Minimal

February 25, 2004

Hopefully it's quite obvious that I'm going for a very minimalist look with this latest redesign (aren't I always?). I don't think I can get much barer (more elegant?) than this, but rest assured, if it's possible I'll do it. The title of each post now links to its individual archive (instead of the ∞ symbol that I used to use for this purpose). As always, if you notice anything funky, let me know.

Referrer spam

February 24, 2004

I've noticed a significant amount of spam come through my referrers in the past couple of weeks. The HTTP referrer variable is spoofed with things like "nude4u.com" and "paris-hilton-video.blogspot.com" — the idea being that some people will actually click on these links — unbelievable. Then again, spammers are nothing if not opportunists, so I guess this isn't too surprising. Fortunately, I can [publicly] block most of this because there is a quick patch for Refer, which I started using a few days ago.

Referrers

February 22, 2004

After spending some time hacking away at Dean Allen's Refer, I now have a public referrer page. While the initial setup of the script was trivial, it took a while to get the row elements in the order that I wanted and to remove the stuff I didn't want presented. After I was satisfied with how the table looked, I put the relevant PHP call into an MT template and was ready to go.

I have to say that while the Refer package is very well done, I would have liked to see more configuration options so that I could have spent less time getting things the way I wanted them. Also, Dean, if you're reading, in the next version could you please include the option to show search terms on the main index page as is done on the "queries" page (i.e., the search terms are filtered from the URI and presented separately from it)? I'll probably just go ahead and make the changes myself at some point, but I think it's something that should be included in future versions of Refer. That said, I can't find anything else I would change/add to this package and recommend it to anyone looking to create a public (or private) referrers page.

The syndication juggernaut

February 19, 2004

In a previous post I linked to an RSS feed generator from Apple for its iTunes Music Store. Apple has since gone one step further and added feeds for many other sections of its site. It's so great to see syndication like this on a site of Apple's magnitude, just one of many big-name sites in the past few months to add RSS/Atom feeds.

Speaking of syndication, a couple of days ago Yahoo! publicly moved away from Google's search technology and went back to using its own in-house engine; what's neat about the search results is that they include both a link for the site's RSS feed (if available) and a link to add the feed to your My Yahoo! account, which now includes an RSS reader (beta).

Hopefully all of this exposure from big, well-known companies, will start to convince the public that they need syndication, thereby causing a greater demand for other sites to offer feeds.

Data Archiving Services

February 16, 2004

For the past year I've been using Data Archiving Services alongside the statistical logs provided by my host. While I have found the service useful, I've decied to drop it as it sometimes makes my website slow to load. Each time I get a hit, DAS is pinged with information about the visitor — this ping sometimes takes a few very noticeable seconds. The truth is, DAS really didn't offer anything beyond what I already had available to me. However, it does present the information that I care most about in a much more readable and 'pretty' way than http-analyze, the logging software provided with my hosting account. There are two things that I need when it comes to website statistics: 1.) the number of hits a day [week, month, etc] with the ability to have it not count hits to certain URIs (e.g., hits on my syndication feed) and 2.) referrer statistics — I like to know where my readers are coming from. Both of these are handled nicely in DAS and horribly in http-analyzer, not to mention that the latter's inferface is ugly and gives you no configuration options. The entire http-analyzer suite is quite powerful and offers statistics on a wide range of traffic data, but gives you absolutely no way to specify how you want this data presented or grouped — it makes me nuts.

That said, I don't have much choice but to use it as it is all my provider offers. Because of the wretched way in which it handles referrers, sometime in the near future I plan to add a "referrers" page to the site so that myself and others can see this information in a way that I find useful. I'll probably use either Dean Allen's Refer or Stephen Downes' Referrer System. Truth be told, I'd rather use Apache directly for this sort of thing, but I don't have access to httpd.conf on the server.

