Today’s peaceful distraction from an otherwise-hectic day: National Geographic’s WildCam, a live, streaming webcam from a watering hole in the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. (A direct link to the RealPlayer stream is here.) Right now, it’s 8:30 PM in Botswana, and there appears to be an infrared filter on the camera — meaning that I’m being treated to a glowing elephant spending some quality alone time at the watering hole. The video and audio feeds are nice and fast, too; it appears that there’s an entire satellite uplink dedicated to the project, so it’s not too surprising that the quality is this good. It’s constantly amazing to me how the internet can bring unbelievably cool things right to our desktops, in real time and with minimal filtering, and watching African wildlife strolling around a watering hole at night just reinforces that amazement.

Can anyone give me a single reason why so many websites ask users, when making a purchase or creating an account, to type their email addresses into the form twice?

cnn really wants your email address

Is there anything inherently more secure, reliable, or useful in forcing users to type the same thing over again?

ebay also wastes your time

I fully understand why most forms ask for a password twice; when a users can’t see what they’re typing (because most password fields obscure any input behind little dots or asterisks), then a good way to increase the likelihood that they type what they intend to type is to have them to type it twice.

more repetition at

But when email addresses are displayed right there for users to proofread as they type them, it’s incredibly annoying to have to pointlessly type them in a second time. Hell, the forms might as well ask you to type your name in twice, too.

and even more at the dallas morning news

(Second pet peeve: why do websites offer a “reset my password” function that fails to start the process off with email that makes the user confirm that they want their password reset? It’s amazingly shortsighted; it lets people who want to mess with others just reset their passwords at will.)

If you’re like me, and cringe every time you notice a mainstream news article turn a meaningless observation into a scientific fact or elevate a hypothesis into a research finding (“red wine prevents cancer!”), then you’ll probably enjoy reading Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” column over at The Guardian. I only discovered it a few weeks ago, when his column “Don’t dumb me down” got a little bit of linky love across the world of weblogs; the piece did a good job of fleshing out how hard science gets edited out of most mainstream press articles, leaving unsupported claims and overstated “truths” in its place. And happily, all of Goldacre’s past columns (since 2003) are archived on his website, as well!

I’ve been enjoying the occasional posts over at Dreamhost’s “official” weblog, posts that are usually chock full of interesting tidbits that relate to running a mid- to large-sized internet service hosting company. Today’s post comes from Josh Jones (who happens to be Dreamhost’s CEO), and talks about the hoops the company has to jump through in order to be able to request additional internet addresses; the part that’s interesting to me is that the rules which govern the handing out of blocks of IP addresses make it downright necessary for smaller companies to play games so that they don’t get caught without any additional addresses to give their customers. It’s the sort of situation that the next generation of IP addressing (IPv6) was designed to solve, by giving organizations blocks of addresses so big that they’d be able to provide unique ones to over 18 quintillion devices — but most people don’t see IPv6 achieving universal support for the next half-decade or so. So let the addressing games continue!

A few articles of relevance to our upcoming honeymoon:

  • The Most Delicious Ham in the World: a lengthy description of the types of ham available in Spain, including jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. It’s actually a little unreasonable how excited I am about the latter, a type of ham that comes from acorn-fed pigs (resulting in a meat that’s suffused with the same types of fats that are in olive oil), is cured for a year and a half or more, and isn’t even available in America due to USDA regulations about processing of meats.
  • Jamon: another explanation of jamón ibérico, also describing the setup used to slice the ham in most tapas bars and restaurants.
  • Granada’s Alhambra: An Oasis of Elegance: Rick Steves’ description of the Alhambra, including information about the different types of visits.
  • Osuna: a bit of information about one of the white villages that sits between Grenada and Seville, tending towards historic architectural sites.

There will certainly be more to come!

