Weblog MetaData Initiative: Volunteers Needed!

For those of you who are interested in the more geeky side of the weblog world, the Weblog MetaData Initiative — formerly known as “BlogMD” — is looking for folks to help test out a preliminary, alpha-level specification for encoding metadata in weblogs.
All it takes is enough knowledge to know how to edit your weblog templates — we’re using HTML tags for this experiment, so it should be doable on any weblogging system, even Blogger.
If you’re interested, check out the announcement at the project’s new home — www.wmdi.org . Yes, we finally got a real domain!
And I certainly wouldn’t mind if folks spread the word on this — the more folks we can get as test cases using different weblog tools the more effective our effort will be, so please, make with the linky-linky thing if you would be so kind…
Update: Several folks are now working on how to implement the tags on Blogger, and I’ve created a special test blog so they can hack away without munging up their real homepages. If you would like to join in the Blogger fun, drop me a message and I’ll add you as an administrator to the test blog…

Kaus as Kingmaker

I attempted to send this to Kausguy via email, but he’s having mail troubles, so I guess I’ll just have to make a post of it. I’m sure Mickey is spending his emailless hours hitting the refresh button compulsively on TTLB, so he’ll see it right away anyway of course.
Sir Kaus continues to search for a last-minute, write-in candidate to swoop into the California governor’s election and claim the ABGDALAINBS (Anybody But Gray Davis As Long As It’s Not Bill Simon) spot. Kaus seems to think that such a spoiler would be a sure thing to win, or at the very least, ensure that he didn’t have to expend much actual work coming up with blog post ideas for a week or two.
His last plea for help came today:
Two late-breaking, obvious California gubernatorial nominees (of kf readers): Warren Beatty or Martin Sheen! … Should have thought of them myself. … Beatty made a funny political movie about just the kind of quixotic campaign that this last-minute write-in drive could be. … Sheen’s politically active and respected. Time for him to cash in before those West Wing ratings fall even more!… Either man would steal much of Gov. Gray Davis’ liberal support. … Neither will do it, of course, because they both have something to lose if they flop. .. No, we need someone with high-name recognition, but no respectability left whatsoever.
Two words, baby: Hugh Hefner !
Envied by the men; popular with the ladies (natch). How could he lose? And besides, his campaign staff would sure be easy on the eyes.
P.S. – In mentioning his fritzed email, Kaus also said something about looking for a Sicilian girlfriend with a 4-6 inch penis. Or something like that. So if that’s you, well, go help a brother out…

Replay: The Bear Doctrine

We’re in the midst of much “why are we talking about invading Iraq and not North Korea, since North Korea just admitted they’re working on nukes” nonsense right now.
So I figured I’d reach back into the good old archives and repost a simple set of rules I declared for when I believe the United States is justified in using military force. The orignal post is here, but to save you that extra click (we’re service oriented here at TTLB), here it is:
The United States should consider military action to effect a change of regime against a foreign power when:
1) That power has demonstrated that they are hostile to the U.S. and its citizens, either by directly attacking us; by threatening or planning such an attack, or by supporting other actors who have executed or have threatened such an attack.
2) All of the following are true:
a) We have the means to decisively execute such a military operation without significant casualities, to our own forces or to innocent civilians.
b) Deposing the regime is clearly in the best interest of its citizens, and our intention is to establish a democratic government upon completion of the operation.
c) Such an operation is in the selfish best interest of the United States (economically; politically, etc.).

If you apply these principles to Baghdad and Pyongyang, I think it becomes rapidly clear why we’re not considering an assault on North Korea as a valid option (hint: it gets clearer if you’re a resident of Seoul).

