Thursday, September 29, 2005


The half-started and half-finished draft blog posts -- there's a difference, though subtle -- are beginning to pile up and looks like I'm not going to get another post on here unless I force myself. So here goes. This what I could write, on my Blackberry, with my two thumbs, in the time the time it takes me to get home. Pardon the typos.

Work is heating up, as it always does this time of year. I run a team of journalists covering courts in Europe and, with the exception of criminal courts, the news flow drops dramatically in the summer. It even stays quiet through most of September as lawyers reacquaint themselves with the half-finished (and half-started) cases -- "What's our defense, again? Oh, right, he didn't do it." -- and judges take practice swings with their swords of justice -- "Off with his head! Nah, just joking with ya." And both re-powder their wigs, at least in the U.K.

But suddenly, near the end of September, the mad dash starts and will continue to Christmas. I barely have time to go to the bathroom for the 14 hours a day I spent either in the office or traveling to or from. It doesn't leave much room for thinking, or spotting interesting articles, or talking with the family.

On top of that, I'm doing my (now traditional) twice-a-year dive into the Linux community. My flavor of Linux is Ubuntu (pronounced oo-boon-too), which gets upgraded, come hell or high water, once every six months. I find six months perfect for me. After that long, I start itching for a change in my computing environment -- new versions of software to explore, for example.

I get so much out of Ubuntu, though, that I feel a bit guilty. Free software such as this depends on volunteers -- not exclusively, since the core developers are paid, but it wouldn't be possible to put out a free operating system as powerful as Windows or Mac OS X without tender loving care from several hundred or thousands of others. And the truth is I give back very little. I just don't have time.

So the computer sits in a corner, dutifully running for months at a time, handling homework assignments for five children, backing up every file in the house each night, retrieving and distributing email for everyone, acting as our second TV for playing DVDs, playing our music and Internet-based radio stations and finally, and most taxing, acting as my personal play box for new software (also created by mostly volunteers) and programming languages (my version of
crossword puzzles).

(Later, I'm home now, and to wrap this up quickly...) So, to give at least a little back, about a month before the developers of Ubuntu put out a new version, I download and install the half-finished (not half-started) version and bang away at it, trying to find bugs and filing reports. I've even submitted one "patch" (a file that shows changes needed in source code that may solve a problem), although I submitted it in the wrong format and it was only for the most minor of cosmetic bugs. I also subscribe to the the user support mailing list and weigh in as much as I can to help new users solve at least the simplest problems. It may not be much, but it's something.

Anyway, 14-hour work days, tinkering with the computer and answering tech-support questions is filling up my time, just about all of it. Typing my thoughts into a Blackberry on the way home, however, might be a way to squeeze out just a little bit more.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Autumn weekend

Autumn berries
Originally uploaded by Eamonn_Sullivan.

It was a beautiful weekend, uncharacteristically sunny, with just a bit of rain over Saturday night. And for the first time in what feels like weeks, Theresa wasn't working.

Here's a photo taken during our walk with Dude yesterday. The autumn berries are out on the trees, the sky is blue. What else could we want?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Tree in the Forest

My wife Theresa has started blogging again, after a pause. She's, as usual, outdoing me by a wide margin, even writing some excellent children's fiction. Read her, encourage her, and suggest she get an agent, so that I can retire on her earnings.

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The Christian Paradox (

Someone in the newsroom passed me an excellent essay in Harper's, The Christian Paradox. It sums up better than I ever could the central paradox of religious conservatives everywhere, not just Christian ones.

The closer religion and politics get, the worse both become. As the two near, the hard bits of any religion start dropping away. Tolerance and prohibition against killing civilians in Islam, for example. In Christianity, "minor" details such as the Sermon on the Mount, "love your neighbor as yourself" and "Sell all you have and come follow me" fall by the wayside as the focus shifts to eliminating taxes on our inheritance and killing as many terrorists as we can. Even the traditionally social-justice-focused Catholics, of which I'm a poor example, have become more and more obsessed with one, and only one, issue. And it isn't social justice.

