Finding beer bliss

After almost a year back in the Boston suburbs, I finally made the pilgrimage today to Downtown Wine & Spirits in Somerville. And I’m not going to tell you how much I spent, but I bought nearly a dozen different kinds of beer there.

To back up: it’s been a really nice vacation day. Lisa and I drove up to Devereaux Beach at Marblehead on the North Shore and enjoyed a quiet day on the beach and in and out of the water—mostly out, since the water was about 62°F. While there, we popped in at Flynnie’s at the Beach, and had an OK lunch—I suppose it would have been better if we had more than $10 cash to spend. We had a reasonable lunch for that price, though it is worth remembering that a “seafood salad roll” is likely to fail on two of those three descriptions at $4.95 for the roll. (In this case, the “seafood” was mock crab, and the “roll,” like all New England seafood rolls, was made in a piece of white bread (AKA New England style hot dog buns) rather than any sort of roll.)

After we came home, I decided to check out the beer store at Davis Square that I had heard so much about. I was really glad I did. In addition to the expected Northeast beers (Magic Hat twelve-packs, Dogfish, even the most recent Harpoon 100 Barrel Series beer, Triticus), I found a bunch of Belgians, including a whole shelf-full of different guezes, a number of different French bieres de garde, some unusual British beers (the familiar Entire Butt Porter), and some spectacular American beers (Stone’s Vertical Epic Ale, 2005 issue). I think we’ll be busy for a bit.

Yet another reason to upgrade my Manila back end

UserLand Blog: Another Manila 9.6 Teaser. Finally multiple category support. What’s cool about that is that I can really see using categories as something closer to tags now. I also like Jake Savin’s comment on Scott Greiff’s blog that there will also be support for no category at all on news items, even after categories have been defined. Coooool. Hope that the “no category” thing is carried forward into the XML API. I always hated having to enforce a default category in my Manila-related posting apps.

Closing chapters

BuzzMachine: No more AO-Hell. An elegant, well-written elegy… well, not really, what’s the opposite of an elegy?—anyway, Jeff Jarvis kisses AOL goodbye as he kicks it to the curb and in the process writes a really nice summary of the Internet experience pre-Mosaic.

For the record, I was lucky enough to avoid getting hooked into any of the walled gardens, primarily because I went online first through my school and the Unix shell, then through Mosaic at the end of my fourth year. Never looked back.

I become a case study: Business Blogs

I keep forgetting to mention that I have two case studies in Bill Ives and Amanda Watlington’s new Business Blogs: A Practical Guide, one about me as a general blogger and one about the work we did at Microsoft on the Blog Portal. The book is full of practical advice about using blogs in the enterprise for reasons ranging from knowledge management to product management. Thanks to Bill and Amanda for including my experiences. (It’s kind of funny being in the same book, in the same section, as Robert Scoble.)

No sadder words…

…in the English language than, “There’s no time to go siteseeing and no time to get good barbecue.” Particularly when you’re in Memphis.

Oh well. I’ll be home tonight; that makes up for a few things.

The parting

I sit in a hallway in Terminal D in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, sharing the long wall outside Gate D2 with perhaps 30 soldiers in desert camouflage. A few minutes ago, a woman with a Georgian accent walked by and asked the bald soldier next to me with the white iPod earbuds where they were headed. “Back overseas,” he replied. The woman with her asked, rather foolishly, “Where to?” as her friend said, “Good luck!” “Thank you,” he replied, not answering the other question.

You don’t ever fly straight into Atlanta; you always spiral down into it, circling in patterns known only to migratory birds, surveillance and mapping satellites, and air traffic controllers. So, your right shoulder aching from being pressed to the seat back—or your seatmate—by the force and your stomach sinking a bit as the plane circles, you get the feeling that Atlanta is on a high mountaintop surrounded with fog. In reality, the airport is on miles of blistering hot concrete surrounded by smog, but that’s neither here nor there.

I got off a conference call this morning with industry analysts and drove to Logan, stopping at home to pack a few things. I’m making a quick flight down to Memphis to talk to our customer there. I haven’t been in the city of the blues, Elvis, and MLK’s death for seven years, since we visited the week after we got married in the fall of 1997. It seems like yesterday.

The gray-haired man next to me, with the white mustache that reminds me of my uncle’s—my uncle John spent years in both the Army and the Navy before opting for more conventional pursuits—says that everyone is in for a long wait. Seems that they’s be flying out the same time that I am. I hope I can find the gate in the crowd of camouflage.