God made Louisiana

February 15, 2004

I was doing the reading for my property class earlier today and stumbled across a rather funny story (you'll have to bear with me, this is as good as it gets in law school). The current reading discusses the system for recording land titles in America. Federal agencies generally require land title searches go back to the original source. A New Orleans lawyer, working for a government agency, researched the land title back to 1803, and when asked who owned the land prior to that, he replied:

Please be advised that in the year 1803 the United States of America acquired the Territory of Louisiana from the Republic of France by purchase. The Republic of France previously acquired title from the Spanish Crown by conquest. Spain acquired title by virtue of the discoveries of one Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor who had been duly authorized to embark upon his voyage of discovery by Isabella, Queen of Spain. Before granting such authority, Isabella, a pious and cautious woman, obtained the sanction of His Holiness, the Pope. The Pope is the Vicar on earth of Jesus Christ, the only son and heir apparent of God. God made Louisiana.

The Grey Album

February 11, 2004

The Grey Album, from Danger Mouse, is a unique blend of old and new: a collection of songs from Jay-Z's latest (and final) effort, The Black Album, put to new beats created entirely from The Beatle's White Album. I've been listening to this record for a couple of weeks now, but felt compelled to write about it today after reading that it was receiving a lot of understandable heat. Danger Mouse was not given permission by Jay-Z or the Beatles to make the record, and as a result, was served with cease-and-desist letters from EMI last week.

I usually don't post about music because, as those that know me are well aware, I'm a music nut and if I were to write about all of my musical interests I would be forced to drop out of law school. Literally. Couple that with the fact that I essentially 'gave up' on hip-hop a few years ago (admit it, most of it is incredibly boring and repetitive any more, though there are some exceptions) and it's a wonder that I posted at all. Notwithstanding the fact that hip-hop (at least as an honest story-telling medium) fell from grace years ago (though sales charts and the Grammys would have you believe differently), this is the first record of its kind and I felt that it deserved some mention here. You can find this album in its entirety (192kbps, 44.1kHz, true stereo), here, here and here, among many other places across the net.

While I'm talking about music in this post, I have to make mention of two records that I've been listening to constantly: The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002 top ten) and The Shins' Chutes Too Narrow (2003 top ten). Get them. Love them.  :)

Note to RSS feed maintainers

February 10, 2004

When you change the address of your RSS feed, be sure to tell your subscribed public — a simple message left on the old feed telling us where we should now point our aggregator. I'm only mentioning this because I've noticed the stale-feed problem three times in the last month on sites that I read.

The Digital Challenge to Copyright Law

February 06, 2004

The Digital Challenge to Copyright Law

Yesterday I attended a symposium entitled The Digital Challenge to Copyright Law, which was put on by my law schools' Computer and High-Tech Law Journal. While the presentation was incredibly long (around 9 hours), I have to say that I walked away from it with a much deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, many aspects of intellectual property law. Each of the panels included serious industry and legal heavyweights (you can find their names and occupations in the event brochure). Most of the panelists were lively and engaging and made themselves readily available between discussions to talk one-on-one with audience members. For instance, I was able to talk to, among others, Michael Ramsay, the founder, Chairman, and CEO of TiVo. I can't deny the fact that being in a room full of so many successful, powerful, and learned individuals is both exciting and intimidating to a first-year law student.

Mail.appetizer

February 02, 2004

A few days ago I came across Mail.appetizer, an excellent plug-in for Mail.app.

When new messages arrive, Mail.appetizer displays a transparent notification on top of your screen. It shows only sender, subject and the first plain-text lines of the message, so you can determine whether the message requires your immediate attention. The prominence of the notification can be defined by adjusting transparency and display time.

The idea is nothing new, and in fact, is one that I'm usually turned off by, but this little plug-in pulls it off quite well and I have found myself really enjoying it. The main reason I tend to shy away from this sort of functionality is because it requires me to tell my e-mail client to check for new mail every X minutes, thereby conflicting with my desire to check my e-mail from my mobile phone when I'm away from my computer; there would never be any e-mail on the server because I would constantly suck it down from my computer, and no, leaving the messages on the server is not an option.

