Archive for May, 2004

Paranoid Android and Paranoid Bloggers

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

Some timely Mac and blog links:

Blog Rolling

Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

WMD of the day: See No Sarin, Hear No Sarin, Speak No Sarin

I’ve added my NetNewsWire subscriptions to the sidebar. I have 85 subscriptions, so I set the link list to bring up two or three at random from each category, plus a couple of fanfic links. I hope that suffices for anyone wishing to surf on.

[Update:] I also did a WP hack to display the list of recent posts. That shouldn’t require a hack but it does, at least in WP 1.0.2. It was - as all WP tweaks seem to be - frighteningly easy.

Coming of Age in Cupertino

Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

The celebrations have been somewhat muted, but Mac OS X now has a real, live exploit. It’s not a virus or a worm but a security flaw in Help that can be exploited by a web browser. Like the recent trojan scare, the Help bug was discovered by a nice Mac user, not an evil hacker - unless someone exploits the exploit before Apple patches it, we still won’t have made a splash in the big world of PC viral malice. has an announcement about the problem, Jay Allen has a good discussion, and macosxhints [fixed link] goes into it as well.

Here’s the short form: Help will run any AppleScript you tell it to. Most, if not all, Mac browsers will pass the help: protocol to, not surprisingly, the Help Viewer. Here’s a (harmless) example: help:runscript=../../Scripts/Info Scripts/Current Date & Time.scpt.

There has to be a script somewhere for Help to run. Where would it come from? If you have Safari set up to automatically open disk images (.dmg files) it can come from there, but unfortunately there’s also a disk: protocol that Mac browsers can use to open a remote disk image. People have advised that you turn off the auto-open option and disable the disk protocol, or alternately that you chmod 000 Help or otherwise hack the misbehaving Help program.

It sounds like the best approach is to disable the help: protocol itself. That’s all I did - I didn’t bother with disk:. I hear you can use IE to change the help protocol’s behavior, but I did it by downloading and installing the MoreInternet pref panel, opening System Preferences, and changing the helper for the help protocol. I set the protocol to open TextEdit rather than Help. TextEdit will sit there and look confused when Safari passes it a help: request, but no harm is done.

If for some reason you want to undo this change - say, when Apple patches the problem, or to test the link above like I just did - you can find Help at /System/Library/CoreServices/Help when MoreInternet or IE asks for your new helper application. MoreInternet makes the changes live so you don’t have to reboot or close any browsers. I can’t vouch for the IE approach.


In the Days of MovableType

Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

I promise I’ll move on from the tempest-in-a-template after this, but Mena asked for trackbacks on how people use MT and if I can’t forgive like Phil Ringnalda at least I can explain. So, in return for years of blogging pleasure, here is my story:

I used to have a single MT installation with three blogs, two users accounts, and one user. I used my real username on my main blog, and a fake user to create two demo blogs. The demos of my old MT styleswitcher and adaption to MT of a color rotating template are still running at my previous host. I’m not sure whether the fake user approach would violate the one-user rule, but in any event the real me is no longer active at that installation.

My main blog moved with me to my new host, and I also started a second blog here for updates on the ficml project. That second blog has two users, but for convenience I decided we would both post using my user account and with the username removed from the templates - making our posts the anonymous declarations of FicML. So am I one user with two blogs, or two users with two blogs?

But that is only the beginning of my accounting problems. As explained in a previous post, my free, non-commercial host runs a single MT installation for all resident bloggers. I have no idea how many of us there are. So the unbelievably nice guy who provides not just our MT installation but PHP, MySQL, bandwidth and other goodies for free might have to pay hundreds of dollars to upgrade to MT 3.0. He may be all the way off the pricing chart for all I know, yet with no income from us leeches to pay for MT.

I admit that at the time of my move I had doubts about putting my blog into someone else’s hands, but it turned out fine. I got MT (currently 2.661) and MT-Blacklist with no installation or upkeep hassles. I worried about backups, not about a sudden change in licensing that would make my two little blogs into a $700 commercial enterprise. Of course each blogger here at could run his own MT installation (since every one of us is a non-commercial user) - so what’s the difference, really, in having us all joined up into one big installation? The answer would appear to be $700 - the price for being an unbelievably nice web hosting service.

The folks at SixApart must find it hard to have made such a popular piece of software and yet have no income to speak of from it, but there’s not much money to be had in blogging to begin with. The application service providers (TypePad, Blogger, LiveJournal) get money out of only a portion of their bloggers - we MT users being the free end of the TypePad pricing spectrum - and those who pay for it are generally the more popular bloggers who have the ad income or the LJ fanbase to support their higher service levels.

