Bush v. Kerry

We’re about 45 minutes in to the presidential debate now. I think the smartest thing Kerry is doing is goading Bush to feel he has to do a reply outside the structure of the debate, which gives Kerry a chance to do an additional response. The more the debate resembles a real debate with back-and-forth, the better it is for Kerry. At this point, I think Kerry’s aggressive attack strategy is working. Although Bush is “staying on message,” it feels like it’s a defensive message. I’ve been looking around the web for other “real time” commentary but no luck so far.

(update: of course, Instapundit is giving a real-time commentary, with a pretty different take on things; he’s also linking to other real-time bloggers, worth following)

Free Globe

Working near the heart of the financial district in Boston, I’ve noticed what I believe is a new phenomenon. Just about every day, I can get either the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, or the New York Times for free. The Globe usually has a cover page reflecting a sponsor of the free newspaper (most often my recent alma mater), but the Herald and Times are just plain free, the same version you can buy for $0.25 to $1.00 at the vending machine on the corner.

One theory is that they are trying to put Metro out of business, and then they’ll stop their freebies (potentially an antitrust “dumping” violation if this is really the plan). Metro is a short, free newspaper that has been popping up in cities all over the world (they apparently only provide PDF versions of their paper on their website). The quality of the writing is terrible, but it’s short, and, well, free. For many commuters, it’s all they have time to read on the train anyway. It’s interesting how often people (myself included) will chose something much worse because it’s free, rather than pay $0.25 for a real paper, which in this day and age is also basically “free” if you earn a reasonable salary. This is perhaps also the appeal of the shoddy camcorder versions of current-run movies that circulate on peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

Another theory is that the papers make so little money from vendor sales (versus advertising) that the increased circulation from free giveaways actually increases advertising revenue more than the lost sales. Most cultural weeklies have gone this way—I remember when I first moved to Boston I accidentally stole the Boston Phoenix a couple of times before I realized that it actually cost money. Shortly thereafter they made it free and my guilt was assuaged.

There’s been a lot of talk about near-zero-cost publishing on the web and the impact on copyright, creativity, and the dissemination of information. But could it be that “real” publishing is also becoming so cheap that the same issues arise there? People are rarely willing to pay for standard news content online, perhaps the same is becoming true offline.

NPR Discovers the Weblog

I expect other bloggers share my slight irritation when the traditional media run a story about the “blogging phenomenon.” On Sunday morning, NPR Weekend Edition interviewed New York Times correspondent Matthew Klam who had a story in the Sunday Times Magazine about blogging and the election. Two of the more inane questions (from memory) were:

  • Are some bloggers more trusted than others?
  • Why do you think bloggers are having a bigger effect in this election than in 2000?

The New York Times writer’s answer were almost as inane. He commented that in 2000, a lot of bloggers were still hand-coding HTML.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I would just prefer that they leave us alone. Let us do our thing, and let them do their thing.

I’m also struggling with the question of how an associate in a fairly sizable law firm can continue blogging. I know some of my readers are partners or solo practioners who don’t have to be as concerned about discretion; but what about for those of us low on the totem poll. Any suggestions?

It’s a Wild World

Does anyone else find it bizarre that so many news outlets are reporting that Cat Stevens (aka Yusuf Islam) was denied entry to the United States because he appears on a terrorist watch list with a straight face? I know content providers pretend to separate editorial/opinion pieces from “straight news” stories, but this one is so implausible it’s almost a sign of bias to not go into a little more detail about the absurdity of it. At least this AP story printed in the Portland Maine Press Herald includes the statement that officials “said Islam was denied entry on national security grounds, but had no details about why the peace activist might be considered a risk to the United States.”

A couple of comments on this case, in the form of rhetorical questions. I realize I’m not the first person to ask these questions:

  • How is it that someone can be so dangerous that they shouldn’t be allowed on an airplane nor permitted to enter US borders, but harmless enough that they can’t be arrested or detained? If we’re so worried about them, why do we let them go once we have them in our clutches? If they’re a risk to airplane flights, why aren’t they also a risk to subways, baseball stadiums, and Britney Spears concerts?
  • With all these “false positives” (i.e., clearly harmless people appearing on security watch lists, including, for example Senator Ted Kennedy), isn’t our confidence in the whole system shot? If every third person to walk through a bomb detector sets off the alarm, aren’t the guards eventually going to just ignore the alarm? Have we reached the point where the secret terrorism watch lists and no-fly lists are so voluminous as to be useless?

Bush’s National Guard Service

I’m not usually much for pro-Bush humour (or pro-Bush anything, for that matter), but this historical documentation concerning the President’s National Guard Service is actually worth seeing. See, even conservatives can be funny.

A Great Spice Site

Here is a great site for information about spices, “Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.” A friend forwarded it to me a couple of months ago, and I recently googled fruitlessly for it. I’m posting it here with the hope that its PageRank will increase so it won’t be hard to find. This guy presents the most complete information I’ve found about 117 difference spice plants (at the time of this writing), with no apparent commercial motive. The web at its best.

Reading Annoying HTML Mail in Mutt

I’ve tried several solutions for reading broken HTML mail in mutt, including my own custom Python hack, addMIMETextToHTMLEmail (this was actually the first Python program I ever wrote). Reasonably nice mail clients will send a plaintext part in addition to the HTML mail for us textophilic email users, but the dominant Microsoft Hotmail and Microsoft Exchange send HTML-only mail with no plaintext part. I wonder if they do this because they expect anybody worth writing to these days is using Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Hotmail.

I think I’ve recently discovered the best solution, since my addMIMETextToHTMLEmail script doesn’t always work properly and is probably unnecessarily complex:

  • Download and install demoroniser. You may need to tweak it slightly, since it expects perl to be in /bin/perl.
  • Install html2text (Debian package, separate source available from Martin Bayer).
  • Add to ~/.mailcap (this all needs to go on one line):
     text/html; /home/adam/bin/demoroniser.pl -q -w0 '%s' | /usr/bin/html2text -width 90 -style pretty; copiousoutput; description=HTML Text 

    You may prefer a wider output; the person who suggested this to me uses 158.

  • Edit ~/.muttrc and add:
     set implicit_autoview=yes 
  • You should now be able to view HTML-only emails in mutt without having any extra steps.

I’m considering packaging demoroniser for Debian, although it may fall below people’s ‘this script is too small to be its own package’ threshold.

Thanks to Alec Thomas, author of xchg2mail (which I’m also planning on packaging for Debian), for the tip.


My weblog seems to have entirely disappeared from the front page. I’m just creating this entry to see if it returns. Quite busy starting work these days; I expect to resume semi-regular blogging in a week or two.

Update: it’s fixed. I had hundreds of empty ‘names.txt’ in my blog directories; the result of an errant script. Blosxom saw empty blog entries in every category and attempted to display them.


Freevite is a web- and email-based invitation and RSVP system, licensed under the GPL.

Details will appear here shortly.