There’s no WiFi at this end of Terminal D, just too many gates for too many small airlines. I actually saw a Hooters Air sign on the terminal directory, though I haven’t actually seen a gate for it since I arrived. Maybe the Hooters street team posted the sign on the directory surreptitiously to build demand.

What I have seen is PSPs, two of them so far, the first I’ve seen outside a Sony store. The eleven-year-old next to me from Baltimore to Atlanta had one—he was using it to watch movies, and not Spider-Man, I was amused to notice. The soldier on my left now is playing a first person combat shooter. From where I’m sitting the resolution looks about like the game of Quake I used to play after hours at AMS, though the sound is a good deal tinnier from the PSP speakers. I’d normally, bitter liberal that I am, crack a joke about an offduty soldier playing a first person shooter, but there’s no mileage in it, he’ too young—probably ten years younger than me.

I give up my seat on the wall to another young soldier who is rocked back on his haunches and either being amused or irritated—it’s hard to tell which—by the other civilian sitting on the wall, another ten year old who keeps asking, So how many soldiers are you? A thousand? Four hundred? I find myself thinking, influenced by the WWII movie I saw last night, that he’s going to get in trouble as a spy for asking so many questions.

The Airborne Rangers are queuing up now, last and final boarding call has been made and they are clearing the lounge. A father is hugging his infant kid goodbye, his other children and wife standing by, then kisses his wife and joins the queue. Just another departure, this one on Omni Air, a name intoned darkly by the mustache-bearing soldier in the hallway.

Suddenly, now that the crying kids have subsided or left with their mothers, the lounge seems much quieter. It looks odd with only a few uniforms left, like the color has left it. They’re boarding our flight now; our journey seems tame by comparison.

KEXP: podcasting is love

I have to confess: I may be the most unhip tech blogger out there. Reason: I never really understood the podcasting thing. Maybe it’s because my current platform doesn’t support podcast creation (I’m still on an older release of Manila); maybe it’s because I don’t really have the hard drive space to subscribe to a lot of podcasts. But I’m hooked now. Why? KEXP’s new podcast of Northwest bands, which they released last week and which had me grooving all the way into the office this morning.

KEXP’s internet radio stream has been good listening for many years, but it doesn’t go with you in the car. Hearing John Richards’s voice first thing in the morning, listening to northwest indie music while negotiating traffic—it’s almost like being back in Kirkland.

Big ups to John and the station. I’m looking forward to trying out the station’s other podcast too.

This, incidentally, is the flip side of my gripe last month about the iTunes Podcasting Directory. Yes, there are commercial interests there, and yes, they’re going to get heavy promotion. But that’s because they have money, and because otherwise no one would listen to them. As I told a guy from Highland Capital Partners last fall, RSS (and by extension podcasting) is about creating a new delivery mechanism. The thing that’s cool is that it’s one that plays by the rules of the web, not radio or TV. So while the big guys can come in and play in the space, they won’t silence the cool innovative voices that are out there—including both individuals and indie radio stations.

GreaseMonkey and Trackback Spam Removal

Wow. I can’t believe it took me this long to check out GreaseMonkey. This Firefox add-in, which provides the ability to apply little bits of DHTML to pages on your browser on the fly, changes everything.

Case in point: trackback spam on Manila. There’s currently no way short of manually checking every checkbox in a list of trackback spam to get rid of it all. (Hello, carpal tunnel.)

GreaseMonkey to the rescue! Using the CheckRange script, all I have to do is check the checkbox for the first trackback spam entry, then scroll down to the bottom of the window, hold down the Shift key, and click the last checkbox. All the checkboxes get checked—and in my case that’s somewhere over 100 pieces of trackback spam—and another click deletes the whole kaboodle.

What’s cool about this is instead of waiting for Userland to implement my ideas for better spam management in Manila, I can (to an extent) take some matters into my own hands. Vive la Greasemonkey!

(Oh, and the Google search that is helping me identify pockets of trackback spam is pretty useful too.)

More reviews-as-shopping-lists

It’s dangerous for me to read uao’s Sunday Morning Playlist reviews of musical styles on Blogcritics. I always end up with a long shopping list. True especially for a pair of playlists I found today: Paisley Underground and Jangle Pop. Any playlist featuring Opal and Guadalcanal Diary gets my attention, and the rest of the songs are intriguing even though I’ve heard none of them before. Good stuff.

