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August 25, 2006

And like that... he is gone

So that's it. RIP Three Years of Hell, June 2, 2003 to August 25, 2006. After all these words, there are only a few things left to say.

Two sites, the Imbroglio and the Volokh Conspiracy, have given me a slightly premature sendoff, and their words are very kind. (The site has received its final Kerr Package.) In answer to Ambimb's question as to why the site is closing, the answer is simply that the project is done. I don't know what my next big task will be. I've got two articles in process (much more difficult now I don't have free Lexis access). There's a few chapters written of a novel, a thought made more exciting by three friends who have already written books. The more I look at law and technology, the more I think that an open-source, XML-based framework for writing judicial opinions would bring caselaw closer to the public (as well as weaken the WEXIS duopoly). Perhaps that's a project worth looking into. Whatever the case, I'm sure I'll have no problem coming up with other tasks to occupy my (soon to dwindle rapidly) free time. This story was always meant to have an ending, and after all these months, it is finally here.

Thank you to the professors and students at Columbia Law School who made this journey such a rich experience. The same goes to the bloggers across the 'sphere who've linked, commented and otherwise spread the word. (A special note should go to Martin, who started me on this path.) My family, although asked not to comment on the blog itself, never failed to give me encouragement (and fodder for quite a few posts) throughout my years here.

And finally, of course, thank you to all of you who've read this site over the last three years and a bit. Journeys are made better with travelling companions, and I couldn't have asked for a finer bunch.

Best regards,

A.R.

Advice for 1Ls Starting a Blog: A Much Shorter Part II

Dear Wormwood:

I promised you two letters that might help your friend Scrimgouge in starting a 1L blog. The first letter focused mostly upon matters that any blogger, legal or otherwise, might find useful, be they technical or stylistic. But both you and Scrimgouge are now law student, which makes your efforts (and yes, dear Wormwood, I really am hoping that you too might start blogging) a bit different. So with the basics out of the way, I'd like to make a few quick notes and observations on what I've learned from law school blogging.

  1. Eschew anonymity: I've covered the reasons for this in one of my most oft-read posts. I know I bang on upon this, but anonymity certainly isn't as safe as you'd suspect. Besides, it's only polite that when you violate Godwin's Law, your opponent knows where to send the summons and complaint.
  2. Don't be surprised if your first year makes for the most interesting blogging: First year blogs are great, indeed positively addicting. Most 1Ls find themselves thrust into this bizarro land where Socratic Method suddenly makes sense as a pedagogical technique and everything--and I mean everything--starts being seen through the lense of law. On the other hand, 1L bloggers know that most of their readers aren't other law students, but their friends, family and associates from back in the "real world." The need to explain the pressure-cooker anxiety, and the urge to translate the experience to outsiders, makes for excellent writing.

    1L year is all about learning the game. 2L year, you merely refine it. By 3L, you're looking for another game to play because you know exactly how much class you can snooze through with minimal effect on your grades. Why do you think Scott Turow didn't write a sequel?

  3. Give your fellow students (and professors) some space: TYoH followed two pretty simple rules. First, don't mention a non-blogging professor by name. Refer to them instead as "Prof. Contracts" or "Prof. CivPro." It's not much, but it does mean that your blog entries won't end up as Google hits for their name. Secondly, if you have a story to tell about a fellow student, even if you're not mentioning them by name, shoot them a quick email with a draft of the post before you publish. They may not want their lives appearing online. Most of the time, no one will care, but it's a good habit that saves trouble later on.
  4. Blog about what fascinates you: Your text really comes alive when you have an interesting story to tell, or when you're passionate about an issue. All law student bloggers eventually create their own niche. I've posted quite a lot on gay marriage, for instance, but also on the appropriateness of professional status for legal practitioners (much more obscure) and strange tax issues. The Ambivalent Imbroglio should be one of the first reads for any law student thinking of becoming a public defender (or a prosecutor, for that matter). You don't have to comment fully on everything. If you find something interesting but don't have anything to say on it, an entry with a quick link is perfectly fine. Write in depth on those issues you care about.
  5. Engage others: Yesterday I wrote about connecting to other bloggers, but focused mostly on law professors or major players. Yet the real and lasting relationships in blogging will come from your own cohorts, your peers out there on the great wide internet. I've copied fair amounts of code from Heidi's effort. I've made fast friends with Chris. I've pimped Jeremy's book. These are the things I smile about when I remember TYoH, and I'll bet I do so a decade from now. Your cohort will be a source of support when things go wrong, both scholastically and technically. They'll also be something you'll carry away from law school.
  6. Keep a sense of humor: All too often, you'll be inspired to shout. When you do, put the post in "draft" and leave it to the next day. Remember that at the right moment and you'll thank me later.
  7. Keep in touch: Perhaps not advice, so much, but if there's a 1L out there starting a blog and they need a bit of help, don't hesitate to ask. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun reading your work in the years to come.

And that, dearest Wormwood, is that. I hope that Scrimgouge finds the next three years as exciting as I did.

Welcome to the Continuum! or Passing the Torch

Say hello to Luis Villa, a 1L at Columbia law school. He's another coder turned lawyer, and his musings on code and law strike a cord.

If there's any other Columbia Law School bloggers who would like to tie their blogs into the Columbia Continuum, feel free to email me. (I will be keeping that site working, and maybe even improved, after this site goes quiet.)

UPDATE: Welcome also to Legal Economics, another Columbia 1L. This guy will have no trouble in Reg State. Too bad it's not a required class anymore, eh?

(Please note that the Continuum requires an RSS feed, so if you're on Blogger or Blogspot, you should get a Feedburner account.)

Down to the Wire

Right... self-imposed deadline of tonight to finish this thing off, and still four or five posts that I need to complete. Right now all that quick typing in exams is coming in handy!

August 24, 2006

Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One

Dear Wormwood:

Who is this Scrimgouge whose email address you've forwarded me? It's certainly very flattering that he's asking you to ask me for advice on starting a law school blog. Nevertheless, there's no good reason for him to ask me at one remove. [1] You know full well I'd speak at the opening of a Doritos bag, and give away advice just as profligately.

Since your friend has asked, I'm happy to oblige. This particular project has run for over three years, and I'd like to think that in that time I've learned a few things that might help out a beginner. Of course, with the start of the fall semester, there is currently no shortage of advice for new law students, and I'm sure that similar wisdom about blogs is a dime a dozen. Hopefully your friend Scrimgouge will find one or two chestnuts here that he hasn't managed to gather elsewhere. Sadly for him, however, whatever angels generally look over my shoulder and force me to be brief have taken a tea break. What follows is quite lengthy indeed.

To help out a bit, I've divided the post into five sections that continue after the cut:
First, the commonplace.
Second, decide what you want to do.
Third, learn a bit about the technology.
Fourth, connect, connect, connect (to the Web).
Fifth, connect, connect, connect (to other bloggers).
Finally, have fun.

I hope it helps.

Continue reading "Advice for 1Ls Considering a Blog: A Very Long Part One" »

August 18, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Dear Wormwood:

The bar exam is over. I've moved away from D.C. to Another State. [1] And today the last signs of law-student living left me: my free Lexis account no longer works.

I feel I shall soon have withdrawal symptoms.

In any event, it's about time for this project to end. After all, Wormwood, while your journey through law school is beginning, it's time for me to go on about my life. There's still a little left I have to say, mostly about blogging, school, and a few observations to send you on your way. But even of that, there's not much. I'm going home to visit my parents this weekend, but I should be back to writing on Monday.

So by way of forewarning, Wormwood, you can expect the final entry of TYoH to appear one week from today, on Friday, August 25th. Now I just have to get everything in order. There is, of course, a project plan.

[1]: Incidentally, if I hadn't believed it before, this move would have convinced me that the Scion xB is great value for money. Over 30 miles to the gallon and I can fit massive amounts of cargo in the back.

August 02, 2006

Avoid HostingMatters.com: Recommendation for 1L-to-be-bloggers

There's a few entries I intend to write before shutting down TYoH, and one will be advice for 1L bloggers. This evening, however, I'd like to get ahead of myself by making one recommendation for any 1L-to-be out there that might be considering keeping a website diary of his or her law school experience: don't use HostingMatters.com as the web host.

Some of you may have noticed that De Novo is non-functional right now, despite the fact that they're hosting their annual "Survivor" competition to pick new authors. My regular readers might (a) recall that for various reasons I do a lot of support work for De Novo and (b) consider a major system failure in the middle of an annual competition to be a less than stellar sign of my competence.

Well, they'd be right on both counts, but only because I should have moved De Novo from Hosting Matters months ago. Yesterday at 1:55 PM, Hosting Matters sent an email to the site owner telling them that they'd be moving the site (from "Minerva" to "Niobe," for those that might have similar problems) in order to balance the servers. It's the single least competent site move I've ever seen. (And for reference, I used to work at a company that hosted commercial sites professionally.)

For over three hours today, you couldn't see De Novo at all. For the remainder of the time, the back end has been shafted beyond comprehension. Given Hosting Matters' limited set of site tools, I can't tell if the problem is that they've moved the site but not pointed it at the new database, or if they've somehow lost data during the site move. What I do know is that, as the site is now, I'm not sure I could move it to a new host in a functioning manner.

The response from Hosting Matters (which closed the ticket):

Your .htaccess had a typo in it:

deny rfom .idrc.org.sg

You would need to be more careful of your syntax. Removed.


Now, let's consider this from a techie perspective. Site working fine before moving servers, and then broken after. Is it an .htaccess problem? Well, maybe. Perhaps the new server interprets .htaccess files differently from the old one, I don't know (and Hosting Matters sure isn't interested in telling me). But then, if one is going to close the ticket, one might check to see that the site works. And sure enough, if you try to post a comment, you get:
You must define a Comment Listing template in order to display dynamic comments.

Does that look like a "my site can't find its templates after you moved servers" error? Why, yes, it does. (The site can't seem to find anything on the back end, either.) Does that seem to have much to do with an .htaccess file involving the Republic of Singapore? Well, let's put it this way: I just deleted the entire .htaccess file, and you still can't post to De Novo.

I'll admit, I'm not a programming genius, but it doesn't look like their "solution" had anything to do with the problem. Now, it would have been nice if they'd given more than nine hours of notice before the site move, as I could have run a backup, but that seems not to have occurred to them.

