Whaddaya mean, no one uses the gardens?

Cavalier Daily: Rejuvenating UVA. In the middle of an otherwise informative article on various preservation and restoration projects at Mr. Jefferson’s University is this gem: “Seldom visited by University students, the gardens [behind the Jeffersonian pavilions] are undergoing a revitalization process all their own” (emphasis added).

Hmm. Seldom visited by students, huh? Sure… during the day, that is. Where else do you think Lawnies take their dates at night?


I mean, yeah, no student ever uses the gardens.

Apropos of this discussion, there’s an illustration in one of the bound Pogo books from the late 1980s—I think it’s Phi Beta Pogo—that Walt Kelly executed for the cover of the Virginia Spectator, then UVA’s humor magazine, in the 1950s. It showed a tired-looking Albert and Pogo pushing an ice-cream cart down one of the roads behind the pavilions. From the bends in the serpentine walls (which were of exaggerated depth for effect) protruded pairs of “his and hers” feet—chastely lying side by side, before you ask—suggesting that whatever the kids were up to in the shadows of the walls, it was a lot more entertaining than the ice cream that Pogo and Albert were trying to sell. It’s a hell of a cover. I wish I could find a copy online; my description doesn’t do it justice. Maybe a friend in Charlottesville could look it up in the library?

Early spring triple play

chain link texture

I published a big backlog of photos to the web just now—three albums’ worth. They span from the last snow pictures of the winter (I hope) to a set at Quincy Market to a few pictures approaching the North End before Easter.

Wow, it feels good to get those out of the camera and online. Pictures aren’t real unless you can share them. (Probably why Kodak is rebranding Ofoto and why Flickr got purchased. Everybody wants to get in on the act.)

WordPress and permalinks and Mac OS X

I’m playing around with a WordPress installation on my laptop for a project, and had a hell of a time getting permalinks to work properly. I figured that my experience might be worth documenting for anyone else who’s playing around with Mac OS X.

I should note that I had to start from the beginning for this installation—I had to install MySQL using Fink, futz around with it until I got it starting reliably and was able to create a database for WordPress, then I had to enable PHP in the Apache httpd.conf file. At that point I was able to run the WordPress installation script and start tweaking options. But permalinks weren’t working.

I started digging deeper and found out why. While on Manila a permalink consists of an anchor on a page generated dynamically by Manila’s custom HTTP server for which the content is assembled in Frontier, WordPress uses Apache’s mod_rewrite to parse the incoming URL, figure out which content is being requested, then get that out of the database and return it in the standard template. Manila’s approach allows the blogging engine to control the whole process from start to finish, while WordPress’s has a series of dependencies: on Apache, on mod_rewrite, and, it turns out, on the file system.

So here, skipping all the tried-and-failed steps, is what I had to do to get permalinks enabled:

  1. Verify that .htaccess actually exists.
  2. Chmod — change the file permissions on the .htaccess file so that WordPress can rewrite it.
  3. With help from a posting on the WordPress support site, figure out that I need to insert some specific language in the httpd.conf file, to wit, some directives for the specific directory where WordPress lives:
    • <Directory /path/to/wordpress>
    • Options Indexes MultiViews SymLinksIfOwnerMatch
    • AllowOverride Options FileInfo
    • </Directory>
  4. And, just for kicks and giggles, update the httpd.conf to add index.html.var to the DirectoryIndex line.

And some combination of those enabled mod_rewrite to work. (This posting on the old Textpattern site provided some insight as well.)

I’ve long admired the flexible navigation that WordPress provided—the ability to have monthly archive pages as well as a calendar, for instance—and it’s apparent to me now that the use of mod_rewrite is what makes that possible. I do wonder about the scalability of that solution—would it survive a Slashdotting?—but it’s interesting, having used Manila for so long, to see how another platform handles the same issues.

It all comes down to money

NY Times: List of Schiavo Donors Will Be Sold by Direct-Marketing Firm. Just when I had resolved to keep my mouth shut about the Schiavo case, this comes along. I’m not sure there’s a more heinous way to repay the kindness of strangers than to sell their personal information to a direct marketing firm.

I think I agree with the angle in this article—that the parents are so focused on their daughter’s last days that they aren’t paying attention to what the people around them are asking them to agree to. But I think that anything coming from the Christian Communication Network’s Gary McCullough, who was present with the Schindlers when the deal was made, or from Phil Sheldon, who actually struck the deal, that talks about morality and values from now on is pretty suspect. Because if there’s something that’s lower than selling the names of people who are donating money to keep your daughter alive to spam merchants, it’s persuading vulnerable and grieving parents that it’s OK to do so.

