Tonight, an email to a friend of mine was rejected from the mail servers, sent back with a notice that my mail server has been blacklisted by the good folks at Comcast “for abuse.”

----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----
(my cousin's email address)
(reason: 550- blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net)
----- Transcript of session follows -----
... while talking to
MAIL From: (my email address) SIZE=4602
<<< 550- blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net
<<< 550 Blocked for abuse. Please send blacklist removal requests to - Be sure to include your mail server IP ADDRESS.
554 5.0.0 Service unavailable

I administer my own mail server, and can tell you with absolute certainty that it’s not involved in any abuse directed the way of Comcast, so this was a bit confusing. I sent off an email to the address in the response, providing the information that was requested and asking for an explanation.

Hello -- I just tried to send an email from my mail server to a colleague on, and received a reply that my mail server has been blacklisted. (I am the administrator of the mail server; it's, also known as, IP address Can I please learn why the server has been blacklisted? I'd appreciate logs of any suspicious activity that you've seen, if that's the cause of the blacklist.
Please get back to me at your soonest convenience; this is actually a reasonably large problem.
Thank you.

I then went to my good friend Google to see if I could better understand what had happened, and learned that I’m far from the only one who’s experienced this idiocy. Hidden-Tech appears to have been blacklisted regularly, as has HSH Associates, TechPro, and even the esteemed Wil Wheaton (hell, the TechPro people had to have their attorney participate in phonecalls to Comcast before they were able to get the problem solved!). After reading those, it didn’t surprise me at all to hear my email notification ding and find this in my inbox:

Please do not reply to this message.
We have received your request for removal from our inbound blacklist. After investigating the issue, we have found that you did not include the IP address to be removed.
We need the IP address that you believe is currently blocked to further investigate this issue.
Please verify the IP and resubmit your request to

So, what I’ve learned is that not only does Comcast suck at administering its own email system, it sucks at the simple task of writing a tiny app to find an IP address in an email. It’s unfortunate that both my inlaws rely on Comcast for their email addresses — I guess it’s time to move them over to something a bit more competently-managed.

Update: I sent another email, this time with the IP address alone on its own line, and again got a reply saying I didn’t send the address. I hate Comcast; maybe it’s time to just block all incoming email from and be done with it.

Update 2: I sent two more emails, trying to decipher the super-secret method Comcast’s using to find the IP address (on a blank line? prefixed by “IP ADDRESS”? on the subject line?), and both garnered replies that claimed I didn’t include it. Seriously, this is the most broken system I’ve encountered on the ‘net ever; Comcast has just essentially guaranteed that I’d rather pith myself than ever become a customer of theirs.

Over at the New Yorker, Jane Mayer has written what amounts to a must-read report on how the U.S. executive branch has come to condone cruelty and torture in its ongoing fight against terrorism. Alberto Mora, the recently-retired general counsel to the U.S. Navy, plays a large role in the article — he’s one of the few senior Pentagon officials who saw the shift in policy not just as dangerous, but as a violation of the most basic ideals of our country.

As [Mora] sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he told me. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America -— even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.”

No summary I could provide of the piece could do it the slightest bit of justice; it’s a long read, but well worth the time (if not the rise in blood pressure).

12.9 farenheit

Holy crap, it’s cold here in Brookline (and that’s without the wind chill!). To borrow a medical phrase, that’s damn near incompatible with human life….

Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this story. The short version: Judith lost her camera during a vacation to Hawaii, and started a weblog about the vacation that was illustrated with other people’s Flickr photos. Earlier this month, she got a call from a park ranger saying that a Canadian family had found her camera, but when she called them, they had decided not to send it back to her because their nine-year-old son had grown attached to it — and ended up stiffing her for even more than that. Unbelievable. (Oh, and no comments here — go comment on Judith’s post, instead!)

