2006-08-31

Better... But Stop Thanking Me Anyway

Earlier this week, AccessoryGenie sent me another "Thank You" e-mail, this time with the subject line of "Regarding your order Thank You" (referring to a past order). I guess it's better than what I was kvetching about two months ago, when they sent me an e-mail that said "Thank You For Your Order" when I hadn't made one, which freaked me out a bit. Then today I got another e-mail from AccessoryGenie with the subject line "Thank you for your order L". That one came about because someone hacked my AccessoryGenie account and... no just kidding. I opened it up and saw the lines
Thank you for your past order to AccessoryGenie.com. As our way of saying Thank You we have a ** GREAT LABOR DAY SPECIAL***

Any one of those lines "Thank you for your PAST order", "Our way of saying thank you", "GREAT LABOR DAY SPECIAL", "ENLARGE Y@UR M@RT6A6E", etc etc, would have been fine subject lines, and I never would have brought it up.

Well, maybe if they had said something Yoda-like, such as "For Your Order, You, I Thank". I would have definitely brought that up, but in a good way. See AccGenie? See what you've lost? But I forgive you: "Thank you for my material".

--YY

FOX News Whistleblowers

This is a very scary video of testimony by two reporters (Jane Akre and Steve Wilson) who say that FOX News tried to coerce them into dropping a highly damaging story about a sponsor, Monsanto. The report discussed Monsanto's use of bovine growth hormone to produce dairy products, and how Monsanto's own research indicated that this might have made the milk carcinogenic. Since, at the time, Monsanto owned G. D. Searle & Company, which in turned owned Nutrasweet, Metamucil, and Dramamine (frequent advertisers), Monsanto was able to use financial leverage to pressure FOX News into dropping the report. FOX of course caved like a sugar-addicted toddler being threatened with candy sanctions, and tried to pressure (and bribe) the reporters to drop the story.

I'll let you watch/read the rest, but here are some more delightful products Monsanto has owned or produced (besides killer milk and :
  • Celebrex: Sound familiar? It was the arthritis drug that had the unfortunate side-effect of, oh, death. Good thing the FDA caught... wait, never mind (to clarify the Pfizer aspect: Monsanto-owned Pharmacia developed the drug - shortly afterward Pfizer acquired Pharmacia (just go to the website for Pharmacia).
  • Ambien: for putting Americans everywhere to sleep. And doing all sorts of freaky stuff in the meantime.
  • Enovid, the first commercial oral contraceptive (aka "The Pill")
  • Disneyland Hall of Chemistry
    And... drum roll, please,
  • Agent M---f----g Orange.

    --YY

    p.s. As a highly relevant aside, G. D. Searle & Company was the owner of Nutrasweet, and there was some amount of controversy over whether it should be allowed on the market despite tests that were of some concern. Fortunately for Searle, a capable leader was on-hand to make sure Nutrasweet got past all that pesky red tape: Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld later left the company once the acquisition by Monsanto was complete.

    p.p.s. Here's a very recent article in New Scientist saying that Aspartame was "given the all clear". Read more closely and you'll see that all it says was that an earlier study that said it was dangerous was flawed, not that any subsequent studies indicated that it was safe. In other words, it's a temporary reprieve, not an all-clear. The study needs to be done again in a more controlled fashion.
  • Good News to Scream About

    Edvard Munch's stolen masterpiece "The Scream" has been found. They think.

    --YY

    MSM Betting On Armeggeddon

    Here's a clip of Jon Stewart taking the MSM to task for giving quite a bit of airtime to discussing the idea that the apocalypse is coming. The best part is FOX news aggressively asking a priest for date when the apocalypse would start. Hard-hitting stuff.

    --YY

    2006-08-30

    Katrina One Year Later

    I'm sticking to my conclusions that Katrina was anything but natural. I wrote about by initial reactions here, FEMA here, but what I'd like to reiterate is from my "2005 Suuuuucked" post:
    Shortly afterward, Hurricaine Katrina. I mean, Holy S---. A major American city, rich with history and culture, all but wiped out. And one of the worst parts is that just about every aspect of the disaster could have been prevented. From the levees to the shockingly incompetent response to the obnoxious stonewalling by insurance companies, it brought out the worst in human nature.


