Archive for September, 2004

Discourse Off Course

September 30, 2004

Debates? Not really. These were presidential debates.

What kind of a political world do we live in where debates require a 32-page contract? It’s a shame and a sham.


Google Indexes Everything

September 25, 2004

These sensitive documents found via Google searching were a real eye opener. I know that Google indexes everything that’s publicly accessible; I guess I just never realized that people search for that stuff.

If you are at all responsible for web application or web server security, you must go through these and make sure that your charge isn’t so readily available.

Forward March

September 24, 2004

Why do people forward hoax emails to everyone they know? I just got this little gem from a teller at a distant branch who in her infinite wisdom decided to forward it along to everyone in the organization. It was recalled less than five minutes after she hit send (and I forwarded her a link to the Snopes article cited above), but what would possess someone to do such an act?

It would be easy to trot out the “stupid people” or “credulous Web user” theses, but there are far more of either category than the number of hoax emails I get forwarded. In other words, I know there are plenty of stupid and/or gullible people who don’t forward this trash. So what gives?

They’re people who believe what they read and spread it to inform anyone they can. Psychologically, I think they’re probably trying to attract attention to themselves in some fashion—Chicken Little’s with a modicum of crying wolf thrown in. Epistemologically, they’re probably concrete-bound, distintegrated types. They clearly aren’t able to critically process information and it’s scary.


September 15, 2004

I’ve owned a copy of Getting Things Done for at least a year or more and I’ve read it several times. Soon after getting the book, I had a fitful start struggling with Palm software. Then I thought that I’d try it using OmniOutliner—great tool, use it all the time, but couldn’t seem to carry the laptop everywhere and sometimes it didn’t seem worth the effort of getting it out, waking it up, and starting OO just to write “Mail letter on way to work tomorrow.” So I just meandered through my days, all disorganized-like.

Oh sure, I had a little sketch pad that I carried around and would jot down things ad-hoc but I endured tremendous stress because I always felt like I was forgetting something or like I wasn’t using my time effectively. And I was and wasn’t, respectively.

So I decided to get serious about GTD. It was mainly inspired by Merlin Mann’s recent post about getting started. I printed out the excellent advanced workflow diagram (PDF) to replace the less sophisticated one from the book (no longer available online, hmm) and I read through some of the links he provided for further inspiration.

It wasn’t until I chanced upon his Hipster PDA post. That was the linchpin I had been missing earlier. Rather than wrestling with software and computers, I should use index cards and my favorite pen. That freed me from thinking about the form of my getting things done and to concentrate on using it. Plus, I can carry it in my pocket and it never runs out of batteries.

Well, a few days later and I’ve got it pretty good. My work inbox is at 1 message (a reference to an action item that I need to start) and my whole work email is down to 1724kb of my 75MB allotment! My home email (in is down to two messages: one action item and one receipt for an online purchase that I’ll discard once I receive the item.

More importantly, I feel less stress. I know exactly what I need to work on and I write stuff down as soon as I perceive a need to act. I’ll probably give an update after I do my first weekly review.

[UPDATE: At Merlin Mann’s request, I’m going to address some of the customizations I’ve done to the main GTD system.

1. I haven’t had to do anything of the sort. I use the stock buckets and most of my nerdery goes into work, home, or computer buckets depending on the context. For example, I’ve got some features that I’m working on for our new online banking system. Those are obviously work. My computer action items tend to be things that could be done at work or home, like starting a list of tasks to do for my daughters’ birthday party.

2. I’ve only been doing this for a week now, but I’ve been reading about the system and cogitating on it for over a year now. I see myself creating a lot of lists in the “someday/maybe” category and have already started one called “websites to build” that will be ongoing. Ad-hoc lists will exist for as long as they’re needed and no longer.

3. I’ve got my “next actions” category divided up into contexts. Features and work projects get their next actions on there. Bugs and quick fixes get tracked in FogBUGZ because they need to be tracked across the team. If I were doing it myself—the bug tracking—then I would still maintain a separate bug tracking application. It’s my feeling that it’s fine to have separate repositories for certain things as long as they’re limited and you close those loops thoroughly. If you need to work on a bug, you know where to look. It might be appropriate, if the bug is big enough, to put a next action in your “work” category about it.

