Firefox Reloaded

I’ve decided to support Mozilla FireFox’s promotional campaign, at least for a while, by adding this button to my sidebar:

Get Firefox

I wonder if they’ve worked out any possible trademark issues with The Matrix Reloaded. After all the trademark issues this project has had in the past, I would hope they would steer clear of future conflict. (Interestingly, Mozilla has filed with the USPTO for FIREFOX—smart move).

Linux Nightmare

This is a dream I just had: I was showing a movie on a large screen connected to my laptop running GNU/Linux. For some reason, the movie stopped playing. The file was gone. I noticed the drive was running continuously. I checked for free space:

 joehill:~>df -h Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on /dev/hda2 55G 52G 133M 100% / 

and then again:

 joehill:~>df -h Filesystem Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on /dev/hda2 55G 51G 1.2G 98% / 

Somehow, files were disappearing. I checked for some process that might be deleting files:

 joehill:~>ps aux | grep rm joehill:~> 

or maybe an rsync job with the —delete switch?

 joehill:~>ps aux | grep rsync joehill:~> 

Nothing! I yanked out the network cable in an effort to stop the destruction. Still the free space continued to increase. Suddenly, the system reboots, but now the bootloader is gone, and I have a “no disk found” error.

Someone from my office comes over to help me, but can’t figure it out. He says, “I’ll call the trainer to help you get up to speed on Windows.”

Then I woke up in a cold sweat.

RIP Tooker Gomberg

More sad news: Tooker Gomberg·, a heroic environmental activist, has taken his own life·. I knew Tooker just a little: he stayed at my house in Vermont several years ago while travelling across the country by public transit and bicycle with his wife Angela. I’ve also received his frequent email missives over the years. The man had incredible energy, charisma, and a great sense of humor. One of his fellow city legislators described him thus:

He called him a man of conviction who walked or pedalled his bike or rode on public transit rather than drive a polluting vehicle. He wore clothes of natural fibres, he recycled, he composted and he gardened.
“I have never seen anyone who walked the talk like Tooker did,” he said. “He lived what he preached.”

Also see this tribute, “He was the Grain of Sand that Stopped the Machine”:

Tooker was bold, daring and defiant. He had spunk and chutzpah. He put his body on the line. Many times, he crossed that line. His mottoes were: From the ground up. Word to mouth. Small scale. Grassroots. Guerrilla gardening-style. He was the grain of sand that stopped the machine. Every day of his life was a renewed chance to change the world.

One tiny detail of his passing that seems particularly tragic to me: they found his bicycle and helmet on the bridge he jumped off. The image of Tooker putting on a helmet to bike to the spot where he would die is hard to accept.

Goodbye Spoon

I just discovered that spoon, aka Ian Truskett, has passed away.

I never met spoon, and had only exchanged a handful of emails with him. I maintain the Debian package of a perl module he wrote, libwww-shorten-perl (or WWW::Shorten). It’s an odd connection to have with someone, and now to realize that they died. I don’t know quite what to do about it.

It also reminds me that there are many small free software projects out there maintained by lone developers (I have several myself), and as the movement ages we need to figure out how to pass on the torch without too much disruption. Maybe we should all have something like a living will, expressing some sense of who should take up our projects when we’re gone.

I’m uploading spoon’s last release of WWW::Shorten into sid now, released just a few weeks before he died. It’s not much of a tribute, I know, but it’s the only thing I can think to do.

Spam Be Gone

I think I’ve found a solution to my persistent “spam referrer” woes, where porn sites (particularly “Paris Hilton” related—to whom, I continue to assert, I have no connection whatsoever) create spurious links from weblogs and boost their Google PageRank. About twice an hour, I have a script that looks up all the “recent inbound links” sites and checks to see if they actually link to my site. If they don’t, they’re removed.

I’m sure a few legitimate inbound links will be removed in the process, but it’s much preferable to having to manually cull out all the porn sites. As it turns out, porn sites never actually link to me!

I wonder how long it will take for the spam referrers to figure out a way around this filter.


Johnny Cash’s music video Hurt may well be the saddest music video I’ve ever seen. I’d heard the song several times without realizing quite how sad it is.

A Moment of Silence for Spain?

