Onion Video on Segway

I’ve been reading The Onion since the late 90’s when I lived in Chicago and could pick up the paper version at any street corner. Recently I’ve wondered how long they can continue given the relatively small set of story structures they tend to use. Now they’re providing video, though, and my faith is restored. They even provide convenient HTML code for embedding (although I expect this won’t translate well into my RSS feed):

In The Know: Life Before The Segway

Dewar’s is staking out a significant presence in the web video universe. I first noticed them when they sponsored the permanent archives of the Zefrank Show — now they’re everywhere.

There must be an interesting legal issue or two just about to surface with advertising in this sort of syndicated embedded video content. I’m not sure exactly what it is yet, but watch out, it’s coming.

Proof of Spring 2007

For anyone who doubts the arrival of Spring 2007:

Flower Spring 2007

Update: all of the below was fixed by disabling Privoxy! Who would have guessed?

Meanwhile, I can’t for the life of me get the gallery2/wordpress integration plugin (wpg2) to work. I decided it was time to get organized and stop storing/uploading photos in a totally ad hoc fashion. When I try to validate the wpg2 installation, however, I get this error:

Warning: Cannot modify header information – headers already sent by (output started at /home/adam/public_html/adam.rosi-kessel.org/weblog/wp-admin/admin-header.php:16) in /home/adam/public_html/adam.rosi-kessel.org/weblog/wp-includes/functions.php on line 1221

When I then click to confirm that I want to validate, I get an empty page back.

No errors in apache logs.

This problem appears to have come up several times, and the most I can gather is the Gallery people point the finger at the Gallery Plugin people; the Gallery Plugin people point their finger at the Gallery people; and sometimes everyone points their finger at the WordPress people. E.g.

Not the best way to spend a beautiful spring day.

Four Cheers for Geoffrey’s!

Just recently, Rachele complained about a drop in quality at our neighborhood restaurant, Salute. No sooner did she complain than the restaurant changed name, ownership, and chef. Witness the power of the blogosphere!

Geoffrey’s (link, anyone?) just opened this week is the old Roslindale location of Salute, having taken a three year hiatus from its last location in the Back Bay, and the South End before that. Back when I worked in the South End in the late 1990’s, it was one of my favorite lunch/brunch places, so I was delighted to discover they’ve reopened in Roslindale.

We were the new restaurant’s first brunch customers ever.  They open at 8am, and with a natural alarm clock that wakes us up at 6am (our daughter), we were prompt for the opening.

The brunch was great. We shared a “DonutMuffin” as an appetizer. There was enough pleasure in that pastry to equal at least half a dozen commercial-grade donuts. I had a tomato, basil, and fancy-cheese-of-some-sort quiche with a side of fresh cantaloupe. It was a very generous serving with a thick tasty crust (no toast necessary!). I was particularly impressed with the volume of fresh basil, and the juiciness of the cantaloupe. Rachele has vegetarian eggs benedict (also delicious) and Esther had a side of heart-shaped waffles, which was just right for her. The coffee was definitely on the high end for restaurant coffee (which, somehow, seems to go on a different scale from coffee-shop coffee.) Next time I’ll try a cappuccino.

All this for only $35 (including tip). The meal was comparable to (but slightly cheaper and more filling than) our other favorite brunch place, Bon Savor in Jamaica Plain. The owner/chef explained that they had moved out of the South End when the rent tripled. He’s keeping prices in the 1997-range, since the rent he is paying in Roslindale is comparable to what he paid in the South End in that era. (Although actually I’m sure other costs have gone up significantly).

The Chowhound and Universal Hub folks are also pleased. Roslindale is certainly in need of a good brunch place — although I am fond of the Blue Star Diner conceptually, in practice the service has been poor and the food irregular. We will certainly be making fewer trips to JP for brunch now.

The dinner menu also looks excellent, with several good vegetarian options. The chef also assured me the couscous dish is vegan.

We were the only people in the restaurant in the opening hour. I predict in a month the place will be packed. If so, it will be proof of this blog’s influence!

Unwise Crowds?