People on ludes should not dictate foreign policy.*

TTLB is a public-service oriented kinda blog, and in that spirit, I offer the following words of wisdom from Sean Penn, from an advertisement he placed in the Washington Post today opposing war against Iraq:
Reuters says:
In an open letter to Bush taking up most of a page in the main section of the daily newspaper, the Oscar-nominated star of I Am Sam and Dead Man Walking, urged the President to stop a cycle where “bombing is answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing”.
“I beg you, help save America before yours is a legacy of shame and horror,” Penn wrote, echoing voices of caution from around the world that have called for a measured response to allegations Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction.
The letter was signed “Sincerely, Sean Penn, San Francisco, California”. A spokesman for The Washington Post confirmed that it was placed by the Hollywood celebrity who has starred in more than 40 movies.
Quoting Bush’s declaration that the world was either “with us or against us” in the war on terrorism launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Penn, 42, said Bush was marginalising critics, manipulating the media and promoting fear.
Those actions and “your administration’s deconstruction of civil liberties all contradict the very core of the patriotism you claim”, wrote Penn, who is married to actress Robin Wright Penn, and was formerly married to pop star Madonna.
“Sacrificing American soldiers or innocent civilians in an unprecedented preemptive attack on a separate sovereign nation may well prove itself a most temporary medicine,” he said…

Why is this a public service? Because Tony Pierce was getting extremely agitated — irked, even — that nobody on the pro-war side of the Blogosphere had paid due note to Mr. Penn’s remarks.
Because you see, I — like many — don’t give too much of a damn what Sean Penn thinks. But if Tony is upset — well then that just won’t do.
PS – Sorry Tony, looked for a full transcript, couldn’t find one. But I’ll link to it if somebody tells me where it is!
*All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.

Meryl on Chickenhawks

Meryl provides us with the definitive “chickenhawk” argument, following the logic of those who say non-soldiers should not call for war to its (illogical) extreme. My personal favorite: “John Edward can’t talk to the dead unless he has first been dead (and I volunteer to help him achieve that state).” Now Meryl, be nice… nah, on second thought, don’t.

An Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto: Addendum

Eric S. Raymond is back, and has penned an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto.
I agree with most of Eric’s sentiments; while there are a few points where I might quibble the overall core is sound.
My concern, however, is that while the Manifesto is a fine statement of principles, it is sorely lacking in action. It is all fine and good to declare that “we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we shall defeat them.”
But the fact is, I’m not going to fight the barbarians and fanatics; nor are 99% of those who read and sign Eric’s manifesto. At least, not directly. The fine men and women of my nation’s armed forces and law enforcement entities are the ones who will do the fighting, not I: only the most shameless poseur would pretend otherwise.
So what can I, and we, do? In the spirit of that question, I offer the following additions to Eric’s Manifesto:
WE SHALL study closely the statements and actions of our elected officials and candidates. Recognizing that this conflict is the defining crisis of our age and a danger which renders all other issues secondary, we shall judge our politicians first and foremost by their stance on this war. We pledge to cast our ballots for those leaders who we believe are best suited to guide our civilization through this crisis, regardless of disagreements we may hold with them on other issues.
WE SHALL seek the hard reality of facts to guide us in our judgements throughout this war, and will strive to spread truth wherever we shall find it. As webloggers, we have but one true power: to share information. Whether we reach a single reader or thousands, we each pledge to shine our own light into the dark corners of the web, the media, and the world. Where truth has been overlooked, we shall find it; where lies are piled high obscuring facts, we will sweep them away.
WE SHALL apply our powers of persuasion to the fight; pouring our passion into our writings and striving to convince those who still doubt. We pledge to argue not for the beauty of our own rhetoric; not for the applause and admiration of our colleagues, but to lend clarity to the critical debates that face our civilization. We shall strive to ensure that our conviction does not overwhelm our own humility, and will remember that sometimes, the path we initially believe is right will be proved wrong. Some questions which face us now present obvious solutions; with others, the course is less clear. Through honest, open, and impassioned debate, we will provide the heat — and light — in which our civilization’s decisions may be forged.
WE SHALL watch. We shall consider carefully, and argue wisely, to the best of our abilities. We will exercise the very rights which our enemies would see taken from us: to speak freely, and to choose leaders who will represent and defend us.
And it is those freedoms with which we will do our part to ensure the safety of our civilization, and the defeat of our enemies.