Being a complete news whore, I read about Lindsey Jacobellis’s last-minute loss of the snowboardcross gold medal hours before I actually saw NBC’s coverage of it. Watching the event, though, I’m not entirely convinced that she was outright showboating — but I am entirely convinced that it couldn’t matter any less. She’s a 20-year-old young woman who went to Torino to compete in an individual event, was having fun, got caught up in it, and (whether showboating or not) made a mistake that cost her first place. Critical in that, though, is that she was having fun, which seems to me to be what the Olympics should be about. The athletes are supposed to enjoy what they’re doing, but watching the broadcasts of most of the other events, I’m unconvinced that anyone but the snowboarders are actually having fun. (Seriously, am I the only one who thinks that the figure skaters and ice dancers look like they’re about to commit ritual suicide every time the camera catches them without a plastered-on television smile?) The New York Times actually devoted an editorial to this today, ending with the line: “What did she think these were — Games?” It’s the perfect sentiment, and in listening to Jacobellis’s statements in all her post-event interviews, it’s one that she appears to understand well.

whittington apologizes to cheney

Ummm…. am I the only one who finds the irony in the headline of’s current top story?

Being in the final year of my fellowship (the three years of pediatric hematology/oncology specialty training that more or less finishes my formal training), I’ve started thinking about the future. I know that, in my world, satisfaction is derived from about a million different things, only one of which is compensation — but that doesn’t make stories like this any less depressing. In addition to the sheer salary numbers that are being thrown around (here’s a salary chart from the online message board discussed in the article), the idea that New York City law associates are spending any amount of time whining on message boards about their relative poverty is a bit disheartening, and certainly doesn’t elevate the esteem of the legal profession in the eye of the average outsider looking in. (It also doesn’t engender any sympathy from those of us in the medical profession who might be considered analogous to “Year 6” associates in that table and yet don’t make anywhere near those salaries.)

How predictable — Cheney is going to break his “I-shot-someone-in-the-face-chest-and-heart” silence today by talking to the Fox News crew. Meanwhile, the White House spent most of yesterday either ignoring questions about how the public was informed of the shooting or making jokes about it, and doctors have spent most of today debunking the migrating-birdshot reports (honestly, none of us here at my hospital can quite figure out how a 5-millimeter 2.4-millimeter chunk of metal would be able to travel through blood vessels and end up in the heart without first having to find its way through some 5-micrometer pulmonary capillary). This gets stranger and stranger…

For the second time in just under three months, I turned on my iPod today and was greeted with the sad iPod graphic. Once again, I found myself at the Apple Store, where it was quickly determined that the hard disk in my replacement iPod had failed exactly as the first one had. Once again, my iPod was whisked away and replaced with a refurbished one. And once again, as I sat there syncing all my music to the new iPod, I watched as nearly a dozen people came through and had their iPods replaced in the exact same way mine was, all before noon.

Let’s assume that my local Apple Store replaced somewhere on the order of two dozen iPods today, that the customers at my store aren’t any different than those anywhere else, and that today wasn’t any different than any other day. Given that there are 126 Apple Stores in the United States, this would mean that Apple replaces roughly three thousand iPods a day, twenty thousand each week, and over a million a year. Could these numbers possibly be correct?

A group of online scammers managed to set up a website, pretending to be part of Mountain America Credit Union, that collected the credit card information of MACU users who were tricked into visiting the site. This, by itself, isn’t all that frightening — there are probably hundreds of sites out there that try to do the same thing. In this case, though, the scammers managed to get a secure certificate for the site (the component that then puts the little locked icon in a user’s browser interface), something they did by tricking Geotrust, one of the companies that provides those certificates. (The process of granting those certificates is supposed to involve due diligence on the part of the company, wherein they make sure that the people asking are who they say they are, and that they represent the entity they claim to represent.) Similarly, the scammers managed to convince ChoicePoint that they were legitimate, lending more evidence to unsuspecting consumers that they were actually giving their financial information to their bank. (Of course, we’re talking about the same ChoicePoint that gave the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people to criminals, and both had an enormous fine levied against them, and had serial future audits imposed on their continued business practices.) The remarkably-adept internet security organization SANS has a detailed review of the incident, something that’s worth a read.

The mechanisms of trust that exist on today’s internet are all based on private actors — companies like Verisign, Geotrust, and ChoicePoint — which are supposed to go through strict processes to make sure that people are who they say they are. (For example, when I got an security certificate for a webserver I run on my domain,, I had to fax my business articles to the company granting the certificate, and provide them with financial information that they could then use to link me back to my company.) We’re learning more and more, though, that we can’t even trust those private actors, something that undermines everything we think of as transactional security on the web.

