This makes me laugh — and then, I realize how sad it is that such a parody has to exist in the first place, and I cry.

Between banning smiling in the picture and including an RFID chip that can be read (and snooped) from as far as 30 feet away, the State Department sure is mucking with the U.S. passport! Alas, there’s not much to be done but buy a foil-lined cover and accept that your passport picture is going to finally reflect how the typical person looks after having to deal with the hassle of international travel in a post-9/11 age.

It’s always amazing to me when someone makes what might be a major medical advance merely by thinking outside the box, introducing a slight shift in their approach to a problem and ending up disproving the way that we physicians have tried to deal with that problem for decades. The latest example of this is the tale of Jeanna Giese, the rabies survivor in Wisconsin, only the sixth known person to survive rabies and the first person known to survive without having received antibody and vaccine shots prior to the onset of symptoms.

Rabies kills by rapidly proliferating in the brain, causing major central dysfunction and allowing the virus to spread to other vital organs like the heart. Most therapies to date have mirrored those we use for other infectious diseases — using medicines and antibodies that aim to limit the proliferation of the virus so that the body’s natural immune defenses can keep up with, and defeat, the infection. The medical team taking care of the Giese added a second approach to her treatment — they surmised that another way to reduce the replication of the virus might be by reducing the metabolic rate of the tissue in which it had set up shop, the central nervous system. Of course, there’s really only one reliable way to reduce the metabolic rate of the central nervous system: putting someone into a coma. Giese’s medical team did this with sedatives and anesthetics, and at least in her case, it appears to have allowed her immune system and the antivirals to catch up and clear the virus from her system.

It’s too early to say if this will work in all cases, but apparently the Centers for Disease Control has taken note and is interested in more formal testing of the method. And if it pans out, it will be the kind of major medical advance that leaves us all shaking our heads, wondering why we all were so blinded to the simpleness of it all.

Given how quickly the trend has taken off, I guess it was just a matter of time before counterfeit Lance Armstrong LIVESTRONG bracelets appeared on the scene. There are plenty of other eBay cheats hawking the fake bracelets; once those are all shut down, I’m sure about fifteen dozen others will spring right back up. There have even been a few news articles on the fakes, complete with local investigative journalism angles. You can be sure that not one cent of the money people spend on these goes anywhere but into the manufacturers’ pockets, which is the real shame.

If you’re not put off by the trendiness of it all, want a bracelet, and want to make sure that your money helps fund the cancer research foundation that started it all, remember that there are only three legitimate places to get them: the Lance Armstrong Foundation store and Nike sell the adult- and child-sized ones, and the Build-A-Bear Workshop sells the teddy bear-sized ones (that also conveniently fit toddlers!).

Is it just me (and Josh Marshall), or are other people a little bit concerned about how trivially easy it was for politicians to slip provisions into the spending bill this past week without any notice or debate? For the past few days, we’ve been hearing a lot about the measure that would allow lawmakers to view any American’s tax returns; yesterday, we learned that another addition was a measure that allows health care companies to ignore state and local laws regulating the provision of reproductive health services. How many other red-hot pokers are hidden in the text of the 3,000-page bill?

Wow — I wonder what could possibly have happened that was able to drive Vanilla Ice up into the Yahoo! Most Viewed Photos list.

I just made a change to my mail system that (hopefully) will put a clamp on the last bit of spam that’s been making it through. For years — ever since I registered my domain back in 1993 — I’ve been receiving all of the mail that’s sent to any random name at that doesn’t match one of the few users that I’ve configured. This was great, for a while; for the most part, it meant when websites and companies demanded an email address from me, I could create unique ones that would both let any email they sent reach me and allow me to pinpoint the companies that sold their email address lists to spammers.

Alas, with the good came the bad, namely that over the years, many, many web users have given websites fake email addresses at my domain. (I guess queso is a pretty common word, and from the makeup of most of the addresses, it looks like most of the abusers have been Spanish-speaking.) In the past six months, unsolicited email to those fake addresses have comprised between 50 and 75 percent of all unsolicited email that hit my server, and as the number kept increasing, I realized that I needed to do something about it.