    When I say "just about every aspect of the disaster could have been prevented", there's a good case for saying that that includes the hurricaine itself. But even ignoring that, it's quite clear the American government failed the people of New Orleans in almost every possible way, at every stage (from preparation to prevention to crisis management to reconstruction, and everything in between).

    The tragedy of Hurricaine Katrina will be remembered as a shameful chapter in America's history.

    --YY

    2006-08-29

    Wait... Wha?

    I did a double-take looking at this Reuters headline:
    Annan urges quick end to Israel, Hizbollah disputes

    The obviously correct way to read this is:
    Annan urges quick end to [Israel vs. Hizbollah] disputes

    But for some reason my brain saw:
    Annan urges quick end to Israel, [which] Hizbollah disputes

    --YY

    Star Wars - Spot the Difference

    Via TheForce.Net, Star Wars (the official site) has a slideshow of the differences between the 1977 (theatrical) and 2004 (DVD) releases of Episode IV.

    I didn't get to the part where Han shoots first (there are 122 photos) - hopefully they didn't leave that part out...

    UPDATE: I don't think they're making a strong case for the changes with this pair of screenshots.

    --YY

    When a Picture Is Worth Infinite Words...

    ...Because the words in the caption are worthless.

    I'm referring to this picture from the IDF, published by the AP.

    The caption is "In this picture released by the Israeli Defense Forces, an Israeli bulldozer destroys a Hezbollah bunker in southern Lebanon Sunday, Aug. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Israel Defense Forces)."

    If you're like me (not particularly eagle-eyed), you are probably wondering what the big deal is. The answer is off in the distance, on the left side of the photo. Apparently that particular Hezbollah base had a friendly neighbor...

    The point is - WHY ISN'T THIS IN THE F-----G AP CAPTION?!? Did no one in AP notice, or was it a deliberate omission? In other words, incompetence or dishonesty?

    --YY

    2006-08-28

    Why I Hate Gawker Stalker

    No, not because its real-time stalking map is a horrible violation of people's privacy - it's because it shows how celebrities avoid my supposedly hip neighborhood of Gramercy like the plague:

    I mean come on! True - there are no Upper West Side sightings either, but it's almost like celebrities are making a concerted effort to sidestep my 'hood.

    If you take out #10 ("Serena Williams at Paragon Sports on Broadway and 18th"), it's like we're in celebrity quarantine or something.

    My theory is that unlike residents of, say, SoHo or the Lower East Side, we Gramercerians don't feel the need to gush every time a mildly famous personage enters our sites.

    So screw you Gawker Stalker - we don't need your stinkin' celebs! And my neighborhood is cool!

    UPDATE: D'oh! I linked to the freakin' photo wrong, ruining the whole post! Which I'll admit, was of shaky quality to begin with...

    --YY

    CSS vs. Tables

    Here's a comment I just posted on Frederic BRUNEL's blog:
    I think we’re at a stage where a growing percentage of designers will dismiss your work if they see tables used in the source code. Table proponents generally don’t care one way or another - if anything, they’re impressed by pure CSS layouts. So for the sake of job security, if nothing else, I recommend moving away from tables ASAP.

    That said, I still use them (I’m not a designer, though) ;-)

    The topic is the ever-raging tables vs. CSS debate. The CSS Zen Garden converted me to CSS :-) But since I have much more experience working with tables for layout, it's a lot easier for me to use them - especially for quick and dirty website work.

    --YY

    2006-08-27

    My Firefox Extensions

    I'm a huge fan of Firefox (Mozilla's browser), so I decided I'm going to bore you with what extensions I have installed. :-) The fact that they even have extensions is already a huge boost over the rapidly aging Internet Explorer. Much of Firefox's power comes from the fact that it's completely extensible - anyone can create an extension that fulfills some sort of need, however obscure. Really obscure.

    Anyway, some of these extensions are really useful and/or interesting, and really give you tools that you never realized you needed. And of course, once you get used to them you don't want to give them up... which you'll have to if you're forced to use IE for any reason.

    Moving right along, a sample of some of my extensions, in no particular order:
  • Copy As Plain Text. Ever copy something from a webpage, and when you paste it, say, into an e-mail, you find that the font was pasted too, and it messes everything up? This extension helps quite a bit with that.

  • FormFox. This handy little tool tells you where that "Submit" button is really going before you click it. Paranoid people rejoice.