Bill McKibben, in the Harper's essay, argues that the precepts of the current religious conservatism movement in the U.S. and Christianity are at odds, and for good reason. The religion, at its core, isn't conservative. It couldn't be more radical:
Love your neighbor as yourself: although its rhetorical power has been dimmed by repetition, that is a radical notion, perhaps the most radical notion possible. Especially since Jesus, in all his teachings, made it very clear who the neighbor you were supposed to love was: the poor person, the sick person, the naked person, the hungry person. The last shall be made first; turn the other cheek; a rich person aiming for heaven is like a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle. On and on and on—a call for nothing less than a radical, voluntary, and effective reordering of power relationships, based on the principle of love.
And this is true of other religions, as well. The major religions agree on an awful lot, much more than admitted. Much of what people hate religion for are politically expedient add-ons -- the subjugation of women, for example, or the battle against science -- all of which can be backed up if need be in the Torah, Bible, Koran... You can justify anything you want. You don't have to give up any of your prejudices, make any hard choices or give up any comforts, if you don't want to. But is that religion?

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ken MacLeod's Learning the World

One aspect of science fiction that puts me off occasionally is that you have to suspend too much science. Much of the fiction depends on developments that are, at best, unlikely.

The most common one of those, of course, is faster than light travel. The speed of light, to the best of our current knowledge, is an absolute. Nothing can, and ever will, go faster. That means travel to all but the closest stars will take at least decades and probably centuries, even to the people doing the traveling, let alone the ones left behind. That barrier also makes alien encounters statistically unlikely and probably cumbersome if they do occur. What's the fun of talking to an alien when it takes a couple of centuries to get a reply to a message?

Ken MacLeod's latest, Learning the World, shows it's possible to adhere to the laws of physics and still produce a gripping SciFi novel. In MacLeod's world, humanity has been expanding slowly, at sub-light speed, for 14,000 years. They move from system to system in enormous ships that spin to provide an artificial gravity for the passengers living on the sides and manned by a micro-gravity adapted crew in the center. Journeys take centuries, and are multi-generational. Humans have overcome current age limits and the "founders" of the ship will still be around when it arrives, along with their children, grand children, etc., all educated in the skills they'll need to transform the new system into home. After settling in, a new ship is constructed, a new founder group forms and the process starts over again. In all that time, humans have never encountered any extraterrestrial life more complicate than pond scum.

As the ship at the center of Learning the World approaches a new system, they start picking up radio signals from one of the planets and discover they've got a serious ethical dilemma. The encounter is told from several points of view, including that of a teenaged blogger and an alien astronomer who first spots what he initially believes is a new comet. Both sides are changed in unexpected ways.

I haven't read any of MacLeod's books before, so I'll have to add yet more to my seemingly infinite reading list. What impressed me the most about his writing, aside from getting around the light-speed problem, is that he's made a gripping novel out of relatively little action. Much of the book is politics, which in lesser hands would make for an effective sleeping aid. Instead I was so engrossed that I was frequently in danger of missing my stop on the Tube. I can't ask for much more.

The book is newer than the ones I'm usually picking up, and is available right now only in hardcover, but Amazon has it at a reasonable price. You can buy it here or by clicking on the book cover above.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

English Education

One aspect of living overseas is that we're constantly having to negotiate unfamiliar ground, literally and figuratively.

Our children's education is the figurative sort, especially for our eldest. Theresa and I didn't go through the English school system, so each year is a whole new vista. Our 16-year-old has started at sixth form college, which is roughly equivalent (in years) to the second half of high school in the U.S. and (academically) to junior college. At the end of it, the students take their A-Level exams. If they do well, they then go on to university, but usually only for three years.

The school is all of 3.3 miles from our home (according to Google Maps), but it's also on new ground for me (of the literal sort). The bus we took drove through Harrow School, through the kind of neighborhood where the homes have names ("Hedge House") rather than mere numbers, the Royal Mail boxes haven't changed since the 19th century and the local shops sell convertible Jaguars. Hugh Grant wouldn't look out of place walking down these streets. I've lived here for more than seven years, but have never wandered through this particular corner of outer London.

