Archive for October, 2002


Dental purgatory

Note to self: when you schedule a root canal, don’t schedule it more than 3 weeks away, thinking that the tooth doesn’t hurt that much right now and you can wait.

You can’t. The pain will only get worse.


New Books

I’m about a third of the way through Joe Clark’s Building Accessible Websites. This is without question the best book on web accessibility out there. Read it. I skimmed Constructing Accessible Web Sites a few months back, and it’s quite good, but I find that I’m actually reading Clark’s book. Part of that is the visual design. I never thought I would care so much about the visual and tactile appeal of a technical book (not that this is necessarily a technical book). Perhaps I was taking certain publishers‘ work for granted. glasshaus has been publishing some very good books, but their design makes the books rather unpleasant reading. Clark went to great lengths to make his book a worthwhile experience on so many more levels than just the words.

In other news, O’Reilly has published the third edition of Unix Power Tools. This is to Unix what the Perl Cookbook is to Perl. Once I had a basic handle on how to use Unix, how to move around, do basic administration, etc., I used Unix Power Tools to help me grok Unix, to understand its idiom, shortcuts, and mindset. I’m not sure whether I’ll buy this — I’m curious to see what’s been updated in this third edition — but I will wholeheartedly recommend it.

Too, a new collection of Rising Stars comics has been released, Visitations. This pulls together some … I don’t know, apocryphal stories, I guess you could say. If you’re a Straczynski fan, you should read this series.


Wellstone killed.

US Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, and daughter Marcia died in a plane crash today. I am floored. It might be a while before I post anything here.


USA Patriot act allows easier access to library records

In the Minnesota Daily yesterday: USA Patriot act allows easier access to library records.

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act last year in a flurry of anti-terrorist hype. One of the things this act did was to make it easier for Federal authorities to access library records. No probably cause need be demonstrated to obtain a warrant.

“With the USA Patriot Act and its amending of FISA, the FBI only has to show a secret court that what they were searching for is relevant to a terrorist investigation,” Freedman [president of the American Library Association] said. “It’s in a secret court. The library has no appeals process. The search warrant can be served immediately. There’s no due process.”

Distressingly, librarians can’t even admit whether they’ve been asked to relinquish records. The act states that “no person shall disclose to any other person that the FBI has sought or obtained tangible things.”

Librarians are rightfully outraged.

This came up a couple months ago at work in a debate about new security policies for MnSCU (my employer). MnSCU’s been exploring options for securing public-access computers against attack or being used in attacks. One of the options put forward for consideration — one of several proposals, I want to emphasize — involved requiring logins for all computer use. This inspired vigorous and at times histrionic debate, in part because of poor communication typical of an organization with over 15,000 employees, but also because librarians are keenly aware of the USA Patriot Act and have no desire to participate in activity that puts them in the position of policing library patrons, risking both civil and academic liberty.


Oddity on UPS

I very much like being able to track packages on UPS’s web site. It’s a great feature of the service. On their tracking page, they’ve recently started requiring you to check a box indicating that you agree to their terms and conditions before you can submit your tracking number(s). A slightly annoying extra step, but perhaps they’ve been experiencing some abuse. More than likely lawyers got involved and decided this was a good idea. Whatever. Click.

I noticed by chance today, though, that the link to their terms and conditions page is an image, not text. What’s more, the image is actually a form submit button.

Hm. Odd. And worse, there’s no alt text. I wonder why. Other links on that page are text links. A bleeding shame, since now that text is completely unavailable unless you are physically able to see the image. It’s certainly not to create valid HTML: <input> can contain an alt attribute, but not the width or height attributes, one of the reasons I’m generally not too fond of using images for submit buttons.

I’m not trying to rag too hard on UPS, though I will send them a nice note. Just thought it strange.


Republican Switch Ads

First Microsoft, now the Republican Party has copied Apple’s switch ad campaign.

At least Microsoft recanted.

And since you asked, Momoko Kikuchi is my favorite Japanese switch ad, hands down. Why? This will make sense only if you know Japanese, and may be interesting only if you’re a linguist. It’s how she identifies herself: “Kikuchi Momoko, gakusei…desu” :) Gotta love that last-second “oh yeah!” before she adds the “desu.”


Apple gives Jaguar to US Teachers

Wow. If you’re a teacher in the US, Apple will give you a free copy of Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar).


Truth Maintenance

A coworker wrote me today to say that the DARPA Information Awareness Office‘s logo is certainly funny, but did I read the vision statement? Uh, no, not really. Gotta say, it lost me after the first couple lines:

The most serious asymmetric threat facing the United States is terrorism, a threat characterized by collections of people loosely organized in shadowy networks that are difficult to identify and define. IAO plans to develop technology that will allow understanding of the intent of these networks, their plans, and potentially define opportunities for disrupting or eliminating the threats.

Blah, blah, blah. The whole site reads like that. Sigh.

Among the technologies they plan to develop or work with I noticed:

  • Collaboration and sharing over TCP/IP networks across agency boundaries
  • Large, distributed repositories with dynamic schemas that can be changed interactively by users
  • Foreign language machine translation and speech recognition

Yeah, okay, whatever. Hm, “Biometric signatures of humans” — a little creepy, but hardly unexpected.

There I stopped. Had I continued reading, I might have spotted these gems:

  • Structured argumentation and evidential reasoning
  • Story telling, change detection, and truth maintenance

Stop laughing. I’m serious, it’s there. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself.

Structured argumentation and evidential reasoning? Useful technologies, to be sure. Man oh man, have I been waiting for those. Bet they’re classified. George Bush certainly doesn’t seem to have access to them.

Story telling? wtf? And what on earth is “truth maintenance”?

Clearly this site deserves more exploration.


CSS hacks explained. Well.

If you haven’t read Eric Meyer’s latest CSS book, you should. It’s excellent. Even if you already know everything he covers, which I’d guess a fair number of readers of this blog do, there’s something about how Eric writes that makes it seem fresh and worthwhile.

And guess what? He’s posted material written for the book that didn’t make the final cut. Of particular interest right now: “Tricking Browsers and Hiding Styles: Turning Browser Flaws to Our Advantage.”

I have been of two minds on this. On the one hand, easily hiding styles from Netsape 4.x by using @import or the media attribute is really handy and I do it all the time. For some reason, though, Tantek Çelik’s box model hack has always bothered me. I’ve generally preferred to move to designs that would push me toward that hack, which seemed to be going a bit over the edge. I don’t know why, maybe because I figured it’d cause problems somewhere down the road. Seeing these workarounds all together like this, though, laid out clearly and intelligently discussed, makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the idea.

I am such a sucker for packaging.


Red Hat and DMCA

Interesting article on The Register about how Red Hat is helping make the DMCA look ridiculous. They’ve released a kernel patch that addresses a security problem. To get details about the patch that explain the problem, you must first agree to a license in which you state that you are not under US jurisdiction. Otherwise, see, there’s danger of violating the DMCA.

Red Hat explains:

RHSA-2002-158 is an errata kernel which addresses certain security vulnerabilities. Quite simply, these vulnerabilities were discovered and documented by ppl outside of the US, and due to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act legislation in the US, it is potentially dangerous to disclose any information on security vulnerabilities, which may also be used in order to circumvent digital security – i.e. computer security. For this reason, RH cannot publish this security information, as it is not available from the community in the first instance. The site allows for accessing this information, but requires you agree to terms which protect the author and documenter of the patches from being accusations that they themselves have breached DMCA.

What a mess. How long do you figure before Congress realizes what a mess they’ve made of things with this lousy legislation?

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