I think I love Matthew Baldwin’s newly-coined term “white crayon” — it seems like the kind of thing that will come in handy.

camden with the sox

Sorry about the radio silence this weekend; I took a trip down to Baltimore to catch yesterday’s Orioles/Red Sox game with a bunch of the teenage kids from my oncology clinic. The whole thing was awesome — we flew in Friday night, got a tour of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Saturday, ate a quick lunch and hurried back in time to meet more than a half-dozen Red Sox players (Olerud, Timlin, Nixon, Ortiz, Myers, Wakefield, Youkilis, and Mueller), and then had a catered luxury party suite for what turned out to be one hell of a baseball game. Most of the kids had enough energy left over to put a few hours into ESPN Zone last night, and everyone filled their tanks back up with a huge brunch this morning before hopping onto a flight back to Boston. It was amazing to watch more than thirty kids with cancer — some on active chemotherapy (and one who was discharged from the hospital less than two hours before the trip started!) — get the chance to free themselves from their parents, spend a whole weekend running around with their friends, meet and talk with their idols, and overall get treated like royalty everywhere they went.

Happiness is waking up to discover that the Yankees have taken the lead in the American League East! For the past few weeks, it’s been a tight divisional race between the Red Sox and the Yankees, made all the tighter by the fact that the Cleveland Indians are hanging out in the wildcard wings trying to make sure that whichever AL East team doesn’t win the division also doesn’t make the playoffs at all. (And while I obviously would love to see the Yanks in the postseason, I fear for my life here in Boston if that happens and the Red Sox don’t make the cut!) As if out of the movies, in one week’s time the two teams end the regular season with a three-game series at Fenway Park, a series that’s likely to be as exciting as it is meaningful to both team’s postseason chances. Of course, last time the Yanks played the Red Sox in a series that critically mattered was last year’s AL Championship, which was one of the the biggest chokes in the history of the game… here’s hoping they dont repeat that this year.

Damn that Mark Paschal! I’ve been sitting on the fact that TypeKey was about to become an OpenID service ever since I noticed (about a week ago) that my profile page included an openid.server link tag, but I was waiting to mention it until the service started working and went live. Then today, I noticed that Mark went and scooped me, and when I went and tested it out it worked perfectly! (Seems logical that Mark would scoop me, though, seeing as Mark works for the company that created TypeKey, Six Apart…) I’m glad to see more services supporting the OpenID standard; it’s a standard that will work best when services are created that link OpenID identities to layers of information that vouch for a person’s real-world identity, and TypeKey is a good start in that direction.

The good news: I was able to swim 4,000 yards tonight, the furthest I’ve pushed myself since getting back in the pool.

The bad news: now that I’ve gone 4,000 yards, I’m unclear whether I’ll let myself do anything less next time I’m in the pool. Damn that competitive nature!

Remember two weeks ago, when a sales rep of the internet service provider Globat demonstrated his amazing lack of empathy for the people of Plaquemines Parish? Well, here’s an example of the other, shinier side of that coin: in addition to matching their customers’ donations dollar for dollar, Dreamhost gave a year’s free webhosting to all of their customers with billing addresses in the affected areas of the Gulf Coast. That’s very nice to see, and I’m glad to know that for every company like Globat, there exists a Dreamhost.

Does anyone know of any other good ISP-related stories that have come out of Katrina?

For those who didn’t know, the folks at EasyDNS have been the targets of intermittent denial-of-service attacks for the past few weeks, and this morning brought a renewed round against their servers. Just an FYI, which could help explain why you might be getting occasional “host could not be found” errors in your travels around the web today.

A little while ago, during the thick of things in post-Katrina New Orleans, I asked if anyone had found a decent infographic that helped explain both what led to the waterlogged city and how the situation was changing. One of the commenters pointed me in the direction of the New York Times interactive feature (really, a full-fledged Flash application), and I’ve been following it ever since. The people at the Times have kept the app updated nearly daily, and have added feature after explanatory feature; it’s a great resource for synthesizing all the information about levees, pumps, canals, neighborhoods, and everything else.

