Mar 31st, 2006 by ravi
Ingenious arithmetic and plain wordplay

Sometimes the news media calls out official doublespeak: 

NYT: Fewer Marshes + More Man-made Ponds = Increased Wetlands

WASHINGTON, March 30 — In the bog of the federal regulatory code, a wetland is defined as a marshy area of saturated soils and plants whose roots spend part of their lives immersed in water. In the Interior Department's periodic national surveys, a wetland is defined, more or less, as wet.

Traditional tidal, coastal and upland marshes count, but so do golf course water hazards and other man-made ponds whose surface is less than 20 acres.

And so, even at a time of continued marsh depletion, pond inflation permitted Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to announce proudly on Thursday the first net increase in wetlands since the Fish and Wildlife Service started measuring them in 1954. Wetlands acreage, measured largely by aerial surveys, totaled 107.7 million acres at the end of 2004, up by 191,800 acres from 1998.

The two cabinet secretaries hailed the apparent reversal in the long trend of wetland losses. "I'm pleased to complete my term as secretary of interior by announcing some good news, said Ms. Norton, who will step down from her job Friday.

Other times, they are happy to play along. Here is a BBC headline:

Norway protects Arctic oil areas

What a bit of good news, you think, given that the US interior is using clever interpretation to hide environmental degradation. At least, there is Norway! Protector of Arctic regions. Well, you may wish to reconsider, based on the rest of the article:

Norway has approved increased oil exploration in its Arctic waters but will limit drilling in some areas until 2010 to protect the environment.

(The thing that is irritating is the choice of headline) 

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Mar 30th, 2006 by ravi
Feminist blogging

Guardian gives its 2c on feminist blogging: 

The third wave – at a computer near you

Comparative levels of computer literacy and interest mean that younger women do dominate. As Valenti says, "There's always been this sense among second-wave feminists that young women just aren't interested. That's never been true though: they just didn't know how to reach us."

There has also typically been a suspicion that if younger women are interested in feminism it's of a specific variety: what's sometimes called "girlie" feminism. The mainstream media tends to highlight young feminists whose outlook is "sexy". Those, for instance, who frame pole dancing as a feminist act.

Go online, though, and you are immediately struck by the huge variety of outlook and opinions. This is most evident at the twice-monthly Carnival of Feminists, set up by British blogger Natalie Bennett, who also runs Philobiblion, a women's history blog. Each carnival (usually on the first and third Wednesday of the month) is hosted by a different blogger, who invites people to contribute articles on current events or a general theme: "radical feminism", for instance, or "1970s feminism and what it means today". The host then chooses the best pieces, putting links to between 50 to 100 articles up on their site and providing a short commentary on each. This effectively creates a major new anthology of feminist thought every two weeks.

People are always saying the feminist movement is dead, but I've never believed that," says Rebecca Traister, a feature writer for, and one of the founders of Salon's own women's blog, Broadsheet, which launched last year. "What I think is that it's taking a modern, technological form, and that, from now on, feminism will be about a multiplicity of voices, growing louder and louder online."

But is it all just sound and fury? The blogs reflect second-wave ideas of consciousness raising and the personal as political (many women write about their experiences of rape and sexual assault), but there's a question mark over how this feeds into grass-roots activism.

Nina Wakeford, a sociologist at the University of Surrey, is cautious about blogging's influence. "I think the way blogs can provoke debate is useful," she concedes, "but it isn't clear how much they feed into activism. In the past, there was a clear role for women's organisations as regards representations to government, but I'm not sure whether women can affect public policy through blogging. Just who are they representing?"

This last question is interesting. As with second-wave feminism, this online movement is open to the accusation that it simply represents privileged white women. "Blogging is still somewhat limited, of course," says Georgia Gaden, a postgraduate researcher who has studied feminist blogs, "because although we take our access for granted, many women, globally, don't have that luxury."

That said, these blogs do redress the balance by highlighting global stories. And the Carnival of Feminists is trying to reach as many women as possible, with the most recent carnival held on the Indian blog, Indianwriting. "That was our fourth continent," says Bennett, "and I'm looking for an African blogger, so that we can reach our fifth."

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Mar 30th, 2006 by ravi
Apr 29 March (NYC)

 Perhaps we old armchair activists can show half the nerve of the students in LA:

United for Peace :


End the war in Iraq –
Bring all our troops home now!


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Mar 28th, 2006 by ravi
CentOS hacks OK city website!

An old one that has already been /.ed but worth repeating! Register reports: 

Oklahoma city threatens to call FBI over 'renegade' Linux maker
By Ashlee Vance in Mountain View

The heartland turned vicious this week when an Oklahoma town threatened to call in the FBI because its web site was hacked by Linux maker Cent OS. Problem is CentOS didn't hack Tuttle's web site at all. The city's hosting provider had simply botched a web server.