I've been hosting with Gradwell.com for three years, and while they might have a few downtime issues here and there, I've never experienced this level of absolute contempt from customer service. Ambimb seems to host the Blawgcoop at Dreamhost and hasn't given any complaints despite hosting multiple blogs on multiple platforms. On the other hand, I've dealt with a number of Hosting Matters clients over my time at Columbia, and it's inevitably been because they've made some alteration without allowing their customers time to react.

So dear Wormwood, the lesson to this is twofold. First, always backup information stored online in the same way one would backup your harddrive. Second, avoid Hosting Matters with the same degree of effort one would give to avoid being the subject of gunner bingo.

UPDATE: The "customer service" technician that De Novo is working with
seems to have a history. I have to say, this is singular in my experience. When a CS representative gets a reputation this poor online, a firm doesn't necessarily have to fire her (although that's advisable), but one might at least change the logon name.

UPDATE II: Things are working again. It appears that, contrary to their initial "assessment" of the problem, they failed to copy over all of the database tables from the new server to the old one. ( There may also have been an .htaccess issue (I can't be sure), but if so it arose with the server move as well.)

I have to say, the level of customer service with regards to this problem has been singular. The emails back and forth on this matter are . . . well, suffice it to say that if I'd ever behaved that way while working on tech support, I'd've been canned faster than spam.

July 31, 2006

Blogging Without Any Wires

Thanks to Randy and his new PhoneSharpMT, this morning's entries will mostly be brought to you by the Motorola Q.

June 12, 2006

Maybe All That Law Review Cite Checking Is Good For Something

Congratulations go out to Blogdenovo.org, which has just hit a milestone this blog never achieved: it's been cited in a Ninth Circuit dissent. (Hat tip to Volokh [1]) Better yet, the lucky blog gets mentioned as authority before the Harvard Law Review.

Of course, the opinion seems to imply that law student Sean Sirrine is a member of the defense bar. This will surely be news to his compatriots at De Novo, a blog that tries to keep a "law students only" policy. (Hence Jeremy Blachman and Chris Geidner are ex-members.) Such a misstatement leads one to think that the citation might have been a bit of a mistake on the part of the judge (or some poor clerk).

How did this happen? As of this writing, De Novo is the top hit for the term "U.S. v. Scott." I'd guess that this has something to do with it.

Entertainingly, not only was the citation factually incorrect, but it doesn't follow the Bluebook's horrible citation format for blogs. Not that the latter isn't all to the good.

[1] Disclosure: I've done some small writing for De Novo from time to time and give the occasional bit of tech support. Entry edited slightly for grammar and style.

Useless Tool of Spammers, or From the "There Oughta Be a Law" Department:

I'm getting really sick of "registration privacy" companies like DomainsByProxy.com. In theory, there's nothing wrong with companies like this. You use them to register your domain name, and in turn they register the domain and provide their contact information instead of yours. In the ideal world, this means spammers can't find your contact address through the WHOIS database and send you tons of spam.

In the real world it's a bit different: these services are probably more useful to spammers than their victims. If you're a blog owner, take a look at the WHOIS registrations for the sites mentioned in your blog spam. The majority, and probably the vast majority, of spam received by TYoH is now "anonymized" by services like DomainsByProxy. They host domains that are obviously tools of "black hat" search engine optimizers, and then stand in the way of anyone trying to contact the spammer (or his client). As a practical matter, the only way of getting contact information for this kind of account is to let loose the dogs of litigation. (And I can't believe DBP wouldn't turn a profit from that: check out the $75/hr. subpeona fee!)

At the end of the day, the battle over spam is all about cost. A spammer's calculations are roughly: what can I get for sending the bulk email/blogposts, how much will it cost me if I'm caught and what is the likelihood that I'll be discovered. Since few people will litigate over spam, the real cost is annoyance value to spammers and their customers: can one of the thousand spam victims convince a host to shut down a site, thus costing the spammer a few minutes of inconvenience in finding a new host? DomainsByProxy.com and its ilk make that sort of challenge a little less likely and a little more aggravating for the spam victim, and hence spamming a bit more profitable for the scumbag.

In fairness to DBP, they claim to take spam "seriously," though given my interaction with them so far it's hard to treat that claim with any real seriousness. There's no way to complain to them over the phone: despite being listed as "administrative" and "technical" contacts for the domains registered, the phone numbers provided will not connect you with anyone providing either service. (You can contact their billing department if you wish to pay them, of course, so the "billing" contact is at least accurate.) [1] So I've emailed their abuse department, and in a few minutes received the predictable automated reply:

If you can supply the information outlined above we will initiate our investigation immediately, thank you for your cooperation.

You're welcome. Of course, lack of contact with any named human being does not give one much confidence. Readers are welcome to leave guesses in the comments as to what "action" gets taken.

One interesting legal question comes up from all this. I copied a few other sites in adding the following text to my comment-pending pages:

The owner, user or affiliate who advertises using non-human visitors and leaves a comment or trackback on this site therefore agrees to the following: (a) they will pay fifty cents (US$0.50) to Anthony Rickey for every spam trackback or comment processed through any blogs hosted on threeyearsofhell.com, morgrave.com or housevirgo.com, irrespective of whether that comment or trackback is actually posted on the publicly-accessible site, such fees to cover my costs of hosting and bandwidth, time in tending to your comment or trackback and costs of enforcement; (b) if such comment or trackback is published on the publicly-accessible site, an additional fee of one dollar (US$1.00) per day per URL included in the comment or trackback for every day the comment or trackback remains publicly available, such fee to represent the value of publicity and search-engine placement advantages.

Now, I'm not sure if that's enforceable at all. (Actually, I should probably put it below the "submit" button on the comment form.) But supposing it is, I wonder if businesses like DBP might be held liable? And if we all used such T&Cs on our blogs, might enforcement become a realistic possibility?

[1]: In the non-legal sense, providing a contact number for technical matters that in no way leads to a technical contact is "lying." Whether this is actually illegal or constitutes fraud is, of course, not something I can comment on, being neither qualified nor willing to risk liability. In a non-legal sense, of course, it's shifty.

May 25, 2006

I'll Be Back

A combination of a broken notebook computer, a lack of internet connectivity and the start of BarBri season has kept me offline. Not only haven't I blogged, but my mailbox is clogged with about 2,000 spam emails. But come Sunday, our new apartment in DC should finally be wired for internet, and you'll be hearing a lot more from me.

April 05, 2006

Pre-Emptive Warning: TYoH May Close For Business Temporarily

I just received the following from my webhost:

Our sys-ops have had to stop a CGI script inside your folder path [path removed]cgi-user/mt/mt-tb.cgi. This script was majorly degrading performance across our entire hosting cluster by using up all the CPU time on every machine. . . . Please do not attempt to use this script until it has been fixed so that it does not hog power on the servers. If this situation arises again, especially if a duty engineer has be called out of hours, you may be liable for charges from Gradwell.

Looking at what they have recorded for my bandwidth usage, this seems fair. I can't figure out why, but usage seems to have jumped around 700% in March. I guarantee you that this isn't because of increased readership.

The long and the short of it is that this is either a problem with the MT-Blacklist Connector plugin (I installed it last month) or the result of some serious spamming. (My trackback spam is up quite a bit.) I can't see that there's a huge increase in actual readership in the last few months, so that's not the problem. Then again, spamming hasn't gotten that much worse either. Either way, I simply don't have the time to deal with it, so if the issue gets worth, I'll just have to take the site down.

As some of my readers know, I also host Chris over at Law Dork. Even with this strange bandwidth situation, I have enough to keep his site going (I hope). With any luck, this won't affect him. In the meantime, I'm shutting down my trackbacks, and if things don't improve, comments shortly thereafter.

Update: Actually, the jump in bandwidth seems to have occurred last November. I guess my host has been pretty tolerant.

Update II: OK, this officially beats my pair of jacks. I can't see that there's enough spam to cause the huge bandwidth issues occurring here; on the other hand, I know my readership hasn't grown that much. I'd think maybe I installed some script that's hogging huge amounts of bandwidth, but I can't think what that might be. Any help my readers can give would be appreciated... comments are still running.

Update III: I've made a few minor changes that, hopefully, will solve the problem. Apparently about 20% of my traffic (and most of my bandwidth) are going directly to comments and trackback pages. Hopefully this will fix the issue.

March 22, 2006

Now Back to MT Blacklist

As some readers have noticed, I've been having some trouble with comments recently. This blog gets about 100-150 spam comments per day that I see (and probably more that go straight to junk), and managing this has been a major thorn in my side for a while.

Thankfully, SixApart released a bevy of new plugins recently, one of which is the MT-Blacklist Connector for 3.2. This puts the fantastically easy-to-use Blacklist plugin back in operation, which means that hopefully I can cut down on the amount of time I spend fixing the blog and spend more time writing it.

In the meantime, if you've a spare moment and can post a comment here, please do. For those who are keeping track, this blog currently uses the following plugins to eliminate spam:


As always, if someone notices that something's not working, please don't hesitate to tell me.

March 13, 2006

Days When I Despair for My Side of the Aisle

Pace all of the right-wing triumphalism over the Army of Davids bloggers-correct-the-world schtick, there are times that blogs serve only to give dumb a megaphone. For my Democrat readers, here's a beacon of hope: conservatives are getting sloppy, a sure sign that we deserve to head back into the wilderness for a few years.

Today's episode of silly hysteria? The utterly unmemorable People's Cube [1], a conservative parody site, gets blacklisted by Google. Quick as a flash, they complain that it must be because someone at Google finds their conservatism offensive. Poor little picked on right-wing parody site being abused by the huge evil Search Engine Conspiracy!

Please. The People's Cube isn't big enough to hit the radar of a Google engineer, who would spend all day targetting this drivel if he for some reason wanted to get revenge for the Anti-Kerry Blogger Bash. The web is Douglas Adams-league huge, and if something happens with Google, nine times out of ten the answer's in an algorithm.

This story stunk like month-old milk in a dorm fridge. But like Saturday-night freshmen back from partying on Broadway, major right-wing sites such as Little Green Footballs, Michelle Malkin and Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler grabbed that moo-juice and looked to find a good mixer. No fact checking. None of that Goliath-killing 'expertise.' Just headlines like "A Google Purge?" (Malkin) or "Google Purges People's Cube" (LGF).

