The government has now officially put more thought into the design of Guantanamo’s court bathrooms than the charges against its prisoners.

Dahlia Lithwick has a great year-ending list of the 10 most outrageous U.S. civil liberties violations of 2006, and it’s a good’un.

Shannon and I are in London for the holidays, so in an effort to clear off some of the tabs in my browser, here are some of the things I’ve been hoarding in my bookmarks.

  • The guy behind did an amazing job over the past month figuring out the sham behind Noka chocolates, and published a ten-part series reporting his results. It’s an amazing bit of investigation, really.
  • Security expert Bruce Schneier finally weighed in on the Automated Targeting System, the U.S. government system that assigns each of us a score which pretends to predict the terror threat we pose. Unsurprisingly, he finds it a waste of money, time, and effort.
  • For those of you considering buying a .Mac account, you might want to read John Siracusa’s rant — it’s written from the perspective of a developer thinking about implementing some of the synchronization features of .Mac, but he also goes into some detail about his disappointment with the service.
  • Anil’s obit of James Brown is a must-read. So go read it.

I got an email from one of the people who hosts a website on my server today letting me know that she couldn’t get to her site, and investigating the problem, tracked it down to the fact that the company providing DNS services for her domain, ZoneEdit, is having issues today with a few machines, two of which are her primary and secondary nameservers. I can’t get too irritated with this — there are a ton of reasons nameservers can be causing problems, many of which (like denial of service attacks) are no fault of the company which runs them — but I can get irritated by ZoneEdit’s response, reprinted here:

If reliable DNS service is critical for your site, we recommend logging into your account, clicking on “Nameservers” and purchasing a “tertiary” nameserver. 3 nameservers are exponentially more reliable than 2 nameservers.

Are you shitting me? Let’s start with “if reliable DNS service is critical for your site” — are there any websites for which reliable DNS service is not critical? (Put another way: how many times a day do you access a website using an IP address rather than a hostname?) Then, I find the attempt to use the problem to upsell customers to a different tier of service to be pretty sleazy — what would be even more reliable is if ZoneEdit could just provide an automatic switch to alternate nameservers when machines of their were having problems.

All in all, I’m not too surprised that “ZoneEdit is a Dotster, Inc. owned company”; my experiences with Dotster have been pretty awful, the same awfulness that’s reflected here.

Wow — Peter Luger now accepts debit cards. Any day now, I’m expecting the planet to stop rotating, frogs to fall out of the sky, the Cubs to win the World Series…

Lately, a little bit of press has been given to people who claim to be sensitive to wireless network or cellphone signals, some of whom have convinced school systems to remove wireless networking from entire buildings in order to protect themselves and their children. This has always been a little fishy to me (I posted about an Oak Park, Illinois debate back in October of 2003); these signals are pretty much omnipresent at this point (for example, microwaves put out quite a bit of energy at the same frequency as WiFi), so getting rid of a single WiFi access point or cellphone isn’t really making that big a dent in the total sum of non-ionizing radiation that surrounds any one person. Well, thankfully, there’s now some science to support that position: the British Medical Journal performed a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study and found that those who claimed to be sensitive to GSM cellphones were unable to identify the presence or absence of a phone with any reliability. Better still, when individuals with ostensible symptoms of sensitivity were told that the wireless signal had been discontinued, their symptoms improved whether or not a signal had been discontinued. The same study hasn’t been done with WiFi yet, but it’s just a matter of time. (Thanks to Glenn for the pointer.)

As a pseudo-update to my astonishment at the cost of wireless network access in the Orange County Convention Center, I heard an even better story from another participant in the conference. She represents a small publisher, and had reserved a tiny room in the main conference hotel in which she could meet with all her authors and hammer out their business for the year. She asked the hotel to activate the in-room network access, and was quoted the price of $1,200 a day — that’s not a typo. The same hotel offered building-wide access to guests for $8 a day, so she just asked one of her authors who was staying at the hotel to activate their access and used that.

$1,200 a day?!? Seriously, for that daily price, you could get two T1 lines run to the location of your choosing and pay the monthly cost of the lines. That’s simply insane.

While adding a bunch of scheduled meetings to my 2007 calendar today, I came across a fascinating little bug in Microsoft Entourage, a bug that’s related to the US decision to shift around a bit the start and end of Daylight Savings Time. (The move was part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and is ostensibly temporary until the government can study the changes and determine if they truly do result in energy savings.) Because Entourage predates the DST changes by quite a bit, it gets confused between March 11th and March 31st of 2007, and between October 29th and November 4th of 2007 — the former is because the start of DST was shifted back from April 1st to March 11th, and the latter is because the end of DST was shifted forward from October 29th to November 5th. The result of the bug is that the calendar shows all event times as an hour later than those which were entered (for example, a start time of 8:30 AM in the event detail dialog box shows up as 9:30 AM on the calendar).

I’m sure that Microsoft will get around to fixing this sometime before mid-March of 2007, but until then, be aware of the bug when you’re scheduling events with Entourage!

I’m in Orlando this weekend for a conference, and the trip has already provided two interesting WiFi-related stories, one awesome and one pathetic.