An honorable mention also goes to CNN’s offerring, which I first saw this morning. In particular, the CNN app has maps with overlaid information about estimated water depth by date ranges, showing where the water was its deepest, and how engineers have progressed in pumping out areas of the city.


For those who care about such things, I’ve added OpenID support to the site, meaning that you can authenticate and leave comments using any OpenID identity that you might have. (For example, if you’re one of the eight and a quarter million LiveJournal users, you have an OpenID — and there are rumors that TypeKey will become an OpenID service very soon, too.) I’m still not at the point where I’m willing to mandate that people somehow authenticate in order to be able to comment, but the ease of using OpenID makes it look like that’s getting closer and closer to being a possibility.

For the even fewer that care about the details: since this site runs on Movable Type 3.2, it was pretty simple to install Mark Paschal’s OpenID comments plugin. After that, I had to add a single line to my individual archive template, add a few new styles to my stylesheet, update the Javascript file that governs display of various elements of the comment box, and republish all the archives. (I ended up isolating a bug or two along the way, but Marc was kind enough to reply to my pestering emails letting me know that he’s fixed all the same bugs and added a few things here and there in a soon-to-be-released update. That being said, I’m happy to help anyone who’s interested in setting up OpenID support before then, so just drop me a line if that’s you.)

It looks like Google has finally launched a weblog-specific search engine, a move that I’d imagine is reasonably sure to doom Technorati and it’s smaller cousin, Daypop. (It also doesn’t help Technorati compete when its service has become unreliable enough to inspire both annoyed rants and sites of outright mockery.) It’s not like people didn’t see this coming; for a while now, Google has done a fairly good job of quickly indexing weblogs and liberally returning hits to the sites in its search results, and a specialized search site is the logical extension to that. The new search engine sits behind the address, the address, and the navigation bar at the top of every Blogspot website, and it looks like it sustains itself on a steady diet of sites that alert one of the weblog update notification services (although the folks at Google don’t share a comprehensive list of the services that are used). As with all things new from Google, it’s labeled “beta”, so I imagine we’ll see a bunch of improvements in the coming weeks and months.

How funny — it looks like the folks who run FEMA’s internet services don’t have an email server designated for the organization (see for yourself here), meaning that any and all email sent to an address is bouncing back as destination unknown. Seeing as a bunch of the email addresses on FEMA’s contact page live at, it’s not only embarrassing, it’s another small measure of how the organization doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s doing.

(For those of you who aren’t such internet geeks, the best brick-and-mortar analogy for this is that it’s as if FEMA doesn’t have a mailbox or mailroom — right now, from the internet, there’s no way to get email to the organization at all. And for those of you who are big internet geeks, you probably know that the relevant RFC says that if there’s no MX record for a domain name, mail transport agents should fallback to using an A record — but the machine that lives at the A record address for doesn’t have an SMTP server running, so the fallback is also falling flat on its face.)

FEMA chief Michael Brown resigns. Now would be the time that we all react with abject surprise and astonishment.

I was getting ready to write something about today, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, and figured I’d reread the piece I wrote a day or two afterwards as a bit of a reminder. After reading it, though, I think there’s nothing I could say today that would be better then the words of four years ago. (Well, I’ve made one correction, as you’ll see below.)

I was in my hospital’s morning report when I got the first indications that something terrible had taken place. The administrator for the hospital came in to warn us that the hospital was switching into crisis mode; she said that there was a plane crash into one of the towers at the World Trade Center, but she didn’t know any more than that. One of the other residents left the room, and a few minutes later, came back in crying hysterically. She had called her boyfriend, who works in the World Financial Center, and who told her that people were jumping out of the devastated tower right across the window from him. At that point, I decided to leave, get more information, and get in touch with everyone in my life that could be downtown.

At first, none of the major news websites were accessible. I was finally able to find a television, though, but watching the coverage, it really didn’t register with me how serious things were. One thing I did think about was that my brother-in-law (my sister Rachel’s husband) works on Wall Street, so I sent an email to his Blackberry pager to see if he was okay. It was his reply that got me to understand the magnitude of what was happening:

I am. Can't track down Rach. I've never been so scared.

