MP4/AAC Tag Editor for Linux?

Is anyone aware of an MP4/AAC sound file ID tag editor for Linux? There doesn’t appear to be anything in Debian; a Google search doesn’t reveal any obvious candidates.

Announcing Freevite

Steve and I have decided to write and package freevite. Freevite will be a web-based event invitation/RSVP system licensed under the GPL. Before we start, though, I’m soliciting suggestions on the program. As far as I know, there is no free-as-in-speech web-based invitation package, and the world sorely needs one as commercial proprietary competitors brainstorm new ways to build a revenue stream from their product. It shouldn’t be that hard or time consuming to code, and it seems to me that we need a free-software standard product for this.

The program will probably be coded in perl, and give the administrator the choice of a simple file-system based data storage system or MySQL/PostgreSQL for better performance and data integrity. It should be possible for the administrator to plop the perl script down in a cgi-bin directory and set the proper permissions on the data storage directory and have a totally functional system, but also provide options for more secure (e.g., against cross-site scripting vulnerabilites) and sophisticated installations. The program will also be available as a Debian package, and support various ways of doing site-wide and user-specific installations (this will be tricky—Debian doesn’t seem to have a good solution for having packaged perl scripts like blosxom run on a per-user basis).

Administrators can configure the system so that anyone can create an event or only authorized users can create an event. There will be configurable privacy settings—if the user doesn’t want the inviter to know they’ve opened the invitation, they can indicate that, and the inviter will also have the choice of deciding whether to track opened invitations at all. You will be able to respond to an invitation without any registration or authentication process (having received the token for your invitation by email), but eventually there will probably also be a way to create a persistent identity linked with an arbitrary number of email addresses if you desire.

All presentation will be done with mailman-like templates, and the package will ship with some standard, clean, templates. Content will be properly separated into stylesheets and HTML.

Everything will be HTML standards compliant, and should render properly in text-based web browsers like w3m. There will be no required Javascript or any plugins, although there might be some optional Javascript content (my web-based photo gallery software, salonify, works this way).

Please leave suggestions, ideas, or recommendations as comments to this entry or email me. If there already exists a free-as-in-speech product that does all this, please let me know and I’ll stop right now.

P2P Politics

In case you haven’t heard about it elsewhere, check out p2p-politics, a collaborative website where anyone can post their election-related homemade advertisements. I particularly recommend the “If the Bush Administration Was Your Roommate” series.

Now there must be some Bush supporters out there with an ounce of creativity and a digital video camera who can upload some content. It’s a little embarrassing to have such an imbalance there. Does anyone understand why there are hundreds of grassroots pro-Kerry ads, but not a single pro-Bush one?

Sorry Planet Debian

Apologies to any Planet Debian readers for having just monopolized the front page with several stories; I moved a bunch of old stories to a new blog topic, and apparently Planet Debian thinks they are all now new stories, even though they have their old timestamp. If anyone knows a remedy for this, please let me know. (I guess this entry is further compounding my overpresence!)

Portable Defribillator vs. Bush

My friend, fellow Boston resident and Princeton alum, Kerry-fundraiser extraordinaire, and non-blogger Jon Garfunkel·, suggests that the “mysterious lump” on Bush’s back in the first debate (as reported by Salon and later followed by the New York Times) is in fact a portable defibrillator·, just to be extra safe in these difficult times.

Jon has asked people to have spread the word to see if anyone can get their hands on one of these devices and find a 6-foot tall, 190 pound man, wearing a 44L jacket over it, and see how it looks.

Please let me know if you have any leads.

Express Yourself

The instant debate polls are already in (well, they’ve been in for hours now). I thought this snippet from the USA Today poll was kind of funny:

B. Expressed himself more clearly 

Kerry Bush Both equally (vol.) Neither (vol.) No opinion
2004 Oct 13 61 29 9 1 *
2004 Oct 8 54 37 9 * *
2004 Sep 30 60 32 7 1 *

Is it just me, or did the identity of change overnight? I checked it when Cheney mentioned the site during the debate last night, and it was just a “portal” banner ad type site. Cheney actually intended to refer to, the Annenberg Center Political Fact Checking site (which is now giving a Microsoft .NET “Server error in ‘/’ Application” error—too bad they didn’t use Apache!). But when visiting today, it redirects to, a message from billionaire and anti-Bush activist George Soros. Is it possible that he took over the site that quickly, or was the domain hijacked last night, or is there some other, more sinister explanation?

Cheney v. Edwards

This debate is fairly nasty, and I can only see it getting more aggressive. I’m not going to “liveblog” the whole thing, as are many others.

What’s remarkable is how sharp both of them are. They are also flatly contradicting each other. The question is whether people will go and research the facts, or go with the candidate who they “trust” more at a gut level.

Interesting that Cheney referred to “” on the Halliburton issue. He actually meant (I’m sure the ad site .com got a few extra hundreds of thousands of hits from that, though). Although is down right now, probably also due to server load, a glance at the google cache of the page reveals many articles critical of the Bush campaign’s claims. I wonder if Cheney is just counting on people not actually checking the site, and just figuring it refutes the Halliburton attacks.

Email From Iraq

Via my friend Steve, via Yale law professor Jack Balkin, via (“everything you need to be a better journalist”), the following horrifying email from Wall Street Journal Reporter Farnaz Fassihi. This personal email is already widely circulating, but for whatever small section of people who read my blog who haven’t seen it elsewhere, here it is in its entirety:

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people’s homes and never walk in the streets. I can’t go grocery shopping any more, can’t eat in restaurants, can’t strike a conversation with strangers, can’t look for stories, can’t drive in any thing but a full armored car, can’t go to scenes of breaking news stories, can’t be stuck in traffic, can’t speak English outside, can’t take a road trip, can’t say I’m an American, can’t linger at checkpoints, can’t be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can’t and can’t. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the ‘turning point’ exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq’s population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush’s rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a ‘potential’ threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to ‘imminent and active threat,’ a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess ‘the situation.’ When asked ‘how are thing?’ they reply: ‘the situation is very bad.”

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn’t control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country’s roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health — which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers — has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America’s last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date — and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it’s so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they’d take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, “President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost.”

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it’s hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can’t be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a ‘no go zone’-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they’d boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: “Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?”