As of this writing, only Little Green Footballs has linked to this article with a much more reasonable explanation. It seems that the People's Cube was either a victim of a spamming attack (maybe) or was more likely using invisible text in an attempt to boost itself up in the rankings for certain search terms. Far from being a victim of persecution at the hands of some left-wing BogeyCorp, it seems that the People's Cube likes to engage in a little black optimization of search engines. Google was right to drop it.

Which doesn't excuse Malkin, LGF or AIR. Search engine optimization isn't simple, but it's also not some dark area of mysticism impenetrable to intelligent man. All you had to do was look at the site--admittedly, in a site cache--and turn off the stylesheet to see what happened. Well, you'd have to do that and have some passing idea as to why some search engines drop sites, otherwise known as "having some limited idea what you're talking about."

Weren't these supposed to be the folks who check facts before making serious accusations? If they don't know how to do it, find someone who does before spouting off. Their linked source material magisterially claims that he "can think of only three reasons" for being dropped, all political. That's a good sign that your source is either (a) an idiot, (b) hiding something, or (c) hasn't thought hard enough for other possibilities. But it fit in with the current "wisdom" among certain conservatives: Google buddies up to China, so now it's evil corporate whore censor scum. As I've said before, when a story just happens to confirm your prejudices, that's just the time to check them.

There's all sorts of media bias against conservatives, but not here. This kind of carelessness makes me cringe. Sloppy fact-checking gives that much more ammunition for those who see blogs as nothing more than politically-charged echo-chambers and one more data point for liberals to point at when they want to call conservatives paranoid.

UPDATE: The original version of this article left the question mark off of Malkin's title. I've corrected this.

[1]: I'm not linking to them. I refuse to encourage the goofy ignorance of that site by adding my Pagerank to its listing. If you want to find the article, it's linked off of any of the other right-wing bloggers I list above. I know it's a bit rude to you, my readers, but I hope you'll allow me a "clean hands" defense.

March 07, 2006

Leiter Group Blog Shows Its Typical Preference for Keeping Its Own Facts

I have no idea what to make of this post by Benj Hellie at Leiter Reports other than to think that by adding more professors, Prof. Leiter's actually taken his blog even further from reality. Hellie is praising the power of the blogosphere to "expose" his opponents whilst completely ignoring the best practices of the same. For instance:

I didn't see the "My Pet Goat" footage until mid-2003, and at the time it was secret knowledge; now "no one anticipated the breach of the levees" is available for anyone on Crooks & Liars to expose Bush's lies after Brownie's attempted self-rehabilitation.

Any honest or competent blogger would at least include a link to the source of his quotation. (Near as I can tell, it's a close but incorrect misquote.) But worse, Hellie seems to completely ignore the correction the AP printed with regards to the story, which has been widely-remarked upon elsewhere. Decent analysis requires at least confronting opposing opinions, but Hellie makes no attempt to show that he even understands the difference between a breach and an overtopping of a levee.

Yet that's a minor point in comparison to the very first sentence, astounding in its self-importance:

What if the blogosphere hadn't come into existence only shortly after the Bush Gang takeover?

Ignore the slam at Bush: Prof. Leiter seems to require a certain number of those per hundred words to keep one's position as an author on the site. Since when did the blogosphere emerge in January, 2000 or even November 1999? Even Wikipedia notes that the word was coined before that fateful election, and blogs themselves had been around much longer. To take only one example, Livejournal started in March 1999 and was hardly the first kid on the block.

True, political blogging like Andrew Sullivan's didn't break out into the mainstream until 2001. Nevertheless, the 'sphere--even it it wasn't named as such--has an older pedigree than President Bush. If a blog starts in the forest and a philosophy professor isn't there to hear it, that blog still exists.

February 03, 2006

Cartoon Angst

From the political to the personal:

The right half of the blogosphere, at least, is in full-angst mode over Muslim reaction to a Danish newspaper publishing some cartoons of the Prophet. (Quick links for background, not political viewpoints.) Most disturbing are pictures of a protest in London from posts that show the worst side of both sides. On the one hand, it would be nice if CAIR directly and immediately addressed (and needless to say, condemned forthrightly) the actions of their co-religionists. On the other hand, the usual suspects are using a handful of loonies as an example of how Islam is not a "religion of peace." One could argue that proposition back and forth forever, I suppose, but it's worth pointing out that by the same standard, the English are a people who don't respect Winston Churchill because some anti-globalization activists decided to give him a mohawk. The few only occasionally speak for the many, though one sometimes wishes that the many would make their voice heard more clearly.

(Before anyone asks, what I mean is this: in that list of "to do" items in the CAIR list linked above, it would be nice if they said, "CAIR calls upon the imams of Great Britain to forcefully reject the demonstrators in London who advocated a violent response to these images." Yes, you can interpret such a position into their call to action, but it would be nice if it didn't require such subtle parsing. They've probably made the point before, and yes, it's probably tiresome. Given the context--not to say the calls for decapitation--it bears repeating.)

I feel sorry for the State Department, which is getting flack from all over the place for stating the obvious: the parties involved intentionally offended a religious group, and this is poor form. Sure, the state department didn't condemn Piss Christ (the new conservative comparison du jour, it seems) and Muslim newspapers aren't exactly known for their cultural sensitivity. But I'd think this is a golden rule example: treat others as you wish to be treated. Maybe it's optimistic to think that a State Department on the side of the angels will be able to exert some moral authority when it next condemns, say, Palestinian "artwork" glorifying a terrorist attack, but it can't hurt. (See UPDATE.)

Death threats are vile in the extreme and banning the cartoons (or punishing the publisher) is out of line. But I'd feel a lot more comfortable with my side of the blogosphere if it was clearer that they were worried solely about the free-speech concerns and not so much the demonization of a people of the Book.

I have my own cartoon anxieties at the moment. This week, Dilbert featured two strips in which the exasperated engineer rebuked two colleagues who asked him for advice fixing or setting up their home computer systems. I'm trying to decide whether I should be flattered or concerned that I received those two cartoons, predominately without comment, in emails or IMs from half a dozen of my fellow students. Optimistically, one might think they're referring to the fact that I like to fix people's computers when they've broken, and I get a lot of requests. On the other hand, maybe they're trying to tell me I'm becoming a grouch about it.

I think I'll take it in the best possible sense. There's enough trouble in the world of cartoons today.

January 30, 2006

Empirical Proof of TYoH Theorizing

When I said that the "evil" of Google going into China was directly proportional to the effectiveness of the filters (and thus not that evil at all), I didn't expect to see empirical proof so soon. As Paul Boutin points out, the filters can stop many things, but not poor spelling.

There's even better news for lovers of freedom. Somewhere in the depths of the Chinese Communist bureaucracy, some poor bureaucrat has received the sentence of Sysiphus. Day after day, he (or she) must amend the government's list of blocked terms and websites to encompass every possible misspelling, intentional or no. Maybe he has a crack team of random word generators working for him. Maybe he's on his own, concerned every day that his inevitable failure will lead to his unemployment, or worse.

OK, that's probably an overdramatic way of putting it, but the point stands: if the Chinese government wants to engage in this kind of futile effort, it's resources they can't put into more effective oppression.

(link via Instapundit)

January 06, 2006

"With Plenty of Room in the Margins"...

My task list has overrun my blogging recently. There's a lot that I want to write about, but I've been dealing with the fact that my hallmates left the kitchen a mess over vacation, and we now have a number of unwanted tenants. The kind that are about four inches long with short gray fur and whiskers.

While camping out at my girlfriend's, we were searching for an old school rap video (for purely nostalgia purposes), and came across this. About twenty minutes later, the urge to gouge my own eyes out with kitchen implements had gone away.

Given that the mice made me less willing to trek into the kitchen to get the necessary spoons, perhaps we can call it divine intervention.

(By the looks of it, the video isn't particularly new. The glory of the internet is that even if something isn't news, it can become news to anyone who missed it the first time. Thank you Google.)

December 24, 2005

How do you read TYoH?

First of all, Happy Holidays. If you're reading this today, you should probably be celebrating with friends and family instead. So ignore this until after you've drunk your fair share of eggnog. (I'm buying last-minute gifts online, so I have an excuse.)

Over the holidays I'm going to try to rebuild my templates a little bit. I managed about half a rebuild when I upgraded Moveable Type, but as you can see, the sidebar is a bit of a wreck. Additionally, things like Exam Watch are currently built in modules instead of templates, which means that every change requires a full-site rebuild.

Anyway, while I'm fooling around with the templates, I'm going to try to give you the option to read TYoH in two- or three-column mode. The three column templates would look much like a Typepad version of the present site. (See Leiter Reports or The Yin Blog for an example. Three-column mode won't have a fixed width: the window will be as wide as your browser.

Which brings me to how you read TYoH in the current two-column form. I've specifically built the site so that the readable area is about 750 pixels wide, a usability decision made because I knew some of my earliest readers have high-resolution monitors but read websites with the browser stretched to full-screen. For a lot of readers, I'd imagine this results in TYoH feeling narrow and cramped. When I'm redesigning, do any readers have any opinion on whether I should retain the fixed width?

December 19, 2005

When Blogs are Better than Law Reviews...

It's hard to walk across the quadrangle at Columbia these days and not hear someone talking about the NSA and wiretapping. If you want to be the envy of your watercooler friends, read Professor Orin Kerr's analysis and actually have some legal arguments on hand when the topic comes up. As Prof. Althouse says, "[A]t the very least fair-minded observers should see that the problem is complex. Cries that the program is blatantly unconstitutional (or obviously constitutional) should be recognized as unhelpful." (Someone tell that to Ambimb.)

Sadly, I have an evidence exam tomorrow and can spend little more on this. One thing bothers me about the story. The Times has hinted at new technologies being used in these wiretaps. Much like this blog, I wonder whether we can actually evaluate the legal situation when we don't know what technology is in use.