Many of us who believe in Web 2.0 (the concept, not the buzzword) have come to accept the wisdom of crowds like an article of faith. The Frontal Cortex describes a Columbia University sociology experiment that might undermine our dogma (apparently I missed it in Science):

In our study, published last year in Science, more than 14,000 participants registered at our Web site, Music Lab (www.musiclab.columbia.edu), and were asked to listen to, rate and, if they chose, download songs by bands they had never heard of. Some of the participants saw only the names of the songs and bands, while others also saw how many times the songs had been downloaded by previous participants. This second group — in what we called the “social influence” condition — was further split into eight parallel “worlds” such that participants could see the prior downloads of people only in their own world. We didn’t manipulate any of these rankings — all the artists in all the worlds started out identically, with zero downloads — but because the different worlds were kept separate, they subsequently evolved independently of one another.

This setup let us test the possibility of prediction in two very direct ways. First, if people know what they like regardless of what they think other people like, the most successful songs should draw about the same amount of the total market share in both the independent and social-influence conditions — that is, hits shouldn’t be any bigger just because the people downloading them know what other people downloaded. And second, the very same songs — the “best” ones — should become hits in all social-influence worlds.

What we found, however, was exactly the opposite. In all the social-influence worlds, the most popular songs were much more popular (and the least popular songs were less popular) than in the independent condition. At the same time, however, the particular songs that became hits were different in different worlds, just as cumulative-advantage theory would predict. Introducing social influence into human decision making, in other words, didn’t just make the hits bigger; it also made them more unpredictable.

I don’t accept this one study as proof that the entire user-centric content rating system is a failure (or random), but it does highlight some of the perils of a “winner takes most” mode of cultural evolution.

Adam’s Super Simple Guide to mbox->maildir conversion

There are a lot of pages out there explaining how to convert your mail from mbox to maildir. I’m going to add one more, resurrecting the “tips” section of my blog. (All the tips from my blosxom days are grouped together on one page — someday I’ll get around to breaking those up properly.)

If nothing else, I’ll never have to write these instructions in an email to someone again, instead I’ll just send them the link to this entry. I hope these steps are specific enough so anyone savvy enough to even have this problem in the first place will be able to follow them.

One thing I find consistently concerns people when converting to maildir is how to make sure no mail is lost in the transition. The steps below address that concern. It’s really not hard at all once you understand how maildir works.

First, I’m assuming you have mb2md installed and procmail support. Also, if you plan to access your mail through IMAP, your IMAP server needs to know to use ~/Maildir if ~/Mail does not exist. This is often default behavior (at least it is for Dovecot).

Finally, I assume that your inbox is in /var/mail/username, and your other mail folders are in ~/mail.

So, here goes:

  1. Edit your .procmailrc. The first two lines should read:

    This will cause all new mail to be delivered (after you save your .procmailrc) to be stored in maildir format under ~/Maildir. The key for procmail to know to use the maildir format is the trailing slash in the “DEFAULT” line. Note that under the new system, your inbox and all your folders are kept in ~/Maildir, rather than having an inbox in /var/mail and your folders under your home directory. (This is nice because it makes it easier to back up all your mail together, among other things).
  2. If you have any specific procmail rules in your .procmailrc, you’ll also need to change the target folders for that. For example, if you have a spam filtering rule like this:
    :0 H
    * ^X-Spam-Level: *****
    It needs to be changed to this:

    :0 H
    * ^X-Spam-Level: *****

    The trailing slash, again, tells procmail to use maildir rather mbox format for delivery. The leading dot will make the folder appear properly for your IMAP client (there’s a trick I suggest below for making “dot” folders easy to access with a command line client like mutt).

    If you have mail being delivered to a nested mail folder, an additional change is needed because maildir has a flat hierarchy. So if your mail was being delivered to “misc/other/spam” the new target should be “.misc.other.spam/”.

