Best blog design

It’s that time of year… the Weblog awards for 2005. I was tempted to visit by a comment in a political blog, and stayed to review the finalists for the Best Blog Design. I wasn’t familiar with any of them, so I took a few minutes to visit each site. The most stunning image was this photograph on Antipixel, and I almost wound up voting for it. However I finally cast my ballot for Coming Anarchy. I love the details of the design – the presentation of block quotes, for instance – and the way that all of the elements work together to create a distinctive and harmonious style.

But I don’t want to bias you. All of the finalists are worth a visit. Check ’em out, then vote often.

Demythologizing the Beatles

The anniversary of John Lennon’s death leads Andrew to remind us of an excellent – and lengthy – 2001 piece from Reason magazine: Still Fab by Charles Paul Freund. Of course I gre up with the Beatles and experienced them as a purely British English phenomenon. As a result, I’ve never had any reason to doubt the standard account of how the Beatles conquered America and revolutionized rock’n’roll. My mistake.

“But there’s another nagging question raised by the new Beatlemania. Not just who are the Beatles now, but who were they then? New fans may be using the group for their own purposes, but then so did the original generation of fans. The years since the group’s breakup have seen a lot of myth-making and obscuring, in order to fit them better into a pliable narrative of the era and its aftermath. It is worth pausing to listen to the group anew in the context of their own time, because there are some lost chords in their music waiting to sound again.”

A multimodal attack… am I alone, or is this widespread?

On Sunday I noted that my blog was under attack from determined, but clueless, blogspam scriptkiddies. But that isn’t the only attack I’m seeing, and the second version is rather more disturbing – and puzzling.

What seems to have happened (or be happening) is that someone (or more likely a script) has looked up my name and phone number in several on-line directories, generated a plausible but invalid email address from my name (something like – not clear how variable this is), and then fired off email messages to various companies, apparently from this address, expressing interest in their products or services and asking the recipient to call my phone number. So far we’ve received 30 or 40 phone calls from various companies “responding to your inquiry”. The companies include the usual spam suspects – mortgage brokers, part-time MBA schools, etc. Most of these messages wind up on our answering machine, but from the few that we’ve picked up we’ve been able to piece together the above pattern. In some cases the name is correct; in others, it’s reversed. This is consistent with the entries for my phone number in various directories.

So what’s going on? It’s hard to know what to make of it.

  • I haven’t read about this elsewhere, so perhaps it’s directed against me personally, or against some group of which I’m a member. (Atheist bloggers? Subaru drivers? Mac users? Model airliner collectors?) On the other hand, the variations in my name suggest a dumb directory look-up. Is there some [twisted] rational purpose, or is this simply a random act of antisocial behaviour?

  • Like millions of others, we signed up for the national Do Not Call registry. This legislation was bitterly opposed by many telemarketers. Obviously those companies that are calling us interpret the forged emails as establishing “an existing business relationship”, so the “Do Not Call” rule no longer applies. This could be an attempt by someone to discredit the registry by flooding the world with “existing business relationships”. Or it could be driven by a single telemarketer who wants to subvert the rules so that they can make cold calls, but is disguising what they’re doing by ensuring that other companies also receive messages.

  • For a company that relies upon email referrals, this could be a devastating diversion of resources, a kind of DDOS. Perhaps this is an attack on one company (disguised among the crowd), for malicious or blackmail purposes.

  • This could also be an attack on Yahoo. By generating a huge volume of annoying, expensive messages apparently from Yahoo addresses, the perpetrators might expect that spam filters would be trained to reject all messages from Yahoo.

If you’ve experienced anything like this, or have another explanation, I’d love to hear from you. Normally I’d ask you to add a comment to this blog piece, but due to the other spam problem, comments are presently disabled. Perhaps you could send email to my Gmail account – (You can work it out.) Since this kind of attack is almost certainly illegal, I shall also be contacting the appropriate authorities – probably the Massachusetts Attorney General. Thanks.

Two weeks on the road

I’m just starting what should be a seamless two-week business trip – Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Denver. However because the two weeks were scheduled and booked separately, I’m actually going to pop back to Boston next weekend. (Back on Sunday, departing Monday.) It’ll give me a chance to reload my suitcase….