(My personal take, made brief as I should get sleep before my Evidence exam: as a political issue the wiretap story blows over in a week or two because what matters politically isn't so much what power is exercised as who exercises the power. If you trust the President, then he was using these taps against terrorists to prevent another 9/11: who needs those stinkin' warrants? If you think Bush is a chimp, you get on your constitutional high horse and worry about whether he's about to start sending every member of the Democratic National Committee to Gitmo. (See UPDATE)

Maybe I'm old, but I like to remember the '90s. When Clinton was in office, the sudden appearance in the White House of files on Republicans signalled the coming of Big Bubba . . . if you were on the right. If you were on the left, the fuss sprang from no more than a harmless paperwork error, or maybe even a bizarre coincidence: the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Karimnagar, the appearance of secret files where they shouldn't be. If every member of the Democratic Party now getting the vapors over FSIA had been so fastidious about privacy when Gore was proposing the Clipper Chip, Clinton wouldn't have had two terms.)

UPDATE: For a predictable example, we can always count on Professor "If I Don't Like It, It's Fascism" Leiter over at UT. No legal analysis--par for the course for the Report--but only the headline "Libertarians for Fascism" and an approving link to the typically uninformative Dadahead (who in turn is merely quoting Scott Lemieux). The latter two posts boil down to "[T]he legal question here is unambiguous." As for Leiter's opinion, he doesn't tell you what he thinks of statutory ambiguity, merely that it's fascism.

December 18, 2005

Congratulations to Chris

... who won the Best Law Blog award, beating out the Volokh Conspiracy. I'll have to admit I didn't vote for him (I don't vote in these things as a rule), but congratulations nonetheless.

December 12, 2005

Raising the Bar

I was mildly suprised to find that this blog has been cited in two law review articles. [1] That's nothing. Today I find out that group blog Sepia Mutiny has been mentioned in the Indian Parliament as part of a corruption sting.

I have no idea how I would even start matching something like that. . . .

[1] Carol M. Langford, Depression, Substance Abuse, and Intellectual Property Lawyers, 53 Kan. L. Rev. 875, 890 n.83 (2005) (citing Legal Depression); Manuel A. Miranda, The Memogate Papers: The Politics, Ethics and Law of a Republican Surrender, 9 Tex. Rev. Law & Pol. 147, 177 n. 105 (2004) (citing Ignorance is Bliss, and Apparently Not Criminal).

Having looked at the first article, I'm not entirely sure that my blog really supported those contentions.

December 06, 2005

Spyware PSA: "SpyAxe"

I've just helped a friend clean Spyaxe, a particularly nasty piece of spyware, off his computer. This little beasty took away several hours of his time he'd more profitably use studying for exams. In case any of my readers have this problem, I figured I'd post the fix here:

Symptoms: You have frequent popups and a little warning symbol in your Windows system tray saying something along the lines of "You are infected with spyware, click here for a removal tool."

Fix: I've not tried it myself, but there is a trusted solution at Nick's Computer Security. Use at your own risk.

By the way, if you're ever stuck with spyware and want to get it removed, the easiest way to find a fix is to Google for "[name of spyware] remove". I know it seems simple, but believe it or not that doesn't occur to a lot of folks. Two words of advice: alway read to the bottom of any removal forum (as earlier entries may have solutions that turned out to be false starts), and only take advice from blogs or bulletin boards that clearly address many spyware problems, like Nick's or Malwareremoval.com. (The latter is important because some spyware artists are now using websites that look like Spyware Removal tools.)

According to one site, the problem may not be Spyaxe itself but instead an overagressive affiliate using spyware to market the product. I'm not sure I buy that, but if it is, this highlights the common problem of rogue affiliates that plague so much of the internet. (For instance, much of the spam I get on TYoH is from affiliates of two major online gambling sites.) I've an interesting legal idea regarding this which I hope to be posting shortly.

More on the problem here.

November 23, 2005

Federalist Society Student Symposium 2006 to be held at Columbia, February 2006

Remember my criticism of conservative marketing last week, in which I complained that all too often conservative advertisements consist of little more than images of stuffy white males? Well, the website for the 25th Annual Federalist Society Student Symposium is now online and accepting registrations. The move away from portraits of the Founding Fathers is not entirely coincidental.

Sign up. It should be one heck of a party.

October 19, 2005

Quick Way To Eliminate a LOT of Comment Spam

I've been getting over 100 spam messages a day, almost all of the form:

You might be interested in

Notice two things: the spam message is included in H1 tags, and as a result it's extra-obnoxious, because it's very, very big. Spammers like to use H1 tags because Google and other search engines give words in those tags much more influence.

I tried getting Spamlookup to junk any link that included an H1 tag, but despite having told the plugin to junk anything with the string "<h1>", the spam kept on coming. Then, thanks to The Tweezer's Edge, I found the solution. You can read Tweezer for the precise whys and wherefores, but if you've been getting a lot of comment spam with H1 tags (about 99% of the spam I've received in the last three weeks, and over 1,000 false comments), here's what you need to exclude in the "Keywords to Junk" box of the "Spamlookup - Keyword Filter Settings" dialogue:

/<h1>/i

That's the appropriate regex entry. If you want it to be more powerful, put a space and a '4' after the 'i' in the string above.

September 29, 2005

Googling Delay

Yesterday, Tom Delay is indicted. My traffic almost doubles. I'd not actually linked the two events, and spent a while trying to see if I'd been Instalanched.

But apparently this entry is extraordinarily high in Google for such terms as Ronnie Earl political. That's not entirely surprising, I suppose, but there is some irony in scoring so well for how to get an indictment in Texas (not like I'd know) or support Ronnie Earl (not that I do).

Anyway, to those visiting, welcome and I'm sorry you'll find this is not really a blog about Texas politics.

September 26, 2005

A Quick Further Thought on the Echo Chamber

After writing one long piece on that NPI report on the left-wing blogosphere, one more thought sprung forth on its peculiar myopia. The report says of right-wing blogs:

Progressive blogs build communities of activists and generate new political activity online. Blogs and online organizations offer forums where people can actively engage in progressive politics - real involvement from people talking about politics, policy, organizing, their lives, etc. The degree to which progressive blogs encourage active engagement in political dialogue has fueled their rapid growth over the past several years.

The single most important difference between the blogospheres is this: the progressive blogosphere is introducing new actors into the political scene. The right-wing blogosphere is facilitating further organization of what was already a fairly coherent political world.


(emphasis omitted) This is myopia bordering upon the asinine. The authors of the report (one a blogger of MyDD.com) are ignoring the fact that both the left- and right-wing blogosphere is mostly made up of individuals writing their own stories. The Scoop-style sites (Kos, MyDD, TPMCafe) aggregate these in one site, while others are connected through blogrolls, RSS, or just links. Both sides of the debate are building communities, but they're using different methods.

Take the Dan Rather controversy that the authors so deride. Whatever one thinks of Instapundit, the players brought into the game by blogs weren't limited to "nodes" like Prof. Reynolds. Instead they included handwriting experts, computer specialists, and all sorts of other authors who prior to this only had a forum if a journalist or someone with access to the media chose to speak to them.

The trouble with the NPI report is that it's focusing on the top end of the blogosphere, as they define it. The interesting thing about the blogosphere is that even with the kind of Kos/Reynolds concentration in a few sites, there's still a lot of vitality in the small players. Not all the life of the network is in the nodes.

Echo Chamber

The left-wing New Politics Institute publishes "Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere: A New Force in American Politics." It's echoed at The Huffington Post and then at Brian Leiter. Its message: the progressive blogosphere is now much larger, a much more potent political force, than the conservative one.

I never thought I'd see the left driven to jealous apoplexy over supposed conservative "dominance" of a medium. Some days the Gods of Irony shine their love upon me.

Given that almost anyone can start a blog, I doubt it matters much whose dog's bigger in this particular fight, but Leiter's commentary, as always, gives rise to a chuckle at the self-delusion of it. In putting forward his guess at why the left-wing blogosphere has grown more than the right recently:

My guess would be that the blogs "on the left" are actually fairly far to the left of the traditional media, so they provide an outlet and opportunity for points of view that are often invisible in the major media. The right-wing blogs (InstaIgnorance et al.) are, by contrast, largely echo chambers for the same conservative propaganda that is served up on Fox TV, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh, and numerous other media outlets which already reach tens of millions of people. Since the right-wing blogs provide less new "perspective" and less new misinformation, they have not attracted as many new readers as the blogosphere has become better known. By contrast, many of the blogs "on the left" really do provide access to information and perspectives that are almost invisible in the mainstream media, from CNN to The New York Times to National Public Radio.

Except the report Leiter is citing is more political puff-piece than real internet research. If left-wing blogs are growing faster, it's mostly because they're catching up to a reasonable equilibrium. And indeed, reading the report with a critical eye, one sees that its data--what you can find of it--is jury-rigged. For the most part, the report is nothing more than bland generalizations and stereotypes:
Conservatives use the same tactics on blogs that they do in mainstream politics – attack the media and attack progressives. The right wing tends not to build independent online communities, using their existing offline communities to generate web sites that reinforce their politics and their ideology.

(emphasis in the original) Because the progressive blogosphere, after all, isn't known for attacking conservatives. There's also a pretty good paragraph in there about how right wing blogs are all whiny, but I'll let you read that yourself. Oh, and there's this joy:
The political successes of this community have been largely founded in manipulating media coverage. The two clearest examples are the John Thune bloggers in South Dakota, and the Dan Rather scandal.

(sigh) It will always amaze me the extent to which some people will shill for a forger and his abysmally ignorant victim. Anyway, the report then gives away the game as to why "the liberal blogosphere" is now so much bigger. It has nothing to do with Leiter's musings, and everything to do with the structure of the largest left-wing blogs:
Progressive blogs build communities of activists and generate new political activity online. Blogs and online organizations offer forums where people can actively engage in progressive politics. Below is an example of a digital community with comments – real involvement from people talking about politics, policy, organizing, their lives, etc.

(emphasis omitted) In other words, we're talking about DailyKos, and to a lesser extent things like TPMCafe.
According to research conducted by MyDD.com, as of July, 2005, the ninety-eight most trafficked progressive blogs totaled an amazing 15,181,649 page views per week, an average of over two million daily page views. That is over five times the size of the entire political blogosphere just two years ago.

By way of comparison, the top one-hundred and fifty conservative blogs had less than ten million page views per week during this period, and just over one million unique visits a day. In less than two years the progressive blogosphere had grown from less than as big as the conservative blogosphere, to nearly
double its size. Nowhere is this rise more apparent than in a direct comparison of the largest progressive and conservative sites.