So I’ve put together a new system for registering at websites, using another (less common) domain name. I’ve also gone to most every site and mailing list that I care about, making sure that I change my registration to the new domain. And after watching my inbox for the past month to make sure I haven’t missed anything (I’m sure I have, but I’m definitely at the point of diminishing returns), it was time to flip the switch.

We’ll see if this works!

Is it just me, or have other people noticed that various properties of Nick Denton’s media empire (specifically Gawker and Gizmodo) seem to republish their entire syndication feeds once or twice a day with new modification times, so that every freakin’ one of the posts shows back up in my aggregator as new? It’s really quite annoying, and if it doesn’t stop soon, I’m reasonably likely to unsubscribe to the feeds.

It makes me a little sad that today, I received what could rationally be called the Redneck Primer as an email forward from my very own grandmother. It’s a tract that claims to be an editorial “written by an American citizen, published in a Tampa newspaper,” and goes on to spout beliefs that immigrants should pipe down, speak English, and stop adhering to any cultural norms but those cultivated right here in America. (I guess that means that immigrants should all eat a lot, give up exercise for television, and rip their way through marriages and divorces like it’s going out of style? It’s a little hard to parse this.)

The vagueness of the statement of origin on the essay made me curious, though, so I put in a little bit of search engine time. Doing a Google search for some key words and phrases brought up 38 unique (and 842 total) hits; out of these, most were authored on dates evenly scattered between January of 2003 and the present. I then found one reference which was posted on September 11, 2002 as an email forward, and it stands as the only reference from 2002 (on the Web or Usenet). This made me wonder why the piece seemed to go on a hiatus for the remainder of 2002, and finding that hard to believe, I changed my search string around a little bit. This led to finding another version of the screed with earlier heritage (July 24, 2002); this version didn’t list Portuguese in the group of languages which somehow offended the author, and since it was included as a direct quote in my initial Google string, my first pass had been slanted towards its derivitave. Eventually, I was able to find the original article, not a Tampa editorial but rather a veteran’s advocacy group magazine piece written by an Air Force veteran, originally published sometime around February 13, 2002, and since removed from the magazine’s website. Sometime between then and the end of 2002, the author’s piece was modified in a few ways — the Tampa newspaper bit was prepended, a swipe was taken at Muslim women, and the aforementioned addition of Portuguese was included — and it became the spam chain email that it is today. (I wonder what the Portuguese did to the person who initiated that change?) And of course, after all that, I finally found the Snopes piece that could have saved me all the work.

In the end, I find it interesting how things like this spread and mutate as they wend their way through the ether. That being said, this specific case is much more sad than it is interesting to me. Trawling through the various places that the essay has landed on the internet was frightening; most are shining examples of the complete and total intolerance that has become a defining feature of certain groups in America, and whenever readers were given the chance to respond to the posting, the typical response was something along the lines of “PREACH IT, MAN! GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY, TOWELHEAD!” Knowing that my own grandmother read the essay and felt a resonance with her own beliefs gave me pause, but in the end, I feel OK knowing that she comes from an entirely different generation that began life with a very different worldview, and that most signs seem to indicate that each generation of younger Americans is more tolerant than the last. And it definitely helps to remember that in less than a year, she’s going to be sitting in the front row of seats watching Shannon and I get married underneath a chuppah and standing amongst a wedding party that includes four people who are Jewish, two people who are Indian, one person who’s half-Chinese, and a gay man!

There’s a concerning thread over at WebHosting Talk about a user being charged ten bucks by GoDaddy for ostensibly having incorrect contact information in his domain name registration information, despite the user’s claims that all the information was correct. Someone from GoDaddy actually posted details, as well as information about the policy regarding the charges (that they only charge if incorrect information is actually found); nobody has been able to find the actual user agreement that states this, though, and the original user continues to insist that his information was correct and that GoDaddy has begun ignoring any of his attempts to contact them in an official way.