This tale kicked off yesterday when Tuttle's city manager Jerry Taylor fired off an angry message to the CentOS staff. Taylor had popped onto the city's web site and found the standard Apache server configuration boilerplate that appears with a new web server installation. Taylor seemed to confuse this with a potential hack attack on the bustling town's IT infrastructure.
"Who gave you permission to invade my website and block me and anyone else from accessing it???," Taylor wrote to CentOS. "Please remove your software immediately before I report it to government officials!! I am the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma."


Read more at the link above (click on quoted article title) and also see the entire email exchange and Register's followup article. If you haven't seen it already, click the link… its absolutely worth it!

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Mar 27th, 2006 by ravi
Security schmecurity?


Is it just my old age or is the IT industry paradoxically getting less worried about password security these days? Back in the day we used to jump through hoops to not reveal cleartext passwords. Today: my hosting provider prints the password out in cleartext in form responses and email. Various online sites (blogs and such) email you the password in cleartext (even if you didnt ask for it!). Even the MySQL command to change the password (mysqladmin password) accepts the new password only on the command line!!

What the hell?!


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Mar 27th, 2006 by ravi
Globalisation well-defined


WaPo (believe it or not!) has a chat with Noam Chomsky online. In the quoted section below, Chomsky, as always, reclaims the use of terms and zeroes in on verbal hoodwinking that should be, but sadly isn't, obvious:

Chat With Chomsky

Washington, D.C.: Do you believe that Latin America can be successful in developing alternatives to Washington Consensus neoliberal policy and do you believe that Globalization is a real thing as often portrayed by writers like Thomas Friedman?

Noam Chomsky: The term "globalization," like most terms of public discourse, has two meanings: its literal meaning, and a technical sense used for doctrinal purposes. In its literal sense, "globalization" means international integration. Its strongest proponents since its origins have been the workers movements and the left (which is why unions are called "internationals"), and the strongest proponents today are those who meet annually in the World Social Forum and its many regional offshoots. In the technical sense defined by the powerful, they are described as "anti-globalization," which means that they favor globalization directed to the needs and concerns of people, not investors,financial institutions and other sectors of power, with the interests of people incidental. That's "globalization" in the technical doctrinal sense. Latin America is now exploring new and often promising paths in rejecting the doctrinal notions of "globalization," and also in the remarkable growth of popular movements and authentic participation in the political systems. How successful this will be is more a matter for action than for speculation.

 [Via MP]


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Mar 25th, 2006 by ravi

Every day I learn of one more incredulous fact:

Giving Birth in Chains – New York Times
America regards itself as an eminently civilized country, but in many states female prisoners who give birth are required to be held in shackles during labor. Besides being grotesquely inhumane, this appalling practice is medically dangerous.

A report by Amnesty International U.S.A. finds that nearly half the state corrections departments — and the Federal Bureau of Prisons — have policies that expressly permit this practice. Prison officials justify the policy by saying that the women are a flight risk, even though many of them are nonviolent offenders who would present little risk, even if they were not doubled over with labor pains or strapped down on a delivery table.


Its women's month, isn't it?

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Mar 23rd, 2006 by ravi
Mac Software Essentials — one more

In my earlier entry on Mac software, I forgot one that is absolutely brilliant and a big help for those who have multiple computers, such as a workplace Windows PC. Synergy is a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse sharing application) without the V. In other words, it lets you share your keyboard and mouse across multiple systems, even if they run different OSes (MacOS, Windows, Linux, etc). Displays can be chained so that moving the mouse across the border of one takes you to the next computer. Even cut and paste works across systems and screensaver synchronization is possible (for some platforms).

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Mar 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Zfone from Zimmerman

Phil Zimmerman (of PGP fame) has the following notice from a week ago:

Secure Voice over IP: Zfone

I’ve just released Zfone, a new product that takes a new approach to make a secure telephone for the Internet.

I think it’s better than the other approaches to secure VoIP, because it achieves security without reliance on a PKI, key certification, trust models, certificate authorities, or key management complexity that bedevils the email encryption world. It also does not rely on SIP signaling for the key management, and in fact does not rely on any servers at all. It performs its key agreements and key management in a purely peer-to-peer manner over the RTP packet stream. It interoperates with any standard SIP phone, but naturally only encrypts the call if you are calling another Zfone client. This new protocol has been submitted to the IETF as a proposal for a public standard, to enable interoperability of SIP endpoints from different vendors.


Seems interesting!

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Mar 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Mac Software Essentials

Below are a set of applicationsy that nobody with a Mac should live without. Well some of them may just be eye candy but then again, eye candy is what a Mac is all about ;-). Non-freeware products are marked with the suffix [$].



