Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Blog Roll Downloader

I was thinking in the shower just now about some ideas Raudel and I were bantering about a few weeks back. One idea I've been mulling over is a program that would start with a Blogroll, like you have in your typical RSS reader. But then it would automatically download and save local copies of each webpage linked to in the feed. Then, you could be off-line, perhaps on an airplane, train, bus, or anywhere else without a steady internet connection and you could still read a large amount of content online.

How far you drill down the chain of links arbitrary, but obviously you're not going to save a copy of the entire internet. You could perhaps download all links from the feed, and then every webpage that was linked to by that page. Of course, using an ad blocker would greatly reduce the amount of excess downloads. Or you could simply set it to get the feed linked page and any link that contains words like "page 2" or "next page", so that you get the whole article.

Another permutation could be to do this on a server somewhere else, then zip up all the saved pages into one file, and then have it sent via email to your address. This way, if you were traveling and only had sporadic access to the internet, you could still download all your content for viewing later.

This also nicely fits into my obsession with independent archiving (which I will be writing more about in the near future). How can I trust the Man to always give me access to the information I need?

Is there anything like this right now? I think Joe Cheng's Onfolio does something like it. I'll have to download their trial version and check it out. Would anyone else find this kind of program useful?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Port Brouhaha

If it weren't a little sad, this whole port management fuss would be on the verge of being bizarrely humorous. The amount of crazed hysteria, rumors, half-truths, and plain ol' falsehoods being spewed by everyone is getting out of hand. Listening to On Point today, one of my favorite talk radio shows, even this usually high minded and thoughtful show started to seem like something you would hear on conservative radio. Conspiracy theories, wild exaggerations, false accusations, and not-so-subtle racism seem to be in bountiful supply, even from listeners of NPR. As the crazy cab driver I had last night said, you'd think "they turned over our port security to a company owned by the Middle East." How could we possibly be turning our ports over to the much dreaded foreigner?

Let's try to pay attention to the facts of the issue. A British company called Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company previously held the leases to operate ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. A company owned by in large part by the city-state of Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates, has moved to acquire P&O. The company, Dubai Ports World, operates large port and shipping operations in countries world wide. Like all U.S. ports, security has been and would still be handled by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Customs Service. Both companies are multinationals, and thus employ people from all over the world. Most of P&O's workers in the U.S. port operations were Americans, and since this would be an acquisition, the same people would still be operating the ports. They would still be under the same regulations, audits, etc. that any other port operator is.

Despite the shock that foreigners could be buying our ports, compaines from China, Singapore, Europe, Japan, and Taiwan all operate ports facilities in the United States. And while the U.A.E. has a less than stellar human rights record, it has been a generally moderate and Western friendly outpost in the Persian Gulf. It has been attempting to position itself into something akin to Hong Kong, by becoming a shipping and financial hub.

Given these facts, it seems a little difficult to get worked up about foreigners taking over our security, since the American workers never had responsibility for the security in the first place. There certainly are plenty of serious flaws in our port security, but the company that runs them does not appear to be an issue. A lot of politicians, both Democrat and Republican alike, seem to see this as an opportunity to score some points by playing with scare tactics. Both have been shameless in the racist undertones of their comments. We don't want them to have anything to do with us. This seems especially odd coming from the Left, where before all they could talk about was how nice non-Americans are and how if we weren't so evil and mean to them, they would be nice to us. But try to do business with them and suddenly they go from nice non-Americans to treacherous foreigners.

There are also a lot of questions about why this was the deal was made in such secrecy. Far from any conspiracy, I believe it was done this way for two reasons. First, the Bush Administration seems to like secrecy for secrecy's sake and doesn't want to be bothered with other people's opinions. I don't think that's an effective way to run a free democracy, but it's also not necessarily malicious. Secondly, I think they felt compelled to reward a key American ally in the Middle East, but weren't creative enough to come up with a way to sell it so they just kept it secret instead. Karl Rove must have been out to lunch when this call was made, because they're being made to look very bad for untrue reasons. In a way, they're getting a taste of their own tactics. You might say the administration is being "Swift Ported". And while that can be slightly satisfying, it's still disheartening to see reasonable and thoughtful people get swept,intentionally or unintentionally, into a ridiculous frenzy while losing sight of reality.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Junk Snail Mail Followup

I received some good feedback from the recent post on junk snail mail. Thomas had a very good point that the USPS makes money with third class mail and thus wouldn't really be interested in ending it. Very true.

I did get a reply from the USPS support when I inquired about this. Here's what they said:
Anyone who wants to reduce the amount of marketing mail they receive may write to the Direct Marketing Association Preference Service, which is independent of the Postal Service, and let them know they don’t want to receive marketing mail. Here’s the address:

ATTN: DEPT 7488547
PO BOX 282
Carmel NY 10512-0282
So there you have it. I plan on writing in the next couple days. Who knows if it will reduce my junk mail. I'll let you all know how it goes.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Junk Snail Mail Filter?

Spam blockers seem to be doing a pretty good job these days. They still say that something like 2/3 or more of all email in the world is spam, but it seems like only occasionally (every few days or so) something slips through the filter. I wish I could say the same about snail mail.

There once was a time when receiving a letter was fun and exciting. Those days passed a long time ago along with brown wrapping paper and string. Now it seems like 2/3 or more of all the snail mail I receive is a credit card offers. Even from the same company that I already have a credit card with. I don't get it. If I could filter out all this junk mail, my life would be more relaxed. But how would we go about doing this?

