Archive for the 'Blogging' Category

A quick note

Lately I’ve been posting semi-regular links and things over at a little side project called Flotsam & Jetsam. If (and it’s a big if, given that I haven’t produced such a thing in over two years) I have anything substantial to post, I’ll probably still do it here, but otherwise that’s probably the best place to look if you’re intent on reading something written by me.

Some housekeeping

I just realized I haven’t posted here in something like 5 months. I’ll have an actual, substantive post on translations up in a day or so, but, in the meantime, here are a couple of quick site-related notes:

  1. As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, I got rid of the old linklist and, instead, am having my links automatically posted as a regular entry each night using this trick. If I ever have any free time, I’ll try to play with the CSS a bit to visually distinguish these from other posts, but it may take a while.

  2. I started a tumblelog on Tumblr after seeing what Gina Trapani did with You can check it out here. Currently it’s basically just a collection of my links and my most recent Flickr photos, but I really like the tumblelog concept and the Tumblr toolset, so I hope to (a) keep it going and (b) make it into something worthwhile. To be honest, the smaller format fits better with my current lifestyle (read: time constraints) than the more expansive format of the blog. As always, let me know if you have any suggestions.

If ever a post needed to go in the “Bitching and Moaning” category, this is that post

If this site still had any regular readers in April, I’m sure that our not having posted in over a month has chased the last of them away. That having been said, if there are any of you still out there and reading this, I suppose some sort of explanation is owed.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, I’m in a Ph.D. mathematics program, so I don’t exactly have a lot of spare time to begin with. Add to that the fact that I’m a fundamentally lazy person and it’s a miracle that I ever wrote as much as I did the last few years (well, to be honest, the only reason I did was because blogging was a more guilt-free form of procrastination than laying on my bed or watching television). As if graduate school weren’t difficult enough, I had the added stress this semester of having to study for my qualifying exams, which happened in late April (and which I passed, incidentally). So I think that more or less explains why I haven’t been blogging much recently…except for the fact that I passed my orals nearly a month ago and haven’t written a blog post since then. My only explanation for that is that I needed nearly a week to celebrate passing, at least two weeks to reassemble my life from the neglect and abuse of months of studying and a week of celebrating, and the last week to drive most of the way across the country and go to my brother’s graduation (not quite in that order).

Which last little tidbit speaks to why Curt hasn’t been blogging either. Between writing/defending his senior thesis, taking various proficiency exams, finals, graduation and the requisite celebration that accompanies completing all of these tasks successfully, he’s been quite busy of late as well. Oh, and add in dealing with academic and governmental bureaucracies on two different continents in his spare time.

Anyway, the point is that we’ve both been just about as busy as we’ve ever been recently. We’ve both got some more unstructured time at present, so the blogging may get more frequent again, but I’ve got this niggling little issue of a dissertation to write and Curt’s starting a job in a couple of months that may or may not be particularly time-consuming but which will certainly make blogging more difficult (I’ll let him share the details if he feels like it).

I guess what I’d like to say is that I hope (and I think Curt does as well) to post here more frequently in the future, but that I don’t want to make any promises, given that there are higher priorities in my life that demand rather a lot of time and mental energy.

And yes, I know the archives link below the banner is broken. There seem to be extremely complicated .htaccess issues associated with this, along with some weird behavior of WordPress 2.0.2, which I had to upgrade to in order finally to do something about the thousands of spam comments we get here anymore. I’ll work on it someday.

Scripting Vienna

I know it’s not exactly the usual fare here, but today I’m throwing some super-geeky stuff your way. Those that don’t care about RSS readers, AppleScript or my crappy programming skills should probably just skip this entry.

