Archives » August, 2003

August 22, 2003

Sorry folks

I think I have to apologize to the Internet. One of the computers at my office had an out-of-date anti-virus scanner, and it let the Sobig virus right in. For a couple of days, not sure how long, the computer’s been spraying who knows how many e-mails, as well as clogging up net traffic. Our internet connection has been slow and spotty for the last couple of days. I thought it was problems upstream from us. I had no idea there was a devil lurking in our midst. I thought I had trained everyone at my office to be suspicious of suspicious-looking e-mails, and that the anti-virus would catch anything that they overlooked. I was wrong, on both counts apparently.

It’s even worse, because this morning everything was running so slowly, and I was thinking about writing this whole huge rant about Sobig and how crippled everything has been this week because of that and the Blaster worm. I’m glad I stayed my tongue, because if I had written that, then found out it was my network causing the problem, the irony would have been a little too delicious to handle.

I’ve got it cleaned up now. Apparently our ISP had other customers with the worm, and it got so bad that their upstream provider cut them off. So, even though my office is now clean, we’re still offline. Who knows when they’re going to get back up.

And I’ve got to apologize to the hundreds or probably thousands of people who got a Sobig e-mail from my company. I slipped up this time. I gotta keep my eyes open wider.

Anyway, I now know how to detect and remove Sobig, so you can check just to make sure it’s not running on your computer. Its presence is indicated by two files on your C:\ drive, winppr32.exe and winstt32.dat. They’ll be in the Windows directory. If you have either of those files, you’ve probably got SoBig. You need to restart your computer in Safe Mode, delete those two files, and delete the registry entry that runs them. In the registry, under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Run there will be an entry for TrayX. Delete it. Reboot and you should be Sobig-free. And watch out for those e-mails in the future!

So there. That’s my atonement. Copied from McAfee’s virus page, but still. It works. Now I have to go flog myself for a while. And give my co-workers yet another lesson in the three Ws of e-mail attachments. You need to know What it is, Who it’s from, and Why they sent it. If you’re in doubt about any of the three, don’t open it!

August 21, 2003

Revoke our Parent License

What does it say about us that out of the 10 television shows that the Parents Television Council has earmarked as the worst on TV, we watch 5 of them? And that we don’t watch anything on the “best” list? And that we’ve got a baby coming into the house next month, and we’re not going to change our viewing habits? You know, we’ll probably bring the crib into the living room so the kid can watch TV with us. “Hurry up and eat your ice cream, Sammy. There’s S&M on CSI tonight!”

If the PTC only knew, they’d be waiting at the front door when we get home from the hospital, with armed guards backing them up, to take the kid away. It would be worse if they knew we not only watch Will & Grace, but also Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Which amazingly didn’t make the list. Nor did Boy Meets Boy. They must have missed the deadline, ‘cause they’s gay shows, and are corruptin’ the moral fiber. I guess that means our kid’s going to grow up gay, ‘cause he saw it on the tee-vee.

August 20, 2003

What’s Up With Windows, Indeed.

Mary Jo Foley in What’s Up With Windows? Longhorn is delayed possibly until 2006. So is the Server version. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP has another year before it comes out. No new products are on the horizon from Microsoft for the next couple of years. All their energy will possibly be focused on getting people to upgrade to XP and Server 2003.

This is what’s commonly known as “stagnation”. For more info on the history of stagnation, see also: “Netscape”.

August 18, 2003

They still don’t get it.

Christopher Lydon is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. In the last month he has used his radio background to do a series of interviews with influential and creative bloggers, and then made them available exclusively on the Web as MP3s. I love his interviews, as they’ve touched on a few topics important to the world of the web, as well as reminding me that there are many people out there, of whom I will be eternally jealous, that can both write and talk. Chris Lydon seems to be fairly well clued in to what’s going on out there in cyberspace, and I think everyone should check out his interviews.

But his website is a mess.