Charging big bucks for MT, however, is not selling a high-end blogging service - it’s selling the right to be an MT application service provider. That’s a job most people do for love, not that they have a choice in the matter. What end-user will give their money to some upstart ASP who paid SixApart $700 when they could use TypePad instead? How do you attract paying customers from a non-paying user base? That’s the problem SixApart is trying to pass on to MT users.

I’m just not seeing the revenue stream here.

Green Tabs

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

In a burst of energy better spent elsewhere, I tweaked the blog style to match my site a bit better. I’m still not fully satisfied with it, but it’s close enough for the time being. And it was unexpectedly easy - unlike MT, WordPress has just the one template file, in simple HTML with some PHP floating around it. MT, on the other hand, had a zillion templates, each of which I had to wrestle to get it to match the main site style.

I did have some problems, but they were mainly a result of being too geeky for my own good. For example, my tab navigation is generated with PHP - my PHP was fighting with WordPress’s PHP over the variable $siteurl. I renamed my variables, but what I should have done was put a static copy of the navigation into the template. But there were so many things in there already that were dynamic and could easily have been static that my little nav tabs seemed like a drop in the bucket. I did hard-code the title of the blog, which hasn’t changed in years and really doesn’t need to be fetched from the database every time.

I’d offer my revised CSS for public consumption but since I both changed the WP template and integrated the CSS into my larger site style (jp_tab.css - body class “wpblog”), it wouldn’t be much use to the beginning WP user.

Redirects and Rewrites

Monday, May 17th, 2004

Weird link of the day: Mean Kitty for Veronica

I ought to be doing some Boston blogging now that two guys can get married in the state of Massachusetts, but the truth is that Jemima has been geeking while Rome burns. I figure as long as we’re redefining words here in Mass., I can rewrite some URL’s for you.

So, I have the usual geek MT file structure in my moveabletype directory (with an extra e for character):

moveabletype/index.html        (the main index)
moveabletype/index.rdf         (one of several RSS formats)
moveabletype/archives.html     (the MT archive index page)
moveabletype/cat_anomaly.html  (one of 20 or so category archives)
moveabletype/2001_09.html      (one of 40 or so monthly archives)
                               (one of 900 or individual entries)
moveabletype/blogages/         (image directory for icons, etc.)
moveabletype/templates/        (template directory)

The new WordPress virtual file structure is a bit different:

wordpress/index.php         (the main index)
wordpress/wp-rss2.php       (the single RSS format)
wordpress/category/anomaly/ (one of 20 or so category archives)
wordpress/2001/09/          (one of 40 or so monthly archives)
wordpress/2004/05/08/       (one of 900 or so daily archives)
                            (one of 900 or individual entries)

So the question is, how do I redirect the first set of URL’s to the second set? I’ve seen advice out there for a few approaches involving PHP, JavaScript or mod_rewrite.
I decided to use mod_rewrite only rather than rebuild my thousand MT pages (never again!). I’ve been playing with it for a while now, and here’s my final answer:


Rat + Sinking Ship = WordPress

Sunday, May 16th, 2004

If this blog is green, then you’ve made it to the fourth major revision of Speak Stiltedly etc., etc. Long, long ago on a server far, far away, my blog began in a wiki. It quickly moved to Blogger at Blogspot. In a minor change, I gave up Blogspot and started publishing to my webspace at Freeshell. Blogger was annoying, and after the umpteenth mangled post, I made the big switch and installed my own MovableType at Freeshell.

Next came a minor move to my lovely free host here at, where mine is just one of many blogs on their big blog server. And there’s the rub, for the sad news came out last week that MovableType will be charging the big bucks for MT 3.0 for all users running more than 3 blogs (upped to 5 this weekend) on their MT installations. You can follow the details on any geek blog - I’m way behind on this bit of /. fodder, which seems to have blown the Google outsourcing scandal right off the blogrolls.

Needless to say, I don’t expect my free host to pay hundreds and hundreds and a couple more hundreds of dollars so I can have a relatively insignificant update from MT 2.661 to MT 3.0. But I am a geek, so I can’t stagnate at MT 2.661 for the rest of my blogging life.

It was time for a change, anyway, so I took Mark Pilgrim’s tale of Freedom 0 to heart and installed WordPress. It’s a lot like MT, but it’s PHP based with no static pages. I was a little disappointed by the lack of staticicity, but it does seem to whip the pages out pretty quickly on the fly and seems cleaner all around.