The key thing to remember is that the New Politics Institute is comparing apples and oranges. As the report notes, DailyKos is a community site, not a single blog as such. Users can create accounts and diaries, and indeed are encouraged to do so. For instance, Terrance at Republic of T (on my blogroll) frequently cross-posts his writing to his Kos Diary.

(UPDATE: Another way to think about this is to quote from the DailyKos FAQ: "Diaries are coming in at nearly 200 a day these days, many of them widely judged to not be worth the effort." DailyKos thus isn't "one of the ninety-eight most trafficked progressive blogs," but is more than 98 blogs in and of itself.)

Measuring "visits" to such a site isn't a real sign of its influence, because many of the visits will simply be posts by users of that community, and many of these posts--due to its size, if nothing else--will be infrequently read. (In this sense, DailyKos is a lot like FreeRepublic, and that's not really a compliment.) So when the New Politics Institute compares traffic to Instapundit and DailyKos (see page seven of the report), they're underplaying the fact that Instapundit gets his traffic all on his lonesome. The New Politics Institute picked its criteria--presumably intentionally--in order to include traffic from what aren't really "top bloggers" (Terrance is much closer to my influence than Reynolds or Kos) in the left wing tally. If I read Ex Post, it's not really much different from an average Kos blogger reading another Kos blogger, but MyDD's report doesn't add us to Instapundit.

(UPDATE: As one of the commentors on MyDD mentioned, page views are a pretty bad metric when you're measuring apples and oranges in any event. FreeRepublic, for instance, is a bulletin board site, as is Democratic Underground. In reading a similar amount of content, you're likely to click through many times more pages on a bulletin-board site. Similarly, my RSS reader might hit Instapundit 12 times a day--once an hour. That gives him 12 separate visits, but doesn't mean I'm reading him as obsessively as the page views would suggest.)

A better, and much less biased, view of influence can be found in Technorati. Technorati measures influence in link behavior, or how many people are citing a given piece of writing. And here you find pretty much what you'd expect: Kos and Instapundit are pretty much dead level.

This isn't a slam on community sites: indeed, I'm a bit envious of TPMCafe and related ventures, and I wrote all throughout the last campaign as to how the left was using the internet to revolutionize its organization, to charge its grassroots, and to engage activists. These are all achievements, and I wouldn't mind seeing more right-wing community sites flourish. But the NPI report was obviously written to influence headlines and push the "rising lefty blogosphere" meme into the media. For those on the left more interested in reality than spin, just make sure you don't start believing your own press.

September 25, 2005

What Just Happened?

I know that lately it seems as if I spend more time tinkering with this blog than actually blogging. While it's a valid criticism, I think I finally have things to the point where I can develop on here instead of bugfixing. And for my readers, this weekend marks a turn towards actual coding responsibility on my part: I've set up a fully-functioning development site on MT, so that before I make any changes I can test them out. This is something I should have done two years ago when I started the blog, but then again, when I started this Moveable Type was a much simpler piece of software.

This probably won't be the last time I tinker with things before I shut down the blog, but at least everything I do from here on in should be development instead of bugfixing. For instance, I may mess around with making my comment individual entry archives generate dynamically. (For me, this wouldn't be a big plus, but for a higher-traffic website like Crescat Sententia, it might make a big difference, as the rebuild time on that site remains pretty severe, or at least it does whenever I ping it.) Likewise, MT's new stylesheet format presents a lot of intriguing options. Because TYoH's layout is now completely determined by layers, it might be possible for me to revise my stylesheets such that some styles are two-column and some three.

But in the short run, I've done enough programming for now. It makes a good break from work or writing, but I think it's time to get back to blogging about other matters.

September 24, 2005

Major Site Rebuild Going Online

Things may get funny over the next few minutes...

UPDATE: OK, that seems to be going mildly well: things are rebuilding. If this site looks really bad, please try clearing your cache: you may have the old stylesheets stored in your browser. (Also, give it until about 9:45 tonight. Rebuilding the entire site takes time.)

It doesn't look like a lot's changed, but I've been quite busy today. I've adapted my existing designs--as much as possible--to the MoveableType stylesheet and template specifications. This should clear up a lot of the workability problems that I've been having.

On the other hand, you'll notice that the top navigation bar is gone. This is intentional: it never quite worked. This does mean that a number of features--Sins of the Week, in particular--are gone. They should come back over the next few days. Likewise, I'll be tucking the archives up into a nice drop-down list, instead of having them sprawled at the bottom of the sidebar as they are now.

September 15, 2005

Search Engine for Blogs?

As others have already noted, Google has now unveiled a search engine for blogs.

It's pretty nifty, but I must admit it seems a bit underwhelming. Google already indexed blogs quite well. I would have much preferred Google's advanced search to just have a tick-box saying "restrict to blogs."

UPDATE: A little research leads to an interesting conclusion this evening. Google's BlogSearch claims to respect the privacy of blogs:

Blog Search will also respect robots.txt files and NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW meta tags . . . .

However, when I check a few old blogs in Livejournal that quite definitely have NOINDEX tags on them, they pop up in BlogSearch quite readily.

Back to the drawing board, guys?

Update II: If you have a blog you don't want indexed, particularly if it's already been archived, Google claims you can get it withdrawn by following the instructions here. Of course, since BlogSearch shouldn't have indexed something that had the proper metatags anyway, I don't hold out much hope that the removal feature works.

September 13, 2005

Problems with Comments

After too many users wrote to me with problems recording comments, I've deactivated SCODE. (The SCODE boxes should still appear, but they won't stop a comment no matter what you put in them. I'll be taking them away soon.)

Although I like the SCODE idea, I think it was kind of annoying to some readers when it did work, and lately it hasn't been operating consistently at all. In the meantime, Spamlookup has been functioning well enough that I really don't need it anymore.

My apologies to anyone who has had problems using the comments recently. I hope you'll come back and try again.

UPDATE: It seems that The Fool is having similar problems with MT 3.2 and SCODE. In fairness, I don't think SCODE is wholly to blame: MT changed the way a lot of things worked in this upgrade without providing very usable documentation to help out those who weren't following the process closely.

September 11, 2005

Gradually Fixing things

I'm sure you've all noticed, but a lot of things got broken during my fiasco upgrading to MT 3.2. I'm gradually fixing all of these, including the error that makes it difficult for Internet Explorer users to leave comments. For my first trick, the blogroll now not only works but also accepts ATOM feeds, which means that it shouldn't break every time Blogger decides to do some stupid format change. (I'll soon be using this technology to rewrite the Continuum.) Also, I've changed the way comments work by getting rid of the comment popups. Those of you using Internet Explorer should now be able to leave comments easily.

Quite soon I should have a new set of templates ready. At the moment, some of the archives are MT default templates that I used when I installed SCODE.

September 01, 2005

Upgrade to 3.2

I'm upgrading to MT 3.2 right now. Actually, it looks like more of a headache than it's worth--the interface, at least initially, is far more difficult--but wish me luck. If you have a hard time adding a comment here in the next few minutes, or anything else is untoward, either email me or if the comment field is working, leave one.

UPDATE: OK, the pain seems to be over. Tell me if anything doesn't seem to be working. In the meantime, here's some MT 3.1 to MT 3.2 learning:

  • If you use MT Blacklist, there's a tweak you'll have to perform to get it to work.
  • If you haven't started using SCode, the new version 1.0 has a much easier installation and works a treat. However, you have to turn it on not only in the whole system but in each individual blog. This should be in the installation instructions, but isn't. UPDATE: It is in the instructions, and I got befuddled by the new interface.
  • The SpamLookup plugin is now integrated into 3.2. While most of the interface options are taking me a while to get used to, the nicer SpamLookup installation is pretty much worth the price of admission. That said, the documentation is terrible.

Hope that helps anyone doing an upgrade.

9/3 UPDATE: Apparently the comment function on here has been broken for a couple of days due to an SCode bug. If you have a second, please try to leave a comment to this entry, and mail me if it doesn't work. Thank you.

August 21, 2005

Lull in the Action

I'm sure my regular readers will have noticed that my posts have become less frequent of late. I'm trying to catch up on a number of projects that have fallen behind schedule, and have been trying to cut back on serious blogging until they're on track. With any luck, that should happen this week. Until then, I can only ask for your understanding.

July 25, 2005

Diversity!

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein slightly underestimates the diversity of the Federalist Society's membership:

The media's new obsession over whether John Roberts is or was a member of the Federalist Society is pretty foolish. I know members whose political views range from moderate conservatives (more moderate than, say, O'Connor or Kennedy) to Christian rightists to libertarian anarchist individualists. Judicial philosophy ranges from Borkean anti-judicial review views to Randy Barnettian presumptions of liberty. In short, membership in the Federalist Society tells you nothing about a nominee except that he or she is not "on the left", which one presumes would be true about any Bush Supreme Court nominee.

(emphasis mine) Actually, I know at least one left-wing, Kerry-campaigning, certifiably-lefty member of the Federalist Society. Admittedly, I only know one, but then, I don't know that many Federalists.

I Hate To Break It To Some Readers, But You Don't Know Me

It is, I suppose, the preserve of professors of philosophy to tie one up in logical knots, but Professor Brian Leiter has outdone himself. In his latest "look how dumb someone is" rant, he bloviates:

In the conservative pity fest for Mr. Non-Volokh back in late June, this right-wing blogger . . . charges me with having displayed "ignorance of blogospheric custom and history."

Ignorance of blogospheric custom and history?

How old is someone who writes things like this, and apparently means it seriously?


(links removed)

I don't know, let us ask Professor Leiter: how old is someone who writes this kind of thing and means it seriously? He should be able to tell us.

Some time ago, after making various dark threats and suggestions that some unnamed Columbia professor was ashamed of my blogging, Leiter "thanked" me for respecting the confidentiality of the correspondence. I replied that I was unaware of any obligation to do so, upon which Prof. Leiter himself responded:

I'm sorry, I guess we'll have to end this correpsondence. [sic] I had understood confidentiality of e-mail exchanges to be one of the universally adhered to norms of the blogosphere.

(emphasis mine) Now, perhaps the blogosphere has universally adhered-to norms, but not "custom and history." And perhaps Professor Leiter knows those norms, but is as confessedly ignorant of the customs and history as he is of that of "CB radio, . . . Dungeons & Dragons, Pokemon, fantasy baseball, and so on." Or perhaps he can explain how a norm evolves--and is understood--in an environment that has few written rules and does so outside its culture and history. Or perhaps he just picks and chooses the norms he wants to believe in depending upon convenience.