Given that there’s a new policy coming into effect tomorrow that makes it a lot easier to lose your domain names (via domain transfer requests by nefarious others) if your contact information isn’t perfectly correct, now might be a good time to hop onto your registrars’ websites and verify that everything is as it should be. Most registrars will also allow you to “lock” your registrations so that domain transfers cannot take place without you manually going to their site and reversing the lock — GoDaddy allows this, as does and even the hoary Network Solutions. When this lock is in place, no transfer request can go through at all (in theory), protecting you from illegitimate transfer requests even when you’re away from your email for more than five days.

I’m with the other Jason in saying that the new policy is supremely idiotic, if only for the incredibly short notification period that is destined to lead to some pretty major domain name losses over the coming months. (After all, it’s reasonably hard to guarantee that you see and trust every single email that’s sent to the address in your registration records, given that this email address sits out there in public and manages to attract metric tons of spam, viruses, and phishing attempts!) And in reading the actual text of the policy, it seems that there’s a window created for registrars who want to side with consumers rather than ICANN and refuse to automatically grant transfers after five days — but that’s my non-legal read of it, which I’m not so sure I’d trust. Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see if any registrars become consumer-friendly in this regard.

(If you’re interested, links to the actual ICANN policy, with quotes of the relevant sections, are available in the extended version of this post.)

Something I learned overnight: in the world of pediatric oncology, it’s tough when patients die of their cancer, but it’s a whole world tougher when they die of the treatment.

In an effort to perhaps save people the seven hours I wasted this weekend, I share these two secrets with you:

Let’s back up a little bit. Shannon and I went down to New York City this weekend, to watch Alaina (and Dave and Meg!) run the Marathon, and to help my brother and sister-in-law get settled into their new apartment. One of my jobs was to get their wireless network set up, and since they needed to extend the range of the network a little bit, to figure out the best way to do this. While I’m comfortable enough hacking my way around Linksys access points and getting them to serve as repeaters, I figured that I shouldn’t subject them to alternative firmwares and dodgy power boosting, so I read a little bit about the options and settled on the WRE54G as an extender for their Linksys 802.11g access point.

Now, to set up a WRE54G, you have to run a proprietary application on a Windows machine that is connected (wirelessly) to the access point you want to extend. This seemed simple enough, so I powered up one of their laptops, verified that the Linksys PC card could talk to and use the access point, and then ran the setup app. It immediately complained that it couldn’t find the wireless card; oddly, I could then open up Internet Explorer and surf the net with reckless abandon, so I knew that there wasn’t really a problem with the wireless card. As a result, I figured that the issue had to be related to running an older version of the PC card drivers, and headed over to the Linksys website for the latest version. After installing them, though, the computer wouldn’t use the wireless card at all, and kept throwing up weird error messages (some new application, ODHOST, could not stop bitching and moaning). They also wouldn’t uninstall, crashing during the uninstallation process.

I spent a LOT of time trying to debug this, including spending 45 minutes on the phone with two Linksys tech support agents who couldn’t grasp that their uninstaller was crashing. (Them: “But why don’t you just uninstall them?” Me: *whacks head against marble countertop repeatedly*) The agents ended up concluding that there was nothing they could do to help, and that the best they could do was have someone else call me back at a later, unknown date. (*whack whack whack*) I finally tracked down this Broadband Reports thread in which someone else wasn’t ever able to get them working on Windows ME, and a lightbulb went off; I asked my brother if he had held onto the original CD that came with the card, and when he dug it out of a box, I reinstalled the drivers on it and everything went back to working fine. Of course, I was still unable to run the WRE54G setup application, the problem that got everything rolling in the first place.

I decided to try their other laptop, which runs on Windows XP. This time, the setup application ran fine through the first few steps, but when it got to the place where it scanned to see if it could find the WRE54G, it crashed every time and left me without a wireless connection at all. The connection came back when I rebooted, but the crash was reproducible every time. I again decided to give a driver update a chance, and made some progress — after that, the setup application was able to scan all visible wireless networks to try to find the WRE54G, but it claimed that it was unable to find it. I reset the device, to no avail, and then just gave up.

