Targeted Spam

There should be some name for spam blog comments are actually relevant to the entry to which they respond. Might we someday reach a point when spam becomes so relevant that we actually like it?


Terrorist Hashing?

The Hash House Harriers is “an international group of social, non-competitive running and drinking clubs.” I participated many years ago in college (e.g.), although the Princeton Group is probably more tame than most. Via Bruce Schneier, this crazy new items:

Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge.

Although I don’t hash anymore, I frequently see the characteristic flour marks while jogging in the woods. I can’t see how the perpetrators here could possibly meet the mens rea requirement for a felony bioterrorism charge.

Crazy Amtrak Rule of the Day

My itinerant brother, presently in Tucson, Arizona is trying to visit my less-itinerant brother in Tahoe, California. (The latter is an editor and photographer for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, now available online in full print-like layout). Later this week, the itinerant brother flies from Tucson to Sacramento, the least expensive airport closest to Tahoe.

Amtrak has a route from Sacramento to Tahoe (actually nearby Truckee), but it is actually a bus. Having made his plane reservations, my brother waited until today to order his Amtrak tickets online, only to discover the following:

You can't take a bus without taking a train.

Yes, it’s true, you can’t actually board that bus (the only way to get to Tahoe after my brother’s plane arrives), unless you’ve at least set foot on a train first.

Some research suggests that California State Law prohibits Amtrak from offering bus-only services within the state, apparently so it won’t compete with bus companies.

I did figure out what I hope is a clever workaround: the next closest train stop on one of the lines to Sacramento is Davis. Amtrak allows you to buy a ticket from Davis to Truckee via Sacramento for basically the same price as the bus from Truckee to Sacramento. Hopefully no one will check to make sure he actually traveled from Davis to Sacramento before getting on the bus to Truckee.

There must be some profound lesson here. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the floor debate in the state legislature when this law was enacted.

Solid State Kitchen Linux Box

Dear LazyWeb:

Our kitchen laptop is on its last legs. I’d like to replace it with a standalone LCD and a cheap, quiet, low-power CPU with just one or two gigabytes of storage for the operating system (music and other data are stored on a server in the basement). Can someone point me in the right direction? This is an instance where Google doesn’t provide an obvious leading/consensus solution. Most searches for solid state computers point to laptops, which isn’t what I want. The closest thing I’ve found is the Zonbox, but I’m not interested in their network/subscription storage model. Ideal specs:

  • Total cost less than $300 (preferably less than $200)
  • High-end Pentium III or lower-end Pentium IV, or equivalent. Should be able to play ogg files and browse today’s overactive websites at the same time without user latency. No need to support graphics-intensive applications like gaming or video editing.
  • Built-in wireless networking. Support for a PCMCIA wireless card would also be acceptable. Most data will be accessed via an NFS share on the WAN.
  • 1GB or 2GB of Flash memory for storage.
  • Standard VGA out, preferably at least 1280×1024 (although 1024×768 would be okay).
  • USB ports for keyboard, mouse, possibly external hard drive storage when needed.
  • Painless Debian/Ubuntu installation, including out-of-the-box suspend/resume functionality.


Reduced to Quirk

Michael Hirschorn in this month’s Atlantic reduces my generation’s entire cultural zeitgeist to a single word: quirk.

Quirk, loosed from its moorings, quickly becomes exhausting. It’s easy for David Cross’s character on Arrested Development to cover himself in paint for a Blue Man Group audition, or for the New Zealand duo on Flight of the Conchords to make a spectacularly cheesy sci-fi video about the future while wearing low-rent robot costumes. But the pleasures are passing. Like the proliferation of meta-humor that followed David Letterman and Jerry Seinfeld in the ’90s, quirk is everywhere because quirkiness is so easy to achieve: Just be odd … but endearing. It becomes a kind of psychographic marker, like wearing laceless Chuck Taylors or ironic facial hair—a self-satisfied pose that stands for nothing and doesn’t require you to take creative responsibility. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Hirschorn makes a fair point which, I think, can be restated that much of the content I enjoy is really just candy.

The Atlantic seems to have recently figured out its readership (or at least figured out me). Hard to Swallow (by B.R. Myers, who more typically writes about Korean issues) is a pointed moral critique of modern food lovers (chowhounds?) and food writing (including Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, much read by my contemporaries). If I weren’t already a vegetarian, I might take umbrage.

“Insider baseball” pieces on Karl Rove and Michael Gerson are also excellent, and in the case of the former quite timely.

To wrap up this encomium, props to the magazine for its clean new website design, which I believe premiered today, and for including an embedded Youtube video in the online version of the quirk article.

Half Stars Considered Harmful

Fascinating and surprising (at least to me) observation on the Netflix Community Blog about user demand for half-star movie ratings:

So here’s what I learned from months of testing this across the country: when we make the ½ star options possible, we get fewer ratings. Significantly fewer ratings. We have argued these results internally for some time, and our best guess is that the complexity of doubling the number of choices from 5 to 10 deters many people from rating, so they just give up. (“3 stars? No, 3 ½ stars.. no… 3 stars… no… oh forget it…”)