Clive Thompson’s Wired article on Bram Cohen and BitTorrent is a good read, explaining a bit about how the technology works (pretty simple, but completely unknown to me before reading the article) and a bit more about how Cohen himself works.

I tend to shy away from the filesharing networks, but it’s been pretty much impossible to avoid noticing the excitement that BitTorrent has generated over the past year. Now that I understand the technology a bit better, it’s clear why it is so exciting — BitTorrent solves a problem that has plagued filesharing, that of asymmetric bandwidth (or the fact that most people’s internet connections allow them to download much faster than they can upload). One problem that BitTorrent did not deal with, though, has turned out to be its Achilles heel: the need for centralized sites which help organize the network, sites like SuprNova that are ripe for the picking by organizations that are threatened by (mostly) decentralized content distribution networks. The next generation of these networks looks to eliminate the need for any centralization whatsoever; the next version of SuprNova (eXeem) is rumored to do exactly this. It will be interesting to see how the technology works, and whether it will still remain reliable and reasonably easy to use.

There’s been a lot of (virtual) ink lately about weblog comment spam, and a similar amount of activity on the part of those who write weblog software to make the practice more difficult, less inviting, and easier to manage. Today, while trawling around in the forums for MT-Blacklist (a plugin for Movable Type that helps deal with the problem), I ran across this genius idea for further fighting comment spam — a proposition for a fake installation of MT that would serve as a honeypot for spammers, drawing their comments in and then feeding them directly into the anti-spam database. A neat idea, indeed, awaiting someone with the skills to implement it!

Jerry Orbach has died. This makes me sad.

Tsunamis shatter celebrity holidays?!? Over 60,000 80,000 116,000 people are dead, and someone is writing an article about a supermodel, a retired politician, and a professional skiier? You have to be fucking kidding me. I’m not sure which it is — that our press doesn’t think we care about events outside our borders or that we truly don’t care about them — but either make me very sad.

Another equally troubling question is this: How could someone of my fundamental incapacity have come so close to heading the department of the United States government charged with protecting our country from acts of terrorism? Is anyone else horrified by this? Is anyone besides me even slightly bothered?

The McSweeney’s not-so-cloaked take on Bernard Kerik’s failed nomination is just priceless.

Am I the only one who doesn’t see a Gold Box link on Amazon anymore?

I know I’m stating the obvious, but why on Earth is the media covering Martha Stewart’s call for sentencing reform? Is there something unique about her plea that stands apart from all the other entreaties of pampered aristocrats who have been caught and jailed for breaking the law? More importantly, is there something unique about her plea that stands apart from all the other ordinary, lower- or middle-class, first-time nonviolent offenders who have been incarcerated for their crimes?

Today, Mark Frauenfelder pointed to an article that made me laugh, all about how the mayor of Bogota has embarked on a program of putting mimes on the sidewalks to mock Colombians into better behavior. After reflecting on it a bit, I realized that the funniest thing about the article to me is that it appeared in a Boston paper. This is a town where a similar level of jackassery takes place every single day, but rather than in on the sidewalks, it takes place behind the steering wheels of cars — running red lights, driving 80 on the shoulder, ignoring pedestrians in crosswalks, and making left turns inches in front of streams of oncoming traffic. Maybe it’s time to hire the Bogota mayor to figure out a way that mimes could effectively mock drivers…

Did anyone else know that FedEx doesn’t hold themselves to the same guarantees of service during the two weeks before Christmas? It looks like the only thing the company’s willing to stick to is that within five days of Christmas, something shipped via First Overnight, Priority Overnight, or 1-Day Freight will get there within 90 minutes of the guaranteed delivery time (cheating on their regular policy by 89 minutes). If you use any other FedEx shipment method, there are no guarantees during that two-week window.

Now that most of my holiday shopping is done online, that’s a good thing to know.

fight clutter with more clutter

This week’s entry in the anyone-can-be-a-website-designer category comes to us via Matt, and is an article about reducing website clutter which is part of a design and usability website that itself is surrounded by nearly two dozen advertisements and similar unrelated blocks of content. Honestly, it actually took me a minute or two to figure out that the whole thing wasn’t an enormous spoof, but alas, it’s real and it’s pretty damn sad.

While waiting for some gene expression data to model today, I whipped up a few block-based mockups of the web page. As a legend, the green blocks contain actual content, the blue contain website framing elements, the yellow contain what seems to be useless or misplaced bits of clutter, and the red contains out-and-out advertisements. Here’s a small, purely colorblocked version of the entire webpage, and an image of the actual website with the translucent colorblocks laid over it (there are also full-size versions of each image available). Looking at those, I’m certain that if a set of reviewers didn’t have a color key available, I’m sure they wouldn’t have any idea which color corresponded to actual content. In particular, note the little bits of red within the main green content block, all of which are embedded advertisements that I didn’t even recognize as such until they were pointed out to me earlier today.

To add insult to injury, it now looks like a moderator of the website has started deleting comments pointing out the irony of the situation. (You can see the titles of the deleted comments by viewing the front page of the article and scrolling down to the orange “Discuss More Website Knick Knack” box.) Methinks a better strategy might be to, you know, follow the advice of the article and redesign the godawful site, but what the hell do I know?