  • If your paranoia is a step above most, you'll need an anonymous proxy extension. I have FoxyProxy, but I mostly use TorButton, which is based on the EFF's excellent Tor software. On a side note, the EFF is suing Barney - you gotta respect that. And you can't make that stuff up.

  • For the truly paranoid: TrackMeNot. This extension "[p]rotects against search data profiling by issuing randomized queries to popular search-engines (sic) with fake data." In other words, it will spit out junk to all the search engines every few minutes so they can't tell which of your searches are real and which are gibberish. When AOL sells your data to the highest bidder, the bidder may be dismayed to see that you search for things like "artistic caterpillars" and "lemon dashboard" every 45 seconds.

  • Nuke Anything Enhanced: Bad name, great extension. Basically, if you're trying to print an article, and there's a big ugly Flash ad in the way, you can use this extension to temporarily expurgate it. It's not a full-featured ad blocker (that would be AdBlock) - just a quick fix for REALLY annoying web pages.

  • FlashBlock. This is a good one - basically you have a whitelist of websites that are allowed to play Flash files. If a site is not on the whitelist, a placeholder for the Flash movie is shown, and the movie won't load until you click on the placeholder. It's one of my favorite extensions, and it speeds up web page load times too!

  • Gmail Notifier. Just a cute little button in the corner that tells me when I have Gmail.

  • Video Downloader. A little buggy, but it gets the job done. The job being letting you download videos from YouTube, Google Video, iFilm, etc etc etc. I'm going to try out DownloadHelper as an alternative, though - I'm not crazy about Video Downloader when it comes to YouTube...

  • XML Developer. I just just got this one and it's really cool. It will load any XML document for you and help you work with it. My favorite feature so far is the "Create Schema" tool, which automatically creates a schema file for an XML you give it. Since XSD is ugly as sin, it's nice to have a tool that takes care of this for you in a very simple way. It also has an XPath evaluator and an XSLT transformation engine. A must for any XML developer.

  • And speaking of extensions for developers: Web Developer. For me, this is by far the most useful extension for Firefox. It does EVERYTHING - it lets you: disable Javascript/Images/Redirects/Cache, outline Images/HTML Elements/Links (incredibly useful for dealing with layout problems), track down broken links, edit CSS on the fly (and see the results immediately), validate your HTML... Whew! And I didn't even cover half of its features. It's a keeper!

  • IE View Lite. Some pages just aren't Firefox friendly. Luckily, there's an extension that lets you open up a link externally in IE (when you absolutely, positively have to).

  • ScreenGrab. It takes a screenshot of the web page you're looking at - either the whole page or just what fits in the window. I haven't really tested it, but it's a really cool idea!

  • Finally, NikkelWHOIS. A very cute tool that tells you who's behind the website you're currently looking at.

    So that's it. I have plenty more extensions installed on my machine, but this post is getting a little lengthy for a YYWW post... And I haven't even scratched the surface of the constantly growing library of extensions! Here's Firefox's extensions page - Go nuts!

    --YY

    p.s. BUT... some of these extensions may install adware or worse, so be careful while you're going nuts. Read the user comments, and try to find a privacy policy on the developer's page.
    p.p.s. Apparently some developers (using a pseudonym) give bad ratings to their competitors so their own extension looks better. Sleazy stuff...
  • CSS Exploit

    While this isn't exactly a security risk, I just read about a disturbing privacy exploit possible with CSS. The idea is that you can use the :visited property of a hyperlink in CSS to detect if someone has visited certain links on your website whether or not they click on the link from your website.

    In other words, if you visit Google, and later visit a web page with this trick set up, the owner of the web page will know that you were in Google. There is a drawback (thankfully) that prevents this from being a total privacy disaster: the links have to be predefined on the web page. I.e. I can't just rip your browser history, but I can throw out some links and see if you've visited them recently. Also, http://google.com and http://www.google.com are seen differently, so the page has to include both.

    Some sites (listed below) have set up examples of this trick, along with "how-to" code, so I'm going do the same. My example is a bit simpler, since I'm not doing anything with the data - I'm just going to dump a list of sites, putting the ones you have visited in bold, and crossing out the rest. If I want to actually do something with the data, I can use the getStyle function from the excellent site QuirksMode to see if the link is bold or not, and if it is, pass it along to some hidden script. This won't work outside the actual page (i.e. in an RSS reader or other aggregator).