Because I like the plug-in so much and plan to keep using it, I've had to get into the habit of putting my machine to sleep when I leave the apartment so that it stops checking for e-mail while I'm out. The problem with this is that I almost always have something downloading in the background and putting the machine to sleep obviously breaks it (yes, I realize that I could tell the e-mail client to stop checking every X minutes, but to do this every time I leave my apartment would be ridiculous).

What I really need to do is whip up some AppleScript to tell Mail.app to stop fetching mail when my PowerBook no longer sees my Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. What I wouldn't give for more time in the day.

If you are looking for more Mail.app plug-ins, be sure to check out Mail.app plugs and suggestions, a pretty good repository.

Laughable

January 30, 2004

Anyone else see this recent MS Knowledge Base article? "Steps that you can take to help identify and to help protect yourself from deceptive (spoofed) Web sites and malicious hyperlinks." What the hell is Microsoft thinking — they can't fix the problem with their browser and so their advice is that you should manually enter URLs? An excerpt from the article:

The most effective step that you can take to help protect yourself from malicious hyperlinks is not to click them. Rather, type the URL of your intended destination in the address bar yourself.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense; we've always known that those damn hyperlinks were a gaping security hole. Who in their right mind is going to look at a URL and say, "Man, that looks malicious, I better type it in manually." Oh, it gets better. They go on to say that you can also copy/paste some JScript code into the toolbar to "identify the actual URL of the current web site." The instructions say:

Use a JScript command in Internet Explorer. In the Address bar, type the following command, and then press ENTER...

...Compare the actual URL with the URL in the Address bar. If they do not match, the Web site is likely misrepresenting itself. In this case, you may want to close Internet Explorer.

The article goes on and on explaining different ways to determine whether the current URL is "malicious," none of which is going to help the average Internet user, because 1.) they just don't care and 2.) it's too much work. Why would Joe Internet jump through such absurd hoops? The quick answer is that he won't. I cannot imagine trying to walk my grandma through those steps, much less see her doing it of her own volition. How could I even explain to her the reasoning behind it? "Well grandma, you see, Microsoft worked long and hard trying to solve this problem with spoofed links, and because they couldn't come up with an answer, they provide you with simple steps to help you use the Internet improperly." I'll never understand why people won't stop using Internet Explorer, especially given the great alternatives available and the fact that a new exploit is reported almost daily.

Standards advocacy

January 30, 2004

Yesterday, after our LexisNexis representative gave a presentation on "Shephardizing" cases online, myself and a friend approached him and asked why a lot of the functionality of LexisNexis breaks when you aren't using Internet Explorer (of course, I knew the answer but I just wanted to see what he would say). Being a non-techie, he gave the expected response, something along the lines of, "that's just what they decided on; everything works fine in IE." While the answer was anticipated, the logic is still incredibly flawed. I tried to explain to him that if the powers that be would just comply with simple web standards, then their site would be fully functional across all operating systems running a compliant browser (i.e., any browser other than IE  :P). If, after those changes were made, things were to break in IE, they could point to the fact that IE is broken, not their site. As it currently stands, when someone complains about lost functionality in Firebird, Safari, Opera, or any browser other than IE, all they can say is, "use IE" — the ridiculousness should be apparent .

Random links

January 29, 2004

What is Mac OS X? — an absolute must read for anyone wanting a deeper technical understanding of the OS.

Confessions of a Car Salesman — while rather long, it is incredibly interesting and informative — you'll be glad you read it (especially if you, like myself, are ignorant of the behind-the-scenes action at car dealerships).

The Tyranny of Copyright? — the battle between copyright in the Internet age and the Copy Left movement.

The first blog dis' record — read the page and listen to the song — hilarious.

Show Time! — great BusinessWeek article dissecting Apple's current stranglehold on the digital-music industry.

Bloopers from NES Games — oh the memories.

iTunes Music Store RSS Feed Generator — ALL online distributors should offer this capability in some capacity.