Pretty recently, most big pediatric hospitals began offering patients and their families the ability to set up websites that they can use to stay in touch with their friends and relatives. (The hospitals aren’t insane enough to become webhosts themselves — nearly all of the sites are offered through one of a number of services like CarePages, CaringBridge, or theStatus.) Due to the chronic nature of cancer, a lot of my patients’ families have set up and maintained websites for a while now, and I’ve found that the pages provide me with a completely different perspective on what the kids are going through. They can also be absolutely hysterical; this bit posted by the mother of one of my patients with childhood leukemia had me laughing so hard I was crying. (Of course, I’ve redacted my patient’s name.)

[H] has a new game that she plays, called, “I am Dr. Jason.” I should preface this by telling you that one of her chemo meds, Vincristine, has the lovely side effect of sometimes causing constipation. So before she could get Vincristine at the beginning of her cycle, Dr. Jason would ask if she was having any constipation issues. The conversation usually went like this:

Dr. Jason: Any mouth sores?
Me: Nope.
Dr. Jason: Eating okay?
Me: Yep.
Dr. Jason: Pooping okay?
Me: Yep.

We have had this conversation about a gazillion times since H was diagnosed. But in H’s little world, apparently the only interesting part of this exchange was the part about the poop. So she’s sitting on the couch next to me, being Dr. Jason. She’s got a pad and pen and is carefully recording my answers just as Dr. Jason does.

H: So, Mommy, are you pooping okay?
Me: Uh, yeah?
H: Is [H’s sister] pooping okay?
Me: Yes?
H: Is Daddy pooping okay?
Me: Yes?
H: Is [H’s other sister] pooping okay?
Me: Yes?
H: Is Grandma pooping okay?…

And it goes on… until she’s ascertained that everyone in her life is pooping okay. Makes me wonder what she thinks all those clinic visits were all about anyway. Cancer? What cancer? As long as you’re pooping okay, H!

This has to be one of the most fascinating advice threads I’ve read in a while: I feel after-school special. In it, someone (an adult!) relates a form of bullying that she experiences every morning on her bus ride to work, and asks how she might be able to avoid it; the wide spectrum of recommendations people make provides an awesome glimpse into the different personality types there are out there.

Now here’s a great story about the positive side of karma: Kevin Stephan, a seventeen year-old young man in Lancaster, NY, saved Penny Brown from choking to death a week and a half ago… nearly seven years after Brown saved Stephan’s life when he suffered a freak cardiac arrest.

Back in 1999, while on the field during a little league game, Stephan was hit in the chest by a bat and went into cardiac arrest. Brown (an intensive care nurse) was in the stands, rushed onto the field to help, and was able to restart his heart with near-immediate CPR. Now, fast-forward to last week, when Brown began choking on her food in a diner in Lancaster. The staff and other patrons called for the help of a volunteer firefighter who was washing dishes in the kitchen — Kevin Stephan. He came out and successfully performed a Heimlich maneuver, repaying the debt. Amazing.

Having recently finished the fabulous book The Victorian Internet (recommended by Rebecca, who clearly has a handle on what I might like!), I’ve spent a little bit of time obsessed with how amazing the telegraph must have been back in the mid-1800s, and imagining how surreal it must have felt to those who watched it happen. One day, communicating with family across the country might take weeks — and then a year or two later, the same messages might only take minutes to travel back and forth. Before the telegraph, businesses which shipped products and materials internationally might not know whether their shipments made it to their destinations for months; after the telegraph, the same businesses might know within hours of arrival. People had the vision to run telegraph cables along nearly every railroad track in the world, through frozen tundras, and even across seas and oceans, all in the name of making the world a little smaller. I really am in awe.

Of course, this all makes me that much sadder to learn that Friday, Western Union discontinued their telegram service, after 155 years in the telegraph business. (Just to clear up some word confusion: telegraphy is the process of sending messages using Morse code, and early on, the term “telegram” came to refer to the messages themselves.) Western Union was pretty much critical in the development of the telegraph network in the United States; it strung the first transcontinental line in 1861, introduced the first stock ticker in 1866, created elaborate schemes which allowed the secure transfer of money beginning half a decade later, and beginning in 1974, was the first company to send aloft its own batch of communications satellites (the Westar system) to handle its messaging needs. Alas, electronic mail and instant messaging dealt the telegraph system a death blow, making Western Union’s move unsurprising.