Congrats go out to Maggie for Mighty Goods (her kickass shopping weblog) showing up as a nominee in BusinessWeek’s Best of the Web survey. (It’s in the Shopping category under @ Play.) It’s up against a few sites that aren’t so shabby in their own rights, but since I’m a bit partial to the world of weblogs, I gave Maggie my nod. Go do your part!

Fascinating: Plaquemines Parish, a small parish in deep southern Louisiana, hosts their government website using Globat, and it appears that all the people interested in checking in on the parish and its residents have put the website over its daily bandwidth allotment. (Here’s a screenshot of what the home page looks like right now, and here’s a Google cache of the page before it hit its bandwidth limit.) I figured that I’d do my good deed for the day and call the hosting company to see if they’d be willing to suspend the bandwidth limits for the time being, so I called the only number I could find on their website, (877) 2-GLOBAT. I got a sales guy who said the exact following: “If a customer goes over their bandwidth, we shut ‘em down, no matter who they are.” I asked whether he’d either put me in touch with someone in the corporate structure who’d be willing to consider helping the parish out — after all, the people in the parish whose job it is to deal with this might be otherwise indisposed (and probably without phone service!), and he said no. He was uninterested in giving me his name, and abruptly ended the conversation.

I guess it’s rare that I’m this stunned at the total lack of empathy some people can have.

Update: whether it was this post, Sara’s post, or just plain second thoughts, the Plaquemines Parish website is back up.

landsat of new orleans post-katrina

The satellite images of a post-Katrina Gulf coast are starting to roll in; so far, the USGS LandSat image has the best view of the amount of land saturated by water. (For a good previous comparison, go to the USGS Global Visualization Viewer for New Orleans (requires Java!), and take a look at the 240-meter resolution images for December 2002 or January 2003.) I suspect we’ll be seeing some higher-resolution images from GlobeXplorer and Space Imaging in the next few days, and of course, there are plenty of images from the ground that reinforce how immense the damage is.

The writers, photographers, and editors of the New Orleans Times-Picayune again had to resort to an electronic issue today, both because they had to flee their building and because there’s no longer anyone in New Orleans to read the paper. Everyone all should be commended on the amazing amount of effort they’re putting into covering (and putting a human face on) what looks, from the safety of Boston, to be an absolutely horrific disaster. I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to watch one’s home and hometown destroyed, and to know that it will be months before they can even start to think about returning to normal.

(I’ve again put together a single PDF file that has all thirteen pages of today’s Times-Picayune; you can find it in the same place as yesterday’s torrent.)

Warning: this might be one of my geekiest entries in a while. If you don’t care one whit about such things as internet protocols and development bugs, you’ll either want to ignore it, or read it and mock me.

After realizing that the two torrents I posted over the past 24 hours didn’t work at all, I started digging into the BitTorrent tracker I use (BlogTorrent) to see what the problem could be. After a lot of excavation, it turns out that BlogTorrent (and Broadcast Machine, its more mature cousin) is a little deaf to one of its configuration parameters, a parameter that’s likely to be less-often used, equally likely to be safely ignored in a bunch of circumstances, but is nonetheless both important and mandatory on network setups like mine. I posted a bug on the Sourceforce page for the tracker, so we’ll see what happens.

All this being said, I have to admit that I didn’t find it very easy to debug the entire BitTorrent conversation, a fact that made it much harder to find the problem and work out where it was located. BitTorrent itself uses a dead simple protocol, but I’m underwhelmed by the information about peers, seeding, and the like that’s available from BlogTorrent and the standard BitTorrent clients. I had to do a lot of webserver logwatching and launching of netstat dumps to figure out what was broken; I’d love to find a tracker which provides enough data so that I don’t need to repeat the performance.

Understandably inundated, the New Orleans Times-Picayune is publishing today’s issue electronically, and is maintaining a breaking news page as well. There are a slew of amazing photos in the electronic issue, and some terrifying stories of peoples’ experiences during the onslaught of wind and water, all of which reinforces the reality that Hurricane Katrina literally destroyed an entire band of communities along the shores of the Gulf. (The issue is distributed as a series of PDF files from the page linked above; for ease of use and archiving, I’ve combined them all together into a single 6 Mb download, and put the file up as a torrent.)

matt dancing in pike place market

This weekend, my brother passed on a link that’s kept me entertained ever since. Where the Hell is Matt? is the site of Matt Harding, a self-described “28-year-old itinerant deadbeat from Connecticut” who’s traveling the world and posting fantastic missives along the way. On top of this, though, Matt has taken up videotaping himself dancing at all of his destinations, and the clip montage he’s posted is pretty much the best thing I’ve seen on the web in a while. (My favorite is his clip from the Impenetrable Forest in Uganda — it’s both creative and funny.) The whole package is oddly life-reaffirming — a guy who quit his job to wander the Earth and dance! — and easily has made its way into my daily-read list.