For quite a while now, NetNewsWire Lite, the free version of the popular NetNewsWire, has been my RSS reader of choice. Actually, aside from a semi-disastrous and relatively brief fling with BottomFeeder at the very beginning of my RSS consumption, NNW has really been the only RSS reader I’ve tried.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking recently of upgrading to the full version (and paying the currently-discounted price of $19.99), but, for one reason or another (probably cheapness), decided to check out Vienna, an open-source alternative, and test-drive it against the 2.1 beta of the full version of NNW. As it turns out, the two are, from the standpoint of my usage pattern, practically identical. And Vienna actually suits my aesthetic sense better than NNW. The big feature they both have over NNW Lite is a Webkit-derived tabbed browser living inside the app (so you don’t have to open articles in your browser), which is handy. NNW has synching with NewsGator, which I thought might be useful, since I do a lot of browsing on my Nokia 770, but I hate the NewsGator interface, so what’s the point? The other big thing NNW has going for it is that it can integrate posting to, either directly or through Cocoalicious, Postr, Pukka or your browser…which brings me to the point of this post.

Now, as I’ve discussed before, I do post links to, but do so by way of Spurl, which isn’t supported by NNW. So the support doesn’t really help, unless I want to give up on Spurl, which I don’t. But such are minor impediments to the procrastinating powers of a person facing a gigantically important oral exam in less than two weeks. So I decided to try my hand at an AppleScript solution. Caveat: Despite almost 7 years of Mac ownership, I’ve never really done anything with AppleScript, mostly because I seem to have some sort of weird, highly-specific Ludditism towards scripting (and, obviously, because I’m not such a power user that it’s really necessary). So these scripts are probably pretty poorly-written. At first I was scripting NNW, but, as time went by, it became more and more apparent that, in this regard, NNW would really be no better than Vienna and, in fact, the two were virtually identical for my usage, so I then ended up writing more or less the same script for Vienna. And since that worked out so well, and since I’d gotten into the scripting mood by this point, I ended up writing a script to facilitate the Vienna-to-ecto blogging process as well.

Anyway, operating on the perhaps naïve assumption that someone might find them useful, I’m reproducing these three scripts below the jump, along with a short description of each. And if you have any suggestions for improvements, let me know.

Read the rest of this entry »

Of exploitable domains

Chalk up the Indian Health Service branch of the federal government as another example of exploitable government domains. In culling out comment spam yesterday, I noticed that a number of comments had links to URLs starting with “”. Now, say what you will about the government, but at least it doesn’t usually spam this blog, so it’s a little odd to see .gov links among the spam. A closer look, though, revealed that this links were of the following form:

where I’ve replaced an actual spam URL with “”. As it turns out, the first part of the above points to a little script on the IHS website that will display any URL you like in a frame wrapped by an IHS banner (try it out by replacing the fake URL with anything you like). Which, of course, allows spam URLs to slip by blacklists by masquerading as something more innocuous. As, perhaps, a side benefit, it makes it look like the site is endorsed or at least condoned by a governmental agency.

It hardly even needs to be mentioned that having such a script readily available on one’s website is, at the least, highly irresponsible, and possibly actionable if someone were dumb enough to interpret the frame wrapper was an endorsement (and, as history teaches us, there’s always someone dumb enough). → …and illustrates yet again why frames suck. But that’s another story. Even more so if you keep in mind that, since it’s on a government website, you’re paying for the privilege of allowing spammers to cloak their URLs. And it should be pointed out that the IHS isn’t the only example; until recently the comment spammers around here were using a virtually identical script on the state of Mississippi website.

That’s not to say that governments are the only culprits. Plenty of corporations and other private organizations have similarly exploitable websites, but (a) none, that I can recall, have made their way into my comment box and (b) if one did, I could (and would) refuse to do business with the offending organization. Not so with the government; since I have to pay them anyway, the only thing I can do is bitch about them on the Internet.

(And yes, before anyone asks, I did send an email to the IHS webmaster pointing out the vulnerability and suggesting that it makes his organization look bad to facilitate spammers like this)


If anyone tried to post a comment in the last couple of days that impudently vanished into the ether, I apologize. A rather determined spate of comment-spamming caused me to get somewhat overzealous in my blacklisting of potential spam comments and I accidentally blacklisted all comments. Comments should now be working again, so, if you’re not too annoyed, please do re-submit anything you may have tried to post recently.

P.S. Pro-Football-Reference‘s Doug Drinen, good buddy of J.C. and member of my former department Well, “my” to the extent that an undergrad is ever really a member of a department has a new blog. Check it out.