Then realized that I didn’t know where, physically, my sister worked, and from the message, it clicked into focus that she was in as much danger as my brother-in-law was. I tried to call my father, and after a couple dozen “all circuits are busy” messages, I got through and learned that he had just heard from my sister –- she was fine. Relaying that message back to her husband via email, they were able to meet up and quickly retreat from southern Manhattan.

Then the towers collapsed. When the second tower fell, I realized how close I had come to losing two of the most important people in my life.

Later that day, I found out that my sister worked in 3 World Trade Financial Center, and had actually watched the second plane hit the tower. Likewise, she saw people jumping to their death out of the building above her. Talking to her, I realized that my little world in New York revolves mostly around the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, and because of that, the past few days have been less about personal loss, and more about a global sense of pain, fear, and sadness. For Rachel and her husband, the past few days have been full of personal, identifiable loss -– their list of coworkers, friends, and business associates who are missing keeps growing, and the stories that they have passed on are enough to make you curl up in the fetal position and never, ever come out.

When it seemed clear that my hospital wasn’t going to see a whole lot from the disaster, I came home, wrapped my arms around my girlfriend, and hung on for dear life. Some may argue that the world didn’t change a whole lot on September 11, 2001, but it’s impossible to refute that my world changed.

It makes me sad to see that the same arguments in defense of Bush we now know to be patently, verifiably, completely false are still being trotted out by conservatives in an attempt to deflect post-Katarina blame back to the local level. Listening to the radio, reading weblogs, and watching television over the past two days, I’ve counted dozens and dozens of people who still continue to claim things like that Louisiana Governor Blanco never declared a state of emergency, that Bush pleaded with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco to evacuate the area and that both local leaders refused, that Bush didn’t intervene earlier (read: stayed on vacation) because he knew that “liberals” would rip him for taking control from a female governor, and that everyone would have been saved had Mayor Nagin just gotten the people onto all those buses. It’s another example of people adapting evidence to beliefs, rather than the other way around, and it makes me wonder exactly what a conservative leader would have to get caught doing to get these people to acknowledge the existence of a problem.

That being said, I’m also willing to acknowledge that there are a number of conservatives who have proven to be more willing to take a more rational view of the situation. For me, the primary evidence of this is the continued freefall of Bush’s approval rating; there are also random experiences I’ve had over the past week that provide further evidence. (For example, the hosts of the morning radio show I listen to have sadly talked about their support of Bush in the past, but this week, they called him an imbecile, questioned his judgement, talked about his inability to acknowledge his problems, and generally gave him the respect they’d give a New York Yankee.) It feels like the post-Monica era in the Democratic party, although it feels like it’s taken a lot longer and required a lot more work to get here.

In the end, Bush is a lame duck President, and doesn’t need public support for reelection. The rest of his party isn’t so lucky, though, and I’m hoping that its continued (near-unanimous) defense of him and his decisions will help Americans recognize the depth of the problems that we now face as a result of the past five years, and help start to right the wrongs in the 2006 interim elections.

Count me among those glad to see UCI (the International Cycling Union) stepping in to call on the carpet everyone involved in last month’s allegations that an old urine specimen of Lance Armstrong’s might contain erythropoietin. In the UCI’s own words:

We have substantial concerns about the impact of this matter on the integrity of the overall drug testing regime of the Olympic movement, and in particular the questions it raises over the trustworthiness of some of the sports and political authorities active in the anti-doping fight.

By making public and of the urine results, a whole slew of rules were broken, the most important of which are that no samples can be retested without an athlete’s consent and that no results of a doping test can be revealed without the ability to verify the truth of those results on a second sample. In this case, tests were run on what is claimed to be Armstrong’s backup specimen from 1999, but the primary sample was disposed long ago, meaning that there’s no ability to validate (or invalidate) the results, and thus no ability for Armstrong to defend himself. (In addition, there are very real questions about the validity of results obtained from six-year-old samples, questions that are hard to answer given the fact that the test for erythropoietin didn’t exist in 1999, a fact that makes it hard to know how results from the test change over time.)