My daughter doesn't go to Harrow, of course. The bus kept going and dropped us off on the other side of the tracks, figuratively, but not more than a couple of hundred yards. Her college, St. Dominic's, is a bit smaller than her secondary school, with about 800 students. I can't say we got a good look, but I got a warm feeling about the place in our brief visit last night. The new headmaster looked competent, and obviously won't put up with much from any troublemakers.

I've been anxious about my kids' education. Most well-off people here send their children to private schools (which are, oddly, called "public" schools). The newspapers are constantly filled with articles about the inadequacies of the education system, but I think that's true anywhere.

What really worries me is that the English seem to be in a hurry. At 16, my daughter has to make major decisions about what courses to take and what to drop. In the U.S., Theresa and I took almost exactly the same subjects until the third year of university, even as she became a nurse and I became a professional drain on society.

We advised flexibility, suggesting to our daughter that she take as wide a range of courses as possible. She's taking both physics and philosophy, for example. I know a few relatives will bristle at this, but I do believe Liberal Arts have value. The world is changing so fast that the only real function of the education system is to teach you how to learn. And it isn't just science and maths, it's making ethical decisions, discriminating between truth and cattle manure and communicating effectively. I had no idea what I wanted to do at 16 (or 26), but a combination of a liberal arts education and a strong interest in anything technical has served me well enough. I can only hope it works even better for my children.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The View From My Bedroom this Morning

Autumn is here and it's starting to get darker when I get up. This is what it looked like around 6:15-6:20 this morning. Compared with family and friends back in the Boston area, ours days eventually end up shorter by about an hour on each end (two hours in total). We have an additional two hours of sunlight in the summer, but that seems a long way away.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Charles Stross's "The Family Trade" and "The Hidden Family"

The part of Windsor Castle that made the biggest impression on me when I toured it a few years ago was the weapons room. It was filled from floor to ceiling with weapons for hand-to-hand combat -- every imaginable type of blade, hammer, mace and ax. It reminded me that the aristocracy got there because their ancestors were basically warlords, some of them equal in viciousness to any you'd find today in Somalia or northern Afghanistan. They were trained from an early age to kill, and the deadliest threat often came from within their own family. Fairy tales featuring princesses and Prince Charmings rarely mention the murderous in-laws in the happily-ever-after.

Charles Stross doesn't gloss over this aspect in his Merchant Princes books, The Family Trade and The Hidden Family. The main character, Miriam Bechstein, a high-tech journalist in the Boston area who was adopted as a baby , discovers that her birth family lives in an alternate universe, a more primitive version of our own, where kings still rule and her relatives are merchants who have recently joined the aristocracy. The Machiavelli-like mercantilists have a unique ability to walk between our world and theirs. They've grown rich by trading between universes and are muscling in on the traditional nobility.

Miriam is a believable character. Instead of being awed by her family, she quickly susses that they are a dangerous lot. Extracting herself and going back to her old life is impossible. Her only choice then is to remake the other world into something she can live with. The challenge is to drag her family into the modern world while dodging several factions who would rather kill her than change.

Stross doesn't play the usual comedy/tragedy-of-errors game. Miriam doesn't act like an idiot or miss (most) obvious clues. The dilemmas are convincing, her responses intelligent and the results convincing. Stross also has the journalist type down. As a former high-tech journalist from the Boston area, I recognized the type. There were very few false notes.

I'd recommend buying both books at once. They were originally written as one, and it shows. The ending of the first isn't very satisfying. You'll want to jump straight away into the second. (As usual, you can click on the book covers above to jump right to the Amazon page.)

What I find most enjoyable about Stross is that he's always different. The Merchant series couldn't be more different than Accelerando, and couldn't be more different again from Iron Sunrise or Singularity Sky. The only thing in common among these books is excellent writing.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Three out of Four

I have four blogs, and managing them all gets a bit difficult. The first is this one, where I let family and friends know what's going on, what I'm interested in and what I'm reading and watching. The second is my account. That's where I put all Web pages that catch my eye, categorized with tags and usually a sentence or two of description. The third is my Flickr account, where I post all my photos, again with tags and usually a description. Finally, the stream of news stories I edit and send to the newspaper wires can be considered a blog, albeit not one I own. My company pays me a salary for all rights to my judgment and meager skills, so it gets to decide who can subscribe to it and where the information is distributed.