Not visually, mind you. Just by looking at it, you’d never know. It’s a simple two-column layout with a clean look. But when you get under the hood, you see a mess of markup that’s riddled with font tags, redundant classes, and every possible abuse of HTML. But at the same time it also makes generous use of CSS, even though most of that is possibly redundant too. Dave Winer over the weekend pointed out that the page doesn’t look right in Safari, and he was wondering why. He later posted a link to the W3C validator’s assessment of the page, and it comes up with 65 errors, most of them extremely simple to fix. I’ve been noodling around in HTML enough to know that the first step in debugging a page is to make sure the HTML validates. If your document doesn’t follow even the basic rules of HTML, there’s no telling what kind of unpredictable behavior you’re going to get when a browser tries to chew through it. That’s why tag soup is such a bad idea; you’re relying on browser quirks and screwy rendering to display your page. You’re counting on the browser screwing things up, so you build it already screwed up, hoping to keep one step ahead of the rendering engine, so that everything can be screwed up together and somehow work out right in the end. Meanwhile you’ve created the ugliest markup imaginable, and by doing so increased the chances that your carefully super-glued-together page will fall apart in another browser. Writing to the quirks and inconsistencies of what the web used to be is never a good idea. If you write a site for IE, it will invariably fall apart in Mozilla. And vice versa. If you write to one universal standard that everyone supports, it will work everywhere. This is what the Web Standards Project has been fighting for. They’ve convinced the browser makers, they’re making headway with the tool vendors, but there are still legions of authors and developers out there, people writng their own sites or making templates for Blogger and Radio and Moveable Type, that don’t get it yet. They are the ones that seemingly refuse to accept that the landscape of the Web has changed, that markup matters, and that it’s fine to write crappy markup when you’re first starting out, but by the time you’ve gotten to the point where you’re creating tools and templates you need to know all of this. There is no excuse anymore.

It’s especially frustrating when you see people who are so devout in proclaiming that [fill-in-the-blank technology] must be written properly, and then they turn around and write some of the worst tag soup out there. I’m specifically going to point out Dave Winer here, because he was involved in creating Chris Lydon’s site, and he has been vocal about how he doesn’t want to change his tag soup ways. And no, this is not a personality battle. That seems to be Dave’s favorite way of discrediting the views of his opponents. I am looking at this from a professional standpoint, and I hope to make a reasoned argument. I wouldn’t even call myself an “opponent” of Dave’s. I just don’t see why he refuses to learn more about HTML. He has, in recent months, called out many people and organizations for their use of “funky” RSS. He feels strongly about this, because he had a hand in creating RSS, and he feels that the simplicity is one of its best features. Keep all the extra cruft out of RSS, he says, and the world will be a better place. Aggregators will run better, and bandwidth will be used more efficiently. I agree with him on those points. RSS is a simple technology. No need to bulk it up. But I can’t understand why he doesn’t view HTML that way. HTML is an equally simple technology (most problems are created by browser bugs where CSS is concerned). If you look at the source of a well-written website, you will see simple elements being used, a minimum of attributes, and something that is very human readable. But many people, Dave included, are still writing HTML like it was written 9 years ago. Messy, bloated, and very, extremely “funky”, by his standard. “Funk”, according to Dave, is when you use the wrong technology for the job. Specifically, he says it’s when you use a namespace instead of a native RSS element. Let me extend that definition to say that “funk” is when you use a deprecated or otherwise incorrect-for-the-job HTML element to do something that should be handled by CSS. Using <blockquote> to indent? Funky. Giving the same class to a whole group of elements, when they all share the same containing element? Funky. Not closing every tag? Funky. Using <font>? Fun-Kay. HTML has finally reached a stable point where the syntax is simple and all browsers render a page the same. But these people are still partying like it’s 1996. And they’re the ones that are supposed to know better.