Multi-protocol Chat client that supports all the major services (Google, Yahoo, AIM, Hotmail, ICQ). Sports a great UI, supports Growl notification, lot of nice themes/templaets for chat window. Based on libGaim so suffers from the same lack of YMSG over HTTP support (which means Yahoo may not work if you are behind a corporate firewall).

Alternatives: Fire, Proteus


FTP and SFTP client/browser with support for Rendezvous/Bonjour. Provides bookmarking for frequently visited sites and synchronization with remote sites. Also supports resumption of transfers.

Alternatives: Fugu, Fetch[$], Transmit[$], RBrowser, Interarchy[$]

Desktop Manager

Desktop Manager

Expose is nice but as any Unix-head will tell you a Windowing system is nothing without a Virtual Window Manager, and that’s where Desktop Manager comes in. Use your single physical screen as multiple virtual screens with neat transition effects, a desktop pager that can auto-hide, configurable shortcuts, and the ability to move windows across virtual screens and even make them sticky on all screens. The biggest drawback is the lack of a way to denote certain apps as always sticky At least an easier way should exist (such as a graphical button in the application titlebar) to make it sticky.

Alternatives: Virtue


Ecto is a multi-platform blogging client that supports a wide range of Blog servers and services (WordPress, Blogger, MovabeType, LiveJournal, etc). The UI is straightforward, the rich-text editor provides a good idea of the final look and feel, and there are some additional goodies such as inserting links from Amazon search. Ecto is not free, however.

Alternatives: Qumana, Bleezer, Xjournal, MarsEdit[$]


Unarguably the best web browser available! ;-) Tabbed browsing, fine-tuned privacy (cookies, forms, etc), zillions of extensions, and that’s about 1% of the available features. Forget that old notion that a Mac is best used with the inbuilt tools. Safari is no substitute for a real web browser.

Alternatives: Camino, Mozilla, Opera, OmniWeb[$]


Growl is a notification system that provides other applications the means to notify the user of events. Various applications (including many listed here, such as Adium) support Growl notification. Notifications are customizable.

Also See: GrowlTunes, HardwareGrowler, NetGrowler


CDDB etc are nice if you are playing, ripping or storing albums, but what about individual songs? For that you need the MusicBrainz service. And iEatBrainz is a client that lets you tag your iTunes collection (AAC or MP3) using acoustic matching from MusicBrainz.


Terminal.App is for babies. iTerm adds the features that any Unixhead used to KDE/Gnome absolutely needs. For example: tabs for multiple remote terms. X style cut and paste. And a few other nice features.

NeoOffice based office application suite that can read and write Microsoft Office files (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). Its a bit slow and sometimes has problems with advanced formats in MS files, but does the job for the 90th percentile.



A launcher with an amazing number of features. Launch applications, visit bookmarks, setup custom shortcuts, open files, all with simple key shortcuts.

Alternatives: Butler

Taco HTML Edit

A neat HTML editor that provides the basic set of features that makes it useful. Others like n|vu provide better WYSIWYG support but make it surprisingly more difficult to edit a page (such as by fixing table and cell widths, to use a random example). Taco provides a Live Preview that suffices to see what your HTML looks like. It also enables quick insertion of tags, performs syntax highlighting, etc.

Alternatives: n|vu


If Safari is inadequate compared to Firefox, is a joke compared to Thunderbird. The list of features in T’Bird requires a separate web page altogether, but here are a few: multiple accounts with multiple identities, filtering, searching, labelling, Virtual Folders, LDAP addressbook, GPG (Enigmail), message aging, etc.


RSS newsreader with inbuilt page viewer, tabs support, categories (including dynamic “smart folders” defined using filters — very useful for deleting those pesky “Open Threads” ;-)). One feature that would be nice is OPML synchronization with a service like Bloglines.

Alternatives: BlogBridge, Feed, Jager, Lektora, MiNews, NetNewsWire[$], NewsMac, PulpFiction, Strider[$], Bloglines, NewsGator, Shrook, Gritwire, and various other online news aggregators (Yahoo, Google, FeedLounge[$], etc).

Other Useful Tools
  • Eavesdrop: packet sniffer
  • Saft add-on for Safari
  • Screen Spanning Doctor: MacOS support for screen resolution limits it to the highest available on your iBook/PowerBook, though it can support higher resolutions, such as on an external monitor. Screen Spanning Doctor helps you not only extend your screen to an external monitor, but also helps support the higher resolution.
What’s Missing?
  • A nice Podcast client. At least for me, iTunes, iPodder, etc do not cut it.
  • If you do not have Tiger and want something similar to Dashboard try Konfabulator or KeepAnEye
  • Better LDAP support in the AddressBook. Currently subscribing to external directories is a crapshoot — it may work, it may not!
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