In which we complain, and then fix it

Last week, my Palm died. Well, not completely; the digitizer won’t recognize any input, but other than that it’s fine — where “fine” means essentially unusable, anyway. I ordered a new Zire 72 from Amazon to replace it.

That’s when I discovered something HORRIBLE.


This is NOT okay. I know why they did it — Xerox lawsuit and all that rot
— but goddammit, I’ve been using Graffiti since it was a product you bought to make your original Newton usable, i.e. before the original Palm Pilots hit the market, which puts my initial mastery of the single-stroke alphabet at nearly a decade ago. I do NOT want to take the time to learn new, “more intuitive” penstrokes,
especially when “more intuitive” is code for “slower.”

Fortunately, I’m clearly not the only one in this position; if you, like me, are vexed by this development, do this:

The basic procedure is:

  1. Acquire access to an Original Graffiti (OG?) handheld.
  2. Use a tool like Filez to get access to the unseen ROM files.
  3. Beam Graffiti Library.prc and Graffiti Library_enUS.prc to your new handheld.
  4. Do a soft rest on the new handheld.

Bingo! Back to OG. A hard reset — i.e., back to factory virgin status — will restore the new machine to the new heretical Graffiti, but why would you
want to do that?

Sort of a Sniglets for the Bush administration

Adam Felber lists a few new words coined as a result of this president’s shenanigans. We can’t decide if we like “yellowcake” (a sham or conterfeit. We thought we’d found Hitler’s diary, but it was just yellowcake) or “chalabi” (to dupe an unusually trusting victim. He was so confident about his billiards skills, it was easy to chalabi him.) better.

Wherein we reveal information bound to depress

No, it’s not about politics. Or global warming. Or economic doom. Or the war in Iraq.

No, it’s about the fact that from this list, which we can assume is reasonably cannonical, we learn that Creed have sold more records than The Police, Jimi Hendrix, the Beach Boys, or the Who.


Seriously, though, this chart would be more interesting if there were also columns for sales per year of activity and sales per album released, and then adjust both those for marketing dollars spent.

Brilliant Flash Satire Game

Well, theoretically, it’s a game — in perfect mid-80s console style — but it’s got the longest intro EVAR. Stick it out at least until Hulk Hogan, fat, unemployed He-Man, Mr. T, and R2-D2 team up to stop Bush, Cheney, and Voltron.

No, really. The first level boss is giant, robotic Tom Ridge. He has a duct tape gun. I couldn’t possibly make this up. It’s huge, and between fights the authors have included information on bits like the recession, the “surplus,” economic policy, the estate tax, stem cell research, etc.

Oh, and there’s a Hillary Duff Fingerbang sequence.

Everyone else is on this; why not us?

So, here’s the primer on the whole Washingtonienne (cached copy) dustup, in the event you haven’t been brought up to speed.:

  • There exists, or did, an anonymous blog called Washingtonienne, written apparently by a 24-year-old intern somewhere on the Hill, largely for the amusement of her friends.
  • In said blog, the author was, er, particularly frank about her sex life on said Hill.
  • In true American fashion, she was also frank about the fact that she accepted, er, gratuities for some of these liasons, and that the liasons in question occasionally included persons with rather prominent positions in government, though none were named explicitly (she used initials).
  • Eventually (last week), of course, the blog goes public, linked initially and most (in)famously by the popular DC blog Wonkette (copiously, in fact: here’s a link to an omnibus post there).
  • On the 21st, Wonkette interviewed Washingtonienne by phone, and identified her as Jessica Cutler. A day or so later, they have a much-publicized night on the town from which the picture at right is taken.
  • Around the same time (and mentioned in the interview above), the occupational jig is up; her boss, identified as Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), fires her over “inappropriate use of Senate resources.” There’s a euphamism if ever I heard one, but we’re not sure her hoo-hah counts as a “Senate resource.” (Of course, the possibility remains that they were referring to staff computers, but it’s more fun to pretend otherwise.)
  • The press orgy begins in earnest, complete with Post coverage and an interview — also featuring Wonkette — at Fox News, which is predictably SCANDALIZED by her behavior. More likely, they’re just sorry they didn’t think of the idea first.
  • Busy bloggers continue to try to ascertain who here erstwhile companions were, including the aforementioned Wonkette and the improbably named I Love Jenna Bush. This part we suspect will be very fun to watch.
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that a NY literary agency is interested in talking to Cutler about a tell-all, and a blog called The National Debate quotes rumors suggesting Playboy wants both Cutler and Ana Marie “Wonkette” Cox for a spread, supposedly verified by a postscript to a Post story stating Hefner’s enterprise had called looking for Cutler’s contact information. The NYPost ran a summary of the whole affair, along with their own pix, natch.
  • Update: Wonkette is a property of Gawker Media, and another of their blog properties (NSFW) reports that they saw Cox at the water cooler, and that she, at least, is thus-far unaware of any nude pictorials in her future, which is of course a non-denial denial as far as Cutler herself is concerned.