    So without further ado:


    If you click on a crossed-out link and then come back to this page, the link should now be bolded. The CSS I use for this is really simple:

    a.hack {display: block; text-decoration: line-through; font-weight: bold;}
    a.hack:visited {text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal;}

    To take this a step further and start doing something with this data, I can write some Javascript:

    //uses slightly modified getStyle() (not shown) from
    //http://www.quirksmode.org/dom/getstyles.html
    var visited_sites = [];
    for (var i=0; i < document.links.length; i++)
    {
    var link = document.links[i];
    if (getStyle(link, 'text-decoration') == 'line-through')
    continue;
    visited_sites.push(link.href);
    }

    At the end of this code block, I have a list of links called visited_sites, which I can save on a server somewhere using AJAX, for example.

    Here are the pages I adapted this technique from (they use slightly different approaches - either more CSS or more Javascript - I decided to spread the wealth and liked the result :-) )
  • milov.nl
  • Jeremiah Grossman (working example)
  • Browser Spy (most thorough example)
  • TechFoolery - where I first saw this mentioned. Also, interesting points in comments: it's old news in the security community, but apparently no one listens to security people...

    Anyway, if you're a privacy nut, you may want to look further into this... I don't think most people have to worry but I could be wrong.

    UPDATE: I just saw this link - apparently there are some security risks after all...

    --YY
  • 2006-08-23

    For The Busy Protester

    If you just can't make it to the latest protest, don't fear: Troika has the solution for you: the Tool for Armchair Protesters!
    Troika teamed-up with Moritz Waldemeyer to create 'Tool for armchair activists', a machine for remote rants and protests. It can be strapped to lampposts in front of pro-eminent buildings like the house of parliament, or other institutional buildings in front of which many protests occur.

    Thanks to its embedded mobile telecommunication device, the machine is able to receive incoming sms messages and speak them out loud through its powerful megaphone, thus allowing the armchair activist to shout out its rants and protests in the comfort of his sitting room.

    Is teleprotesting the next big thing in activism? I really hope not..

    --YY

    2006-08-22

    G-D-Am -- G-D-C

    I have just broken the law, according to wankers at the NMPA and the MPA. Why? Because those are the chords to "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", by Bob Dylan, and guitar tablature is the music industry's latest target.

    This one hits me close to home, since I'm an "aspiring" guitarist (that adjective is so much nicer than "sucky"), and I've learned a HUGE amount by visiting sites like Guitar Tab Universe and playing along with my legally purchased music. I also happen to like their response.

    Now, I totally understand how the music industry wants to protect itself from illegal downloads. I happen to agree with them on copyright in certain respects - no one is going to produce anything without some sort of compensation. Producing music in particular can be VERY expensive, and just covering the costs of a studio album means charging for music.

    But this is beyond ridiculous, as I hope the title of the post conveys. We're talking about instructions on how to play a song - not the whole song, of course - only the guitar part. Yes, there is a small industry that publishes official songbooks that may be hurt by this, but that's not who these groups are claiming to protect.

    Anyway, this is clearly less about protecting musicians than it is trying to squeeze every last drop of revenue out of every last song (how else can you justify charging for a text document that tells you how to play along with a 40-year-old song?). It's pretty clear the music industry has lost its mind at this point, and they're simply going to alienate more and more people from their cause with their overzealousy.

    And remember: Em-D-C (verse) -- G-D-C (chorus)! (That's "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World ;-)")

    --YY

    Headline Potpourri

    It's been a few days since my last post, so in lieu of a "real" post, here are some headlines for stories that have grabbed my attention recently.

  • Major HIV Research Breakthrough
  • Gawker Is Soooooo Over, Says... Gawker
  • Dark Matter Not a Hoax?
  • Civilization [Game] Causes Missed Book Deadline
  • Tattoos That Only Come Out At Night
  • MIT Lab Creates Fiber Optic Lens
  • Your iPod Was Not Made By a 6 Year Old
  • Marlboro WTF
  • Lay Off Wikipedia

    and finally,
  • test oyl

    --YY
  • 2006-08-18

    Bin Laden Bombshell

    I just read this post, which definitely sounds like a conspiracy theory, but if it's true, it's a bombshell that puts the whole "War on Terror" into perspective. I'll let the author, Greg Palast, speak for himself:
    I’m going to tell you something which is straight-up heresy: America is not under attack by terrorists. There is no WAR on terror because, except for one day five years ago, al Qaeda has pretty much left us alone.

