Thursday, June 28, 2007

Followup on Wonkette and Burning Blog Bridges

So, following up on my entry this week about how Wonkette was sponging off the DC Blogs Noted feature (without attribution), I see that the most recent Wonkette Metro Section entries are no longer cribbing exclusively from DC Blogs; I see they're also hoovering from DCist and Washington DC Craigslist.

I also note that Big Head DC took pains to mention my AOL affiliation (and that if anyone mistakes me for an "Internet guru", it's an indicator that they're paying attention to what Wayan has to say).

A Happy Hour First

Just got back from an on-campus work happy hour, from 3-5pm. (So it's essentially pre-gaming for our kickball playoff game. We won last night. And we weren't involved in any fights, unlike the other game that went on. Yes, people were throwing hands over kickball.)

It was somewhat odd timing, though it did include a few product demos.

I have to say -- this is the first happy hour that I've come away with actual action items.

I must not be doing it right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wonkette Editors Are Shameless and Lazy. But We Knew That

I guess I'm the last person to notice, but there's a been high correlation lately between the blog picks that show up in DC Blogs Noted and Wonkette's Metro Section.

In fact, they've been just about identical. (Ah, but pity the poor souls who are featured on DC Blogs, but don't make the Wonk-cut. I just made that up. I'm so clever.)

I'd first noticed this on the 15th -- Wonkette and DC Blogs are just a few tabs apart in my Local folder, and 4 of the 5 featured blogs were the same. I had a moment of deja vu before I figured it out.

On the off chance that it was some sort of baroque, creditless content swapping deal, I'd asked the DC Blogs folks about this -- Pat wrote back that they'd noticed Wonkette was using the same picks, but that they didn't care and that it just drove more eyeballs to the featured blogs. Win-win-win.

It's pretty obvious that Wonkette and others watch the live feed (which is what it's there for), but cribbing from the editorially-chosen selections of DC Blogs Noted, without giving credit, is a cheeseball move.

I know I shouldn't look gift pageviews in the mouth (DC Blogs listed my 9/11 Raisin Bran entry, which was then mentioned in Wonkette, tripling my usual pageviews and validating my heretofore worthless existence), but I hate to see Pat and the rest of the DC Blogs crew not get the credit they deserve for the work that they've done.

Of course, I would hate it more if the Wonkette folks bagged the live feed and picks out of spite.

So, I'll just take my Junior G-Man badge:

Vincent Hanna says: "Well, I am over-fuckin'-whelmed. What do you want for that, a Junior G-Man badge?"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Economists Are Not Real People and Other Lessons From My Recent Reading

I just finished reading More Sex Is Safer Sex, by economist Steven Landsburg, and was reminded just why economists are not real people.

Actually, I may be painting with too broad of a brush, since Landsburg isn't just an economist, he's a libertarian economist, which means he's doubly nuts.

Now, in theory, aspects of libertarianism thinking should appeal to me -- I generally want to leave people alone, and be left alone.

However, like many economists and libertarians, he goes off the rails and into his own little libertarian economist-land where:

* People have perfect information
* People can accurately gauge the costs and benefits of their actions
* People act rationally based on that information
* Market prices truly reflect the value of things

Since I got a C in Econ (barely), I should probably stop here. I will just say that economists are not real people the same way that game theorists are not real people.

Other books I have read of fairly recent vintage (last 6 months or so):

* Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, David Zucchino: This book depressed me. Not because the startling strategic success of the invasion only serves to highlight the lack of post-invasion planning and incompetent implementation that's landed us in this fiasco now. Nor because of the loss of human life.

It depressed me mostly because the book prominently features captains and majors, all are my age or even younger, who have responsibility and leadership over hundreds or thousands of lives, whereas I can barely take care of my own.

* The Road, Cormac McCarthy: This one didn't depress me. Instead, I felt despair. And hunger. Maybe because I'm in year ten of my ongoing existential crisis, but the thought of an entire world that's gone so far bad that death is a welcome alternative... it just gets me.

Stylistically, the short and choppy fragments and phrases bothered me. I got used to it, but I can't say that I enjoyed that bit.

Oh, and I read it before it made Oprah's Book Club.

Other than that, there have been some zombie books (which I'll talk more about some other time).

Monday, June 25, 2007

From 0 to 140 in 35... Years

I'm up to 140 now.