(I’ve put up a torrent for the large QuickTime version of the clip montage, so feel free to treat Matt’s bandwidth gently and get the movie from the torrent instead. I asked Matt for permission, though, so if he’s not OK with it the torrent might disappear.)

Trust me when I say that you should spend the few minutes it’ll take to read this transcript of a White Plains, NY court session. The quick background: appearing before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon is Michael Maschio, a lawyer for Elektra Entertainment Group, and Patricia Santangelo, a woman sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sharing copyrighted music. And to ruin the punchline of the transcript a little bit: the lawyer keeps trying to get the judge to endorse the jackassed way the RIAA attempts to force defendants to give in, and the judge will have absolutely none of it. My favorite little snippet:

MR. MASCHIO: It would be helpful to resolve this case if the defendant would put in, under oath, a denial in writing.
THE COURT: Fine. But I’m going to give her some time to find a lawyer.
MR. MASCHIO: That’s okay. We would just like — we think it’s appropriate for her to say, yes, I did this or, no, I did not do this under oath. The other thing is that —
THE COURT: First of all, you didn’t file a verified complaint, and she doesn’t have to file a verified answer. So she doesn’t have to do anything under oath.
MR. MASCHIO: Well, okay.
THE COURT: I’m going to give her 60 days to find a lawyer. And she’s not in default. And she will not be in default if there is no answer, because, right now, there is a general denial on the record for her. Okay?
MR. MASCHIO: Okay. The other thing, your Honor, I don’t know if you want to do this. I brought a consent scheduling order.
THE COURT: No. I don’t want to set a scheduling order. In fact, I don’t want anything to happen in this case for a while.
THE COURT: I’m in no hurry to see this case resolved. So far, Mrs. Santangelo has raised enough issues, including the use of a screen name or an account name — not hers, but some other person’s — that suggests that she might have some really interesting defenses to this. And there are defenses that maybe even ought to be litigated. The whole concept of a young person using the parent’s computer access is bad enough, but if this name is not hers, she doesn’t pay for this account.

(Thanks go out to Mike Godwin — yes, that Mike Godwin — for the pointer!)

Has anyone come across an infographic or other online diagram of the layout of New Orleans which includes both the surrounding geography and the levees and dams that protect New Orleans from that geography? I’ve had my eye out for one on all the major news sites all day, and haven’t found anything that helps me understand the exact threats that might put the city underwater for the next six months or so.

movable type 3.2 now!

Congrats to the team over at Six Apart for the release of Movable Type 3.2! I’ve been using it in beta for the past few weeks, and I really can’t say enough about how many improvements they’ve baked into the new version; count me among the folks who say that they easily could’ve gotten away with making this version 3.5 (or perhaps even 4.0). I’ll probably write a bit more in the next week or two about the specific things I love about MT 3.2, but for now, I’m just happy that they were able to get it out the door. (And as you’d expect, Jay and Anil have posted quick notes about the release over in their worlds, so if you want to congratulate them yourselves, head over and give them a pat on the back!)

Congrats go out to Matt Haughey on the occasion of his breakout as an author of a New York Times piece! (It’s a short little review of a special chair for stargazing.)

Interesting — it looks like a few inquisitive folks have figured out a way to get onto Google’s soon-to-be-announced talk service using any ol’ Jabber instant messaging client. I’ve been hanging out online for a little bit now using Adium (others are doing just fine using iChat and Trillian), and shockingly, it’s just like instant messaging! This isn’t entirely fair, though, since Google is also developing a dedicated client that’s rumored to place audio and video chat on par with text instant messaging; it’ll be interesting to see what they use for the audio and video components.

(Note that if you follow the instructions and hop onto Google’s IM servers, you might find that your connection occasionally dies; I’m assuming that they’re readying the service for tomorrow’s rumored release. Just so you know!)

So it looks like the cat’s out of the bag about the upcoming new version of Movable Type:

Something that [Anil] said, but didn’t go into too much detail is that with version 3.2, *all users* will be entitled to unlimited weblogs. This goes for free users, as well. A lot of the rationale behind this was that the multiple weblog management is so good in 3.2, that we didn’t want to have the limit anymore.