First: after landing at the Orlando Airport and collecting our bags, a colleague and I headed out to the taxi line and found ourselves waiting with nearly a hundred other people. When not a single taxi had come for about five minutes, I called my hotel to ask if they had an airport shuttle, and they referred me to a local company which has a shuttle that stops at the hotel. We walked over to the company’s desk and saw a line of a few dozen people waiting to book a ride; at the end of the desk was a touchscreen kiosk that allows people to pick up their pre-paid tickets for reservations they made on the web. I had a vague recollection that Orlando Airport has a free wireless network, so I opened up my laptop, and in under five minutes we had reservations on the next shuttle and our kiosk-printed tickets in hand.

Insane WiFi prices at the Orange County Convention Center

Second: the conference is at the Orange County Convention Center, and knowing I’d be spending about twelve hours a day for four days in the place, I was hopeful that there’d be a wireless network I’d be able to hop onto here and there. And a wireless network there is — but the cost is a staggering $25 a day, which is expensive enough to be hysterical.

Seriously, they expect someone to pay the equivalent of $750 a month for a network connection? Are the convention center folks clinically insane? For my four days at the conference, that’d be $100 — twice the cost of a reasonable cable modem (which provides 50 times the bandwidth!) — just to be able to check email and whatnot. I wonder how many people take them up on the service; based on how few people I see with their laptops out in the hallways, I can’t imagine there are very many.

Wow — as of this month, DreamHost is offering free webhosting to all nonprofit companies, which seems like an awesome deal. The plan is their “Strictly Business” one, which comes with 500 gigs of storage, 5 terabytes of monthly bandwidth, and more databases, email addresses, shell users, and the like than most nonprofits could ever hope to need. I’m not sure I see any downside to this if you’re a nonprofit… I know that there are people who’ve had bad experiences with DreamHost (I’m certainly not one of them), but this seems great.

I mean, how damn cool is it that a meteorite which landed in a Canadian lake back in 2000 is now thought to be over four and a half billion years old, dating from before our own galaxy was formed. Sort of gives you a perspective on things…

At around 11:00 PM last night, my three week-old MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo laptop had a kernel panic, and afterwards, it wouldn’t reboot. I tried to use Disk Utility (from the installation DVD) to repair the hard disk, but it errored out (saying that the hard disk couldn’t be unmounted); the same error occurred when I put the machine into target disk mode and mounted it on my old 12” Powerbook. I was able to boot the MacBook Pro into single-user mode and try to use fsck to diagnose the disk, but it too threw an error (0xe0030005 UNDEFINED, Invalid node structure) and refused to complete. Thinking about third-party hard disk diagnosis and repair tools, I quickly learned that DiskWarrior doesn’t run on the Intel Macs yet, and TechTool doesn’t run on the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duos yet (not that I have it, being that AppleCare takes three to four weeks to process applications and provide the software to users). At around 3 AM, I realized that I could get at around 80-90% of my files using single-user mode, mount a USB hard disk, and use rsync to copy the still-accessible files over to the drive, a process that took enough patience and debugging that it didn’t complete until around 5 PM today.

Needless to say, I’m frustrated, a frustration that’s amplified tenfold by the fact that I’m traveling this Friday evening, and really really wanted to have my laptop with me for the five-day trip. I’m fortunate to work for a huge federal agency that has an on-site support and repair contract with Apple, but it’s unclear that they’re going to be able to get me back up and running by the time I leave town.

Sometimes, technology sucks.

A few more short-takes (in lieu of actual posts that take time or energy to compose!) — consider this fair warning that they’re all a little on the geeky side.

  • Holy crap, the folks behind the kick-ass app Parallels have released a new beta version for the Mac (download here) that takes things to a whole new level. You can now interleave Windows and Mac windows on the same screen, modify shared folders while a virtual machine is running, and drag and drop between the Mac and Windows installations, and it looks like a slew of interface issues were fixed as well. It looks like you can also boot from a Boot Camp installation of Windows, but from the comments in that discussion group thread, there might be dragons so it might be worthwhile hanging back and waiting to see how that works itself out. (Thanks to Dan for letting us know about the new beta!)
  • I’m a sucker for a programmer weblog that focuses on issues of usability and logic rather than the nitty gritty insides of some technology or language. (Think Raymond Chen’s Old New Thing or Joel Spolsky’s Joel on Software, both of which are like crack for me.) Because of this, I was happy to discover today that the authors of the Head First line of programming books have a weblog, Creating Passionate Users, that solidly fits into this same mold! I’m a fan of their books, and am glad to be adding the site to my reading list.
  • Speaking of weblog reading lists, earlier this year I switched to using the web-based feed reader reBlog, and was ecstatically happy about its general level of hotness. Over time, though, it’s demonstrated a bunch of flaws — such as suboptimal parsing of pages and feeds (at times leading to feed lists rendered so poorly that the app’s own control buttons become totally nonfunctional!), feed items showing up dozens of times as new despite having been archived, and keyboard commands that randomly shut off — all of which have made me eagerly anticipate the release of a new version that incorporates bug fixes and whatnot. We’re now nine months later and no new versions have crossed the wire, so I decided to post in the forum asking about the status, and learned that the authors aren’t working on it anymore and there won’t be any more versions. That’s sad; I have a lot of data locked up in the archives of my reBlog installation, an app that’s becoming harder and harder to use with any reliability, and no real path forward… time to start looking for options.
  • And finally: my feet are famous! (Mine are the ones in the Apple socks; Alison is a good friend of ours, and the socks were a thank-you gift for some computer work I did for her.)