I refuse to use the word b–g from now on

Not to onanistically discourse too much about the very medium that I am using to inflict my thoughts on you all, but this article interested me for partaking of the category of “people writting resentfully in response to technological developments that represent a perceived threat to the economic viability of their profession” pieces. Basically, a guy at the The Financial Times lashes out at “the blogosphere” (God I hate that word), which he perceives as completely over-hyped both in terms of economic viability and journalistic potential. But it seems to me that he’s taking a very narrow-minded view of what blogs are or can be. He seems to think that they stand or fall insofar as they represent a profitable alternative press or fail to do so.

I mean, sure he’s a journalist so that’s what is important to him, but are blogs really only valuable as profit-making journalism? Basically, to me all they mean is that the entry costs to publication have been lowered to virtually nothing. With very little effort you can make your thoughts available to everyone with Internet access, at least in theory (unless you live in China). When he writes: “yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence,” he’s pretty much setting up a straw man. The only people I know that actually come close to this caricature are the big mainstream political bloggers, and even they tend to follow much more idiosyncratic, irregular schedules than the newspapers. For most people, the very economic marginality of bloggers means that they are free from any particular obligations as far as posting goes. To use a personal example, I (and my brother, as far as I know) don’t make any money from this site, and I know only a few people are reading it anyway, so I can write about whatever the hell I want to. And even if I were trying to make the site economically viable, I would be pretty stupid to “yoke” myself “to the unending cycle of news,” because I know tons of blogs are doing that more diligently anyway, to say nothing of the mainstream media. It’s the newspapers and the money-making press that is “yoked…to the unending cycle of news.” So the writer is pretty much just imposing the newspaper model on blogs, as if we all took as our motto “all the news that’s fit to print” like the New York Times. I personally couldn’t give a shit about the news; the only task I take for myself is cultivating a coherent worldview. Whether or not blog postings tend to be verbally diarrhetic and lacking in structure, it’s not the fault of the technology, which after all could just as well accomodate A la recherche du temps perdu as the ravings of Arianna Huffington.


I spent much of the day doing some of the maintenance work around here that I’d been putting off for a while. The Links page has been updated, clearing out dead links and adding sites that I’ve started reading regularly since the last Links page update. Similarly, the Tools page has been brought up-to-date and I made a couple minor changes to my about page. Re-writing the Tools page reminded me to synchronize my Kinja digest to the feeds my aggregator is currently subscribed to. In the process I had to export my subscriptions as an OPML file; on the “what the hell, somebody might find this interesting?” theory, I uploaded it so that it’s now available for your perusal, and is linked from various appropriate locations on the site.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Colby Cosh’s link to his Flickr account reminded me that, although I’ve had my own Flickr account for a while, I’d never actually added any photos to it. Obviously an untenable situation, so I fixed it. Also, the Photographs page now accurately reflects the fact that I actually have photos up on Flickr. As explained there, large photosets will continue to be posted as in the past, but other random pictures go on Flickr.

Probably made a few other changes that I’ve already forgotten, but those are the most notable.

Quote of the day

As you’ve probably already noticed if you’re accessing the main page, I’ve added a new feature which displays a quotation Curt or I found interesting across the top of the main page. These quotations should follow a standard format: a text block consisting of the quoted material, with the name of whoever said/wrote the quote right-justified on the next line. If the quote comes from somewhere on the web, the author’s name should be linked to that location. The intention is for these quotes to be updated daily (thus “Quote of the day”), but whether that will be sustainable is yet to be determined.

There’s also an archive of the quotes of the day in which each quote will be listed below the date it was posted in the same format I just described; if two quotes are posted on the same day, they will appear separately. The pound sign next to the date is linked to a quasi-permanent link to that quote in case anybody wants to link to it.

Finally, there’s an RSS feed specifically for the quotes of the day and I’ve also added the quote of the day to the regular RSS feed. Getting these to work required changing my RSS feed templates by hand as well as recklessly editing my .htaccess file (and killing the entire website a couple times in the process), so let me know if they cause errors or if you’re subscribed to an RSS feed and the quote of the day doesn’t show up.

I’m using a slightly modified version of the Miniblog plugin to do all this, along with hand-editing of stylesheets, templates and the always-intimidating .htaccess file. Probably not the most elegant solution, but it seems to work so far.