    That’s because Osama got what he wanted. There’s no mystery about what Al Qaeda was after. Like everyone from the Girl Scouts to Bono, Osama put his wish on his web site. He had a single demand: “Crusaders out of the land of the two Holy Places.” To translate: get US troops out of Saudi Arabia.

    And George Bush gave it to him. On April 29, 2003, two days before landing on the aircraft carrier Lincoln, our self-described “War President” quietly put out a notice that he was withdrawing our troops from Saudi soil. In other words, our cowering cowboy gave in whimpering to Osama’s demand.

    The press took no note. They were all wiggie over Bush’s waddling around the carrier deck in a disco-aged jump suit announcing, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.” But it wasn’t America’s mission that was accomplished, it was Osama’s.

    CNN did in fact report the withdrawal. But everyone was so focused on Iraq that no one really paid any attention.

    Why is that, though? One would think that "Bush Acquiesces to Bin Laden's Demands" to be pretty newsworthy. But I didn't hear anything to that effect, and I don't think anyone else did either.

    Now, of course this doesn't mean that there is no terrorist threat (sorry). Just ask people in Mumbai, London, or Haifa. There are still plenty of extremists who want to destroy the West (and its way of life), and are willing to destroy themselves in the process. But it does mean that the picture is very different than the one presented to us in the media. And it also calls into question this adminstration's whole approach to the war on terror.

    Anyway, I have to process this news a little more... all I really know is that I'm pissed that I found out about this from an "out there" blog instead of the MSM. As far as I'm concerned, this is just yet another nail in the MSM's bloated coffin.

    --YY

    2006-08-16

    The Japanese Will Kill Us All: Part 2

    Via Minding the Planet: "Physicists Plan to Create New Universe in Lab".

    Ummmm..... Does anyone else think this sounds like a really really bad idea?

    --YY

    New Look!

    I upgraded the blog to Google's new Blogger engine, which is MUCH better (new features listed here). It's definitely easier for me to modify the layout, so I did :-) I know some of you didn't love the old look... Anyway, enjoy!

    --YY
    Via Table of Malcontents: The Mel Gibson movie "Signs" revisited in light of his... ummm... Passionate revelation. Ahem. So anyway, enjoy an hysterical sendup of a horror story retold.

    --YY

    2006-08-15

    Videos Speak Louder Than Words

    EU Referendum has been doing a spectacular job on keeping track of media distortions of what happened in Qana.

    Here are two videos on YouTube that make things even clearer:
  • CNN's Anderson Cooper describes Hezbollah's deception firsthand.
  • Germany's NDR (*shrug*) shows footage of "Green Helmet" (aka Salam Daher) directing the "show" at Qana.

    --YY

    p.s. The AP has an interview with Daher here. Gots to be fair, don't I? ;-)
  • Antisemites Befoul D.C.

    The antisemitic group ANSWER (no linkie for dickwads) put on a heck of a show two days ago in Washington. 25,000 antisemites visited our nation's captial for some good ol' Israel (and America) bashing.

    Now, normally I wouldn't comment on this - anti-Israel rallies are nothing new, unfortunately, and I'm a strong support of free speech. But this one seemed more vitriolic than usual: not content with Israel-bashing, this particular klan felt the need to cheer on Hezbollah. Yeah. So the radical left supports an Islamist terrorist organization. Evil makes strange bedfellows, I suppose.

    If you want to get as pissed off as I am, go here for photos, a video, and additional commentary.

    --YY

    2006-08-14

    Some Connections Deservedly Missed

    Gawker has an awesome link to a Craig's List "Missed Connection" gone wrong - here is the full text:

    The start of the weekend. Me, rolling through your burg up Bedford Ave in my new Lexus, checkn out the scenery on my way to my place in the Hamptons. Stopping for a light at a light. You, Hipster Girl. Young, dark hair, nice rack action, looking fine. Our eyes met. The light turned green. Cars honked and I had places to go and things to do. I drove on.