Say it with me: I love this country.

Unlike the cameraphone edict, this may actually be the root of the problem

This Newsweek story discusses a post-9/11 Justice Dept. memo that insists, much to the consternation of the State Department, that the US need not follow international law or the Geneva Conventions where the Afghani and Iraqi prisoners are concerned. It does conclude, however, that these prisonoers could be tried in military tribunals for offenses against international law.

“Do as we SAY, not as we DO” has never been terribly convincing. On the international level, it’s also a terribly dangerous precedent to set.

It’s so crazy is JUST MIGHT WORK

Respectful of Otters — which is a great blog name — has some thoughts up on this innovative program in New York State. Basically, familes deemed at-risk are eligable for home nursing visits to help parents get on the right track; the visits begin before birth and continue until the child is two. The results (studied over 13 years) have been staggering. The big number is this: over the course of the program, researchers found it reduced child abuse and neglect by 79 percent.

Predictably, it’s woefully underfunded. However, it’s serving as a model for programs in 22 states, so there’s also that.

In which the Heathen discuss yet another Internet Snake Oil scheme

Several sites I review have mentioned a new “service” offered at Basically, these folks purport to offer a plan wherein the sender of an email can know, absolutely, 98% of the time, whether or not their email has arrived, if it’s been read, for how long, and where (geographically) the recipient is.

Sounds both compelling and a bit scary, doesn’t it? Well, here’s something else it is: BULLSHIT.

Now that’s a technical term, you understand, so let me break it down for you; I’d hoped a skeptical press would have done this for us, but the coverage so far has been fawning and utterly naive. Shouldn’t journalism — particularly technology journalism — involve more than quoting q press release?

Anyway, what they’re talking about is universal return-receipts. Closed email systems have offered these for years, which is why you can click “request receipt” in Outlook when you’re sending mail to Sally down the hall in Accounting. Even then, though, Sally (usually) has the option to cancel your return-receipt request. The important point, though, is that this works only in a homogenous system — i.e., where everyone uses the same email program — because there’s no universal way to request a return receipt. To make it work, requesting mail clients must add “headers” telling the receiving program that they want one, and the receiving program must understand those headers AND comply with the request.

This works fine when everyone uses the same program, and can even work for mail sent over Internet because the mail transfer mechanism of the Net doesn’t actually pay much attention to the message en route, so programs can add all sorts of information to the message without interfereing with its ability to get from A to B; a return-receipt request is just one example.

But what happens if you send mail requesting a return receipt to a person who doesn’t use a mail program that understands (or cares about) Outlook’s special headers? Nothing. They’re ignored. Put simply, to make universal return-receipt work, you’d have to create a universal return-receipt header standard, and then get every mail client to play along, which will never happen for a whole host of reasons.

So how are these folks doing it? Well, they’re not. They’re relying on a technique used widely by spammers to measure the rate at which a given piece of spam has been read. It’s not a terribly robust method, and it’s particularly poorly suited to this problem. The sender (or DTRI, in this case) adds a link to a particular image to the mail in question, and then waits for the web server to register a hit. A web request includes an IP, which can then be used to determine location (though only with very sloppy accuracy; if I dial in from Hawaii using an ISP in New York, it’ll show me in Manhattan — and at last count everyone on AOL looks like they’re in Reston, Virginia).

By configuring the web server’s handling of these images carefully, they can force a refresh every so often, and get a fairly inaccurate read for how long the mail was open. All in all, it’s terribly sloppy, and almost guaranteed to fail.

The core problem, though, is that for DTRI’s method to work, you must read your mail in HTML, which is by no means universal; we all know that Sally down the hall loves to send green-on-pink mail with a flower border, and frankly we’re sick of it. Fortunately, most mail programs can be configured to display the plaintext alternative (if there is one), or to ignore the bulk of the formatting, and it doesn’t take too many of Sally’s Happy-Hour messages to send us to this particular preferences menu.

Aside from that, though, there’s the issue of the image itself. Images can come with emails one of two ways: they can be included in the mail itself (which makes the mail huge), or they can be linked to images stored on a web server somewhere, which is what DTRI does. This is the real dealbreaker: even particularly promiscuous, insecure clients like Outlook no longer load non-embedded email images by default. It only takes one super-graphic porn spam to send most folks to that particular setting, in any case. Add to this the fact that its use by spammers makes a mail with such a link look like spam to automated filters, and you begin to see the problem.