In any event, I don't feel particularly bad now about publishing a part of that email of Leiter's, given his view on such statements.

But wait, there's more from the Professor in the same post:

Has anyone else noticed that the blogosphere is full of folks who don't seem to have real lives? . . . They don't appear to have real-world status, accomplishments, skills, knowledge, attachments. Blogs and their relationships with others who have blogs appear to be their lives. And if they're suitably reactionary, as this joker clearly is, then InstaIgnorance links to them and gives them a "life."

I'll give you a few seconds to collect yourself while you brush the specks of Leiter's bilious arrogance off your lapels.

How full of yourself do you have to be to cast judgment on the whole of someone's life because you read what they write on a website, or to think you know what they "seem" to be like? A long time ago, when discussing why anonymity wasn't that useful, I wrote:

But [readers] won't get [an authentic idea of what law school is like through your blog:] at the very best, they're getting facets of your law school experience, filtered through your own particular opinions. Unless you're going to spend an inordinate amount of time blogging in a day, your readers will get disconnected vignettes, small glimpses of the highs and lows of your experience. They're not getting 'authenticity' anyway, they won't miss it because you decided not to slam some gunner you didn't happen to like.

There's a lot of topics that are dear to my heart that don't make it to here. There's some political issues I won't address, not because I don't have feelings on them, but because I do and I know they'll offend some people unnecessarily. Much as I'd love to tell you about my love life, my relationship with my family, or the juicy gossip of the law school, it's not getting published.


And indeed, recently a lot hasn't been getting published, for reasons varying from Model Rule 1.6 to simple lack of time.

If I, or anyone, reads a weblog, they know some aspect of the author that they're willing to put online. I've been pleased--indeed, privileged--to meet many of my fellow law bloggers while TYoH has been running, and they're never entirely what I would expect from just reading the blog: they're fuller, more deep, more real than they ever could capture by putting fifteen minutes into a page every few days, or even every evening. Even Stay of Execution, which is more heart-on-your-sleeve than most of what I read, pales in comparison to the author herself.

If blogs and blogging appear to be the life revealed on a blog, well, that's the nature of the medium. And as for those who would stand in judgment while sitting in glass blogs. . . .

July 24, 2005

Catching Up on Pop Culture?

I've not had a TV--certainly not one with cable--for most of my time at Columbia. While I'm in London, my normal background noise is the Top Hits channel, which unlike MTV actually plays videos most of the time, instead of the Puff Daddy Pimp My Cooking Show Marathon.

On the other hand, it's leading to a number of disturbing revelations. I've already written of my discovery of the bastard child of Nelly and Tim McGraw. [1] Now I'm wondering, "When did Charlotte Church start marketing herself as a sex kitten?" Her latest video is, to say the least, a little more provocative than her debut albums.

I'm telling you, this world: you turn your back for one minute to do something like clerkship applications, and they just start redecorating the whole damn place...

[1]: (Pity anyone who Googles that.)

July 20, 2005

Well, you are reading TYoH...

So, on the day when everyone and their dog keep blogging about Supreme Court nominations, I'm writing about technology in law firms. And I'm tired enough that I can't find my way to worry if Bush nominated a Democratic gerbil. [1]

How badly does it reflect on a clerkship-seeking law student not to have an opinion on a (quite-possibly soon-to-be-powerful) judge?

[1]: My "jurisprudence" basically boils down to this: overturn Roe v. Wade and no state will ban abortion; no Court however conservative will overturn Goodridge. Nominees are important, but the Court is the branch against which the populace has the least influence and the least protection. Selection of justices isn't really worth the political energy to follow closely unless you're one of the politicians, or more powerful in politics than I ever think I'll be.

July 10, 2005

Speaking of Quality Control, or Glass Houses, Anyone?

Speaking of quality control, one thing I want to do as soon as the computer is fixed: clean up Three Years of Hell. Blogger has obviously changed something in its ATOM feeds, because most of the blogger links on my right hand navigation are broken. (Oh, joy.) I need to fix the top navigation of the site so that it will work on other browsers. And if there's one thing I've learned from this meltdown, it's that it's always handy to have a PDA-readable version of the site available.

(If anyone else has suggestions for site maintenance and repair, please feel free to leave them in the comments.)

But all that will have to wait. As will revising my Note and clerkships. I seem to have an involuntary free day today.

July 02, 2005

O'Connor Resigns...

...conservatives breathe a sigh of relief that they won't have to read another masterpiece of mush like Casey. Now the succession battles begin.

Instapundit points to GullyBorg's suggestion that Ann Coulter get the nomination:

Either [the Democrats] confirm her, or they raise hell. Assuming they raise hell enough to block the nomination, anyone else Bush puts up as a replacement looks moderate by comparison. Then, he can name someone in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, and the opposition will have to give in, since the replacement will be soooooo much better than Ann Coulter.

Three Years of Hell readers will recall that I made a similar suggestion--about as seriously--almost two years ago. Furthermore, I'm ready with t-shirts for the campaign.

July 01, 2005

I didn't mean it. Really

Through Half the Sins of Mankind, I learn that I am, at least for now, the top Google hit for International Kissing Day.

Ouch. Especially since I agree with PG on the whole hugs vs. kisses debate.

Political Mass Mailing

As a political marketing techniques go, I'm a bit suspicious about the use of mass emails. True, you get the message out to a lot of people, but you don't really know to whom you're delivering that message.

Case in point: here is how I learn whatever the newest message from the Republican National Committee's Ken Melhman.

  1. I receive an email from Ken Melhman in my mailbox. Deciding that I have infinitely better things to do than read the spin-drenched ramblings of my own political party, I go and put on some water for coffee and read The Economist. Poor Ken's email hits the Deleted Items folder with a soft electronic 'thud.'
  2. Upon reaching sites like Talking Points Memo or Chris's Law Dork, I find that the email has been nicely summarized, criticized, and satirized for me.
  3. I idly think of adding Mehlman to my spam-blocking list, but get this horrible twinge of guilt that without an SUV to my name or any other claim to plutocracy, putting the RNC Chair on my spam list might hurt my Republican street cred. [1]

True, my experience may not be typical, but I do wonder if these days party emails get read more by the opposition than their intended targets? Perhaps some smart marketing type has already figured this out?

[1]: Do Republicans have "street cred"? Country-club cred? I leave the question as an exercise for my readers.

June 26, 2005

Macau Postings

A very few of you may have seen some postings that appeared on the site for a few moments and then disappeared. This is because PocketSharp MT automatically sets a draft's status to "publish" when I transfer the entry from my PDA to the web, which means I have to log in and take it down again. (Entries are pleasant to write on the road, but they really need editing before publication, and that's easier with a real keyboard.) They should start coming up in a few minutes.

In the meantime, if Ambimb doesn't stop showing me tech tools to play with, I may never graduate. I agree with him wholeheartedly about knowledge management in law firms, and think there is much work left to be done. Actually, one question I asked during my interviews was about a firm's commitment to knowledge management, and the responses were one strong deciding factor. A good KM system makes it easier to avoid repeating tasks needlessly, which in turn lowers aggravation levels. (At least, it does for me.)

Update: The posts are starting to come up now. Their post dates are going to remain set to the date and time on which they were authored, i.e. they'll appear further down the main index page. This means the main page of TYoH may change a bit over the course of the day.

June 18, 2005

Proud Member of Project Honeypot

Since I've just gone to all the trouble of upgrading to MT 3.17 due to annoying trackback spammers, it's appropriate that the upgrade now allows me to join a network of folks running Project Honeypot. An enterprising organization, they've come up with a tool to collect data on spammers and data harvesters who then generate a lot of the spam we've all grown to hate.

It's pretty simple: hidden on this page is a link that won't annoy you, but is likely to get picked up by a "non-human visitor." If the link is indexed and searched, and the resulting email address used, information on this is kept by Project Honeypot. Whenever they can, they then hand this information on to authorities for prosecution and (presumably) lawsuits. The legal muscle for this seems to be provided by the Internet Law Group.

Anyway, it won't have any effect on the site directly, but it's my little effort to help someone else hunt down the bad guys. If you're on MT 3.0 (or any of the other utilities supported by the Project), I'd strongly recommend setting one up. It's easy, it doesn't seem to increase server load at all, and who knows: it just might work.

June 16, 2005

Upgrading to MT 3.x

Just in case anything goes strange over here or at ChrisGeidner.com, you'll know why...

UPDATE OK, with 3.0 nicely installed, I'm not going to use it for a few days. I'll have time to configure it over the weekend...

UPDATE: Right... some of you will notice that the comments now point at the right thing and I have archives. This is good. I'm hoping to fix the Comments pages shortly. There's a very long story as to why the site was so messed up yesterday--basically, I'd not upgraded MT, I'd made a whole different installation--but it's not very interesting.

I'm currently reinstalling all the plugins that make the place work, and MTFeeds is giving me fits, so the blogroll isn't up. But little by little, things are going to start working again...

Final Update: Right... I think SCode is working now, so I'm going to bed. :)

June 12, 2005

Very Annoyed At Trackback Spam

One reason you haven't heard so much from me? When I get home these days after a very long day working, I've generally found over 100 trackback spams in my inbox, generally from the same source. Although it should be easy to get rid of them, MT-Blacklist is causing some trouble. First of all, there's a 3,878 limit on your blacklist entries (i.e. you can block that many sites), and guess what, I hit it last week. Checking my email each day now takes fifteen minutes, as one hundred notifications have to come off the site. And--ugh--there's some database problems with my MT-Blacklist installation (my host has been monkeying with its MySQL settings again), which means removing them isn't as easy as it should be. Oh, yeah, did I mention that all of this spam activity is pushing me towards a bandwidth cap?

A friend of mine once joked that the only reason she didn't support a general ban on the death penalty was that then we'd never be able to apply it to spammers. While that's not the only reason I support the death penalty, any abolitionist had better come up with a pretty damn good counterargument. [1]

So next weekend, it looks like I'll be biting the bullet and upgrading to MT 3.x. This is probably a more difficult task than I'd expect, but we'll hope I can accomplish it with relatively few tears. Yes, it will cost me some money, but it will also give me access to the SpamLookup plugin. Hell, if Jay Allen (the guy behind MT Blacklist) raves about it, it's got to be good.