    But I'm still thinking of you, Hipster Grrl. I'm a successful finance dude who could support you in your art and music, and give you a life apart from all the pretensious stinky people I saw you having to walk around on Bedford. So if you don't have herpes or venereal warts, write back to me and I'll show you how sweet life can be.


    The response:
    Yes, there you were, encapsulated in air-conditioned status symbol costing 6 times or more a yearly minimum wage salary, burning fossil fuels witthout a care on your way to the Hamptons, where the truly rich sometimes deign to rub shoulders with you, the wanna-be who sold his soul to the gods of Morgan Stanley et al for a grab at the brass ring. And for a moment, maybe all the barriers you have built up around yourself - the ones that allow you to crap on everyone else without hurting - seemed a little more porous than usual, or maybe you just believe that everything - yes, even I - has a price tag on it that you can probably afford without dipping too deeply into the treasure trove.

    Alas, you couldn't support me. not because you don't have enough money. You could probably support whole 3rd world villages with your bonus alone. But supporting me would mean NOT supporting war criminals like George Bush, even if he did reduce your taxes, not using a disproportionate share of the world's resources purely to assuage your own ego, not standing idle or mute as the world slips into crisis, not doing your work blindly, regardless of the human cost, not cutting yourself off from your kinship to those "stinky people" whose luck and choices are diffferent from your own. Supporting me does not mean writing a big enough check so that I'd let you between my legs until you get bored and find a mistress or admit that you're gay. Supporting me would mean getting "real". Herpes and venereal warts - while impossible to cure, can be kept in check with vigilance and care, and not spread to others. I hope the same is true of your soul-less arrogance.

    You go, Hipster Grrl!

    --YY

    p.s. If I had to guess, it's probably not the same girl... But you never know.
    p.p.s. I'm sure the dapper young lad can charm (i.e. buy) his way into the heart of a young lady who's not quite as hipster as this woman.

    Justice Kennedy Makes Law Less Boring

    I was flipping around the TV Saturday night and stopped at CSpan, of all channels, because of the incongruous image of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wearing a lei. It turns out he was the keynote speaker at the American Bar Association's annual conference/luau in Hawaii this year. Once I got past the lei, and actually started listening to what he was saying, I really liked it. A fascinating point he made, for example, is that when people in third world countries think of the law, they think of corruption, extortion, and persecution. When Americans think of the law, they think of a system that allows society to continue in a peaceful manner. Or, in his words: "For us, law is a liberating force. It's a promise, it's a covenant that says you can hope, you can dream, you can dare, you can plan." And: "Americans must understand that if the rules of law have meaning, such as hope and inspiration for the rest of the world, it must be coupled with the opportunity to improve human existence."

    Makes sense to me. He also pointed out three things that make a healthy society, under the rule of law - "it must be binding on all government officials, it must respect the dignity, equality and human rights of every person, and it must guarantee people the right to enforce the law without fear of retaliation." (Source: AP)

    Here's the video. Definitely worth a look (Notice the lei? I've never seen a lei look more out of place...).

    --YY

    p.s. Slate has an interesting take on the speech.
    p.p.s. C-Span's website needs some work...

    2006-08-10

    Is August 21, 2006 Significant?

    This is the sort of thing I would usually dismiss, but the "president of the Reform Party of Syria" wrote this:
    When a statement by the Supreme National Security Council of Iran says it will reply by Aug. 22 to the Western incentive package to stop enriching uranium, it chose that date for a very precise reason.

    August 21, 2006 (Rajab 27, 1427) is known in the Islamic calendar as the Night of the Sira’a and Miira'aj, the night Prophet Mohammed (saas) ascended to heaven from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on a Bourak (Half animal, half man), while a great light lit-up the night sky, and visited Heaven and Hell also Beit al-Saada and Beit al-Shaqaa (House of Happiness and House of Misery) and then descended back to Mecca. The night of August 21 is a very, very important night in Shia'a Islam. What Iran's Ahmadinajead is promising the world by August 22 is the light in the sky over the Aqsa Mosque that took place the night before. That is his answer to the package of incentives the international community offered Iran on June 6.

    Again, this is fairly thin - the only thing to work with here is a date. But I agree with Farid Ghadry: it can't hurt to look into this.