Given that the UCI now finds its focus shifting from the athletes to the anti-doping authorities themselves, its press release ends with pretty wise words:

Finally, the UCI wishes to express the wish that governments, sports authorities and anti-doping authorities, which rightly expect honest and irreproachable ethical behaviour from sports men and women, themselves respect the fundamental obligation of fair play and examine possible sanctions which could be adopted, should infractions be discovered on the part of any of those bodies.

From the it’s-about-freaking-time department: Michael Brown has been relieved of duty as the head of the federal Katrina response. (CBS News also has the story, and it’s trickling into the other news outlets as we speak.) It’s stunning to me that it’s taken this long, but then again, this is the man that Bush himself said was doing “a hell of a job” as tens of thousands were stranded without food, water, shelter, or medical care. (He’s also the man who seems to have lied a bit about his past and, after graduating from an unaccredited law school, doesn’t seem to have done much of anything in the legal world.)

It looks like Mint now has a license, and while it’s a great start, it seems to still be silent on a few important questions. There’s nothing in the license about whether buyers have the right to upgrades (but oddly, the license contains definitions of both “update” and “upgrade” at the bottom, making it clear that there’s a distinction between the two and implying that buyers will be entitled to one with their license but will have to renew in order to have access to the other). There’s also no mention in the license of technical support (whether buyers get any), duration of use (whether there is any limit on the time period during which buyers use Mint), or the use of personal information (which is almost always covered by some additional privacy policy document, but also usually mentioned in the license). There’s a restriction on using Mint “to provide services to others,” but no corresponding commercial license that would allow that, and no obvious way for a web host to offer Mint to its customers even if it had the customers pay the license fee themselves.

Like I said, this is definitely a good start, but it highlights how difficult it can be to write for-sale software as an independent programmer. I certainly don’t think that Shaun has omitted anything from the license on purpose; rather, it’s likely that he was caught in the whirlwind of excitement about his new web app, and is now having to figure out how to split his finite time amongst the seemingly infinite need to fix bugs, handle payment issues, field support requests, and figure out the terms by which he’s releasing Mint to the public. It’s not a position I envy!

Over the past two days, it’s been hard not to notice the excitement around the world of weblogs about Mint, Shaun Inman’s new web stats app. I’ll admit that after reading some of the posts by Mint’s beta testers, I was firmly in the camp of the intrigued; the application appears to provide a nice, modern interface to the stats about website usage that I currently view using the very capable but reasonably archaic Webalizer, and Mint’s incorporation of Ajax appeals to the web designer in me that likes to follow the leading-edge examples of current technology. But it didn’t take long for my excitement to wane — in fact, it came crashing to the ground as soon as I realized that Mint costs money (the reasonable sum of $30) but doesn’t have a license that tells you what you’re getting for your money. There’s no license available on the website pre-sale, and from the accounts of about three or four people who’ve bought it over the past two days, not only is there no license available on the website post-sale, there’s no license included in the downloaded app either. So to date, those that have bought Mint have done so not knowing if they have the right to use it indefinitely, if they’ll have access to support, if they will be able to move their installation of Mint to another domain name in the future, or even if they’ll have access to new versions or updates.

After all the uproar over the change in terms of the Movable Type license back a year and a half ago, I figured that webloggers had figured out that licenses matter, and that they should pay at least half a mind to the terms by which they were agreeing to use products that they integrate into their websites. Alas, it appears that a year and a half is enough time for people to forget those lessons.

It’s pretty great to me that the real, honest-to-goodness iTunes-enabled cellphone that was announced today is a phone that the folks at Engadget showed pix of over two months ago. With all the spoofs that have been floating around, it was hard to know whether the Engadget post was legit; we now know it was!

(I’m just sad that the rumored iPod Shuffle capacity and price changes didn’t pan out; a $69 512Mb Shuffle would have been incredibly hard to beat.)