Really a shame. To go so suddenly.*

Flipping through the radio the other day, I came across a brief snippet of a quote that fascinated me. I never got the context; so I present it here in its splendid isolation:
“…this rush to war for the past year…”
Now it’s of course leaping to conclusions to conclude, well, anything without some semblence of the surrounding statement.
But isn’t it a beautifully concise summary of (one of) the inherent contradiction(s) of the anti-war crowd nonetheless?
*DR. DOLEN: Oh, he was dying for years.
FLETCH: Sure, but the end was so sudden.
DR. DOLEN: He was in intensive care for eight weeks.
FLETCH: Yes, but the very end, when he actually died, that was extremely sudden.

Psst. Wanna know where to find cheap stuff?

Since I seem to be in consumer protection mode this week, might as well go with that feeling.
The website of the day here at TTLB is SalesCircular.com. It provides a simple service, but one I’ve rapidly grown addicted to: identifying sales, discounts, and rebates on common products at retail (brick-and-mortar) stores in a given local area.
So you can tell it you’re looking for, say, utilities software in California, and you’ll get this list. Or you want a 2.4 Ghz cordless phone in New Jersey, and you get this one.
An especially neat feature is a per-state page that identifies what’s “free” after rebates that week. This week in California, for instance, SalesCircular tells me I can get a 50-pack of CD-R disks at Office Max for $15, with $15 worth of rebates. Or the “Nicotrol Step 1” smoking control kit for $29.99 with a $29.99 rebate at Walgreens.
Neat stuff. A word of caution, though: make sure you check the rebates carefully, as SalesCircular appears to simply rely on stores’ advertising and occasionally you’ll see listings that have too many rebates totalled up. And also beware that there is a habit of including comptetitive rebates in the final prices, which you can’t use unless you already have a competitors product.
Used carefully, though, I’ve found it to be a mighty handy tool, so give it a shot…

Spam Be Gone

Part II of my series on privacy tools; see Part I if you’re searching for ways to foil spammers of the telephone type.
E-mail spam is, of course, evil, and must, of course, be destroyed. After years of mostly ignoring it, I finally reached a point recently where I decided to do something about it, and, in typical Bear fashion, went on a hunt for the picks, axes, and implements of destruction that might aide me in my task.
I am sad to say that I was not impressed with the crop of spam-filtering software I encountered; at least, not with the ones I wouldn’t have to pay for. Unlike other product categories (say, firewalls) there didn’t seem to be a clear freeware tool that was widely recognized as robust and complete.
But I did encounter one commercial tool that integrates with Microsoft Outlook that struck my fancy, and which I’ve been trying under a 30-day demo. It’s called ValiMail, and it solves spam problems by avoiding entirely the idea of “filters”.
Instead, it takes the draconian approach of assuming that anybody you haven’t explicitly told it to accept mail from is a potential spammer, who must be stopped. If you get an email from a new, unidentified source, the mail is intercepted as it hits your Outlook inbox. ValiMail hides it from your view, and sends the source a preformatted message that gives the instructions on how to request permission to send you email (the instructions include a special step designed to ensure they cannot be completed by a machine).
If the source decides to comply, you get a request in your Valimail toolbar (which sits up on the Outlook bar) from them to be approved. You can either accept, or decide to block them entirely (both steps you can also take in advance right when you received the message, if you choose).
It’s fairly spiffy stuff, and I like the concept a lot. It is, however, fairly new, and that shows in a few limitations. Notably, if you are protecting multiple E-mail accounts, you need to make sure that your default Outlook mail account is OK for all your mail correspondents to receive notifications from — because that’s the one ValiMail uses to send its messages for all accounts. This is a problem for me, for instance, because I have my real-life personal mail, and my N.Z. Bear mail, and I don’t want the two to mix. And also: it’s Microsoft Outlook only; which I know makes it useless for many folks.
So, for the moment, ValiMail is protecting my personal mail, not my Bearmail. But I didn’t want to leave BearMail completely exposed — and I’ve got that nice big fat target of a mail link right below my picture on the front page here.
So I finally got around to checking out my friend Mean Dean’s Anti-Spam E-Mail Address Obfuscator . Dean provides a nice discussion of email masking techniques, and then shows his own tool: a handy little web form that generates an “a href=” link for your E-mail address suitable for use on a web page that, in theory, will confuse the devil out of any spambots searching for new victims. (If you want to go straight to Dean’s tool, use this link).
I just implemented it last night, so can’t vouch for its efficacy firsthand yet, but I figure Dean’s got friends in high places, so that will count for something.
I’d welcome more suggestions on folks’ favorite tools — I’m still particularly interested in any solid freeware antispam solutions. Look forward to hearing from y’all…
Update 10/16: Dean points out an interesting tool for those of you who don’t just want to stop spam — but want to hunt it back to its source…