You may have noticed in my last post that I’ve been trying out a new (for me) form of footnote (if you couldn’t figure it out, that’s what the writing in the right margin is). I had started thinking, after my last footnoted post, about how the way I have been doing footnotes around here really wasn’t ideal from a user-friendly standpoint, nor, for that matter, from a writer-friendly standpoint.

From a reader’s perspective, footnotes on web pages or blog posts (especially long ones) are problematic because the footnote typically is placed at the very bottom of the page, which can be quite far from the text being footnoted. Hence, it can be a real pain in the ass to scroll down to the footnote, read it, then scroll back up and find where you had left off of reading the main text. This isn’t so much a problem in a regular book, because it’s usually easy to remember roughly where on the page you left off, but, unless you don’t have to scroll to see the bottom of a footnoted web page, it’s much more difficult online.

The standard solution to this problem, as exemplified by John Gruber’s post, is to make the footnote itself (i.e. the superscripted numeral) into a link to the footnote text at the bottom of the page, then provide a link at the end of the footnote text that sends you back to your place in the main text. This second step is actually unnecessary (you can just use the “Back” button in your browser), but this is a relatively good solution to the readability issue.

However, creating all these links is pretty time-consuming and leaves lots of nasty-looking HTML markup in your text, so it’s not so good from a writer’s perspective. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem terribly user-friendly to make your readers constantly click links back-and-forth through a single document just to be able to read it (and completely destroying the functionality of the “Back” button as a way to get back to whatever they were reading before coming to that document). So I started checking around to see if there were some better or easier solutions. Although there are a couple WordPress plugins that simplify the creation of footnotes, they don’t really address my readability concerns (which, as any web designer worth his salt will tell you, are the more important concerns).

Subconsciously, I think I already knew what I wanted: some sort of simple, frames-free implementation of the annotations to this version of Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. Or, even more ambitiously, something like the notes to David Foster Wallace’s essay “Host” as they appear in the printed edition (which have been described as “hyperlinks in print”). Of course, subconscious desires require some sort of outside stimulus to rise to the surface, and I was fortunate enough to come across Peter-Paul Koch’s post.

Koch talks about some of the problems with footnotes on the web, links to some articles about footnotes, talks about how (oddly enough) footnotes don’t exist in HTML or XHTML and, most importantly, talks about how he thinks “sidenotes” are the way to go on the web. All I had to do was see the word “sidenotes” and thoughts of The Waste Land and the DFW article immediately came to mind. So the question became how to do them. Andreas Bovens and Timothy Groves also like sidenotes and Groves whipped up some javascript to make the process of generating the things pretty easy. Still, javascript isn’t really ideal, either, because lots of people turn javascript off in their browsers.

Fortunately, Beau Hartshorne posted links to his solution to the sidenote problem in the comments to all three of the above posts. His solution is, I think, the best of any that I’ve seen (and, with minor modifications, is what I’m now using); the sidenote is generated exactly at the level of the main text the note pertains to, it’s easy to implement with some simple CSS, and it uses the small attribute, which has been suggested as the “right” attribute for footnotes and has the side benefit of allowing even RSS readers and other non-CSS browsers to tell that the sidenote is not normal text, even though it may not be immediately obvious what it is. → It should be noted the “standard” footnote solution generates invalid RSS because relative URLs aren’t allowed inside content tags Hartshorne’s approach even makes it easy to make sidenotes on both sides of the text. Like so ← Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

In an effort to avoid confusion, I’ve also been adding little arrows (→ and ←) next to the sidenoted text to indicate that that’s where the note is coming from, as well as a much larger arrow of the same sort as background to the sidenote itself to create a sort of visual link. Of course, it might be even snazzier to highlight the sidenoted text in various colors and then color coordinate the sidenotes to the relevant highlighted text (like in the DFW article), but I’m afraid that’s more work than I really want to do.

As it is, I’m pretty happy with how the whole thing’s turned out, but if you have any suggestions to make the sidenotes better, let me know. And if you hate them and want me to go back to footnotes, or even if you hate the whole idea of footnotes and want to implore me never to write another ever again, you can still let me know (though I may ignore you).