its databases successfully, and then the next entry is from almost six hours later, when I reset the machine. Every other log — mail, cron, security, webserver — shows the same thing: entries up until around 3:02 AM, and then silence for nearly six hours, until the machine is restarted.

This machine has been running fine for a while now — I’ve had eight-month stretches without reboots — but in the past three or four weeks, I’ve started installing all the services that will allow it to become my primary web and mail server. Maybe one of them took it down; without log information, it’s hard to know, though. I’ve started to do a dump of the memory state every five minutes or so… maybe that’ll give me some insight into what happened. Any other ideas?

ESPN’s Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, is the kind of funny that leaves me laughing hysterically, in tears, gasping for breath.

A few notes on some things that have crossed my screen in the last 24 hours:

Now, for a night of awesome competition (Yankees vs. Red Sox, Kerry vs. Bush)!

This and this make me want to vomit. I’m happy to see that both stories were broken by local news affiliates; I’m also happy to see that, in both cases, the whistleblower was able to bring shreds of the torn-up forms to the relevant elections supervisors who confirmed that the voters had never been added to the rolls. (Of course, thanks go out to Josh Marshall, both for these links and for the great work he’s doing ferreting out stories like this.)

Little bit of a power outage this morning here at Chez Queso, meaning that this site and a few others were silenced for a bit. We seem to be back now; hopefully, the lifegiving juice will continue to flow!

Since I’m completely incapable of watching Presidential debates on television (and hell, there’s a baseball game on!), I’m instead enjoying the hell out of Paul Begala’s live debate weblog over at CNN. So far, my favorite:

Bush just said: “I hear there’s rumors on the Internets.” Is there some secret second Internet I don’t know about? Perhaps that’s where Bush gets the information that tells him things are so peachy in Iraq and the economy’s strong. He’s living in his own Private Idaho, apparently reading things on his own private Internet.

In the wedding planning process, it’s right about now that you realize that if just one more facility uses the phrase “Where dreams come true!”, you’re going to throw up. Let’s get this straight, people: the only way a location will make any engaged couple’s dreams come true is if it’s free, beautiful, comes with all the alcohol people can drink, has no limits on catering, music, or hours, and has a 42” plasma screen television and DVD player to keep the kiddos occupied while their moms and dads celebrate.

I’m finishing off a project I’ve been working on for my old hospital, and find myself evaluating rich HTML text editors — those little dealieboppers that let someone enter text into a web page and make it bold, underlined, in list format, whatever. (Given my druthers, I wouldn’t integrate one into the project since I’m much more comfortable coding text formatting by hand, but the intended users of the app want and need to be able to use the button-based editing interface.) I’ve come across a few, and am interested in any opinions people have as to benefits or drawbacks of any one of them (or any others that they might have seen while meandering the web).

The few that I’ve played with, either by downloading and installing or using an online demo, are: Kevin Roth’s Cross-Browser Rich Text Editor, Editlet, pinEdit, TwistText Rich Text Editor, and Elktron’s eWebEditPro. Out of those five, the first is the clear victor — it’s free, works in most browsers (not Safari, oddly), has no license that limits use, puts out decent code, and is easy to integrate into a project. The rest of them either cost a bundle, try to do way too much, or don’t work in some of the large-share browsers, making it hard to see how they would actually add to the application.


God, that Yankees game was a nailbiter. What poetic justice that the Twins were robbed of an assured run by a ground-rule double in the 8th… and then the Yankees were equally robbed by a ground-rule double in the bottom of the 11th. There’s nothing to bitch about, just solid baseball and a squeaker of a finish!

And now that I’m done with my Thunderbird playtime, I think I’ll take a week or two to kick the tires of three new (or new to me, at least!) apps that I hope will find a place in my programming setup: Smultron, TextMate, and VoodooPad Lite. The first two are geared to be hardcore text editors for programmers — syntax coloring, code libraries, and the like — and the third is more of a notepad to help keep track of all the information that doesn’t make it into the code. They all look cool, so I think it’ll be fun to see what they can do!

I’ve been playing with Thunderbird on my Powerbook for about two weeks now, and I have to say I’m generally underwhelmed. My biggest issues:

  1. Frequently, Thunderbird manages to show me a message in the mailbox list, but not let me actually see the message. For example, I currently have twelve messages in one of my folders, and while I can see the list entry for all of them, when I click on a specific one of them, the preview window is empty (well, save for the header information from the message that I was reading prior to clicking on it). Likewise, double-clicking that entry brings up a blank message window, and going to View/Message Source brings up a blank window, as well. And there’s nothing I can do about this — there’s no command to refresh the mailbox. Annoyingly, when it’s a message I really care about reading, I actually have to delete and recreate my entire mail account, then re-enter all the settings, and finally open the folder and read it. That all seems a bit much.
  2. There seem to be major problems with offline mode. I have a filter on my mail server that puts all my mailing lists into a specific folder, so that they stay out of my face when I’m busy but are easily perused when I get a few free minutes. Since those free minutes tend to pop up when I’m disconnected from a network, I have Thunderbird set up to download all the messages in the lists folder when I tell it to go offline. Alas, it seems that the program randomly chooses which messages to download, and as a result, I’m frequently left with half of them being unavailable, and no network connection to remedy the situation.
  3. If you add the previous and next buttons to the toolbar, they use the behavior that views the previous and next unread message, to much annoyance. This means that, instead of sending me to the next message in my inbox, Thunderbird frequently sends me to some message that was filed in one of my 150+ mail folders. The Go menu has entries for both options — read the next/previous unread message, and read the next/previous message of any type — so I know that Thunderbird knows how to behave correctly; the binding of the unread-specific functions to the buttons doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That’s what I have so far… I’m sure that Thunderbird will mature a lot in the move from 0.8 to 1.0, but until it does, it’s not the mail client for me.