Ashley McKathan, a judge in rural Covington County, Alabama, showed up to court yesterday wearing the Ten Commandments. Is it just me, or do Alabama judges seem significantly more prone to violating their own canons of ethics than those from other states? I also love that this article actually quotes Roy Moore, the guy who lost his job as chief justice of Alabama’s highest court for disobeying the law and behaving like a jackass; that’s sort of like asking Latrell Sprewell how he feels about Ron Artest’s NBA suspension, which is to say that it’s great theater but incredibly unimaginative. Of course, the same can be said for McKathan’s new robes…

Looks like Google’s making a play for dominance in searching printed text, as well — adding to its Google Print service, the company is piloting a program that will digitize a small chunk of the library holdings at Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Michigan, and the New York Public Library. It looks like the pilot will just include public-domain texts for now, but there’s a glimmer of information in the Harvard Library FAQ that the at some point, the index may also include copyrighted works. Interesting!

Remember my issues with the Linksys wireless range extender? By the looks of the discount table inside my local computer store, I’m not alone — there were easily between one and two dozen of them arrayed in a stack, all with labels saying that they were returns that were being sold at a discount. Not too shocking…

Designing snowflakes is fun! I’m with James — this is one well-designed toy. When my snowflakes started getting complicated, it got a little jumpy and slow on my PowerBook, but nothing I can’t forgive. (Warning: don’t start playing with the trinket unless you’ve got a little bit of time to waste, because waste you will…)

I’m on the last day of my trip to San Diego, sitting in a Barnes & Noble using their wireless connection. Next to me is an otherwise-normal-appearing middle-aged man, in a suit, sitting in an easy chair and talking on his cellphone. One would think that he’d be talking about work, or maybe what to bring the kids home for dinner… but nope, he’s engrossed in a conversation about his Grand Theft Auto skills. Awesome.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Amazon website as screwed up as it is this morning. I’ve spent the last twenty minutes patiently trying to order a few items and check out; only about one in five clicks actually proceeds to the page it’s intended it, and the rest land on pages saying that there are errors processing the request, and to try back later. And since the one step that completely refuses to work is signing in, I can’t save my cart and come back later to complete my purchases.

Somewhat disappointing… and a terrible time of year (for Amazon) to have website problems.

You know why this Mark Frauenfelder post is cool? Because in my syndication aggregator, the little Javascript cost-of-the-war counter continues to increment. It’s like my aggregator has come to life!

I don’t know why, but it’s weird to see news from a talk at the conference I’m attending as one of the current top stories on

Jack McCoy will certainly get to the bottom of this.

Tonight, Shannon and I had Alison, David, and the boys over for our weekly pizza dinner, and tacked on the extra occasion of setting up and decorating our Christmas tree. Last year, it was just about this time that we were starting to see the light at the end of the home redecoration tunnel, and Shannon and me putting up our tree felt like a declaration that we were finally settling into Brookline. This year, it was nice to expand the decoration group with some of our closest Brookline friends; it also didn’t hurt that both of the (three year-old twin) boys spontaneously threw up their arms up and declared, “Ta daaaa!” as we topped the tree off with the star. (Seriously, it was sweet enough that I went into a diabetic coma, from which I’m just now emerging.)

Normally, when the twins step foot into our apartment, our cats instantaneously teleport themselves into the deepest, darkest hiding places they can find, knowing that it’s only a matter of minutes before little feet start stomping around attached to voices shouting, “Cat! Cat! Where are you, cat?!?” It usually takes a half an hour or more after everyone leaves for them to wearily come out of hiding and rejoin us in the living room. Tonight, Boogie came out pretty quickly and took up his regular position sleeping on a shelf next to Shannon, but Sammie didn’t show her grey face for quite a while. When I got curious enough, I went hunting, but it didn’t take too long to find her — I think she might like the holiday season, too!

sammie under the tree

It’s disappointing to see an information security organization as good as SANS get an issue about information security so painfully wrong. In its weekly NewsBites newsletter (issue 48, not available in the online archive at the time of writing), the following entry appears as a link to an eWeek article:

—Spammers Exploit Anti-Spam Technology - DomainKeys
(29 November 2004)
Spammers have begun using DomainKeys to make their fake messages appear legitimate. DomainKeys was one of the more promising technologies designed to eliminate forging, but spammers appear to have co-opted it.,2533,a=139951,00.asp

What’s the problem with this? That in this case, DomainKeys are actually doing their job, not somehow being controverted. Much like Sender Policy Framework, Yahoo’s DomainKeys technology is not an antispam solution, but an antiforgery solution. As it’s described on that Yahoo! page (and by Ars Technica in a review), DomainKeys provides a way for email recipients to see whether or not a piece of email comes from the sender it claims to have come from. In other words, DomainKeys only helps assess whether or not an email really did come from; it specifically makes no claims about helping users figure out whether or not his product will actually make your penis grow five inches overnight.

So when SANS says that “spammers appear to have coopted” DomainKeys, everyone should all be ecstatic — that means that email users and administrators gain the ability to know for certain when email comes from certain mail servers and domains, and thus be able to block those servers and domains with absolute confidence that it’s the right thing to do. Shame on SANS (and Dennis Fisher at eWeek) for not knowing the difference.