    --YY

    2006-08-08

    America... Online

    AOL kept up their incompetency tour Monday by releasing the search records of over 650,000 members to the public (without permission, of course). The data is extremely raw - the only changes made were to replace the screen name with a unique number. This cursory step towards anonymization was barely enough, however: people routinely search for very local information, like zip codes and city names (something like "woodbridge ohio piano lessons"). The uproar was so immediate and intense that AOL pulled the data several hours later. This being the internet, however, the damage was done, and the data is readily available for download in several places.

    I'm going to go contrarian for this post: as bad as this is, I'm somewhat relieved that they released it to the public, instead of stealthily handing it off to the highest bidder. It's disturbing that they're so blase about such sensitive information (I'll get to that in a second), but honestly - these slimeballs are going to sell it anyway. If that's the case, the general public should get to see what it is.

    And it is riveting. I happened to get a copy pretty quickly (how could I not?) and sat for about two hours going through the first few thousand records (the amount of data is staggering). Since searches are grouped by account, an intense sort of "story" emerges from the chaos. It's all pure speculation, of course, but occasionally you will see different perspectives from different people coming through. What AOL has released is the subconscious of America - real people off their guard, often sharing their innermost thoughts about their health, their finances, and their passions.

    I know this sounds over the top. It really isn't. I really felt like I was stepping in someone else's shoes over and over again while reading through these records. The records cut across all parts of the country and all nationalities and religions.

    I'm not sure if I should do this, but here are some of the searches that just jumped out at me as humorous, intense, or whatever. I am not putting any health related queries up, although there's no shortage from what I saw - the internet is a huge resource for health related issues. Anyway, I'm putting them here to justify the rest of this post a bit. The ones on the same line are by the same person. And if you think this is wrong of me to post, let me know! I have mixed feelings myself...


  • "okay to tip tennis instructor"

  • ""mansions decorating", "103 inch tv", "robert deniro's wife"

  • "learntospeakblack.com"

  • "the tarantula hawk wasp"

  • "inducing dog vomiting"

  • "passward"

  • "war is hell. yeah but destroying things is damn fun"

  • "how to write comparison and contrast essays on dogs and cats"

  • "jimmy carter ufo"

  • "internet"

  • "brown people jokes"

  • "loving dog kills cat"

  • "stripper clothes"

  • "who is paige's son one life to live"

  • "caught masturbatimg"

  • "itineraries for las vegas for african americans"

  • "when your ex goes out of his way to run into u"

  • "how do you pronounce gimlet"

  • "man boobs"

  • "dog mad bite", "monkey eat dog", "dog eat monkey"

  • "trampolines used for sex"

  • "get your brother to leave his wife"

  • "surplus toroidal transformers"

  • "deflect questions from family members"

  • "home gun range"

  • "how to insert a beer can in vagina"

  • "do i quailfy for food stamps in kentucky"

  • "jackie chan f**king niece"

  • "first time wife swapping", "christian view wife swapping"

  • "how to decorate with a fire extinguisher"

  • "milton berle's ancestors"

  • "pagan kitchen"

  • "never fart in a wet suit"

  • "how to get revenge"

  • "how many grams in a ounce of crack cocaine"

  • "free horses"

  • "why do you heat potassium permangante and benzaldehyde during oxidation"

  • "i was at a pornography store. i was buying pornography"

  • "ideas to mess up cars"

  • And of course,
  • "sex"


  • --YY

    2006-08-07

    Reuters Photoshopping Photographer Fired

    Via HonestReporting and Gawker: Reuters fired Adnan Hajj after publishing a heavily photoshopped image of his that made bombing damage in Lebanon look much worse than it actually was (by "cloning" the smoke). The question is - how many misleading photographs has Hajj taken over the years that have impacted people's thinking about the situation in the Middle East? And did Reuters know about this and only stepped in when it became painfully obvious that Hajj was doctoring his photos? I try not to be too paranoid, but Reuters has been guilty of misleading Mideast coverage before...

    --YY

    p.s. Gawker, of course, is more upset by the crappiness of the Photoshopping. I mean, c'mon - this is supposed to be a serious news organization! Reuters should be able to hire the best in the business when it comes to producing fradulent imagery.

    p.p.s. The Jawa Report has a hysterical take on this whole thing. I knew the Israelis were using X-Wing fighters!