Followup: Conversing in slow motion

Following up yesterday’s post about BlogPulse’s Conversation Tracker: it seems that the proof of concept tracker doesn’t update very frequently. I turned the Conversation Tracker on itself to see who was spreading the meme about it, and the same links show up today that showed up on yesterday. Neither my post nor Dave Winer’s appears in the list.

I guess I’m spoiled, but based on my experience with tools like Blogdex, Technorati, and Feedster, I expected to see up to date results. Note also that there is an embedded date range in the above link. There does not appear to be a way to bookmark a permalink to get current results for a given conversation; you have to reset the date ranges each time.

Update (31 March): Natalie Glance from Intelliseek was kind enough to point out that the date range parameter is optional on the URL string (though there does not seem to be a way to leave it out when building a new string using the UI). Also a correction—I originally wrote that my original post was made Friday (it was a long day yesterday).

Surely I can’t be the only one who bought one.

As I wrote in December 2003, there are times when company websites fail to provide the information you need. Oddly, that’s still true with the Whirlpool washing machine we bought then; as of now, 15 months later, I’m still the only hit on Google for that model number. (Thanks to reader John B. for pointing that out!) As I told John, the machine worked well for the six months we had it until we sold the house in Kirkland and moved here, so if you find one on clearance as John did, go for it.

One factor in the dearth of info on the model: that model number was apparently sold only at Best Buy. I’m all for segmenting your product line by retailer (well, not really), but companies who do so should make sure that they still provide all the information a customer might need about every model number on the corporate web site.

Echo chamber

Tucson Citizen: ‘Threatening’ T-shirt barred from TCC. See the University of Arizona Young Democrats page for coverage and photos of the T-shirt. Good to know that we’re still using taxpayer dollars to keep opposing viewpoints and political parties at bay. Also, good for the student in question, Steven Gerner, who comes out sounding calm and rational when others (myself, for instance) might be a little steamed:

“It’s really important that I’m an informed citizen. I can’t do that unless I open up and listen to the other position on the issue,” Gerner said. “Regardless of what side of the aisle President Bush is on, he’s still the president of the United States, and it’s an honor to be in the presence of any elected official.”

Thanks to Oliver Willis for the link.

Neverending story: the B-school admissions issue

Boston Globe: Divide grows on treatment of students in online breach. Pluses on the story: they bring most of the cogent points, including the “students have to take accountability” argument and the “that’s not really a hack, it’s editing a URL” argument. Plus they cite Philip, though they don’t link to his site or get into the comments thread. Minuses: no one asked how one could “accidentally” stumble across the URL in question; the story doesn’t make any new points that the extensive discussions on line didn’t already cover, plus it’s about two weeks late. We’ve already talked about all of this.

Interesting points:

  • There were 32 students at Sloan who were affected, compared to 119 at Harvard. That’s disproportionately high; HBS has about double the enrollment of Sloan, but I don’t think it has four times the applicant base. This could be because (a) Sloanies are more honest, or (b) more HBS students were inclined to look because Harvard actually had data on the server.
  • Corporate ethicist Robert A. G. Monks of Portland, Maine, says, “I wonder if you want 20-year-old kids traumatized for life over this.” I wonder how many business schools he’s seen recently. Most top tier schools aren’t accepting applicants straight out of undergrad. They want students with a few years’ experience under their belts. I think the youngest person in my class at Sloan was about 24, with most of the class in their late 20s. Someone who’s that old, who’s seen the business world, should understand that actions might have consequences and shouldn’t need to be coddled.
  • Total numbers of intrusions: total pool is “at least 211 applicants,” which includes 119 HBS, 32 Sloan, 17 Tuck, 41 Stanford, 1 CMU, and 1 Duke accounted for. While it’s not clear that each of the 211 only violated one file, or how students who applied to both Sloan and HBS and tried to peek at both files are counted, if you make the naïve assumption that the 211 counts intrusions rather than students, that means all the intrusions are accounted for.

Blogpulse Conversation Tracker

Micro Persuasion: Tracking How the Blogosphere Spreads News. Use Blogpulse’s conversation tracker to understand the spread of conversations about hot stories online. Might be overloaded right now…

One thing I noticed—if everyone links directly to a URL without linking their source for it, the “conversation” looks pretty flat, with a bunch of links that point directly to the source and only a few that show deeper conversation.