That’s awesome; glad to see that Six Apart continues to highlight its strengths and use them to bring people to the platform. And they can count me as one user that’s pretty much in awe of the improvements in version 3.2; I’m stunned to think that this is the same product that I started using just over three years ago.

So, say that I’m in the market to buy a half-dozen iPod Shuffles sometime in the next six weeks — I hadn’t decided between the 512 Mb ($99) or 1 Gb ($129) models, but nonetheless, a bunch of ‘em. And then, say that there’s been a rumor since June that there might be an upgrade coming to the iPod Shuffle line, an upgrade that you’d imagine will likely mean that the current models will disappear, and might mean that the new models will be priced differently. If you were me, would you buy now, or wait to see what happens?

shuttle ferried into barksdale, la

Greg Pearson, of the Shreveport Times, captured an incredibly cool image of the Space Shuttle being ferried into Barksdale Air Force Base yesterday; the shot illustrates the Times article about NASA choosing to pit stop in Louisiana to avoid bad weather on the flight back to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Both the picture and a related article about the excitement surrounding the unexpected visit reminded me about the few times that a Shuttle similarly visited San Antonio when I was a kid, and how many people knew exactly when and where the 747 and Shuttle would appear in the sky to try to catch a glimpse. (We even had a decent poor-man’s alternative, too — the 747s used to spend a little time at the Boeing maintenance facility on the edge of the city airport property, and you could drive by to take a look whenever they were in town. Sure, they’re just 747s, but the huge tailfin stabilizers and the NASA logo were pretty cool to see in little ol’ San Antonio!)

I love it — in response to the challenge offered up by Kent Hovind, wherein he’ll give $250,000 to anyone who can empirically prove the theory of evolution, Xeni Jardin and Jason Kottke have offered up a combined half million to anyone who can prove that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Seems reasonable.

(Oh, and you’ll note that I’ve left off the “Dr.” title for Hovind, as his claim to the title is a Ph.D. in “science education” from a known diploma mill, and apparently, a godawful thesis to go along with it.)

Today marked a milestone — the first day that I swam two miles in a single workout. For the past month, my goal workouts have been 10 sets of 300 yards, for a total of 3,000 yards or 1.7 miles; about two weeks ago, I vowed to convert the last set of 300 to a 400, and then when that felt fine, to do the same for the second-to-last set, and so on. Today was the day that I aimed to move up to three sets of 400 at the end, for a total of 3,300 yards, but at the end of that, I still felt good and decided to add an eleventh set, also a 400. That put me at 3,700 yards total, or 2.1 miles — and that felt great. (It also feels good that I passed the two-marathon mark at the end of last week.)

This week also made me remember the whole slow/fast pool thing from the swimming meet pools of my childhood. I normally work out at a pool that’s in a college gym just next door to my hospital, but the whole gym is closed for three weeks for pre-schoolyear maintenance. That put me in my local pool this week, and after a few laps, I realized that the pool feels just plain slow. Part of it is certainly the lane lines that are anchored a little above the waterline at the ends of the pool, allowing pretty big waves to make their way from lane to lane; I’m sure that there are other reasons, but swimming there is definitely a little more of a struggle. I’m anxious to get back into the college gym pool to see if my suspicions are correct.

Oh, wow — with the unleashing of RSS 3.0, there are sure to be some interesting fireworks. (For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you should thank goodness that you have lives and normal blood pressures.)

me and nascar #99

After this past weekend, I can officially check something off of my lifetime to-do list: push a NASCAR well over 100 on a regulation track. Holy crap, was that fun.

The story is this: as a celebration of my brother-in-law John’s 30th birthday, my sister planned an elaborate trip for eight of us to go to Atlanta and have a blast. The plan was for us to fly down on Friday, get up early Saturday morning and make our way to the Atlanta Motor Speedway to spend a few hours with the NASCARs, bolt off to a Braves game, enjoy dinner at a good steakhouse, and then fly back Sunday. Throughout the week beforehand, a not-insignificant number of emails flew back and forth between the eight of us, some frothing with excitement at the NASCAR opportunity and others hesitantly expressing amazement that it’s even legal for schmucks like us to be put behind the wheel of 750-horsepower beasts of cars. (Of course, there was also one or two that mocked the New Yorker of the group who never bothered to get a driver’s license, or to learn how to drive for that matter, and thus had to be excluded from the NASCAR part of the weekend.)