4. The only cool hack I’ve done is integrating my calendar into my Hipster PDA, which consists of “next action,” “projects,” “waiting for,” “someday/maybe,” and “calendar” index cards separated by brightly-colored index cards. The calendar has one card per day and perhaps 10 extra cards. The day cards exist only as needed, so I don’t have a card until September 22nd. On the day cards, I list appointments or time-sensitive events in chronological order. If I have to add a 4 o’clock appointment, I would put it nearly 3/4s of the way down. All told, I’ve probably got 15-20 cards total so it easily fits in a binder clip. (All of my phone numbers are stored in my cell phone and Address, in case you’re wondering.)]

Music by the Megabyte

September 14, 2004 is a music service based in Russia that sells music by the megabyte. It starts at 500MB for $5 and offers the music in a variety of formats (including 320kbps mp3, which is roughly equivalent to straight off the CD). I heard about this service a year or two ago and I immediately though, “Uh huh, and I can get DVDs for $2 in China too.”

Apparently, it’s legal. A review of the service also suggests that it is legal. It’s essentially taking advantage of a rightful Russian distributor of music’s willingness to make a sweet deal. I like to think of it as music arbitrage.

The million dollar question, though, is whether it’s ethical. As we all know, what is legal and what is moral aren’t the same. The publisher and composer seems to be getting paid satisfactorily, but the performers and record companies seem to be left high and dry. Applying Kant’s universalizability test, it would clearly be a bad thing if this became the norm. That, obviously, is not a proper guide to the morality of an action but it is helpful in recognizing the effects of an action in extremis.

It seems like this would be akin to trying to find the cheapest price on an item or looking to outsource work to a foreign country. You are trying to get the maximum value for your money. You endeavor to deal with third parties that are legitimate, ethical, and good. If you found out that the goods you bought were stolen, you have no right to them after such knowledge. But what if sellers were just cutting sweetheart deals and the goods were legitimately theirs to offer?

Is it wrong to buy goods from a foreign land where U.S. companies are willing to sell their wares for much less than here? If so, then you would have to agree that purchasing American pharmaceuticals from Mexico or Canada was wrong. Obviously, that is ludicrous. It is not immoral to make such purchases; it is more a matter of inefficiency that prevents people from engaging in such arbitrage.

The matter seems to come down to whether the Russian organization is violating its rights to distribute music. It has a monopoly on the distribution of music within Russia. If a Russian citizen were accessing, then it would be acting in accordance with its contract. If an American visited from within the United States, it arguably has no right to offer the music to him.

Is that properly any of my concern? Many Internet users have broadband connections. Most of their terms of use agreements forbid them from hosting open wireless networks. Many people do just that. If I were considering connecting to one of these open networks, is it my responsibility to find out what ISP that network is using, what the terms of service are, and whether the access point is in violation of the owner’s particular terms of service? It seems absurd as well. Your responsibility extends to making sure that there isn’t any obvious signs that the network isn’t open: WEP-enabling, MAC-address restrictions, or even station naming. Barring those, it’s the equivalent of a vacant lot without fencing or trespassing signs—you can use it temporarily but you can’t assume any of the usual property rights.

In the end, I’m on the fence. It seems too good to be true, but that might be a perception based on an entire life spent under the pricing scheme of the American music industry. I would be interested in any of your thoughts on the subject: feel free to email me or leave a comment.

[UPDATE (9/17/04): After some thinking, I believe that I’ll have to conclude that this is definitely an improper thing. AllOfMP3 is clearly trading on a loophole in the Russian copyright laws. The performer of the song should be compensated when you buy a CD or download music from the Internet. This service does not compensate the performer or the label that produced the CD. That’s the crux of the issue—the violation of the trader principle. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to pay 99¢ like everyone else.]