To make it easier for my legion of fans (if you define "legion" as "four"), I've combined the first three blogs into one feed using Feedburner. If you're interested in seeing a daily summary of my links from and any photos I upload (not just the ones I blog about), make sure you're subscribed to this feed. You can also find it by clicking on the orange "XML" icon at the very bottom of this page. If you just want what I post here, which is a more edited summary, then subscribe to the Atom feed that Blogger provides automatically.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005


Firefly DVD coverMy wife and I will have been married 17 years next month, for which I credit one thing above all else: a similar taste in television shows. Who else but my soulmate would sit through years of Stargate and Deep Space 9?

I had heard great things for a couple of years about Firefly, a science fiction drama written by Joss Whedon. But it wasn't until I read rave reviews at the Londonist and of a new film of the show that I plunked down the money and bought the whole season on DVD. We went through the 14 episodes in a couple of weeks and loved every minute of it.

Whedon is the guy behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Theresa and I were drawn into relunctantly, and then enthusiastically. A teenager who kills bloodsuckers at night? Uh, right. But it was an excellent show, with some of the sharpest writing I've ever seen on television. Firefly's premise is only slightly less silly-sounding: 500 years in the future, two veterans of the losing side of a war and a small crew of hangers-on do odd and sometimes illegal jobs in a small ("Firefly-class") transport ship called Serenity.

The show is a weird mashup of science fiction and Westerns. Horses and shoot outs with revolvers feature heavily, but also run-ins with a dictatorial government's secret police and giant spaceships. The show seems to appeal to more than sci-fi fans. My daughter Ailish groaned every time we tried to watch a Stargate episode, but she willingly watched and enjoyed every episode of Firefly. I'd recommend caution for younger kids, though. Some of the episodes were violent, although all of the swearing was in Chinese. (Yes, Chinese. Don't ask me why.)

What's interesting about Firefly is that it was a total flop on TV. Only four episodes were actually broadcast, and in the wrong order. But the DVD unexpectedly sold like hotcakes, propelled by word of mouth. Those millions of sales have led to a film, due to come out on Sept. 30 (coincidentally the day before our wedding anniversary).

It's also the first time we've bought a TV series on DVD, and we liked it. We could watch when we want and as much as we wanted. I think we're going to start buying a few more, especially of series that we liked, but caught half way through, like Dead Like Me. With DVDs and Internet-delivered shows over Bittorrent bringing us the best TV shows lately, Theresa asked why we bother subscribing to Sky. Good question.

[Updated Sept. 11. Typo fix.]

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I watched the first-ever episode of NerdTV today. The show, which describes itself as the "Charlie Rose for geeks" and is hosted by columnist Robert X. Cringely, aims to be an intelligent technology program, something you don't find much on regular TV.

The first guest was Andy Hertzfeld, the original Macintosh systems programmer. Two things jumped out at me from the interview: Asked if money was enough, Hertzfeld said if money is your only motivation, then you're working at odds with your customer. But if you work to achieve something truely good -- something that could change the world -- you and the customer win. You can both become rich.

Secondly, Hertzfeld, who is now a believer in free, open-source software, said systems such as Linux are actually more valuable than closed systems such as Windows or Office, because you can more readily build on it. It's a foundation instead of just an end in of itself. And he didn't have any trouble coming up with business plans -- from hardware (IBM) to information (O'Reilly). People can make money with free stuff.

One aspect of the show itself that struck me is that it was easy to download and watch -- it was over an hour long, but took just a few minutes to download. And it looked good. That seems basic, but neither has been true of past attempts at bringing "television to the Internet." This might actually work this time. I hope it does. I want more of it.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On Tribes and Honor

Two blog posts about New Orleans caught my eye today. I printed them off and read them on the way home on the Tube. One is about Tribes, the other about Honor. Both are typical for the genre - heartfelt, if a bit rambling. But they couldn't be more different.