[1]: OK, so the death penalty for spamming is a bit over the top (but not exactly unheard of humour). Still, if one wanted to get into a Posneresque Law and Econ discussion about it, you could probably justify the death penalty for spammers. Figure that a given trackback spammer is costing me fifteen to twenty minutes a day cleaning up his rubbish. Then figure that he's probably doing that to thousands of people per day. Presuming we shorten his life by the amount of wasted time he's cost others, we probably need to hope that the culprit belongs to a religion that believes in reincarnation if we ever hope to get any form of justice.

June 04, 2005

A Few Changes...

I can't say I've been very good about writing--although that's going to change real soon--but at least I've had time to make a few changes around the site. Not enough for a redesign like Ambimb or Republic of T have done, but those of you who use my "classic" skin will see a slight change, as it's now 3L year.

(You may have to hit CTRL-F5 to refresh your cache.)

May 31, 2005

Break's Over

I know that some people don't like extended warranties, but my solid piece of advice for buying a computer: factor in the price of the nicest warranty you can get for it. Maybe you'll never need it. If it's a Dell, you probably will.

Actually, I shouldn't pick on Dells. I've known Dells that went forever and a day without a breakdown, and I've known machines that were supposedly legendary for quality that broke on a regular basis. Sometimes, I think, people just get a machine out of a bad batch.

Anyway, if there's one thing I will say for Dell, it's that their Hong Kong-based customer service beats the heck out of their US version. Only two choices faced me on menu tree, a customer service representative answered the phone almost immediately, they gave me no static before sending out a repair person, and when he arrived, he did his job with an admirable speed and grace. The machine was gutted and rebuilt in fifteen minutes, and he only had to reopen it once to put the bluetooth card back in. (Unlike the US-based techs I've known, he stuck around not only to make sure I could boot up the machine, but also to let me test out the features--otherwise we wouldn't have caught the missing bluetooth card.)

Anyway, that's the long version of the story. The short version is, I'm back, and you'll be hearing from me soon.

May 29, 2005

Brief Hiatus

I'm afraid that updates to the blog will be briefly delayed. My Dell has chosen this moment to have terminal motherboard problems--what else is new with this damnable 8500--and thus I can only browse while at public terminals. Updates will therefore be a bit haphazard. With any luck, I should be back in action by the end of the week... at least, if technical support gives me no problems.

May 18, 2005

Why One Should Love the Huffington Post

Barely a week into existence, and the Huffington Post is already living up to expectations. While there is the occasional air of "gravitas" provided by Prof. Volokh, the Post remains mostly a stew of the famous, careless, and mostly redundant. Within a week, it may very well be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, or may be worthy of rechristening as "PopKos." Even now, it functions quite nicely as a Carnival of the Unhinged.

Case in point, yesterday Norman Mailer figured that so long as he's blogging, he might as well start out by insulting bloggers. Or worse, he might insult them and not realize he's doing it. Let's give ol' Norm a good fisking, eh?

I'm beginning to see why one would want to write a blog. At present, I have a few thoughts I can certainly not prove, but the gaffe over the Michael Isikoff story in Newsweek concerning the Koran and the toilet is redolent with bad odor.

Ah, yes, "one" would like to write a blog so that "one" can make unproven assertions of skullduggery about "one's" opponents. That's what blogs are here for, after all.

Note to Mailer: Bloggers build a reputation by commenting on things that they're qualified to talk about, or if not, digging up clever arguments and linking to interesting sources, and finally putting forward solid arguments for a position. Check out your colleague Volokh for some hints on how to do this. Until then, most sensible people are going to relegate you to the Tinfoil Hat Brigade.

Who, indeed, was Isikoff's supposedly reliable Pentagon source? One's counter-espionage hackles rise. If you want to discredit a Dan Rather or a Newsweek crew, just feed them false information from a hitherto reliable source. You learn that in Intelligence 101A.

Ah, Norman Mailer, who must have garnered a C+ at best in his freshman counterintelligence class. Mr. Mailer needs a bit of a shave, so let's get Occam's Razor out of its case and lather up the old gent. A tip: RatherGate would have been one hell of a brilliant Republican plan, but it's more easily explained by hubris and a normal human capacity to screw up. If you were risking possible exposure by giving fake documents to a political opponent, you'd make sure to forge them using something other than Microsoft Word. (Or if you didn't, you'd have to think very little indeed of your opponents to suspect that they'd run with such crummy forgeries.)

In order to engineer RatherGate, you'd have to have very fine sensibilities indeed, knowing how to craft a document just well enough to get by rabid partisans like Blunkett and Rather, but badly enough to be spotted by amateur (and later professional) typology experts. Apparently, the Bush Machine is that good at knowing exactly how stupid Dan Rather and CBS actually are.

Counter-espionage often depends on building "reliable sources." You construct such reliability item by secret item, all accurate. That is seen by the intelligence artists as a necessary expenditure. It gains the source his credibility. Then, you spring the trap.

As for the riots at the other end, on this occasion, they, too, could have been orchestrated. We do have agents in Pakistan, after all, not to mention Afghanistan.


It's this kind of paragraph that makes me envious of Karl Rove. The man can go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that in order to take credit for being the greatest evil mastermind ever whisper in a President's ear, he need merely kick back, drink some scotch, and wait for the witless opposition to do something stupid. Two hundred years from now, he'll have replaced Cardinal Richelieu in Hollywood remakes of Three Musketeers flicks:

Porthos: [pulling back Bill Burkett's shirt to reveal a black fleur du GOP tattooed on his shoulder] Why, Cardinal Roves even has Burkett doing his bidding. This is just like when he fed that fake--but possibly accurate--story of the Koran in the latrine! Mon dieu!

Forget what such accusations say about the White House: folks like Mailer long since passed the point where their casual accusations of perfidity could shock. Think about what this says about Mailer's opinion of Newsweek and Michael Isikoff: taking them out was so important that the the White House was willing to engineer riots, cast doubt upon the troops in Gitmo, as well as risk that their nefarious plan would be exposured through the hackles of Mr. Norman Mailer. Well, OK, I guess Mailer thinks that his hackles are Roves' one blind spot, a kind of Rovian kryptonite or something.

Obviously, I can offer no proof of any of the above. There still resides, however, under my aging novelist's pate a volunteer intelligence agent, sadly manque. He does suggest that the outcome was too neat. It came out too effectively for one side, one special side.

In other words, this is all the idle speculations of a petulant novelist. Just pause to think what kind of twisted worldview this fellow has: the possibility that someone on his side could have simply screwed up is so remote that we must explain away Newsweek's mistake as part of an elaborate and improbable cloak-and-dagger scheme.
At the age of eighty-two I do not wish to revive old paranoia...

..."oh, hell, who am I fooling? I do wish to revive old paranoia!"

The rest of the article is quotations from Stalin and the same bald accusations, devoid of reasoned analysis, attempts at verification, or even the timid concession that this all could have been a stupid mistake on behalf of a press corps thrilled by the idea of a scoop and none too concerned with the consequences of their actions.

You want a bait and switch, Norm? Here's my thoughts on the Newsweek fiasco: in the end, this kind of thing is going to be bad for bloggers. The CBS Memos scandal was rare for the boldness and stupidity of the mistake: it involved scans of tangible documents of ridiculous inauthenticity, followed up by hubris not often seen outside of Sophocles.

Since then, (particularly right-wing) bloggers have been searching for the next RatherGate, but Big Media has gotten smarter. Remember that Republican talking-points memorandum about the Schiavo case that right-wing bloggers seemed determined to prove was a fake? Well, it turns out it was real enough, but merely reported in an entirely inaccurate manner. "Not fake, but inaccurate" seems to be the order of the day.

The problem is, the idea of disturbing a detainee during an interrogation by throwing a copy of the Koran in a latrine doesn't seem outside the bounds of plausibility. Newsweek shouldn't have run its story, and was foolish to do so. But if it eventually turns out that the substance of the story was true, I doubt procedural carelessness will give much succor to the now-triumphalist bloggers when the backlash kicks in.

Were I Norman Mailer, I'd mark this all down to a Vast MSM Conspiracy. Sadly, it's probably just a matter of human nature.

UPDATE: Gah! No sooner do I finish this and read through my blogroll than I find that Prof. Althouse got here first. At 5:30 AM. Really, I'm not getting up that early in the morning just to beat her to the punch...

May 17, 2005

Idealist? You must be joking

Heidi and Adam take this quiz which alleges to tell you what your world view is. The quiz pegs me as an "Idealist." I think we can now safely discard this test as having any claim to accuracy. Use at your own risk.

(Wow. I've gotten busy enough that I'm posting a quiz instead of real content. How the mighty--or at least mightily loquacious--have fallen.)

You scored as Idealist. Idealism centers around the belief that we are moving towards something greater. An odd mix of evolutionist and spiritualist, you see the divine within ourselves, waiting to emerge over time. Many religious traditions express how the divine spirit lost its identity, thus creating our world of turmoil, but in time it will find itself and all things will again become one.

Idealist

88%

Cultural Creative

69%

Romanticist

63%

Modernist

38%

Postmodernist

38%

Materialist

31%

Existentialist

31%

Fundamentalist

13%

What is Your World View? (corrected...hopefully)
created with QuizFarm.com

May 11, 2005

Blogging a Summer Job

Ambivalent Imbroglio asks about the propriety of blogging one's summer job. Unfortunately, before I could adequately express my feelings about this, Prof. Brad Wendel at the Legal Ethics Forum beat me to it:

From the perspective of a risk-averse professional responsibility teacher, the answer is clear: No, no, no.

No kidding, though of course I'm no professor. As Wendel points out, mentioning anything about work risks being branded as having "poor judgment." Besides, it falls afoul of my own rule of not mentioning other people--well, at least non-bloggers--without their explicit permission.

Like Heidi, I'm in the habit of naming what city I'm working in but not the firm. Last summer I didn't mention a thing about work. (Well, I think I said it was "interesting," which I'm pretty certain doesn't violate Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Fortunately, I doubt I'll have any shortage of things to write about. I've just read over what I'd put together in Tokyo last summer, and despite a lack of work coverage, I think it functions well as a travel diary. This year I'll be splitting my summer between Hong Kong, a city I don't know at all, and London, a city I know as well as any other, if not better. I guess you should expect a few more pictures, and a couple of "clueless foreigner" stories as I get used to Hong Kong. If anyone has a list of top ten things to make sure I do while in the Fragrant Harbour, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Sorry about that... for some reason, the title didn't show up the first time. I've corrected that now.

