Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dismembering the Eighties
SoapNet airs reruns of the cancelled soapAnother World, digging 16-year-old episodes out of the Procter&Gamble archives.

They've reached June 1989, and every time I hit this show during a channel surf I can't find my way back out -- it's a hypnotic time capsule of excruciatingly bad '80s fashion. Movies that mock the decade, such asThe Wedding Singerand200 Cigarettes, don't come close to how ridiculous we looked. There may be no more unseemly spectacle than men in feathered mullets, Member's Only jackets, and wedgie-tight acid wash jeans looking for love from women in shoulder pads, molasses-thick mascara and giant Dee Snider hair. If not for beer goggles, my generation would have single-handledly cured overpopulation.

I was reminded of this when I saw old photos of Tina Fey, who sang at ablogger's wedding.

Fey, who may top the list of attractive female celebrities with corrected vision, appears in wedding photos wearing a floweryHomer Simpson mumuunder a dense hair helmet. The only recognizeable feature is her wry lockjaw smile, the universal gesture that tells the world I'm not sure I flossed.

Serving Files with a Cache to Save Cash
Some podcasters and other publishers who serve large, high-traffic files have begun using theCoralservice to keep from going offline or going broke. The iPodder clientadded supportin March.

Coral's a network of several hundred servers that can store and serve copies of any file on the web. To offer a file via Coral, all you have to do is add.nyud.net:8090to the host name in its URL.

Here's an example -- the trailer for the underappreciated Brat Pack thrillerBad Influencestarring James Spader as a passive yuppie and Rob Lowe as the devil. IfVideo Detectivewanted to save bandwidth and offer the file over Coral, it could change theoriginal URLto aCoralized version.

Coral's also a useful place to look for any URL that can't be loaded due to high traffic or some other problem. Just add.nyud.net:8090to the host name of a request -- here's the cached copy of thethunderstorm podcastby Dave Winer and God. There areCoralize bookmarkletsfor browsers that can request any page from Coral's cache.

The long-term plan for Coral is to expand the network, adding any host who wants to serve requests. This brings up integrity issues raised in the debate over Google Toolbar's autolink feature, as noted byWes Felter-- there must be a way to ensure that a Coral server is not modifying the original content in transit.

TheNYU Secure Computer Systems Groupthat developed Coral has created anApache modulefor signing web content. Clients could use this signature to verify that content has arrived in unaltered form.

I'm going to see if this module can be fished out of Coral, so I can sign content onWorkbenchas a testbed for the concept.

The online magazine Slate, now a part of the Washington Post Company, has developed an anal fixation.

A line from David Edelstein'sStar Wars: Revenge of the Sithreview:

With his lisp and his clammy little leer, he looks like an old queen keen on trading an aging butt-boy (Count Dooku) for fresh meat -- which leaves Anakin looking more and more like a 15-watt bulb.

Jack Shafer:

I've been called many ugly things in my life -- neo-con, without decency, Michael Kinsley's butt boy -- but school monitor, never.

Dana Stevens:

Things quickly escalated into a full-scale food-fight. Carlson accused Stewart of being John Kerry's"butt boy"and"sniffing his throne."

Weblog Comments Near and Far Out
I'm coding this weblog myself in PHP and MySQL, writing software that I will eventually release under the nameWordzilla. A newrecent comments sidebaron Workbench makes it easier to follow active discussions on old weblog entries.

Running a weblog with open comments attracts some unusual discussions when people using a search engine find familiar names in an old entry. For two years, Workbench has hosted anongoing soap operabetween the current and former spouses ofAtlanta Journal-Constitutionreporter Ron Martz.

The sidebar also will show how much comment spam I have to weed out, even though I refuse comments with three or more links and actively ban senders. In the last six months, I have banned 1,263 IP addresses used by spammers. They haven't gotten the message -- an additional 21,043 attempts have been rejected from those addresses.

25 Will Enter, 5 Will Leave (with Books)
From around 25 entries received in thebook giveaway, four copies ofRadio UserLand Kick Startwere mailed today toRod Kratochwill,Ole Olson,Gary SecondinoandNick Starr.

Steve Kirks is working with UserLand Software onRadio 9, a major upgrade to the software. Though I suspect that the upcoming release will affect weblog publishing features covered in early chapters of my book,Kick Startemphasizes two aspects of Radio that are important to learn and unlikely to change much in the future: the object database and UserTalk scripting language.

A fifth copy of the book will be sent toMarinusas soon as I find one. I accidentally gave away more copies than I own.

Bob's Mother Won't Talk to Me
Ten years ago Melinda French Gates was a manager on Microsoft Home products such as Bob, Encarta and Expedia. Some reporters even claim thatBob was her baby.