Read them both, because I'm about to, in my own heartfelt, rambling way, summarize them with all sorts of bias. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Bill Whittle's Tribes essay starts out about how the increasing divisiveness of the U.S. "breaks my heart. It just breaks my heart into little pieces." Then he goes on to demonstrate how much he loves it. Leave aside for the moment some of the most obviously dubious arguments -- the some-of-my-best-friends-are-black/gay/Democrats gymnastics and his attempt to conflate opposition to the administration's handling of the disaster to being soft on terrorism. That rhetoric is, sadly, so commonplace as to be expected. What I didn't expect was his conclusions, that the problem with New Orleans and the shelter at the Superdome is that it wasn't populated by more people like Bill Whittle. Who knew?

That’s because the people I associate with – my Tribe – consists not of blacks and whites and gays and Hispanics and Asians, but of individuals who do not rape, murder, or steal. My Tribe consists of people who know that sometimes bad things happen, and that these are an opportunity to show ourselves what we are made of. My people go into burning buildings. My Tribe consists of organizers and self-starters, proud and self-reliant people who do not need to be told what to do in a crisis. My Tribe is not fearless; they are something better. They are courageous. My Tribe is honorable, and decent, and kind, and inventive. My Tribe knows how to give orders, and how to follow them. My Tribe knows enough about how the world works to figure out ways to boil water, ration food, repair structures, build and maintain makeshift latrines, and care for the wounded and the dead with respect and compassion.

When I first read that, I admit that I found myself nodding in agreement. Of course, the people preying on the survivors are scum. My family and friends probably wouldn't be mugging and raping people, either. And, God, why didn't anyone think of organizing a latrine or something similar at the Superdome? He carries on, though, taking on tribe after tribe -- Michael Moore fans, Hollywood celebrities. He divides the world into the Pink and Grey tribes. The Pinks' moto is "EVERYBODY IS SPECIAL," while Greys are "tough, hard-nosed, capable, competent." Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy are, of course, Pink, while George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice are Grey. And so are John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Who's side are you on? (Er, I'm against Abe Lincoln, an obviously facist!) Later, he divides the world into further tribes -- sheep, sheepdogs and wolves. He's a sheepdog.

So it's a war. Don't let any news of screw ups distract you. Real Greys -- real sheepdogs -- don't look to the federal government to save them. New Orleans went badly, he says, because of a lack of leadership, at the local level, a "battle between the capable and the culpable."

Same holds for Governor Blanco. She’s not weak because she’s a woman, or because she’s a Democrat. Truman was a democrat. The Buck stopped there. She’s weak and indecisive because that is the individual she is. I wish history could work with variables: I’d love to see what Margaret Thatcher would have done in such a case. It would not only have been better, it would have been good. That woman was tough. She could be Grey as granite. And, for this, the Pink Tribe despises her.

Take a look at the comments below Whittle's essay. If there are any catcalls in there, they're drowned out by the virtual whistles, cheers and standing ovation. I think it's because his message is comforting. The world is perilous because there aren't enough of us good guys. And we're not responsible.

Now consider Dave Rogers's thoughts on "change." Rogers, a former U.S. Navy officer, takes a very un-former U.S. Navy officer approach: He turns inward.

For a while, after 9/11, some pundits opined that the event would mark some watershed in American history, that it was the end of the Age of Irony. They were wrong. We do have a problem in this country, but it's not going to be solved by a particular economic "sector." There's no faith-based program to address this particular need. There's no catchy slogan, no social software solution, no pill, no gene therapy, no stem cell, no Supreme Court decision that's going to fix what's wrong with this country. But then, there doesn't need to be, because what's wrong can be fixed by you and I. Indeed, it will only be fixed, if you and I fix it.

I'm not an ideologue. I don't have any particular view of the world that I want to promote, other than maybe two ideas: First, know thyself. And second, you must become the change you wish to see in the world.