It’s not a surprise to me that our President’s reactions to the horrors along the Gulf Coast have seemed to be something less than heartfelt or imbued with empathy, and my personal opinion is that it’s pretty easy to reconcile that observation with the fact that the majority of people whose lives have been destroyed by Katrina appear to be black, underprivileged, and relatively dependent on the assistance of their government to recover from a tragedy of this scope. I guess I never fully understood how Bush acquired those values, though, but hearing about his mother’s take on the refugees in the Astrodome today, I’m pretty sure I get it now. (Crooks and Liars has the audio, as well.) I always thought that Barbara Bush was a stately woman, but apparently she’s also a bit of an elitist, and has a terrible perspective on one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the United States.

In the past, I’ve been a reasonably strong defender of Paypal, a company that a not-insignificant number of people hate (with the fury of a thousand suns) for having what they claim are capricious policies and an impenetrable bureaucracy. (Most recently, I participated in a thread on MetaTalk, the discussion board for MetaFilter, defending Paypal’s general policies and behavior.) I have to say, though, that the experience that the folks over at Something Awful have had with Paypal over the past 24 hours has completely swung me to the other side of the fence. (Unfortunately, the main Something Awful servers are located in New Orleans, and thus are out of commission; the story has unfolded on the temporary server, and you can read the posts as information trickled in.)

As I understand it, the story is this: Rich Kyanka, the guy who runs Something Awful, set up a donation fund via Paypal to collect money for the Red Cross hurricane relief efforts. In under seven hours, he had collected over $3,000 an hour — nearly $20,000 total — and was nearly speechless in his admiration for the members of the site that had given so selflessly. Soon thereafter, though, Paypal shut down the account, claiming that they had received “more than one report of suspicious behavior” from his “buyers.” He was shunted into an automated dispute resolution process that demanded he provide some sort of “proof of delivery” for all the donation transactions; hilariously, Paypal’s web app won’t let a recipient of money proceed with the dispute resolution until he or she chooses one of the people who reported suspicious behavior from a pull-down and then upload tracking information, but the app didn’t list a single person as having made a complaint, so Rich wasn’t even able to proceed with the resolution request. (And the whole time, the $20K was sitting in Paypal’s accounts, not available either to Rich, the Red Cross, or the original donors.)

Rich had a hard time getting an actual human on the phone, and when he did, the woman wasn’t able to explain anything about why he had actually been shut down. (Looking over Paypal’s Acceptable Use Policy, neither can I.) She told him he’d have to send a fax to Paypal with all sorts of personal info (driver’s license, bank statement, credit card statement); after doing some sort of review of that information, they still refused to release his account. It wasn’t for many more hours that he finally received information from Paypal explaining that the only resolution they would agree to was a refund of all the donor’s money to each individual person. Stunning — Paypal’s seemingly-random jackassery means that $20K of money that could and should be going to the relief effort is now being returned.

Yep, I’m at the point where I can admit that perhaps Paypal does suck.

Things that make me want to pull my hair out:

Things that make me happy:

I’ve added an MP3 of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s morning interview (transcript here) to my torrent server; it’s as worthy of your time as is Mary Landrieu’s interview. I’m with Anil, though — if I were looking for something to lessen my anger, this probably wouldn’t be the thing to help do that.

anderson cooper and mark landrieu

Today’s addition to my torrent server is the CNN video from yesterday’s conversation between Anderson Cooper and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. (Thanks to the people at Crooks and Liars for capturing the video.) If you haven’t heard anything about the interchange, it’s worth reading the transcript (it starts about a third of the way into the show) — he essentially interrupts a bit of Congressional backpatting to explain what conditions in New Orleans are actually like, and calls her on the apparent lack of a more robust and forceful response by the national government. The gem of the exchange:

COOPER: Excuse me, Senator, I’m sorry for interrupting. I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

Of course, the transcript doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the video.