Because bloggers are beinghyped to the gillsby the mainstream media, I figured it was a good time to start making interview requests of people who are ordinarily far too important to talk with the likes of me.

I began with Melinda Gates, hoping to clarify her role on social interface software like Bob. I even prepared a Mike Wallace question for the end of the interview: Why did you allow Bob to die in 1996 -- didn't you knowanyoneat Microsoft with enough pull to save the project?

My request was rejected, but I regard the speed of the reply -- under 48 hours -- as a recognition of the importance of the blogosphere.

"Melinda is not able to participate in this particular opportunity,"according to a publicist. No reason was given, but I suspect that she may be preoccupied improving the lives of millions of people throughcharitable givingon a scaleunprecedented in human history.

My Needs are Modest
Newsweekgives me special recognition for missing out on the booming multimillion-dollar market in Internet domains:

When a Florida man, in anticipation of the naming of the new pope, registered the Web siteBenedictXVI.com, the Vatican was in luck. Rogers Cadenhead, who has since used the site to publicize anonprofit organizationand plans to transfer control to the Vatican, could have been an investor looking to get in on a booming business: the domain market. Indeed, owners of similar sites such as Benedict16.com and PopeBenedict-16.org, are looking to sell to the highest bidder.

A few relatives share this view, believing that the cash value of your Catholic grandmother's love is paltry recompense against a 50,000 percent return on a $12 investment.

But so far, the financial windfall for non-altruistic pope domain registrants has been mixed. The owner ofPopeBenedictXVI.Comauctioned his domain for $6,100 on eBay to a buyer using it for pay-per-click papal search results. The seller told me in an e-mail that if eBay had not cancelled the original auction during thepress frenzyover the domains, he had legitimate bidders on the hook for as much as $30,000.

The Italian sellingBenedict16.Comapparently waited too long to auction it, so he's having trouble finding a buyer. (I'm crying on the inside for you, Jacopo.)

On one level, it's nice to be recognized for my error in judgment, which I blame on watching too manyABC Afterschool Specialsin my formative years.

I have my wife, my kids, my health, and my hair. I don't need a fully loaded 2005 Ford Mustang GT, Sub-Zero refrigerator, or enough money to send my children to the same Ivy League college as Katie Couric's kids. I can live without the Hewlett Packard Windows XP Media Center PC with the built-in DVR capabilities and the detachable Tablet PC monitor. I'm not bothered in the least by paying off student loans 14 years after graduating from a modestly pricedstate school. I can live without HBO untilThe Wirecomes back next year. A perfectly good meal can be based around Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Some of the store-brand colas aredelicious.

Even if I had earned enough to join theSawgrass Country Cluband knock a few in the water atTPC 17, can you imagine my discomfort when my new moneybag friends started talking about how we made our fortunes?

Donald:"I made my money in real estate development."

Thurston:"My family is in investment banking."

Me:"I was a popesquatter."

Old-Time Radio, Way-Nu Format
I'm helpingYesterday USA, the first old-time radio station on the Internet, start podcasting its programs.

The station has been produced for 22 years as a labor of love out of the home of Dallas audio engineer Bill Bragg, who's better known these days as the voice ofBig Tex.

YUSA broadcasts 23 shows that already sound like podcasts. They're 30- to 90-minute programs created by listeners who briefly introduce the old-time radio shows and music they love, with little editing, polish, or pro-radio fakery. One of the longtime hosts is the singerRonnie Millsap.

In order to podcast, YUSA needs a Visual Basic component that converts WAV files to MP3 and then uploads the resulting files to a web server.

I don't code much in VB, so I'm having trouble trusting the free code I've found on the Internet to perform the MP3 conversion.

An ActiveX component fromUnited Research Labslooks promising, as you can see from the documentation for aWaveToMp3 function.

Before I encourage YUSA to shell out $299 for the license, I'd like to find some Visual Basic coders who can tell us if there's a cheaper alternative.

Even Further Down South
Rex Hammock has become the fifth member of theCreative Commons Choir, adding his voice to thesingalong podcastof"Dixie."

My vocals were receding deeper into the background with each version, so I'm pleasantly surprised to hear more of myself in Rex's edit. I also like the shotgun blast sound he makes at the end, which I interpret as a metaphorical attempt to put a sick dog out of its misery.

He'd love to hear an asynchronous podcasting choir that had the sense to exclude the five of us:

... this is a great idea for some serious choral folks and acapella enthusiasts (translation: people with talent) to experiment with. Post the music arrangement and some MP3 masters for each vocal part, and then invite folks to send in their part.