Bringing it all back home: segregation-era local TV news

Virginia Center for Digital History Research: Television News of the Civil Rights Era. This new archive at the University of Virginia provides film and primary documents from two local Virginia television stations between 1950 and 1970. The archive gives you a chance to explore one of the Old Dominion’s least proud moments in recent memory, the so-called “Massive Resistance” campaign that sought to fight desegregation and generally resist federal civil rights initiatives.

Particularly shameful to me: a 1958 clip showing then-Superintendent of Newport News’s public schools R.O. Nelson explaining that having three applications from black students to enter a segregated school meant that the city didn’t have to take more direct action to end segregation, and that it planned to continue with business as usual. (There is to this day an elementary school named after Superintendent Nelson in Newport News. In my day, we nicknamed it “B.O. Nelson,” not knowing the deeper reasons we should have had for feeling antipathy to it.) Also: the glossary entry for Newport News noting its role in resisting salary equity for black teachers.

As I learned in 1993 researching the archives of the Daily Press for a paper in Julian Bond’s civil rights class, there’s nothing like finding out what little bits of nastiness were happening in your own home town to really bring home the magnitude of injustice.

(In the interests of completeness, here’s that paper.)

Microsoft Blog Portal 2.0

Jana’s Joint: Blog OPML. The updated version of the Microsoft.com Blog Portal (which I worked on right before I left the company—I was there to ship the 1.0 version) brings OPML for collections of Microsoft blogs out of the realm of “easter egg” and into the user interface in an incredibly intuitive way:

The fun part is you can go create your own OPML feeds by using the search function on the page. Each product search for blogs will generate a feed.

So, cool stuff. Next: incorporate the blog search results into regular Microsoft.com search. Right, guys? sideways smiley

Mourning: becalmed electric (home improvement projects)

I found a great post on one of my favorite houseblogs, The Old Man and the Street, called Rewired about a total rewiring job that he did. As I read I felt a great sadness, because it was a project I would never be able to do in this house. Apparently Arlington requires that all wiring projects be done by a licensed electrician.

I can understand the rationale for doing that (fire safety, etc.), but other localities take care of those issues with a permit+inspection process. All I really wanted to do was to wire my workshop/storage room, which would require:

  1. Installation of a subpanel in the shop.
  2. Connecting the subpanel to a breaker on the main board (requiring me to fish cable across the ceiling—not a big deal as the access holes in the plaster have already been made at both ends).
  3. Installing two 20-amp GFCI circuits to the subpanel, one dedicated one for the miter saw and one to feed the electrical outlets near the workbench. (I also need to have an emergency switch on one or both of those circuits.)
  4. Install a separate circuit for an overhead light (badly needed)

Not trivial, but certainly manageable, and a project that I was looking forward to doing. Now I need to pay a contractor instead. Sigh.

Old South Church

old south church, boston

Last night was my first service as part of the choir at Old South Church. It felt a bit like a homecoming, somehow. We’ve been looking for a church since we got back to the east coast. The challenge for us has been to find a church with a traditional liturgy (in our opinion, a PowerPoint slide showing the lyrics to the song that you’re to sing along with the Christian “praise band” up front does not better a hymnal and an organist) and progressive theology.

Our challenge was made more difficult because, as our Seattle pastor noted when I asked him about Boston area churches, “we Presbyterians aren’t too strong in New England.” There are fewer than ten Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in the greater Boston area, and after visiting them all we were disappointed. Either they had no music program, or their pastor didn’t challenge us, or we just plain didn’t feel at home.

So it was that we returned to Old South, which is an old, old Congregationalist cum UCC church. How old? The congregation dates back more than 100 years before the Declaration of Independence, to 1669, and their current church building, which is the “new building,” since it was completed in 1875. The pastors are challenging and progressive, as befits a congregation about whom John Greenleaf Whittier once wroteSo, long as Boston shall Boston be,/And her bay-tides rise and fall,/Shall freedom stand in the Old South Church/And plead for the rights of all!”. The new senior minister, Nancy S. Taylor, is already gaining something of a reputation in Boston for her clarion voice on matters of social justice (you can read some of her sermons, such as this recent one on St. Valentine and the conscience of the church, and judge whether it’s a deserved reputation).

Further, the church has a solid music program. I’ve been consistently impressed with the choices of repertoire, and though the choir is a bit small (with me, there are four tenors—maybe five) it’s musical. I’m looking forward to continuing to sing with them.

(S)no(w) more

Another day, another 1 to 3 inches of snow. Never mind that it’s almost April. —As I stood in the shower this morning, I came up with the best snow song ever, but I can’t remember it now. Just as well, as it talked about plowing and the snow is melting too quickly into slush to be plowable.