Lego Han Solo in Carbonite — wow.

Long line for Apple Store opening — you have to watch the video from start to finish to fully appreciate it.

Lists

January 29, 2004

The long-standing, frequently referenced, and oft-imitated "Top Ten" page has been renamed to lists (I know , I know, you can hardly contain your excitement). I wasn't sure that I could create a more boring name than "Top Ten," but I think I pulled it off. Quite frankly, I prefer "lists" to just about everything else because it is incredibly broad and will allow me to add other things to that page without "feeling" uncomfortable about it (I have lists of everything — I can't help but to categorize and order things).

PowerBook battery

January 26, 2004

As great as my PowerBook is, I have to take serious issue with the battery life. When I sent the machine off to have the white spots removed, I also had them replace my battery as the one it initially came with was lasting around two hours, though Apple rates them at up to four and half hours. They replaced the battery, but the new one has the exact same lifespan! I should be able to get through two classes without having to reach for the power cord. Not sure what my options are at this point, but sending my PowerBook off again isn't one of them, nor is buying a new battery. What really irks me is that my TiBook had excellent battery life.

While I'm whining about computer problems, all Bluetooth mouse manufacturers listen up: put an on/off switch on the mouse! It makes no sense not to include this "feature." I carry my Bluetooth mouse in my computer bag and rarely take it out in class; if my bag gets even the slightest nudge, the mouse "wakes up" and starts taking my pointer all over the screen. Not only does this get in the way of whatever I'm doing, it drains the hell out of the batteries, which aren't too good in the first place.

A buddy of mine just got the Logitech MX 900 Bluetooth mouse and it runs circles around Microsoft's effort — it includes a much-needed charging cradle and feels much smoother than the MS mouse, but it too is missing the ability to switch if off.

Cartoon weather

January 19, 2004

Dunstan Orchard has done something rather amazing on his website. The picture header you see there is based on a panoramic view from the top of his house. He illustrated 90 versions of the panoramic picture, each one depicting a different weather condition, time of day, and moon phase. The picture that is displayed depends on an XML feed from weather.com which corresponds to his city's real-time weather conditions. Even the sheep in his pictures pay attention to the weather. While this idea is not new, his implementation is both impressive and inspiring. A great site all-around.

Apple referral program

January 16, 2004

Apple should offer some sort of reward to those who convince others to "switch." In the past two weeks alone, four people with whom I have a close relationship have either purchased a Mac or made it known that they plan to in the very near future. I propose that Apple give the referrer, or persuader as it were, some sort of monetary kickback, even if it can only be used toward Apple products. After all, they offer a referral program for .Mac, so why not extend that to notebooks and desktops as well?

Of course, even if this idea never comes to fruition (which it won't), I will continue to laud Mac OS X (I can't help but to talk about it; I think my friends buy Apples just to shut me up  :P), but it would be nice to get something in return. All it would take is a simple question to be answered when one registers their product: "Did any particular person influence your decision to purchase this product?"

Granted, there is no real incentive for Apple to offer this sort of program because those who do 'advertise' their products aren't going to stop simply because they aren't rewarded. But then again, people certainly would push Apple's products a bit harder if they got something above and beyond the "I told you so" line in return, which, quite frankly, usually is enough for me.  :P

Hell, this idea should be extended across all product lines (mobile phone carriers/manufacturers, PDAs, headphones, music, etc.) — I'd be fucking rich.

Shure E3c in-ear headphones

January 12, 2004

The package says it all — "An audiophile listening experience for when music matters." You might remember the little blurb I put up a while back concerning the Shure E2c headphones. I replaced those a few days ago with their latest offering, the E3cs. The only reason I even thought about getting rid of the old pair was because they caused me a slight pain in my right ear after prolonged periods of use. Though the headphones came with a fitting kit, my ears were apparently too small for the smallest set of available "sleeves." The E3cs solve this problem by not only providing smaller "flex" sleeves, but by also shipping "ultra-soft" sleeves in addition to the others. The sleeves found on the E3cs are the same as those available for the E5cs — their top-of-the-line cans ($499). You can find reviews of the E3cs here and here.