We are entering an age when it is less and less necessary for ordinary people to know HTML. Weblog tools and CMSes are gaining popularity, and a larger number of sites are being built using them. But as the need for regular people to know HTML goes down, it goes up for the rest of us. We are at a time where, if you’re generating HTML in a professional capacity, there is no excuse for you not to know how it works. It’s part of the job. If you’re a tool vendor or a template creator, the need is even greater, because you’re creating the markup that’s going to go on other people’s sites. You have a responsibility to give them the best markup possible. You must be an HTML aficionado. You have to read and understand the specs coming out of the W3C. Anything less is amateurish and unprofessional. This doesn’t mean that 100% validation is strictly necessary. Leaving alt out of images may be an accessbility sin, but it’s forgivable. And everyone has been caught with unescaped ampersands in their URLs. Those kinds of things are practically unavoidable, and when they happen you’ll have an invalid page. But they are minor offenses. The problem is when the people working on huge site-generating tools like Radio, and creating templates for the same, think that using <blockquote> to indent your whole page is okay, and that using CSS combined with font tags, as well as using four &nbsp;s to indent paragraphs, is an acceptible practice. That is not acceptible. That’s like having an engineer at Ford not care if a couple of spark plug wires are swapped when a new car rolls off the line. “Well, the car runs, doesn’t it?”

For shame. Writing proper HTML is easy. You can learn it in a couple of hours. Unlearning the old ways of doing things might be a little harder, but we’re still talking about a matter of a couple of days. And the payoff is enormous. Crappy HTML should be relegated to the realm of the amateur. But in fact, it seems that amateurs are the only ones capable of writing good markup and using CSS correctly. How did things get so reversed? Why is the web so exactly backwards from what makes sense? Anybody who is generating tag soup in a professional capacity needs to reevaluate their priorities, and understand that we are now in the 21st century. The web has changed in the last 9 years. The only thing holding us up is you.

August 16, 2003

If you can’t beat ’em, mock ’em

Okay, I had a few hours worth of deep breathing, and I’ve calmed down. I saw a segment about Jethro’s press conference on the news, and Max Baer Jr. was up there being a goofball. He says he’ll probably end up dealing blackjack and driving the limo, and I believe it! And just in case you were unclear that this is still Nevada, the press conference was held in the parking lot underneath a $20 portable awning.

I still have a twitch in my eye over the whole development, but I have progressed into the “quiet acceptance” stage. This whole project might collapse the same way it did in Reno, but I’m proceeding with the assumption that it’s going to happen. So I’m going to cope the best way I know how, by taking pictures and making fun of it! To that end I am announcing the grand opening of the Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Casino Construction Photo Gallery, a sister project to my Ormsby House Gallery, wherein I will keep everybody up to date on the construction of a monstrosity. Maybe with enough luck, my site will eventually rank higher in Google than the official site, which is a godawful monstrosity in itself.

Bring it on, Jethro. The natives are restless, and the Internet’s watching.

August 15, 2003

Oy. Just Oy.

Sweet Jesus, Jethro’s done it. The Beverly Hillbillies Casino, which originally was going to be a safe distance away in Reno, and then looked like it had gone away for good, is now going to be built five miles away from my house. I’m going to have to look at this ugly thing every time I drive to work. Every time I come home from work. Every time I do anything in Carson City, it’ll be right there. Yeah. What he said.

I’m going to go cry now. As soon as I’m done vomiting.

Why does this scare me?

In the 90’s, Max Baer Jr., known to everyone as Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies, started a love affair with the Reno/Tahoe casino industry. He wanted to build a Beverly Hillbillies casino (the links are broken on that page, I recreated them here) in Reno, an awful Las Vegas-style monstrosity that would have featured “Granny’s Shotgun Weddin’ Chapel”, the “Beverly Hillbillies Limousine” service, “Elly May’s Buns” bakery, and a 200-foot high oil rig that would shoot fire. Be sure to check out all those links. Those were the actual promotional materials for this place, which would have fit right in on the Las Vegas Strip, but was woefully out of place in Reno. The plan kicked around for years before it finally fell apart, and Jethro disappeared in to the shadows.

That’s one of today’s convergent stories. The other story is of the NSA-level secrecy regarding the future of the old Wal*Mart building in Carson City. Wal*Mart built their new Super Center outside of town, and the hulk of the old store has been abandoned for about a year now. A California developer bought it a couple of months ago, but he refused to tell anybody his plans for it. Now he’s scheduled an announcement for 1pm today to unveil his plans for the building. And who’s going to be there at his right hand to answer questions? Good old Jethro.