In the midst of what feels like a worsening of the situation along the Gulf coast this morning, I finally saw something that put a bona fide smile on my face: a listing of all the law schools that are extending offers to accommodate the displaced law students of Loyola and Tulane. A bunch of the offers waive tuition entirely, and promise to allow the students to remain until such time as their home school returns to operation. It’s things like this that make me remember that the power of this country derives from its people; while the various levels of government continue to try to get a handle on the larger disaster, there are people who are doing what they can within their own communities (towns, universities, whatever) to help with the smaller disasters.

Update: as is usually the case, Rafe says it better.

It wasn’t until I saw the news about the Army soldiers being put “on alert” for possible deployment to the Gulf coast that I realized how much my anger about the post-Katrina horror had grown over the course of today. This afternoon, we’ve already heard that the evacuation of both the Superdome and Charity Hospital had to be suspended because of sniper fire, that people are literally dying in the Convention Center due to starvation and dehydration, and that efforts to get food and water to the stranded people have met with violence and total anarchy. Why are these troops merely on alert? Why aren’t they on planes and in convoys on their way to the region? Why aren’t we airdropping soldiers and entire crateloads of food and water into the Convention Center and Superdome, providing gunship escorts for the evacuation effort, and doing absolutely anything else it takes to restore even the most basic needs and dignities to all the people who are so desperately waiting for help? And then in bizzarro world, we have our President strumming a guitar with Mark Wills and our Secretary of State shopping it up and playing tennis with the celebrities in Manhattan, all while the mayor of New Orleans issues desperate pleas for help. (Does anyone else think that the response to Bush’s appearances over the past few days is going to eclipse the response to him sitting through a twenty-minute grade school reading lesson while the World Trade Centers were attacked?) I certainly hope that things get better in the next few hours and days, but it’s clear that our country wasn’t prepared for a catastrophe this great, and isn’t doing so hot trying to make up for lost time.

red cross

Does anyone know whether Amazon has waived the normal 2.9%-plus-$0.30 fee that they assess on donations made to the American Red Cross through the Amazon Honor System? According to their charities page (and an old c|net article), the company explicitly waived the fees for 9/11 donations, but there’s not a word on the Amazon website about whether that’s still true.

For the past few days, I agreed with the general sentiment on the web that Amazon’s lack of any prominent mention of ways to contribute was odd (especially given its quick and overwhelming response to the tsunami earlier this year, converting their entire homepage into a plea for donations). This just extends that baffled sentiment a little bit more for me — if they are waiving the fees, why don’t they make that clear? And if they’re not waiving the fees, why wouldn’t they?

I’d love it if someone knew the answer to this; until then, though, I’d recommend either donating to the Red Cross directly (though their website has been absolutely swamped, and is at times totally inaccessible) or to the Red Cross via Yahoo (who has pledged to pass 100% of donations through to the Red Cross).

Today’s electronic issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is up on my torrent server, for those who want a single-PDF version; there are some amazing photos in the issue, including a high-resolution satellite shot of the areas affected by the two major levee breaches (page A-4) and an amazing perspective on the need for helicopter evacuations (page A-12). Again, the people at the NOTP are putting in an unreal amount of effort documenting the destruction and mayhem in Katrina’s wake.

Wow — between picking up Nick Van Exel earlier in the week and luring Michael Finley today, my San Antonio Spurs are going to look a hell of a lot different this coming season! (ESPN has more on both acquisitions, including the piece of info that the Heat didn’t bid for Van Exel because they were interested in saving their money for Finley. Doesn’t seem to have worked out all that well for them, did that?) We’ll see if Van Exel’s knee holds out through 82-plus games, and how well Finley is able to work into the rotation with Obie Manu Ginobli and Bruce Bowen, but there’s definitely potential for a fantastic team.

(My favorite quote about Finley’s move comes from Mark Cuban, the owner of Finley’s old team and competitor of the Spurs, the Dallas Mavericks: “I wish Mike all the best off the court. As always, I hope the Spurs lose 82 games.” Classy.)