He writes about what he learned conducting more than 30 burials at sea, about honor, about giving respect to someone you don't know, to someone who is passed caring, and who may never have cared. He writes about the lost respect for public service. Ironically, Whittle and Rogers agree that New Orleans was a failure of leadership.

What happened in the failures of government in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was not something intrinsic to the nature of bureaucracies or the public sector. What happened was a failure of leadership, a failure to renew and strengthen the shared faith that makes each of us a part of something larger, and hopefully, better than we are as individuals. What happened was a failure of leadership to keep faith with us.

That failure in leadership was not an accident. It was the result of too many years of too much neglect of the value of public service. For too many years, for too many people, public service has become just a means of advancing oneself in the private sector. People with something to gain, people with a profit motive, selfish, cynical people, have blurred the ideas of authority, responsibility, and accountability. All toward the end of abusing their authority to promote themselves while neglecting or ignoring their responsibilities, oblivious to the shared faith that has become the tattered and fraying social fabric that binds us together.

I look at these two blog posts and despair. One writer has five times the number of subscribers in Bloglines than the other. Guess which?

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Monday, September 05, 2005

New Orleans from a distance

I've been out of the U.S. long enough to take what I read about it with a grain or two of salt. Complicated situations can appear deceptively simple from a distance. But the reaction to the New Orleans disaster has been remarkably consistent. People are angry, and it sure looks like it's justified.

Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Sunday Times, dismisses some of what I've been reading -- that the government couldn't respond with enough troops because they're all in Iraq. But without that excuse, what's left?
In fact, there are plenty of troops and National Guardsmen who could have responded adequately. Iraq holds only 10.2% of army forces. There are 750,000 active or part-time soldiers and guardsmen in the US today. The question then becomes: where were they? The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi, said last week: “On Wednesday, reporters listening to horrific stories of death and survival at the Biloxi Junior High school shelter looked north across Irish Hill Road and saw air force personnel playing basketball and performing calisthenics.”

Where was the urgency to get these soldiers to rescue the poor and drowning in nearby New Orleans, or the dying and dead in devastated Mississippi? The vice-president was nowhere to be seen. The secretary of state was observed shopping for shoes in New York City. The president had barely returned to Washington; and had already opined that nobody had foreseen the breaching of New Orleans’ levees.

Earth to Bush: the breaching of the levees had been foreseen for decades. If anyone wanted evidence that this president was completely divorced from reality, that statement was Exhibit A. It didn’t help coming after a five-week vacation, when most Americans are lucky to get two.
A Florida resident, who is well aware of the dangers of hurricanes, wrote in his blog that the danger was obvious. Before the disaster, his wife worried about the people who wouldn't be able to get out:
I told her that: The US Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines in the region were already staging for deployment, and that before she even hit, they would be rolling towards the area.
That the Army would be dispatching troops, supplies, and medical assistance, including MASH units, and Tent Cities, from at least several bases outside the “Target” area, and that they would be on site when the winds died down just enough to move in.
That the United States Navy had capabilities that few Americans were aware of: Fully loaded supply ships with just about every commodity you can think of, including clothing. Assault Landing Craft, capable of landing Thousands of Troops, ( even Tanks), and Heavy equipment on ANY kind of land. That they had the ability to land and resupply entire Divisions of troops. That the Marines had Helicopter Carriers, the Navy had not only Rescue, and SAR (search and rescue Helos), but that Pennsecola probably had a bunch of them used for training. That Helicopters, troops and even C-130’s could be flown in from as far away as Ft. Campbell Ky., iand be “Operational”, On Site, in less than 24hrs, with literally thousands of trucks/semis/amphibious troop carriers, loaded with supplies and Medical teams, “On Site”, in LESS than 48 hrs. That the Coast Guard, and National Guardsmen would be on scene within HOURS, from ALL of the surrounding areas (States).

In other words…….While we can’t prevent Mother Nature from ravishing the area, we CAN help the survivors within Hours!!!!!!!!!