So right now I’m in Menlo Park at the Sun campus for four days of meetings: an all-day DE review, a couple of days on storage technologies, and a number of 1-on-1s.

Posted in Sun

Time to switch…

This blog has been under blogspam attack for the last couple of days, and I haven’t been able to fix it. It seems from searching around that I’m not the only vicim (which is good). Curiously the attacks seem to be purely disruptive: the comments being injected don’t include commercial messages, or p0rn, or URLs to be pagerank-promoted. All the same, the cost/load/admin effort involved is significant.

More worrying is the fact that I haven’t been able to stop it. I downloaded a couple of bulk update scripts, but they wouldn’t work on my MT configuration. And as I tried a few fixes, I found that some existing mechanisms weren’t working quite right. It looks as if my setup is just sufficiently non-standard to cause some things to break, and I don’t have time to debug the Perl.

So here’s what I’m going to do. First, I’m going to have to crudely disable comments completely for a while. Sorry about that. Second, I’m going to follow the crowd, and migrate from MovableType to WordPress. According to Steve, mine is the only blog on grommit that’s still using MT, and there’s safety in numbers. This change will almost certainly break any deep links into my site. I’ll make sure that the top-level and RSS work OK. (Perhaps I should leave the existing configuration in read-only mode… but that would be confusing. We’ll see.) One benefit will be that I can update my template to something that is a little fresher and which works better on mobile devices.

Anyway, hang in there. Normal service will be resumed as soon as we’ve worked out what “normal” is.

Updating my phone

If I’m a bit slow this morning, it’s with good reason: I was up half the night updating my cell phone. Bletch!

It all started when I received an email advising me that a new firmware update was available for my Treo 650. I’ve ignored the last few updates, but this one promised to fix several annoying issues, so I decided to bite. The instructions advised me to set aside 20 minutes for the exercise. Hah!

I don’t normally hotsync my Treo (I just back it up to an SD card), and as I started the upgrade process I remembered why: my USB cable is duff. Apparently this is a common problem with Treos – but how hard is it to make reliable cables? Never mind: I was able to set up hotsync to use BlueTooth instead. The only problem is that BT is much slower than USB, so everything dragged. On top of that, the sync process decided to back up several large cache files; it looks as if the Treo mail application doesn’t compact folders properly, and the hotsync was blindly backing up uncollected garbage. I interrupted it (why does Cancel take “up to 2 minutes”?), hard reset the Treo, configured it for BT hotsync, uploaded the firmware update (taking nearly an hour), hard reset again, configured for BT (again!), and started to restore my data. Lo and behold, it started to restore the cached garbage! I interrupted it, opened the Palm desktop, exported the address book, created a new, clean user profile, and imported the address book. After hard-resetting the Treo and setting it up for BT (for the 4th time) I synced this new profile and recovered my address book. Whew!

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that all of this has deliberately been made harder than necessary, either to provide (billable!) work for providers or to prevent inadvertent error. Palm certainly has a history of this: see, for example, this description of how to “zero out” a Treo:

  1. Read through these instructions before attempting the reset. We made this method of zero out reset extremely awkward to perform, so that it would not happen by accident. You may need the help of a dextrous friend if you find it too difficult to do by yourself.
  2. Connect your device to its HotSync cable or cradle. The HotSync cable does not need to be connected to your PC, and it does not need to be connected to power.
  3. Press and hold the Power button and UP on the 5-way navigator.
  4. While continuing to hold Power and UP, press and hold the HotSync button on the HotSync cable or cradle. As you press HotSync, make sure your other finger doesn't slide to LEFT or RIGHT on the 5-way navigator; it needs to be exactly on UP during the entire process. Although you are pressing the HotSync button, a HotSync operation should not begin.
  5. While continuing to hold Power, UP and HotSync, press and release the RESET button on the back panel of your device (where's the reset hole?). This is very difficult to do with only one person; you may wish to hold the stylus in your mouth and use your hands to press Power, UP and HotSync.
  6. Release Power, UP and HotSync.

Got that?