The whole time I was working on the equipment, my brother kept asking how Linksys expects normal customers to be able to set this stuff up. And after my experience, I can honestly say that I haven’t a clue — between their drivers and setup applications being incompatible, their drivers plain not working, and their buggy setup and uninstallation utilities, it’s impossible for even a seasoned network professional to get everything working, much less a casual home user. It’s a shame; Linksys is owned by one of the best networking companies in the world, and I’d expect better of them.

Oh, jeez — it looks the first major vote-tallying computer error has come out of Ohio, to the tune of nearly 4,000 votes accidentally awarded to Bush in one voting precinct alone. Given that the current difference between Bush and Kerry in the state is 136,483 votes, and there are hundreds of voting precincts in Ohio, all it would take is 34 more errors like this and we’d have a new President. Of course, I also ask myself: why is this story currently only running on the local newspaper websites? It’s a pretty sobering indictment of our electoral process, at least when it comes to the few days after a close election.

I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s hilarious that this article on the Forbes website about the felony convictions of two spammers has, among others, a paid advertisement linked into the article (“penny stock”) for an email marketing company.

While I get that there’s a real usage-rights issue involved, I’m not too sure why there’s so much handwringing in the iPod user community about Apple shutting down iPod Download — do people know that there are literally dozens of other apps that allow users to do the exact same thing, and that have been available for quite a while? Here are the ones I was able to come up with links to in under five minutes’ worth of searching:

Oh, and if you know even the littlest bit about the command line, it’s trivial to discover that the “protection” against downloading from the iPod is implemented simply by hiding the folder that contains the tracks, so all you have to do is change into that directory and start copying.

So yeah, Apple’s behaving, well, like Apple always has… but it’s pretty easy to route around that, and it’s not that easy for Apple implement any longstanding way to prevent that.

In my limited surfing around this morning trying to find the best place to keep up with election-related news, I have to say that I’m most impressed with CNN’s Election Results page. It’s essentially one big control panel, and it provides pretty much all the information I’m going to want to track tonight as I sit there biting my nails and hoping for a change in the White House. A distant second is the offering from CBS News (for a better interface, click through the link to “Campaign 2004” in the right gutter of this page); it gets me to the same information, but it’s quite a few more clicks to get there, and always takes me away from other information that I want to see.

If anyone has any other election-day portals that are worth a look before the news cycle gets busy, I’d love pointers…

I’ve been spending the last few days emergently migrating one of my Linux machines over to a replacement, and tonight, I found myself in need of remembering a command-line option to the utility su. And while looking it up, I discovered a little tract at the bottom of the manual page that left me a bit baffled.

Why GNU `su' does not support the `wheel' group
(This section is by Richard Stallman.)
Sometimes a few of the users try to hold total power over all the
rest. For example, in 1984, a few users at the MIT AI lab decided to
seize power by changing the operator password on the Twenex system and
keeping it secret from everyone else. (I was able to thwart this coup
and give power back to the users by patching the kernel, but I wouldn't
know how to do that in Unix.)
However, occasionally the rulers do tell someone. Under the usual
`su' mechanism, once someone learns the root password who sympathizes
with the ordinary users, he or she can tell the rest. The "wheel
group" feature would make this impossible, and thus cement the power of
the rulers.
I'm on the side of the masses, not that of the rulers. If you are
used to supporting the bosses and sysadmins in whatever they do, you
might find this idea strange at first.

While I’ve heard that Richard Stallman is just plain crazy, I guess I never understood exactly how crazy. Anyone out there have the root password to his machines?

In honor of tomorrow’s election, Dahlia Lithwick anticipates the quadrillion lawsuits that will be filed at 8AM on November 3rd, and provides a do-it-yourself guide for filing your own lawsuits. Use it well!