On the down side, I had some troubles testing it on my Mac - I couldn’t get mod-rewrite to rewrite URLs (perhaps because WP didn’t have permission to write an .htaccess file), and the keychain choked on the beta I downloaded (RC1.2). At the moment I’m running version 1.0.2 with a slightly tweaked version of the wp new template. I was also tempted by Toni and Scandinavia (all from Alex King’s contest). When I get a chance, I’ll convert my MT blog style over to WordPress to get the navigation buttons back.

Some links that will help you join me and the other rats here on dry land:

Pastwatch, Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines

Saturday, May 15th, 2004

I’ve read a few politically correct sci-fi books lately - one because I know the author and the other two because I’d never read that author before. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card manages to blame Columbus for everything from smallpox to World War III, yet gets him off the hook in the end. A post-war PC future uses time-travel TV’s to watch Columbus and other horrors of the past, making for two intertwined plots. Eventually the future TV technology improves, revealing an unexpected connection between the future and the past, and allowing Columbus to choose another path.

I suppose I should explain what I mean by a PC future. There are all sorts of sci-fi future - the paramilitary space opera future (LMB, David Weber, Gordon R. Dickson), the cyberpunk future (Gibson, Stephenson), the free love future (Niven, Allen Steele), the transhuman future (Egan, Vernor Vinge), the hell-in-a-handbasket future (Ayn Rand, Walter M. Miller, Jr.), the same-as-today near future (Connie Willis, Paul Levinson), the tech turned into fantasy future (Walter Jon Williams does it a lot), and so forth. The politically correct future is an extrapolation of multiculturalism, environmentalism, holism, and other PC trends - for example, Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre, anything by Octavia Butler, and possibly some late Ursula LeGuin. Despite being politically incorrect myself, I don’t object to the PC future - in fact, I think it’s relatively difficult to pull off, so when you find one it’s likely to be well done.

So I wanted to read some Suzy McKee Charnas and I found a two-in-one edition of Walk to the End of the World and its sequel, Motherlines. These are fairly old works of feminist sci-fi so the 70’s Armageddon backstory (down to the folk etymology of “bra-burning”) is cheesy and distracting, but the post-apocalyptic societies are interesting in their own right. The society of the first novel has enslaved women (an anti-PC future), and the second one has eliminated men for maximal PC-ness. Of the two, I found the first more interesting - slavery and oppression are always good for the plot. In a way it’s more reprehensible in its misandry (ascribing ludicrous levels of misogyny to your neighbors is misandry in my book) than The Handmaid’s Tale, but the post-nuclear setting makes it easier to set aside the fact that the author blames her own male contemporaries for this state of affairs. (I know they’re handicapped by the broken chromosome, but really, they’re not all that bad.)

Half the Way

Friday, May 14th, 2004

Word count of the decade: 500,060

Yes, with a recent push on a Stargate novel, I’ve officially half made it to a million words of fiction, in just under four years.

Although my word count was once calculated using a basic application of wc, it’s now maintained in a baroque OmniOutliner file that also tracks what’s fanfic, original fic, published, submitted, in progress, or abandoned - plus dates. (Yes, Colony is still in progress.)

Now that I’ve hit the big 5-0-0(-0-0-0), where do I go from here? The other half of the million words is the obvious answer, but I tend to live in the moment - I can’t have a goal that’s another four years away. On the other hand, 500,000 words is barely a start to a standard fantasy epic. Even Atlas Shrugged is longer, at 645,000 words “by the printer’s count.” (Yes, I think inserting a 55-page political speech into a novel is cheating.)

If I hiked my daily word count from 1,000 to the NaNoWriMo level of 1,666, I could write the other 500k in one year. Or I could write a 900-page political speech…

Lavoisier Blinking

Thursday, May 13th, 2004

I’ve been wondering whether to watch the decapitation video. I tend to think that I should go look at these sorts of gruesome things because I’m an aspiring writer and I need to be exposed to all the barbarity man is capable of. It’s not like I can go to Dorchester to see someone’s head chopped off (although if I wanted to see people getting run down by the T the prospects would be brighter). Even as a non-writer, I’m not sure we should hide from the truth, especially when it’s gruesome.

When I heard the news the third or fourth time, in particular a bit about the screams of the victim, I remembered the story about Lavoisier blinking. Since this is a gruesome topic, I’ll let you follow this link rather than tell the tale, but if you know it already let me mention that it appears to be apocryphal. There are similar stories from the French Revolution, but not involving Lavoisier himself. For some more recent data on decapitation, see the Straight Dope.