Turns out there is something like it: mail forwarding. When you move and sign up for mail forwarding at the post office, they forward everything except third class mail (or I guess "Standard Mail (TM)" as they seem to be calling it now), the class that all the junk mail gets sent in. They should offer this as a straight up service. A "National Do Not Mail Thrid Class" list, if you will. If they're going to junk mail spam you, make them pay. I've sent a request to the Postal Service, and if you agree with me, you should too. It might take legislation to enact this, so maybe we should write our congressmen and women, too.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

CNN's Nancy Grace

Greetings from Seattle! I'm on the West Coast for a couple days attending an FAA conference on synthetic vision. After today's session, I went back to my hotel and hit the gym before going out to dinner with Kristin, an old Aero/Astro friend. It seems that I can't escape CNN whenever I'm in the gym, and this time someone on the treadmill tuned to Headline News for today's episode of Nancy Grace. After watching about 20 minutes of her show, I have to say that I would prefer to watch an hour of Lou Dobbs instead (and you know how I feel about Lou Dobbs).

Anyway, tonight's one and only story was the arrival in Massachusetts of Neil Entwistle, a man charged with the murder of his wife and family. I'm not versed in the details of the case, but I'll assume from the tenor of the discussion on Ms. Grace's show that there is strong evidence against him in the crime.

Two things greatly annoyed me about the coverage of his arrival. First, it was that this particular detail seemed pretty insignificant but was bathed in attention. They kept repeating footage of the aircraft carrying him landing at KBED, his being escorted off the plane and into a State Trooper's cruiser, and being driven off. The story could have been condensed to once sentence without any loss of detail. "Murder suspect Neil Entwistle, accused of killing his wife and family, was returned to Massachusetts to face homicide charges." That's it. That's all you need to say. You don't need to waste an entire television show on this one fact.

Instead, Ms. Grace kept asking her guests seemlingly pointless questions. "What jail is he being held at?" "What is the courthouse like he will be tried in?" But it was not the silly questions that were annoying, but her editorializing. For someone whose website on CNN.com describes her as having a background as a "former violent crimes prosecutor", she demonstrated a remarkable lack of understanding of American concepts of due process and constitutional rights. Even her guests had to remind her that people were entitled to representation while at trial. She spoke a lot about wanting him to get the death penalty, which does not exist in the Commonwealth, and talked at length about how the prosecutors should add as many creative charges to his indictment as possible so that he gets punished more. Call me an idealist, but I think people should be charged with the crimes they were accused of committing, not some trumped up other charges that exist only to extend the punishment. Later, she expressed shock that his defense attorneys, who are public defenders, were paid for by the state. How outrageous that this murderer should be represented in court. Surely she understood that fact when she was a prosecutor, or maybe she filed motions in all her cases attempting to remove the representation of her defendents.

It seemed to me that, if given the chance, Nancy Grace would espouse some kind of medieval street justice, not our time-honored constitutional principles of due process. Anyone she deems a criminal deserves no rights, no representation, and should be tortured and shot on sight. While I understand that many victims of crime would want to do just that to their attackers to acheive revenge, it is not a practical or legitimate means of carrying out justice. Instead of ranting about it, let the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and juries do their jobs. If the evidence is as compelling as Ms. Grace seems to believe it is, then they should have no trouble convicting him and sentencing him to life in prison.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Evangelicals Against Global Warming

Here's a perfect example of my belief that moderates (presumably Democrats, but man our party sucks these days), can try to split the Republican Party. This one's on the issue of global warming. According the The New York Times, "86 Evangelical Leaders Join to Fight Climate Change". Between the environment, human rights, poverty, and heathcare, there should be plenty of room for Christians to be progressive and moderate. It's time for the rest of the moderates to meet them in the middle.

Cartoon Violence

I never imagined that a handful of cartoons could result in mass riots, burning embassies, and death. But alas, this is what the world has come to. I find it difficult to have any sympathy for the offended Muslims demanding blood and attacking European embassies. Even in the days following 9/11, 3/11 and the London bombings, the West went to great lengths to try to reach out to moderate Muslims and tried to argue that the war on terror was not a war on Islam but a war against those who would pervert a great and peaceful religion. In the days after the publication of a few distateful and childish cartoons, the Muslim world is demanding blood and blaming the national governments for the actions of the privately owned newspapers.

Some have been trying to say that the newspapers shouldn't have published them because they were offensive or tasteless or to remind us of other subtle or not-so-subtle restrictions on speech, but that misses the point. The point is that the violent reaction is wildly overblown and will ultimately only makes Muslims look worse. If someone published equally offensive and foul cartoons or statements (as one Muslim group did, publishing a cartoon depicting Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler), I hardly expect Europeans to be mobbing Arab embassies. It's exactly this kind of reaction that led the cartoonists to draw a bomber Muhammad in the first place.

They haven't seemed to realize it yet, but the Muslim world has a very bad P.R. problem on their hands (well illustrated by a Cox and Forkum cartoon). This recent bout of violence only serves to further the suspicion Europeans have against their own Muslim minorities and the Muslim world as a whole. Up to this point, many in Europe and liberal America argued that Islamic terrorism and violence was a reaction to legitimate grievances of a region of the world oppressed by the West. If only we were nicer, they would be nice. It will be much harder to hold this view, given the cartoon violence. Unless the Muslim leaders step in, get their people under control, and start doing some P.R. damage control, it will become untenable for many in the West to maintain the idea that Islam is a peaceful religion. God help us if some stupid cartoons are what ends up triggering the clash of civilizations.