Monday, August 29, 2005


Hurricane Katrina: 'Do Not Call 911'
LiveJournal business managerMark Kraftis gathering information for Gulf Coast residents bracing for Hurricane Katrina, collecting reports from several LiveJournal diarists who are fleeing or preparing to ride out the storm.

Kraft passes along agrim predictionfrom meteorologist Jeff Masters:

I put the odds of New Orleans getting its levees breached and the city submerged at about 70 percent. This scenario, which has been discussed extensively in literature I have read, could result in a death toll in the thousands, since many people will be unable or unwilling to get out of the city. I recommend that if you are trapped in New Orleans tomorrow, that you wear a life jacket and a helmet if you have them. High rise buildings may offer good refuge, but Katrina has the potential to knock down a high-rise building.

The4 p.m. National Weather Service warningfor New Orleans was equally foreboding:

Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks ... perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail ... leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed.

The majority of industrial buildings will become non functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failure is expected. All wood framed low rising apartments will be destroyed. Concrete block low rise apartments will sustain major damage ... including some wall and roof failure.

High rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously ... a few to the point of total collapse.

Government officials did their best to scare the hell out of residents all Sunday morning, hoping they'd leave by any means possible. One told holdouts to make sure they had a hammer or some other tool that's strong enough to break through an attic roof."You don't want to drown in there when the water comes,"he said.

Several parishes in Louisiana have closed emergency services, giving their residents a discordant bit of advice: Do not call 911.

RSS 3.0: Please Pass the Fork
Jonathan Avidan has announcedRSS 3.0, a one-man attempt to forkRSS 2.0.

As far as I can tell, this is Avidan's first involvement in syndication. He's passing over three groups -- the developers of RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom -- without making an attempt to work with any of us.

RSS 3.0 is pitched as a better-specified version of RSS 2.0, but it drops a bunch of elements and makes changes to several others, so it's more than a spec rewrite.

Avidan also claims it willmake Atom better, which would be a neat trick, since that format just became aproposed Internet standardafter an arduous, two-year development process. I'm guessing that its creators would burst into tears at the slightest mention of a second version.

I don't know why RSS offers more forks than a picnic, but I wish I could use theRSS Advisory Boardto simplify the situation. A new person trying to figure out syndication shouldn't have to learn three formats just to make an educated decision about which one to support. Correction: Four formats.

Slashdot founder Rob Malda thought RSS 3.0 wasfront-page newsyesterday, which gives me hope. I've been working on an incredible new format I call HTML 5.0.

Syndication is Still Simple
Every time RSS comes up for discussion, someone links to Mark Pilgrim'smisleading articleabout the version history of RSS, making acommentlike this:

RSS with its 9 [diveintomark.org] +1 [rss3.org] incompatible versions is hardly a standard for anything. It is a huge pain for a implementer to decide which versions to support.

There are only two significant versions of RSS:RSS 1.0andRSS 2.0. These formats have one major technical difference that prevents their merger: RSS 1.0 makes use ofRDF, a standard for data exchange, and RSS 2.0 does not, favoring a slightly simpler approach.

There's only one significant version of Atom:Atom 1.0, which recently became a proposed standard of theIETF.

The other seven versions of RSS identified by Pilgrim are older versions of either 1.0 or 2.0.

An implementor of syndication publishing software can support RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom 1.0 and ignore their older versions. All three formats are stable, and code that produces RSS can easily be adapted to produce Atom 1.0. I added Atom support to an RSS-feed PHP script in a half-hour.

Bloggers Run From Hurricane Katrina
Looking around New Orleans withGeoURL, I've yet to find a blogger sticking around for Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans TV station WWL is in24-hour hurricane news mode, which is incredibly unnerving to experience, as I learned in Palm Coast, Florida, during Hurricane Floyd. A direct hit of a category 4 storm would cause Old Testament flooding in New Orleans, which averageseight feet below sea leveland survives only because of levees. Residents have lived for years in dread of a storm that would demonstrate why this is terrible engineering, turning the city intoAtlantis:

New Orleans has always had a complicated relationship with the water surrounding it. Everyone told the first settlers this was the wrong place to build a city. It is wedged precariously between the mighty Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain, and most of it was once swampland. Aggravating the problem is the fact that much of New Orleans is below sea level, so that after a good rain, the water just settles in. There is now a decent pumping system, which helps. Old-timers, however, still talk of the days when, after a bad storm, bodies washed out of the cemeteries.

Jeffrey Masters, a meteorologist who was on a plane that nearlycrashed in the eye of Hurricane Hugo, is covering the storm for Weather Underground:

A stretch of coast 170 miles long will experience hurricane force winds, given the current radius of hurricane force winds around the storm. A direct hit on New Orleans in this best-case scenario may still be enough to flood the city, resulting in heavy loss of life and $30 billion or more in damage.

The closest blogger who's sticking around appears to be T.C. Byrd, providing updates on the storm's approach fromHattiesburg, Mississippi:

On the Coast, if you are not following the mandatory evacuations, they are coming around and making you sign a waiver stating your vital stats and that the city can dispose of your body. There's already some flooding. Katrina ain't playing.

Update: An episode of Nova on PBS described New Orleans'nightmare scenario.

Fixing a Pending Urchin Task
I check web stats withUrchin 5.6, a server log reporting program that'savailablefor Windows, Linux, MacOS, and other systems.

Urchin does the job reasonably well, but at least once a month the program's scheduler gets stuck reading a site's log, hanging forever as a"pending"or"running"task.

I found the solution to the problem on anUrchin support page: Stop the scheduler, use theuconf-driverutility program to set several values that reset the stuck site, then restart the scheduler.

Update: Spoke too soon. I also had to open the Storage/DB configuration tab for the profile, delete all data associated with it, and delete its server logs for recent days. Something in the database or the log caused the pending problem to come back each time I ran Urchin.

Casting a Dark Horse as the Sixth 007
James Bond producers are searching for a new actor to play the role afterdumping Pierce Brosnanthis week.

Media favorites for the next 007 include Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Jude Law, and Clive Owen. I imagine they'll pick someone from this demographic: Top-of-the-marquee actors under 40 from the U.K. or Australia who can handle a black-tie dress code.

British bookmakers have Owen as a4/5 favorite, but some of their other choices are so odd you have to wonder at the collective intelligence of the gamblers placing the bets. Goren Visjnic?

As someone who became bored with the Bond movies around the time Timothy Dalton took over, I'd love to see them do something bold with the franchise, casting a black actor in the role.

A color-blind casting call opens up some interesting possibilities. Black actors can lead blockbuster action movies, as proven repeatedly by Will Smith, but he was born in the wrong country to be considered for the role. An American Bond would go over as well as an AmericanRobin Hood.

Brosnan's choice for successor is reportedlyColin Salmon, the actor who played MI6 operative Charles Robinson in the last three Bond films.

My pick: Idris Elba, the 32-year-old actor who playedStringer BellonThe Wire. Born in London to parents from Ghana and Sierre Leone, Elba was incredible in an odd role -- an erudite Baltimore drug dealer trying to turn dirty money into clean businesses -- and he wears a suit like he was born in one.