  3. Save your .procmailrc. From this point forward, all mail will be delivered to your maildir folders. You can now import all your old mail to the new folders without concern. Since maildir stores each individual message as a separate unique file, you don’t need to worry about any overwriting issues while you are making the transition. New mail will be delivered to newly named files; old mail will be imported to other, unique, newly named files.
  4. Import your mail folders:
    mb2md -s ~/mail -R
    The -R just means to import recursively through all your folders; if your mail folder is Mail rather than mail, use that instead. No destination is needed because mb2md uses ~/Maildir by default.
  5. Import your inbox:
    mb2md -m
  6. Move your old inbox out of the way. Most people won’t actually be able to move or delete files in /var/mail (since they don’t have directory write privileges), so the easiest thing is probably to just open the inbox in your IMAP client or with mutt and save or delete all the messages.
  7. Move your old mail folder out of the way:mv ~/mail{,.bak}Once you’ve confirmed that everything is okay, you should be able to delete ~/mail.bak (or compress it and move it elsewhere.) If you saved your inbox to mail folder in step 6, that will get moved out of the way here as well.
  8. That’s it, you’re done.
  9. Okay, so you’re not quite done if you access your mail with mutt rather than an IMAP client. (You could just point your mutt at your local IMAP server, of course). I’ve found the most convenient way to access the “dot” folders with mutt is to create a parallel symlinked folder structure without the dots. Here’s a hacked-together shell script that will do that. This could obviously be rewritten to be much more elegant (probably in perl). But we all have our messy scripts, right?


    cd ~/Maildir

    for x in .*
    if ( echo $y | grep -q '.' )
    mkdir -p ~/mymail/${y%.*}
    ln -s ~/Maildir/$x ~/mymail/`echo $y | sed "s/.///g"`

    for x in *
    ln -s ~/Maildir/$x ~/mymail

    Then, just add these lines to your .muttrc file:
    set folder="~/mymail"
    set spoolfile="~/mymail"

Any questions?

Google Reader is the Solution

I was a long-time hold-out user of standalone RSS aggregators (SharpReader for Windows and Straw on GNU/Linux, both of which have been somewhat stagnant over the last couple of years). I’ve finally thrown in the towel and switched to Google Reader. It was a great decision.

The key factor is mobility. I check email and blogs from my personalGoogle Mobile Image laptop; our kitchen computer; my office workstation; and, perhaps most significantly for Google Reader, from my cell phone. The Google Reader cell phone app is quite good (handy “keyboard” shortcuts, efficient presentation), and allows me to catch up during time that is difficult to use for other purposes: waiting for the train, standing in line at Starbucks, on the elevator.

The only real downside is the lack of offline support (although I don’t think it would take a rocket scientist to create it), but this is far outweighed by the mobile functionality. As “access anywhere” becomes more important than “offline access,” I predict we’ll see more users of all applications make this sort of switch.

Running a Hospital

Running a Hospital is a blog actually written (not ghostwritten) by the CEO of a large Boston-area hospital, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The blog covers hospital/health-care issues as well as some unrelated topics. The emergence of this sort of open and frank discourse from leaders (particularly in medicine) is a real sea change. Just a few years ago, this sort of relatively unedited discussion would have been shut down by the lawyers. It’s an interesting variation on the “medium is the message” concept. Of course, everything this CEO (and others) are writing doesn’t require the web or weblogs. The same content could easily have been provided in a printed newsletter (setting aside the minor cost issue). Weblogs have established new norms, however, that enable openness even in particularly liability-sensitive areas like medicine.

For example, see this entry about fatal infections resulting from central lines. On a lighter note, should the hospital use cage-free eggs? (I said yes.)

[Tags]Weblogs, Health Care[/Tags]

Ed Felten on Cablevision

As usual, Ed Felten offers a well-conceived analysis of the Cablevision decision from a technologist’s perspective (for a lawyer’s perspective, see William Patry). The money quote:

The question, in other words, was who was recording the programming. Was Cablevision doing the recording, or were its customers doing the recording? The customers, by using their remote controls to navigate through on-screen menus, directed the technology to record certain programs, and controlled the playback. But the equipment that carried out those commands was owned by Cablevision and (mostly) located in Cablevision buildings. So who was doing the recording? The question doesn’t have a simple answer that I can see.

This general issue of who is responsible for the actions of complex computer systems crops up surprisingly often in law and policy disputes. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent theory about it, which is too bad, because it will only become more important as systems get more complicated and more tightly intereconnected.

Agency, intent/scienter, and responsibility are indeed tricky issues with software and the law. I’ve experienced the problem in my own practice. Although it arises particularly frequently in copyright disputes, it is also common in patent and trademark cases (and of course contract disputes inasmuch as clickwrap-type agreements are implicated). I don’t have any coherent theory to propose, but a more uniform framework would certainly introduce some predictability into these sorts of cases (and thus perhaps avoid litigation).