No no no no no, my mind keeps screaming. Not another crappy casino. Carson City has its share of crappy casinos. We just turned a hardware store into a crappy casino; the old Lucky Spur is being remodeled into a sports bar; we don’t need to do the same to the Wal*Mart. And we especially don’t need Jethro involved. Send him down to Las Vegas; they eat that kind of stuff up down there.

Given the rate news is disseminated in Carson, we’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow’s paper (or tonight’s Reno newscast) to find out what was announced. My stomach will be in knots until them.

Built for the Redesign

Bob Sawyer has started Built for the Future. He saw it as a place to promote forward-thinking design skills, and to showcase websites. Indeed, it does have a little list of nice CSS-based sites. But as early as the second post he started off in a direction that I think might gain him a lot of attention: he started a contest to redesign Jakob Nielsen’s site, useit.com.

Jakob’s site has often been the butt of many jokes, because it seems to break many of his own rules. Plus, nobody can seem to get over the fact of how ugly it is. So this contest, much like the one that reworked the W3C homepage, is meant to sic designers on the task of redoing Jakob’s site, making it pleasing to the eye, and making it easier to use. Jakob’s given the contest his blessing, but also said that he won’t actually use any of the entries. Supposedly he wants to fold useit.com into the nn/group template someday.

I might get around to entering the contest if I can find the time, just for fun. I’m sure than most of the entries will blow mine away, though. I’m looking forward to seeing them!

August 14, 2003

Hmmmm.

Photo of the Linksys wma11b.jpgThe Linksys WMA11B, the Wireless Media Adapter. This is the kind of thing that might get people more excited about wireless networking. It is a Wi-Fi device that plugs into your TV, and it browses the shared files on your computer. It has a built in picture viewer, and an MP3 player. So you can set this thing on top of your TV, and play the MP3 files on your computer through your home stereo. Or bring up the pictures from your digital camera on the TV screen. Of course you could do all of this before, by running wires all over the house. The key innovative thing about this device, which is something I’ve been waiting for for a while, is that it does it all over your Wi-Fi connection. And, it’s actually processing the files itself. It’s not just some dumb box that converts your computer’s output into a TV signal (which is also something I’ve considered getting), it actually plays the files itself. This is a really exciting idea, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Yes, I could have found out about it two months ago if I had looked. But I’m always behind the times. I still need to poke through the User’s Guide to see how it works. So far, I see that it relies on software running on the host computer, and apparently that software will only run on XP. Not a problem at my house, but it could be a stopping point for other people. And it does work whether your computer is using the Wi-Fi directly (through a card, like my laptop) or is connected to an access point (like my main computer is). So I could take this little box with me when I go to my grandmother’s house, and hook it right up to her TV to show the vacation pictures. That’s a lot better than “Let’s huddle around the laptop in the kitchen, everyone!” like we usually do.

The next challenge? Finding someone nice enough to give us the $170 that it costs to buy this thing. And also a towel to clean up the puddle of drool.

August 12, 2003

Who watches the Google Watchers?

Some time ago, Daniel Brandt became unhappy because his site wasn’t listed highly enough on Google. So he started google-watch.org, wherein he proceeded to rip apart everything he doesn’t like about Google and generally rant about how PageRank is elitist and broken. Most reasonable people ignored him, but a few journalists latched onto the idea and either bought into it or presented it as a story, usually a one-sided one. Recently Chris Beasley saw how one-sided the debate was becoming and decided to step in to do a little debunking, and started up google-watch-watch.org. Herein he rants about how Daniel Brandt is driven by nothing more than a personal vendetta, and how PageRank is still the best way to rank sites.

I’m on Chris Beasley’s side myself, but it’s still fun to watch the whole thing unfold. If the original clash made for a good story, this new battle surely will make some journalist happy. After all, like Doc Searls said, the press loves a good fight story. Of course, maybe they’ve already framed it as Daniel Brandt vs. Google, and tossing a third actor into the mix might make things too complicated. Or they might play up the new conflict as Chris Beasley vs. Daniel Brandt. Or they might not touch it at all. Can’t wait to see.

And how long can it be now before google-watch-watch-watch.org goes live?