It's not the good kind of 140 -- the "lean, rock-ribbed, 6-12 packed, resting heart rate of 55 kind of 140."

It's the "flabby, out-of-breath climbing the stairs, 30 minutes of light-to-moderate activity followed by 3 hours of drinking beer" kind of 140.

I thought I was going to start the week out right and get to the gym, but I started flagging towards 8pm.

I hit a brief uptick where I thought I'd make it, but then I had to spend 10 minutes fiddling with some printer settings (I had to print out my temporary car registration renewal), and the window of opportunity was lost.

I figure I can coast a bit more (good genes), but I got to get back on the wagon soon, or else I'll never make it as an underwear model.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Epic Bait-and-Switch: Filtering Software and the Communications Decency Act

I started this entry last month, when there was that whole fuss about gun raffles and NYC Mayor Bloomberg's anti-straw purchase stings.

It was originally a supposition about how the gun lobby typically says that 'we don't need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones we have' -- then, when there's a bit of enforcement, like Bloomberg's pursuit of straw purchases during out-of-state gun sales, they flip out.

I never posted it, since I came to the conclusion that I didn't have enough information on which to post an informed opinion. Shocking, I know.

However, it got me thinking about the whole topic of famous bait-and-switches. And one in particular, the likes of which we haven't seen since the debate around the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

The CDA: Remember That Bit of Drama?

For those youngsters (or oldsters who've forgotten), the CDA attempted to regulate indecency and obscenity on the Internet -- for the sake of the children, of course.

There was a lot of talk about chilling affects. And slogans: "Take Back the Net" started with the CDA, not the DMCA, kids.

There were also snazzy blue ribbon icons. It was a big to-do at the time.

The legal arguments centered on how obscenity was already covered under current law; how "indecent" and "patently offensive" were undefined and unconstitutionally vague; and that the CDA, in the name of protecting children from indecent content, had the effect of restricting free speech for adults.

However, a big part of the argument hinged around the fact that there were better and less-infringing ways to shield kids from offensive content on the Internet. Especially the PICS content rating system, used in conjunction with... filtering software.

Yes, there was a time when filtering software was seen as a tool for the good guys.

The CDA's indecency provisions were struck down (June, 1997 -- 10 years last week or so), and the CDA's greatest legacy to the modern Internet will probably be the Safe Harbor provisions given in section 230.

As for the filtering software? It's kind of like something out of Le Carre's Circus -- its usefulness as a lever against the CDA spent, it was thrown to the wolves. Shortly afterwards, someone flipped a bit, and people started saying:

"By the way, we're against filtering software, too."

Only now they called it "censorware." And they never looked back.

Hell, if you look at the Censorware Project's about page: "The Censorware Project was formed by a group of writers and internet activists in late 1997."

I'm not saying it was a conspiracy. But it was a pretty masterful piece of timing.

(As an aside, I can only hope that Bennett "Peacefire" Haselton winces a little every time he thinks about their old slogan, "It's not a crime to be smarter than your parents." I mean, there's provocative, then there's sounding like an arrogant prick. Geez.)

Anyway, I guess the CDA takes up a disproportionate section of my mind, if only because it occurred during my formative Internet years.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Undoing the Damage Done: Blogger's Labels vs. Technorati Tags

I've been untangling 6 months worth of stupidness with my blog categories (Blogger insists on calling categories "labels," which in my mind is only outstupided by Salon's insistence on calling comments "letters").

Ever since I switched over to the Blogger beta, I've been trying to figure out the best way to combine the functions of externally-oriented tagging (tagging content so others can find it, primarily through Technorati searches), with internally-oriented tagging (tagging or "labeling" to have discrete categories to organize my posts).

For a while, I tried to do both (the categorization via labels and the tagging through the Greasemonkey Technorati Tagging Script), but having two sets of tags/labels was ugly and inelegant. So I decided to stick strictly to the labels.

Boy, was that a disaster.

What I failed to fully realize is that Blogger creates an aggregator page for each one of your categories/labels. So when I started using labels for single-use, one-off tags ("stupid html jokes" or "hot and ugly"), I was also creating useless aggregator pages with lone entries.

This created a whole bunch of unnecessary pages, which greatly increased the number of pages that need to be updated whenever I posted or edited an entry.

In addition, it basically made the categories useless as categories.