nascar dashboard warning

Due to some roadwork (and the fact that the Atlanta Motor Speedway isn’t anywhere near Atlanta!), we ended up being about 20 minutes late getting to the racing school, and walked into a room of about 50 people who were all there to drive the cars. There was a half-hour lecture, a quick fitting for our racing suits and helmets, and then we were all given a van tour of the track (during which we learned that not only were there taped-down marks on the track to help us find the best course, but that the actual NASCAR drivers prefer having the marks on the track during races to help them out too!). After that, we were all put into cars with instructors riding shotgun to give us four-lap lessons; we made no friends by, after being late, then being the first people pulled out onto the track. (It turns out that my sister had amazingly arranged with them to help get us to the Braves game on time!) That session was when I learned the following things: (a) NASCARs have toggle switches instead of ignition keys, are louder than you think by an order of magnitude, and don’t have speedometers; (b) the only time that a NASCAR is out of fourth gear is when it’s accelerating up pit row; and (c) instructors aren’t scared to grab the wheel with one hand and redirect the car at 80 miles and hour, all while flicking the ash off of their cigarettes with their other hand.

all of us with dale jr's car

After waiting for the other students to run through their training sessions with the instructors, we were given the go-ahead to climb into our cars sans instructors and pull out onto the track. During the training, we were asked to keep the cars around 3,000 RPM (which ended up translating into around 70 or 75 miles an hour); once out on the track solo, there weren’t any limits to what we could do. I went out with my older brother, my brother-in-law, and his older brother, and it quickly became clear that with youth came stupidity. John and I gunned it right from the start, pushing the cars hard on the straightaways and only slightly less hard in the turns — by the end of our 15 laps, we both ended up lapping our older brothers one or two times. It was a total blast, through and through.

There were four cameras in every car, so once we were all done, we went to the media trailer to buy the DVDs with the footage of our races — just to learn that my sister had again taken care of everything, having arranged for the DVDs to be shipped overnight to their New York apartment so she could distribute them to everyone herself. (In the mean time, I have a few pictures of the outing up on Flickr.) We rushed back into Atlanta and enjoyed a Braves victory, relaxed at our hotel for a little bit, ate a fabulous steak dinner, slapped each other around at ESPN Zone for a little bit, and crashed hard. All in all, it was an awesome mini-vacation, and I’m itching to figure out how I can work another trip to Speedtech racing school into the next few years!

Over in the little kingdom of Wikipedia, a war is brewing that’s just pissing me off. There’s a specific user who seems to have an enormous, overarching hatred of Ajax (the web development technology encompassing asynchronous JavaScript, the Document Object Model, and DHTML), and in the furtherance of his hatred, appears to be absolutely hellbent on pissing all over everything related to it on Wikipedia. (He even chose his name to be a pun on the name of a well-known user who is proficient in Ajax technologies.) The user has been involved in huge revert wars on the Ajax article itself, and recently has also started monomaniacally adding a critical section to the page of Jesse James Garrett (the author of the article coining the Ajax name). Whenever anyone challenges his edits, the user throws a tantrum, makes wild accusations, and reverts the page to the last version he had defaced. (For example, when I edited his section to remove a falsely-attributed quote, remove a bit of bile, and delete a pointedly biased link to the defacer’s own website, he just called my edits “vandalism” and reverted them.) As of today, he’s managed to get an administrator to lock both pages from further edits, freezing them in a state that includes his vomitus.

To me, this highlights my biggest frustration with Wikipedia — that in an effort to allow communal access and editing of the encyclopedia, it makes the entire product susceptible to childish wailing and harrassment, and only pages that become high-profile develop enough community defense and generate enough community discussion to keep the miscreants at bay. When the pages aren’t high enough profile, such as the the case with the pages on Ajax and Jesse James Garrett, users with grudges might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a gullible administrator and get him or her to intervene, lock the pages, and prevent anyone else from having an opinion. It’s all just screwed up beyond belief.

What can you do? I’m not all that sure. For now, you can go over to the relevant pages — the discussion page on the Jesse James Garrett article, the discussion page on the Ajax article, and the talk page for the admin user who locked the pages — and engage in reasoned discourse on why this whole mess is stupid. Perhaps logic and discussion might help (although I doubt it, since I’ve been trying for a week or two without much success). If that doesn’t work, perhaps others can try to bring this in front of the arbitration committee over at Wikipedia, since I’m rapidly losing both the energy and the interest in saving Wikipedia from itself. Maybe someone else has a better answer, though; I certainly don’t.