I should point out that you can purchase the entire line of Shure in-ear products at the InMotion kiosks found at airports. I was unaware of this until a few days ago when I was snooping around some headphone forums trying to get the skinny on the E3cs, which weren't yet shipping from Shure.com (they were supposed to start shipping on the 5th, but it was delayed a week). One of the forum contributors was going on and on about how great these headphones were and everyone else was scratching their head trying to figure out how he got ahold of them so early. He finally spilled the beans and said that he got them at the airport. Upon reading this, I called the InMotion kiosk at the San Jose airport (which is less than five minutes from me), and sure enough, they do carry them. I picked up a pair within the hour.

Years of e-mail

January 11, 2004

I've converted all of my saved email to the ubiquitous mbox format and imported it into Mail.app. It is ridiculous. I have every email sent and received since April of 1999. I'm kind of pissed at myself for not beginning to archive sooner — I think I sent my first email either late 1993 or early 1994. The email I do have saved is from various clients including Pine, Mutt, Evolution, quite a few versions of Netscape (luckily, they have archived versions of every browser since 2.0 — this became really handy during the conversions), Mozilla, Outlook Express, and Outlook.

I didn't have too much trouble importing the mail files from Pine, Mutt, Evolution, Netscape, or Mozilla, as they all use the mbox format (note that the Linux and non-MS programs gave me no trouble). That isn't to say that there weren't any hang-ups though. I actually had to do quite a bit of work on a Windows machine to get everything converted. I found a great program for converting the OE .dbx files to mbox format, though on a few of the files it broke the From: field and so I had to find/replace across the entire file (not fun when the file size is 50MB).

The biggest problem was converting the Outlook .pst files. I think those had to be converted between three or four separate formats to get right. Let's see: installed Outlook on Windows machine --> imported the .pst files --> imported into Outlook Express from Outlook --> tried running the .dbx-to-mbx converter — it broke to all hell --> installed and ran Netscape v7.1 --> imported from Outlook --> tried bringing these files directly into Mail.app — no go — it would see the first message and nothing more --> installed Netscape v4.8 --> copied the mail files from the Netscape v7.1 directories into the corresponding Netscape v4.8 directories --> changed the filenames to match v4.8's naming convention --> opened v4.8 — it read the files fine --> moved those files to my PowerBook and imported into Mail.app.

Done! Now, in Mail.app, I have everything organized by year and sent/received since 1999.

iPod mini

January 08, 2004

What the hell is Apple thinking with its new iPod mini? The big rumor floating around before Macworld 2004 was that Apple would release smaller, cheaper iPods, so that those who couldn't afford the $299 starting price could still get in on the action. Well, they delivered — the new iPod is both smaller and cheaper. Kind of. It is $249 and comes with a 4GB drive. Two questions immediately spring to mind: 1.) How does this really help the person who couldn't afford the $299 model? and 2.) Why the hell wouldn't someone just hold out a little longer, save an extra $50, and get an iPod with 73% more space? The idea is for Apple to compete with the flash-based and low-end HD players (why anyone would buy a flash-based player is beyond me, but to each his own), not with their other iPod. John Gruber makes an argument that pricing really has nothing to do with it and that the selling point is, and is supposed to be, its smaller size. I might entertain this theory if ever I heard someone complain about the iPod's size, but I haven't. Ever. I've never heard someone complain about the 20GB 2nd-gen iPod, much less the skinnier, lighter 3rd-gen models. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever complained about its size, which, I dare say, is quite the compliment. If its selling point really is its form-factor, then we should expect a mad rush of people snatching these up as they have no doubt been waiting around for Apple to produce a smaller model. I don't buy it. Like I said, the argument is lost on me and I think Apple is going to have to come down on the price for the thing to sell.