Yup. That’s it; for this, wants fifty bucks a year. I’ve got a better idea: if it’s really that important that you know if someone read a given communique, send it by registered mail. Not email; use the paper kind. It’s good for shit like this. Email is — and probably always will be — essentially asynchronous. Accept it. And don’t be taken in by charlatans like the folks at DidTheyReadIt.

(So why does this method work for spammers, or does it? I’d say it probably does, because they’re measuring something else. DTRI wants to measure individual mails, but a spammer just wants to know if some of his mail got through the increasingly-elaborate filter gauntlet. He can afford to assume that only a small percentage of those who read his mail loaded the image, and extrapolate a more accurate “read rate” based on his hits. For obvious reasons, this is worthless to DTRI.)

A little surfing led me to a couple other services purporting to offer precisely the same service: and Neither of these will work any better than; all the information above applies to them, too.

Also, it looks like ZDNet actually has reasonable coverage, referring to the web bug technique as dead technology. Heh.

Perhaps representing some theoretical limit of nerdism

It seems unlikely that this will settle the apparently-endless Trek vs. Dr Who debate, it does seem likely that a number of other, ancillary conclusions may be drawn from its sheer existence.

It would be ungentlemanly to speculate about the proportion of these conclusions that concern the existence, or lack thereof, of the author’s social life.

In which the term “wonky accounting” is given new meaning

You know all the whining the RIAA is doing about record sales being down? Turns out it ain’t necessarily so, as they actually sold more in Q1 ’04 than in Q1 ’03.

Forget the confusing percentages, here’s an oversimplified example: I shipped 1000 units last year and sold 700 of them. This year I sold 770 units but shipped only 930 units. I shipped 10% less units this year. And this is what the RIAA wants the public to accept as “a loss.”

In which we gloat about our technology choices

Back when we first built this site, we used Blogger, which was free, but not Free (also known as “free an in beer, not Free as in speech“), and which eventually got too slow and silly to use (they’re better now). We switched to a Free (or at least Free-er) tool called Greymatter, which worked for a while despite being an orphan, until it, too, stopped working so well for us (basically, it doesn’t scale all that well, and Heathen has a couple thousand posts now).

Last year, we looked around quite a lot before jumping to Blosxom, which is both free and Free. At the time, the also-ran tool was the ever-popular Moveable Type, which was free for noncommercial use, but definitely not Free. We figured that was probably not a direction we wanted to go, and the simplicity of Mr Dornfest’s tool appealed to us, so Blosxom it was.

We’re very glad we’re using Blosxom now, as Six Apart has announced a new Moveable Type release, but with limited new features — and a rather steep pricing model that’s all-the-buzz in the blogging world this weekend. Put simply, they’re now charging for use beyond a very limited installation, and the charges can mount quickly. This has met with no small amount of griping, and at least one prominent blogger has already switched to a Free system, WordPress (licensed under the GPL, so it’s Free forever).

Now: of course Six Apart can charge for their software. No one disputes that. The question is really that of choice from the consumer end of things. With blogging and content management systems like WordPress, Blosxom, Plone, Bricolage, Drupal, and others available — all open source — why would someone choose to pay for Six Apart’s product? What does that get you, really, besides a lighter wallet and potential vendor lock-in? It’s question worth asking for any software purchase, and it’s being asked more and more often these days. The answer, as Mr Pilgram pointed out, isn’t one that suggests a great future for commodity software vendors.

We’re not sure, but we’re pretty sure this crosses a line the IRS should notice

The Catholic Church has been in the news quite a lot lately, but that’s apparently not enough for Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan; he’s just issued a pastoral letter saying Catholics cannot receive communion if they vote for folks who support abortion rights, gay marriage, stem cell research, or euthanasia.

This is clearly a political position now. Stating that good Catholics ought not support these issues is one thing; overtly stating that you must vote a certain way — and that if you don’t you can’t be in a state of grace — is quite another, and should clearly call into question the American church’s tax-exempt status. “Vote like I tell you to” is absolutely a political position, and the tax-exempt aren’t supposed to advocate such things.

As always, Slacktivist has interesting commentary on the issue, including a brief review of the historical record.

The best songwriter you’ve never heard of

Salon has top-story coverage of The Portrait of Billy Joe, a documentary on Texas singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver — described by Willie Nelson as “maybe the best songwriter alive today.” Shaver has labored primarily in obscurity; his records don’t sell particularly well, but his influence is felt across the board, from contemporaries like Nelson and Waylon Jennings (whose 1973 album “Honky Tonk Heroes” is comprised almost entirely of Shaver’s work) to new acts like Kid Rock (who had Shaver open for him in his recent Houston show). Find a way to see this film, and in the meantime do yourself a favor and pick up some of Billy Joe’s work; if you haven’t yet, “you’re just crazy as hell.”