Update: a nice user dropped me an email that comments were totally broken; it’s fixed now.

It looks like the time is (finally) just around the corner when I’ll be able to order photo prints from Flickr! (I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb saying that this photo provides the not-so-subtle hint Qoop will be providing the printing services.) I love Flickr to death, and am generally unfazed by downloading high-res versions of pictures I like and printing them on our home inkjet. But the lack of a click-print-and-ship service has been the one thing that’s stood in the way of me converting friends to the goodness of Flickr — a good half of the people I coax into joining look at me, say “but how do I order prints?”, and leave for the safety of Ofoto Kodak EasyShare Gallery. It’s not too surprising that being able to order prints is the killer app of the online photo industry, and soon, Flickr will be on the same playing field as the big boys.

I finally got around to reading Maciej’s lament of the Space Shuttle Program tonight, and it pains me to say that there’s a lot of wisdom in his observations. As my three regular readers know, I’m a downright romantic when it comes to space flight, and even more so when it comes to manned space flight. (Hell, if it wasn’t essentially mandatory that you join the Air Force in order to be granted the privilege of strapping yourself to a huge bomb and being ramrodded into low earth orbit, I might be up there myself right now.) All that being said, I can definitely wrap my head around the idea that spending half our annual space budget on getting the Shuttle in and out of orbit safely (or unsafely, as the case may be) isn’t all that logical, and is done at the detriment of being able to spend money on unmanned missions that might have a much higher scientific yield. Unfortunately, we now have an incredibly self-referential system whereby the Shuttle and the International Space Station justify each others’ existences without necessarily having strong independent reasons for hurtling around Earth, so it’s going to be that much harder to back off on pouring time, money, and effort into both programs.

(Note that my feeling is based on taking at face value a lot of what Maciej says about the process by which the Shuttle system was designed; his use of an unenumerated, 51-item link list as his sourcelist makes it reasonably tough to verify every claim. But he seems trustworthy enough!)

Well, isn’t this sad news: Ibrahim Ferrer died at the age of 78 today, having been in declining health for the past few months. Ferrer was one of the most recognizable lead voices of Buena Vista Social Club, and will likely always be one of my favorite musicians. Shannon and I were fortunate to get to see him at the Beacon in New York back in November of 2001, one of the more memorable concerts in my life. Sadly, our government didn’t see Ferrer in the same light, denying him a visa last year (calling it “detrimental to the interests of the United States” to let Ferrer into the country) and thus preventing him from accepting a Grammy award.

Ibrahim, you will be missed.

twin ringbearers!

Really, is there any doubt that we have the cutest ringbearers ever? Does it make them cuter to know that, every time we ask them to go through another clothes fitting, they run around proclaiming their love for their “teacher clothes”?

Today, the NASA mission managers for STS-114 gave the go-ahead for a spacewalk on Wednesday to repair the filler material that was found to be protruding from between heat shield tiles on the bottom of the Shuttle. The trip outside is a double-first: it will be the first time that astronauts attempt an in-flight repair of the protective shielding of the orbiter, as well as the first time that astronauts venture underneath a Shuttle during a mission. And while that’s cool and all, it’s also worrisome, because nobody knows if the repair is necessary, or if the whole process will expose the Shuttle to the risk of more damage.

This whole situation is a perfect example of the more-data-isn’t-always-better problem (a problem that pops up in medical studies all the time). After the Columbia disaster, NASA committed to collecting as much data as possible about damage done to the Shuttle during the launch process. New sensors were installed in the leading edges of the Shuttle wings, Discovery took off under the watch of 107 different cameras and then underwent a new optical and laser inspection as soon as it reached orbit (which was able to see defects as small as 0.25 inches), and NASA had the orbiter do a backflip prior to mating with the International Space Station so that even more pictures could be taken of its surface. NASA has now found itself with buckets full of data it’s never had before… and has never had the chance to understand before. NASA has stated that prior rules deemed safe any gap fillers sticking out a quarter of an inch or less, but that information came from inspection of the Shuttles after landing, and after the burning heat of reentry had a chance to work its effect on anything protruding beyond the protective surface of the heat tiles — so nobody knows how to interpret the new findings.

Only NASA can go through the process of deciding the risks and benefits of traveling under the Shuttle to attempt a repair; the rest of us are just armchair astronauts. In the end, though, we all have to hope that putting a microscope to the surface of the Shuttle doesn’t send people on risky missions to fix situations that aren’t problems, but rather are new discoveries of phenomena that have been happening since Columbia roared into the sky back in 1981.