So after an initial cleanup this weekend, I was left with 261 categories... and 218 of them had only one entry. (And of course, editing old entries pushes them back up into the DC Blogs feed, in case any feed watchers wonder why 6-month old entries keep popping up.)

Now, I'm down to about 80 categories -- the number will drop a little more as I do some final cuts, then rise again as I start categorizing old posts and making new ones, but keeping it under 100 should be manageable -- as long as I can apply a little self-discipline.

Yeah, that's another trainwreck in the making.

Fighter Jets Over I-66, and a Housewarming Bar Crawl

Saturday, I went to a housewarming party/bar crawl in Arlington.

On the way in, I was on I-66 (actually, the part of the Dulles Toll Road just before it runs into 66), when I started wondering why I was hearing jets, since the news story I was listening to didn't have anything to do with planes or the war.

I turned down the volume and realized that it was actually a jet. Low-flying, too, since it was pretty loud.

I opened the sunroof to look up, though that wasn't necessary, since I saw out the front windshield that it wasn't one plane, but a flight of four fighter jets (I think F-16s) flying out ahead.

Anyway, after that bit of excitement, the party was pretty good. The housewarming theme was "Stock the Bar", so guests were asked to bring a bottle of liquor.

Depending on the drinking habits of your particular group, this could be a net gain, wash, or net loss for your liquor cabinet.

To be honest, there was more housewarming than bar crawl, though we did make it Dr. Dremo's, where there was a dog:


Then we walked over to Gua-Rapo. On the way, we passed a girl in the Wendy's drive-thru:


It was fun. There are a few more pictures.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Week of Living Dangerously

Here are some of the risky things I did this week:

* I ate a sandwich that I'd been keeping in the work fridge, despite this warning sign:

FACILITIES FLASH - Loss of Power to Refrigerator - Power to the building was lost for approximately 5 1/2 hours last night, including the refrigerator.

Please verify perishable products before use and if in doubt, discard the product.

* I ate 7-year-old Raisin Bran

* I took a time-release Tylenol tablet, even though it had been broken into 4 pieces.

It's a miracle I survived.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Eating Pre-Sept. 11 Raisin Bran

Here's the top panel from the box of Kellogg's Raisin Bran I opened for breakfast. Note the "Better if used before" date -- AUG 21 2000:


I would be lying if I said this was unusual for my pantry.

In addition to being about 7 years old, it's also Raisin Bran from another era.

Pre-9/11 Raisin Bran.

It tasted like... a more innocent Raisin Bran.

I got your Time Capsule right here.

Actually, it wasn't rancid or particularly stale. And being Raisin Bran, it's not like it's got a lot of flavor to lose in the first place.

I would definitely rate it first grade Raisin Bran (since it would be enrolled in elementary school by now).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Night Blogging

Yeah, I'm blogging at home -- alone -- on a Friday night. But no fear -- it's not like I'm going to be watching Friday Night Videos (unlike, say, most of my middle school years).

I'm heading out in a half-hour or so. Not going to make it all the way into Adams Morgan for the blogger happy hour, but it's something.

In the meantime, UFC is on Spike.

Along the way I noticed something disturbing: Hitch is on right now on both TBS and TNT.

I'm not sure what movie would warrant simultaneous multi-channel showings, but I know that Hitch is not one of them.

Other thoughts:

* Z100 (WHTZ) in New York used to do a Friday 5 O'Clock Whistle. Maybe they still do. They would play a steam whistle sound effect, then play Todd Rundgren's Bang the Drum All Day, then Loverboy's Working for the Weekend.

I still associate those songs with Fridays.

* Amy Winehouse's Rehab -- heard it for the first time yesterday. Talk about a throwback sound -- it feels like it should be in the next Austin Powers movie.

It's a little gimmicky. Let's see how many hit songs she gets.

* That Lip Gloss song -- heard it for the first time in the gym this week (they have XM): Catchy beat, but what a stupid, stupid song. Not to mention one big consumer fetish song.

Okay, out of here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Ultimate Showdown Between Good and Evil, Enacted by Vanity Plates

On the left, a photo of a vanity tag of a Civic on Reston Parkway that I took back in April; on the right, a Neon in the parking lot of the Spectrum at Reston Town Center tonight:

DSCF1020 DSCF2035

The Civic's tag -- 1II1I1 -- is pretty diabolical by itself. Why diabolical? By mixing ones and Is, if one of those 6-character tag owners is ever involved in an infraction that relies on a witness's recollection of the plate, they couldn't be certain of the tag number; with 64 possible permutations (26), they'd have to pull in each of the owners with a similar make.