    2006-08-02

    Israel and Lebanon

    People who know me personally know that I'm not a black and white thinker. I take a scientific approach in that I try to simplify things as much as possible, but not more. In light of this, the situation between Israel and Lebanon strikes me as being exceedingly simple, as far as morality goes. Every ounce of pain, loss, and suffering that is occurring in Northern Israel and in Lebanon is 100% the fault of Hezbollah.

    As I'm writing this, part of me can't believe that I have to point this out. Hezbollah started this whole mess by crossing into Israeli territory and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. They have continued it since by firing thousands of Katyusha rockets at civilian centers in Israel's beautiful Northern region - the Galilee, the ancient cities of Tiberius and Safed, and Israel's third largest city after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the port city of Haifa. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have fled their homes. Many of the editorials and article criticizing Israel's actions in Lebanon seem to completely ignore this fact.

    I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Yamin Levy of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah speak tonight. He recently visited several cities under attack on a solidarity mission - there are still people living in the north - either they have nowhere to go, they have no way to leave (as you can imagine, public transportation isn't exactly bustling), or they have elderly relatives who can't travel. And he explained what it really means to live under the shadow of constant Katyusha attacks. It means that the streets are essentially abandoned, and stores are closed, so people don't have access to basic supplies. It means that if you're in the bathroom, and the sirens go off, you get up and RUN to the nearest bomb shelter, since the sirens only give you about 30 seconds heads up. The shelters themselves are cramped, hot, and unsanitary - but that's exactly where you have to sleep every night. Not that you'd actually be able to sleep, of course - Rabbi Levy told us he didn't sleep for five nights. The residents of Northern Israel have been living like that for two and a half weeks.

    About the Katyushas themselves: I didn't know this, but apparently the terrorists pack the payload with nails and pebbles, so they do maximum damage when the land. The shrapnel shoots out like a bullet, and will penetrate through car doors (he passed around pictures of a car that was in the vicinity of a rocket - it was riddled with what looked like bullet holes).

    One nice thing I heard from him and from others as well - Israelis in safe areas have opened up their homes to the thousands of refugees fleeing south. The "ticker" that scrolls during the news shows have names and phone numbers of families who have volunteered to host people in need. But again, how long can a family of five comfortably stay in another family's home? After two and a half weeks, it begins to become burdensome for both the hosts and the guests.

    Israel doesn't want this, and didn't ask for this. And anyone calling for "an immediate cease-fire" is deluded - Hezbollah is a terrorist group that is not going to stop its attacks because of some paper shuffling. Only Israel would be constrained by such a cease-fire. The deaths of Lebanese civilians is definitely a tragedy, but Israel is not to blame - none of this would have happened without Hezbollah's atrocious behavior. And needless to say, Israel can't stand idle while one of its population centers is being destroyed.

    There's so much more to say, but I've covered what I want to cover for now. May true and sustainable peace (and not in the "trivial" sense) emerge soon.

    --YY

    p.s. I happened to have been in Israel for a wedding a few months ago, and I focused on the north during my week-long trip. Tiberius, which I visited for the first time, turned into one of my favorite places in Israel. I also have family in Avivim, which is on the Israel-Lebanese border. So I have a fair amount of personal involvement in all this.

    Antidepressants: Scam, Sham, or Both?

    Mind Hacks links to a very interesting PLoS article (I'm a big fan of PLoS, by the way) that questions whether SSRI* antidepressants really deserve that name (*Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).

    The prevailing theory of depression today is that it's a brain disorder - a symptom of low serotonin levels. And so the prevailing form of treatment comes in the form of SSRI's, which raise serotonin levels (as demonstrated in that old Zoloft commercial). But as Mind Hacks points out, "the low serotonin theory of depression must rank as one of the most widely known and least supported scientific theories."

    Which leads to the title of Mind Hacks' post: "What do antidepressants do?" Good question. After all, they clearly affect brain chemistry. But if the changes they make aren't countering depression and restoring the chemical balance back to normal, then they're creating a new mental state that's neither depression nor healthy. "High", maybe?
    The authors of the PLoS Medicine paper argue that trials have shown that, for example, opiates and amphetamine-like drugs can have beneficial effects in depressed patients but are not considered 'antidepressants'.

    Sounds right to me...

    --YY

    p.s. Since it's almost Tisha B'av, which is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, I figured depression is a fairly relevant topic...