[UPDATE (4/7/2006): TechCrunch has included AllOfMP3 in their comparison of online music download services. For all of the reasons cited above, I believe it’s irresponsible to include them.]

Heard on the Radio

September 14, 2004

I just heard the following advertisement from 1948 on a CD of old radio programs:

And in our brief intermission, there’s just time to consider a matter of utmost importance to every cigarette smoker. How mild can a cigarette be? Smoke Camels and see!

Prove for yourself what noted throat specialists reported about Camel mildness in a coast-to-coast smoking test. In this test, hundreds of men and women smoked Camels—and only Camels—for thirty days, an average of one to two packs a day.

After making weekly examinations of the throats of the hundreds of men and women who took part in this Camel test (2,470 careful examinations in all), the doctors reported not one single case of throat irritation due to smoking Camels. Yes, the doctors reported not one single case of throat irritation due to smoking Camels!

Make the Camel mildness test yourself. Test Camels in your “T” zone: “T” for taste and “T” for throat. If at any time you’re not convinced that Camels are the mildest cigarette you’ve ever smoked, return the package with the unused cigarettes to the makers of Camels and you will receive its full purchase price plus postage.



September 14, 2004

Iran says that the massing of troops along the Iran-Iraq border is to deter the “great powers” from moving into Iran, but something tells me that the Iraqi terrorist groups aren’t the only ones that smell weakness in America’s Iraqi positions. Sweet fancy Moses!

[UPDATE: This setup reminds me a little of the Korean War. We were worried that Korea was going to fall into Communist China’s clutch so we invaded, bringing China into the war. Iran has always had designs on Iraq and they probably don’t want us running the show. So if they invade, we’ll be brought into the war with Iran. I would actually welcome this because Iran is a despicable, illegitimate state. It supports terrorism in particular and Islamic fundamentalism in general. Iran is the nation that we should have invaded. I guess it didn’t fulfill the vendetta like Iraq did.]

Remastering on the Cheap

September 14, 2004

Using iTunes as an Audio Processor: I’ve got a lot of records and tapes that I want to convert to a digital format but it’s such a chore to edit out noise, cracks, and hiss from the waveform. By “such a chore” I mean that I would rather eat spackle. I did it when I recorded all of Sandi’s childhood albums onto CD, but I did that for love. Ease of listening and portability aren’t love, let me tell you.

Getting It

September 13, 2004

I’ll confess right now: I never got It’s caused quite a furor, but I never could quite get it. I understood why you might want to have bookmarks be web-based: you would want to access them anywhere and you may not have your laptop handy. I understood why it’s neat to see other people’s bookmarks: you might find new things that you wouldn’t otherwise.

Each of those reasons seems like a perfect reason to have a wiki or keep and read blogs. Then it hit me. When I finally got it, I got it hard.

It’s the tags. Tags are useful pieces of metadata that describe the particular URL being stored. They’re pretty much categories and I love categories. I use a large number of them for my three blogs (though there’s no public way to access them—sorry that’ll have to come later) and I find them very useful to quickly find information. iPhoto has a similar function called keywords that let you assign multiple categories to a picture. I liked them, but they were a pain to add new ones and the interface wasn’t (still isn’t) up to Apple standards.

Then I discovered a piece of freeware called Keyword Assistant. Suddenly, I could spontaneously create new keywords at will and apply multiple keywords to a picture or pictures effortlessly. Of my 4,272 pictures, only 891 lack a keyword. I still have to go back and find pictures that have old keywords from pre-Keyword Assistant days, but that’s a small subset given how long it used to take to enter them.

I have found that I am now keyword-happy with my pictures. I create keywords for each of the people in the shot, keywords for the location at which it was taken, keywords for actions that are occurring in the shot, and keywords for overarching events in which the shots took place. I probably have over a hundred keywords now and it makes creating smart albums trivial. It also makes finding specific photos a piece of cake.

So in for me, equals Keyword Assistant. And it’s got FireFox integration to boot.

Lesser of Two Evils 2004

September 13, 2004

For my future reference, C-SPAN’s 2004 presidential coverage sans spin.