Update: Mike Madison also has some interesting comments on the case.

Roslindale Village Market Ignores Passover

Our local supermarket, Village Market (whose domain name seems to have disappeared) is generally pretty good considering its small size. Oddly, though, they don’t carry a single special kosher for Passover product. Not even a box of humble Matzah. Rachele asked the putative owner about the lack of Passover foods, but a week into the holiday there doesn’t appear to have been any progress.

The lack of kosher-for-Passover products is particularly surprising in our community which has a fairly sizable Jewish presence. In fact, I would be surprised if there were a single large supermarket in all of Massachusetts that doesn’t carry at least have a few token items during Passover.

Even from a purely economic perspective, it must be irrational to not carry these items. The overall U.S. Kosher market is over $35 billion annually. I’m not sure what percentage of that is Passover goods, but it must be substantial. I know lots of Jews who observe Passover dietary rules even when they make no attempt to follow any other kosher laws. I’ve even observed people eating shrimp on matzah! Village Market needs to get with the times. (And fix their website while they’re at it.)

Update: Steve in the comments asked for a source on the economics of Passover. I found this:

Out of an estimated $250-billion worth of kosher food sales annually, more than 40 percent take place during the Passover season, Lubinsky said.

I’m not sure how to reconcile the $250 billion here with the $35 billion figure I found elsewhere, except perhaps the former figure may not be limited to the United States, or perhaps it is retail rather than wholesale.

Bad Bicycle News

I used to be a hardcore daily bike commuter. (By “hardcore,” I mean I commuted 20-30 miles roundtrip every day in Chicago in January.) Lately, I’ve gotten lazy, especially since I now live about thirty seconds by foot from a train station that takes me to a spot about thirty seconds by foot from my job.

Also, since I’m now supporting two people (including my nearly two-year-old daughter), I’m a little more reluctant to get myself killed.

I was reminded of the perils of biking in Boston this afternoon when a 22-year old bicyclist was killed by a dump truck in an area where I used to ride daily:

The bicyclist, a 22-year-old man from Halifax, was riding between two lanes of traffic on Huntington Avenue when he was clipped by a taxicab near Northeastern University at about 2:30 p.m., police said. After being clipped by the cab, the bicyclist was run over by a McCauley and Sons Co. dump truck, police said.

When I was a bike commuter, I was fairly cavalier about this sort of incident. I realize it’s still fairly rare and biking may not be any more dangerous than driving. But we still see these events in Boston fairly regularly. I don’t think it can be fixed fully by better driver education/behavior (or better bicyclist education/behavior). There are just too many streets that are poorly designed and naturally hazardous.

On a related note, Nat mentioned this nasty run-in during a recent Critical Mass in San Francisco (the article is obviously from the driver’s point of view — there may be another angle on this):

Susan Ferrando, her husband, their two children and three preteens had come to San Francisco from Redwood City to celebrate the birthday of Ferrando’s 11-year-old daughter. They went to Japantown, where they enjoyed shopping and taking in the blooming cherry blossoms. Things took a turn for the worse at about 9 p.m., when the family was leaving Japantown — just as the party of about 3,000 bikers was winding down its monthly red-lights-be-damned ride through the city.

Suddenly, Ferrando said, her car was surrounded by hundreds of cyclists.

Not being from San Francisco, Ferrando thought she might have inadvertently crossed paths with a bicycle race and couldn’t figure out why the police, who she had just passed, hadn’t warned her.

Confusion, however, quickly turned to terror, she said, when the swarming cyclists began wildly circling around and then running into the sides of her Toyota van.

Filled with panic, Ferrando said, she started inching forward until coming to a stop at Post and Gough streets, where she was surrounded by bikers on all sides.

A biker in front blocked her as another biker began pounding on the windshield. Another was pounding on her window. Another pounded the other side.

“It seemed like they were using their bikes as weapons,” Ferrando said. One of the bikers then threw his bike — shattering the rear window and terrifying the young girls inside.

All the while, Ferrando was screaming, “There are children in this car! There are children in this car!”

Update 4/5/2007: the 22-year-old bicyclist had a myspace page.