I attended a lecture· yesterday as part of the Spirit of Fès·, an interfaith festival of sacred music that started in Fès, Morocco, and has spread throughout the world. The discussion concerned the possibility of bridging the divide between the great faith traditions to achieve peace in the world. One of the panelists made a startling observation: after last week’s bombing in Madrid, Spain·, there was no official national moment of silence or mourning of the tragedy in the United States.

On September 14, 2001, all of Europe observed a three-minute silence to remember the victims of the September 11 attacks·, as did most of the rest of the world. Yet, even though this was the worst terrorist attack in Spanish history, and Europe itself observed· a transnational moment of silence, there was no such response here.

Why is it that our tragedy is the world’s tragedy, but disaster elsewhere is reflected here primarily as fear of more terrorism on American soil?

Dear Topica List Owner

I just received this note from Topica:

In an effort to continue to provide our discussion list service at no charge to list owners and subscribers, Topica will shortly be introducing short text advertisements to be featured with some of the the discussion list messages.


Fortunately, I’ve moved all of the mailing lists I administer over to mailman running on my own server over the last few years. But that still leaves all the Topica lists I’m subscribed to, over which I have no control.

People’s eyes often glaze over when I try to explain why Hotmail and Topica aren’t really “free.” The typical response: “Well, I’m not paying for it. It’s free. Like television.”

How much junk can they force down people’s throats before they finally see that “free” is not “free”? Even setting aside the whole “free beer” vs. “free speech” distinction, isn’t our time and attention itself worth something in monetary terms (i.e., “beer”)?

And what about the fact that we have no say over what changes these services will implement in the future? You get stuck with your “free” email address and your “free” email lists, and there are substantial costs involved in moving to a new service, particularly when your free service tries to make it difficult to switch out (i.e., neither Hotmail nor Yahoo! mail allow you to automatically forward your email to a new address, although GNU/Linux utilities exist that can grab the messages for you—gotmail, YahooPOPs!, FetchYahoo!).

As more and more “free” sites put time consuming and annoying obstacles between us and the services we’re trying to access, I’m hoping people will start to think about “very cheap” as a good alternative to “fake free.” I can provide mailing list services to people at nearly no cost, and I’m involved with a group that’s scaling up for a colocated server that promises to provide storage and bandwidth to friends (and friends of friends) for pennies a month (no profit for us). I’d rather pay 25 cents any day than face the barrage of garbage hotmail and similar sites provide as a condition of getting their free services.

Why has Critique Run Out Of Steam?

Critical theorist and science philosopher/sociologist Bruno Latour· has a fascinating article in Critical Inquiry·, Why has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern· (alternate version from Latour’s website·).

I was quite influenced by Latour’s book, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society·. Science in Action is a powerful critique of the concept of scientific truth/consensus as such. When I read Science in Action (towards the end of my undergraduate chemistry degree), it confirmed when I had begun to suspect: the general direction of science and widespread acceptance of scientific truth is largely socially constructed. Latour articulated a persuasive narrative of science that I had felt intuitively but not yet been able to fully develop in words myself.

Now, Latour once again puts his finger on a changed problem: “critique” has become so successful that it has become a tool to destroy truth rather than elucidate it. Latour suggests, like old army generals, we (critical theorists) might still be fighting the last war while our cause goes down in flames. Latour writes about the right wing’s success in muddying the waters with respect to global warming science:

Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent some time in the past trying to show “the lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argumentor did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from prematurely naturalized objectified facts. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?
In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of factas we have learned to combat so efficiently in the pastbut from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we now have to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we said? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?

(too bad blosxom, my weblog software, doesn’t support multiple categories—this should obviously be filed in culture and politics.)

Haiti Coup

According to several knowledgeable sources interviewed by Democracy Now!·, Jean-Bertrand Aristide did not resign but was abducted by American forces as part of a coup d’etat. This is a very different version of the events than that offered, for example, by the New York Times:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 29 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the slum priest who became his country’s first democratically elected president, resigned today under intense pressure from the United States and the threat of an invasion of the capital by armed insurgents, fleeing by jet at dawn under heavy American guard.

You can download the whole show in ogg vorbis format or as a larger mp3 file. Whether or not you agree with Aristide’s lawyer, friend, and Congressmember Maxine Waters (D-CA), this version of the story needs to be more widely disseminated. It’s our duty as citizens of the blogosphere to correct these sorts of omissions and inaccuracies in the mainstream media.