Telemarketers Be Gone

VodkaGuy has provided a guide for online advertisers, which reminded me of my recent efforts to protect my own privacy from those who would attempt to harass, annoy, and cudgle me into partaking of their products.
First, telemarketers. I am convinced that my primary mistake was to actually donate to my local police officer’s association. Bless the cops hearts, really, but whoever runs their charity should be locked up: they sold my name and number to everybody.
So what to do? Well, Pacific Bell is offering a promotion currently to its “best customers” — hint, I’ll bet you’re one of them too — to try out their Privacy Manager service for three months for free. (Other telcos have similar services). It combines Caller ID with a screening function: anybody who blocks their CallerID is presented with the voicemail equivalent of a big burly guy who says “Identify yourself, or You Shall Not Pass!” Folks can either unblock their CallerID, record their name, or go away. And all this happens before the phone even rings.
I then get to hear the name recorded, if that was their choice, and can either accept the call, hit “2” to say go away nicely, or hit “4” to give a formal (and legally binding), Go Away You TeleMarketing Slime and Take Me Off Your Damned List.
Only had it for a few days; unfortunately, not all telemarketers block their ID’s, so some are slipping through. So, further measures are necessary.
Enter Private Citizen, a group dedicated to fighting the good fight against telemarketing evil wherever they may find it. Sign up with them for $25 a year, and they send you a formal declaration to sign which gives them the power to request to have your name removed from a telemarketing company’s list. They then proceed to send it out in a mass mailing to 16,000 companies.
The fun part is that you may be thinking, well, companies will just ignore it. And indeed they might. But allegedly, if they do, they’re violating the law, and you can take them to small claims court. And Private Citizen’s mailing gives your case a little extra boost: rather than telling companies simply “Don’t Call”, they say: Call if you like. But you are hereby notified that from now on, my time is not free to you; but I will rent it at the price of $500 per call. You may signify your acceptance of this agreement by calling.
Fun, eh?
Anyway, I’m still waiting for the forms to go through, so I can’t vouch for Private Citizen’s actual effectiveness yet. But we shall see.
But lastly, what to do about those telemarketers that do actually make it through my telephonic barbed wire and electrified fences? They will have to deal with The Phone Butler.
A small gizmo that sells for about $30, it plugs into your phone line and sits there, lying in wait for the next unsuspecting telemarketing fool to wander into your lair. And when one does, all you need do is press “*” on your phone while the telemarketbeast is prattling away.
The Phone Butler cuts off the call, declaring — in a snooty English butler voice, natch — that he’s terribly sorry, but he must inform the telemarketer to go away, and by the way, please remove this number from your list.
Mine’s in the mail, so again, can’t vouch for how well it works, but it sure sounds like a lot of fun.
For more privacy-related info, check out AntiTelemarketer.com, which has lots of links and resources for folks who want to rid themselves of these electronic gnats.
Next post: E-mail spam, and an interesting tool for avoiding it without relying on the flaky logic of filters…