Then, the Neon's tag: 0Q000Q0. That one's a little easier to catch (unless some of the zeros are Os...)

But looking at it in a symbolic, binary way -- you've got ones versus zeros. Light versus dark. Civic versus Neon. If you smashed them together, who would come out on top? Or would it be like a collision between matter and anti-matter, where they annihilate each other and everything around them?

We must make sure this never happens.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The NRA Responds to Allegations That They Bugged Me

So just before Memorial Day weekend, I found an e-mail from Philip Schreier, Senior Curator at the National Firearms Museum. He was responding to my cranky blog entry about some of the shortcomings of the display space, " The NRA's National Firearms Museum Bugs Me."

I wasn't particularly surprised that someone from the NRA found my entry, any moreso than, say, someone from Wrigley's hitting my entry warning about Eclipse mints or employees of the "World Reserve Monetary Exchange" seeing my entry on the folly of buying uncut currency sheets from them. It kind of comes with the territory, and what's simply vanity searching for any given person is part of reputation management and due diligence for an organization.

I was a little surprised by the length and thoroughness of the response, which addresses my complaints by explaining the problems of trying to fit a lot of guns into a relatively small space (and really, who among us hasn't faced that problem at one time or another?). So I will include Mr. Schreier's entire response below, without commentary:
Date: Thu, 24 May 2007 17:12:16 -0400
From: "Schreier, Philip"
Subject: National Firearms Museum

Dear Joe:

Thanks for visiting the NFM here in Fairfax. I read your blog about your
visit and thought I would try and provide you with some background on our
design process.

First off, you have some very valid points.

The building we are housed in was meant to be an office building. Our
museum was placed in an area formerly the home to our IT people. In an
ideal situation we would have had 15' ceilings and another 20,000 square
feet of display space. In other words we had to make do with what we had.
The result is somewhat cramped and the lighting isn't ideal.

We did hire a lighting designer from the Pratt Institute of NYC to do the
lighting. He did a remarkable job. Here is the deal. The guns and the
objects are quite visible and clear. Yes there are a few areas where
light does reflect from other areas and causes some viewing problems,
however, for the most part it is clear. Now that is not to say it is a
photographer's dream either. There is a HUGE difference from you looking
at an exhibit and you trying to take a picture of one. Glass is glass and
it is miserable to shoot around under ANY circumstances.

You mentioned the USMC Museum in Quantico. GREAT PLACE. Lots of room,
high ceilings, dark walls = -0- reflective surfaces. They had that luxury
that we only wish we had.

The "display bunker" at the beginning of the museum is a facade of a
medieval castle, with what were called "archers loops" or protected areas
where the archers could fire at the enemy. We did "hide" the guns here
for a reason. 90% of the visitors aged 16 - 40 want to see modern black
rifles and plastic guns. The old stuff, comes off as antique and stuffy.
We put it behind tight windows because people like to look into windows
and it is a huge draw to the artifacts. It is a great study in human
nature. People literally crowd around to "peek" inside. The whole gun is
visible and unobstructed in each instance, however, again it is not
conducive to an ideal photograph. From that point of view I can
understand your frustration, but please remember, our first objective is
to inform the public, providing "sets" for photographers is secondary.

As for the information design aspect. I agree. I hate it as well. Any
ideas? Happy to hear them. In the first part of the museum we have lots
of space and few guns. Easier to place text. Later we have huge amounts
of guns and no space to display text. If we had a text card next to each
gun it would be a huge eyesore. Some happy medium has to be struck, we
just haven't found it yet.

Thanks for the tip on the numbers lock button, I will have to see if it
can be disabled or not.

Any other problems, concerns or otherwise, please feel free to ask. On
your next visit I would be happy to take you on a personal tour and show
you what went into the design elements.

Until then,

I remain Sincerely,

Philip Schreier
Senior Curator
National Firearms Museum
National Rifle Association
I don't really have anything further to add, although his e-mail did remind me that I never posted the pics from my trip to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico a few months ago. (And I never finished annotating my Hirshhorn pics from before that...)