Boy was I Full of Shit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In the meantime, administration officials are insisting that no one could have foreseen this. As an easy Google search will show, the possibility of a major hurricane hit on New Orleans was considered one of the top three threats facing the U.S., that the Army Corp. of Engineers has been warning that the levees were inadequate, that the government recently slashed the budget for repairs and put the money toward projects such as a bridge from one Alaska town (pop. 8,000) to a nearby island (pop. 50).

Someone's got some explaining to do.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Being Poor

Whatever: Being Poor: An excellent, poetic and sobering look at what it's like to be poor (via Clive Thompson). Here's a sample, but please read the whole thing:
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

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More odds and ends

3hive - sharing the sharing: Interesting blog about free music files on the Internet (mostly via band or record company sites). I especially like that you can play the blog like a radio station.
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rebecca blood :: bloggers on blogging :: heather armstrong (dooce), august 2005: Interview with the woman behind one of the most popular blog's, dooce.
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Reader²: A site for tagging, reviewing and recommending books. Seemed still lightly populated when I checked a few days ago.
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EFF: The Customer Is Always Wrong: A User's Guide to DRM in Online Music: Excellent introduction to the issue of digital rights management, for people who aren't necessarily geeks.
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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Making the second post easier

I've been moderately successful at getting some of my extended family to create blogs, but I have had less success in getting them to post anything. Most of the new family blogs have one entry -- their first.

If the obstacle is that the technology is intimidating, there are a couple of programs that make posting to your blog as easy as writing a letter and printing it. The first is an add-on to Microsoft Word, made by Google for its Blogger service, which can be found here. Another is a separate editor called Qumana LE, which you can download from here. Both are free.

Blogger's Word add-on has the advantage of familiarity. Once installed, it adds four new buttons in the toolbar: Blogger Settings, Open Post, Save as Draft and Publish. I gave it my Blogger username and password and that's all the set up it needed. I could use any of Microsoft Word's features, such as Autocorrect and grammar checking, and posting was as easy as clicking on one button.

Qumana worked similarly, but had a few more advanced features, such automatically inserting Technorati tags and support for almost any blogging system (such as Typepad and Blogware). One neat feature is something called the DropPad. It's a floating icon that let me gather Web sites or snippets of text by dragging from my browser and dropping it on to the icon. The collected items are put into a document for later editing and posting. Qumana lacks the ability to save your post as a draft, something I do frequently. You can, however, save it on your hard drive (in Rich Text Format) until you're ready to put it on your blog.

Both are for Windows only at the moment, which means I won't be using them much, and anyone comfortable with HTML will find them limiting. But for the average user -- and that's most of my family -- either makes posting a snap.


Just a quick administrative note: I went back to Blogger's normal comment system, after trying a third-party service called Haloscan for months. I tried it because I like the idea of "trackbacks," which allow you to explicitly attach your blog entry to another's, as a response or a continuation of the conversation. Unfortunately, spammers are ruining the system. Most trackbacks I got were to gambling or dubious pharmaceutical sites. It wasn't worth the effort to find and delete those, especially since I get very few legitimate trackbacks anyway. One side effect is that if you've commented on a post, the comments are gone. Sorry about that.

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Slow motion

I was working when the 9/11 attack in New York and Washington happened. The newsroom is surrounded by giant TV screens, so the scenes played over and over, all over the room, as we watched in silence. I remember the stages we went through: Disbelief, shock, anger and then grief.

Over the hurricane in New Orleans, I've been going through the same stages, watching the same giant TV screens. The scenes play over and over, all day long, for days on end. How can this happen in the world's richest country? This time, however, the disbelief, shock and anger are unfolding over several days, when we're a bit more capable of absorbing it. That's the danger. I woke up this morning to see headlines turning hopeful for the first time. How many will breathe a sigh of relief and put off making that donation?

New Orleans isn't going to drain. It has to be pumped out. The lower Mississippi area is the world's fifth-biggest port and accounts for a tenth of the country's oil and gas production. Recovering from this is a long term project and will be going on long after most of us have moved on.

Consider giving something now, and again weeks from now, when it's needed most, and few are giving it much thought.

[Update Sept. 6: Corrects the region's portion of oil and gas production.]

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