Cowboy Junkies: Early 21st Century Blues

The Cowboy Junkies started their career with an album of covers and haven’t done another such compilation since. Until now: their Early 21st Century Blues, originally available only from their website but being released by Rounder next month, features covers of anti-war songs in the Junkies’s trademark laconic style. If you’re like most listeners, this description will have you running in one of two directions: madly toward the disc or as far away from it as possible. Frustratingly, the disc contains plenty of material to support both those positions.

With an album of covers (even one, like this, that includes a few original tunes), the reviewer’s focus has to be the selection of material and whether the arrangements and performances bring anything new to the songs. On the first note, this compilation does well. The track list comes together in pairs, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Brothers Under the Bridge” and “You’re Missing,” the aforementioned brace of originals by Michael Timmins (“December Skies” and “This World Dreams Of”), a pair of tunes by ex-Beatles (George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and John Lennon’s acerbic “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier”), and a few associated with Bob Dylan (the traditional “Two Soldiers” and Dylan’s own “License to Kill”); the traditional “No More,” Richie Havens’ “Handouts in the Rain,” and U2’s “One” round out the set. High points for material, then.

Performances and arrangements? Well, each of the numbers, with one exception, sound like a Cowboy Junkies song. That’s not necessarily a knock, just a note that most of the album is firmly in familiar territory with the familiar vocals of Margo Timmins anchoring the usual multi-instrumental crew in the background. This doesn’t always make for arrangements that bring new things to songs. Case in point: “Two Soldiers,” which despite a full band and a narrative gender switch brings nothing to the song that Dylan didn’t bring out in his version on 1993’s superlative World Gone Wrong.

Then there’s “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier.” The band’s website notes, “We set up a drum loop and jammed away. After it was all over we realized that there was a definite hip-hop motion to the loop so we invited a friend of ours, Kevin Bond (aka Rebel) to write and record a rap, based on the themes that were driving the songs on the album. We then dumped the whole mess in Jeff Wolpert’s lap and asked him to make sense of it.” Oddly, the experiment mostly works. The interaction of drums and bass in the loop is a little too reminiscent of O.P.P., and the rap is a little shocking when it starts, like walking through an Appalachian forest and coming across a tricked out Escalade. But Michael’s distorted guitars, Rebel’s rap, and Margo’s vocals play off each other building to a hypnotic climax. It’s actually a lot of fun.

Other highlights on the disc include “Handouts in the Rain,” a fine take on a beautiful song, and “Isn’t It a Pity,” which must be Harrison’s most covered song. In this recording, it’s apparent why, as the soaring final choruses finally succeed in bringing Margo’s voice out of the comforting blanket of the low alto range and bring some real passion from the band.

So: the album is uneven, yes, and flirts dangerously close to Starbucks territory in some of the less inspired moments. But for “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier” and “Isn’t It a Pity,” it’s definitely worth checking out.

One last note: the timing of an anti-war album in 2005 would seem to be too little, too late. But part of the favor done by this album is to remind us that war is both human and all too omnipresent. What might have seemed trite, if timely, in 2003 feels a bit more universal in 2005. And sadly the album’s message is even more relevant two years later.

You can read more about the album, listen to the tracks, and buy it from the Junkies’ site. Also see the Blogcritics interview about the album with Michael Timmins by the fine folks at Earvolution.

(Also posted at Blogcritics.)

massDeleteManila: AppleScript for mass spam deletion

After the carpal tunnel moment earlier today, I decided to look on the bright side of spam. I updated my hoary old ManilaHandler AppleScript to add support for the Manila.message.delete method (and at the same time bundled the support script SOAPXMLRPCHandler into the body of the script). And I wrote a simple AppleScript, massDeleteManila, that takes a comma delimited list of message IDs and deletes them.

The UI isn’t elegant. You need to type or paste a comma delimited list into a dialog box. Plus no progress bar. But it works, and it is a lot faster than deleting spam through the web UI.

My suggested workflow for using this on your own Manila blog:

  1. Copy and paste the table for your discussion group topic listing page showing the spam messages into Excel.
  2. Copy just the message IDs and paste them into BBEdit (or another word processor).
  3. Search and replace: replace paragraphs with commas.
  4. Run the massDeleteManila script and paste the comma-delimited list of message IDs into the first dialog box.
  5. If you haven’t filled out your blog URL yet, type it in, along with your username and password.
  6. The script runs silently until all the messages have been deleted.

The massDeleteManila script is available for download. I provide it so that other Manila users, such as the Berkman bloggers, can benefit. Please use it carefully—there’s no easy way to undelete messages in Manila, and I cannot provide support if you accidentally delete important content. Note that you may need Tiger to run the script—I haven’t been able to test it under Panther.