Blogging a Summer Job

Ambivalent Imbroglio asks about the propriety of blogging one's summer job. Unfortunately, before I could adequately express my feelings about this, Prof. Brad Wendel at the Legal Ethics Forum beat me to it:

From the perspective of a risk-averse professional responsibility teacher, the answer is clear: No, no, no.

No kidding, though of course I'm no professor. As Wendel points out, mentioning anything about work risks being branded as having "poor judgment." Besides, it falls afoul of my own rule of not mentioning other people--well, at least non-bloggers--without their explicit permission.

Like Heidi, I'm in the habit of naming what city I'm working in but not the firm. Last summer I didn't mention a thing about work. (Well, I think I said it was "interesting," which I'm pretty certain doesn't violate Rule 1.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.)

Fortunately, I doubt I'll have any shortage of things to write about. I've just read over what I'd put together in Tokyo last summer, and despite a lack of work coverage, I think it functions well as a travel diary. This year I'll be splitting my summer between Hong Kong, a city I don't know at all, and London, a city I know as well as any other, if not better. I guess you should expect a few more pictures, and a couple of "clueless foreigner" stories as I get used to Hong Kong. If anyone has a list of top ten things to make sure I do while in the Fragrant Harbour, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Sorry about that... for some reason, the title didn't show up the first time. I've corrected that now.

May 10, 2005

Five Things I'm Not Crazy About

So Adam of Don't Know It From Adam passed me this game, in which I'm supposed to list five things my friends are wild about but I'm not. First I was having exams, then I just wasn't having any inspiration, but finally tonight I've decided to put my hand to it. So, with no further ado, five thing I'm just not that crazy about, though my friends are. Since Adam wanted a different perspective, I'll start with a political matter that's been bugging me, and go from there.

(Before we start, since this is a long one: I'm supposed to hand this on to two other bloggers. Over to you, Chris and PG.)

Fear of Theocracy: When some of my European friends would wonder at how I could be a--shudder--conservative, they'd inevitably bring up the "religious wackos" that make up my party. Even among the more libertarian of conservatives that I know at Columbia, I'll occasionally get a "Yeah, but aren't you afraid of the religious right?" Heck, one of my good friends looked at me the other day and said, "But, you know, you're smart. You've gotta worry about these theocrats."

Actually, I find such spinelessness amusing when it isn't embarassing to watch.

Look, a few months ago a 20-minute cab ride would take me to a giant image of a woman boldly going where we didn't want to see (barely safe for work). My Student Senate recently passed a resolution stating that the administration needed to make the signs protesting JAG recruitment bigger on the same day that I saw devoutly Christian student assigned the task of checking a website mostly notable for having images of women covered in dung. (Not intentionally, mind you, but it just wasn't something anyone thought about. The warnings signs weren't, it seems, big enough.) If this is a theocracy, it's being run by the most incompetent bunch of theocrats this side of a Douglas Adam's novel. So Long, and Thanks for The Holy Wafers.

Look, I've been an agnostic for as long as I can remember, certainly since early high school. I'm thirty years old and unmarried, and anyone familiar with my modest dating history is going to realize it's enough that James Dobson's not ringing my phone off the hook asking me to help teach his abstinence-based education courses. I do things that a goodly number of my more evangelical fellow-conservatives disagree with. The title of the blog should have been a hint.

But I'd have to be living in a paranoid fantasyland to think we were living in theocracy. What, an Alabama judge wants to put a rock the weight of my car in his courtroom and stamp it with the Ten Commandments? That's kind of funny in a Faulkneresque way, but so long as he's not sentencing folks to death for adultery--or heck, so long as such sentences are being overturned--the sweat's just not on my brow. Some state wants to put stickers on their textbooks promoting Intelligent Design? It doesn't matter what's on the sticker, it's graffiti-bait. (Actually, one would think that a sticker on the outside of a textbook would be the first place you'd want to put an idea that you'd like to see buried.)

Yeah, there's folks out there who have a different moral code from mine, and they'd like to use democracy to promote it. But democracy is fantastically favorable to us hedonists: oddly enough, pleasure gets votes. In the meantime, maybe just maybe this Pythonesque Inquisition will find a way to keep forty foot softcore off public billboards. See? Every so often, they and I find common cause.

Linux: Most of the more tech-savvy bloggers are far more into Linux than I'm ever likely to be. I just don't have the urge to play around with my machines so that I can run it, and I don't see much payoff to the learning curve. Sure, Linux is probably a more stable operating system, but my Windows XP box (knock on wood since I'm tempting the gods here) is pretty stable as well. The way I figure, Heidi's laptop has had more operating system problems due to orange juice than either of ours have had due to actual operating systems.

To the extent that Linux is more stable, I'd screw it up. I figured out that my Outlook crash a few weeks ago was mostly a result of my third-party spam filter having a hard time with a few tweaks I'd made to ActiveSync and some other mail-based software. I admit: I'm a compulsive tweaker when it comes to software. Just imagine what I'd be like on an operating system where everyone is handing out betaware and in moments of ambition I could get at the kernel.

New York: Lots of my friends love this city. My friend Martin visited once or twice and never failed to tell me how wonderful it was. Me, it's nice, but I'm not in love.

I love London. I liked Tokyo. I'm in a kind of restless anxiety about Hong Kong because I've heard it called "the New York of the East," and to me that brings to mind dirtiness, rudeness, and relentlessly box-like architecture. (I'm sure the Fragrant Harbour will live up to my expectations, at least in being different.) I know this is supposed to be a great melting pot, and hey, I like the ethnic diversity as much as anyone. "Troglodyte like cosmopolitanism! Gimme a Cosmopolitan!" But the melting pot seems to have boiled everything down to a degree of aggression only differentiated by varying degrees of passivity. In other places it was nice to know that my friends had my back. There's something about the air in New York that makes one think they have to.

Cooking: I like to cook, but sometimes when I wander over to Crescat Sententia on food (and this goes double for Waddling Thunder, who, I have it on good authority, doesn't even waddle), I wonder if Will and Raffi are engaged in the same task I am. Strange ingredients, sci-fi-style cooking implements, and conversations that can become heated about... erm... I think it's vinegar they're talking about?

Cooking for me tends to be an experimental endeavor by an impoverished researcher. I once read Isabelle Allende's Aphrodite and loved every bit of it, but quickly figured out that I couldn't make her soup stock without commandeering every inch of cupboard space in my dorm kitchen. What of my kitchen equipment hasn't been pilfered from others in my hallway--I've lost most of a nice set of knives--has been purchased with Lexis points. Basically, I can make you anything that can be made with a no-stick skillet, a single pot, large cooking chopsticks, some basic spices, and a curious mind.

Fortunately, like any good Jekyll I experiment on myself first.

Clothing: You know the old saying about one of the kids in the family getting the brains and the other the looks? Well, it would be true, if my brother hadn't gotten a fair share of the brains too. And whatever else he got, he purloined the fashion sense. In the meantime I absolutely loathe clothing shopping.

Put me in a bookstore and I'll stay for hours. Curio shop or an antique-seller? Just go get a coffee, I'll be back by the time you're on your second round. But for some reason the process of looking through rack after rack of clothing wondering what's right for me bores me to tears. (Sadly, it shows. Some of my friends have been trying to get me to go on What Not To Wear for so long that I think they expect a bounty from the producers.)

Fortunately, there's two exceptions to this general rule. First, I love shopping with my brother, because he combines a ruthless shopping efficiency with a skill at clothing that frankly bewilders me. A hundred dollars with my brother will get me plenty of good clothing and leave me enough to buy him a beer. Secondly, I "get" suits. Indeed, not only am I intent on someday buying a bespoke suit, but I'm hoping that maybe a family friend will know a good tailor in Hong Kong.

Anyway, that's my five. Now back to that last exam.

Funny As Hell

I wish I'd come up with anything today as funny as Paul's caption contest for a poorly-cropped photo.

May 08, 2005

WEATHER FORECAST FOR TOMORROW: Warm Front Blowing East from California...

Oh, yes, Ann Althouse reminds me that The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington's new massive group blog, is launching tomorrow. Over 250 mostly-left big name celebrities in one massive group-blog-o'-fun. Oh dear:

Ms. Ephron, the writer, who is one of the bloggers, said it was this casual aspect of the venture that appealed to her. "The idea that one might occasionally be able to have a small thought and a place to send it, without having to write a whole essay, seems like a very good idea," she said.

She also sees the Post as a chance for the left to balance out the right.

"In the Fox era, everything we can do on our side to even things out, now that the media is either controlled by Rupert Murdoch or is so afraid of Rupert Murdoch that they behave as if they were controlled by him, is great," she said. But sometimes, she added, "I may merely have a cake recipe."


A place for the left to have small thoughts and whine about how horrible it is that there is one right-wing news channel as opposed to three left-wing major networks? I thought they already had CBS News for that.

Ah well. Be sure to click over there tomorrow for your daily dose of redundancy.

(In all seriousness, there's a reason that things like Air America or--from the sound of things--The Huffington Report have a hard time taking off. For a the whinging that one hears about how "unbalanced" the media is at the moment, there are a lot of media outlets available for the left, or at least the moderate left. Meanwhile, the right has The Drudge Report, Fox News, and sites like Instapundit. We may have half the country, but the left is cursed with having the half that controls all the media, and thus any new entrant faces an already mature market.

Somehow, I don't see getting the latest worthy diatribes from Warren Beatty and David Mamet is going to unsettle the established left-wing hierarchy. These guys are just not going to give Kos a run for his money.)

Update: Fixed link to the HP, which broke when the site went live.

May 03, 2005

EMERGENCY REQUEST FOR HELP (AND A HEADACHE I DON'T NEED)

In the last two hours, I've started receiving dozens of bounce emails from various sites, all of them claiming that variations on the threeyearofhell.com email address have mailed them. Most of these files had attachments on them, and those attachments seemed particularly dodgy: they seem to be a payload for the SOBER.O virus or some variant. Most of them, however, had this standard SOBER.O text in them:

Account and Password Information are attached!

Visit: http://www.threeyearsofhell.com


Now, here's the disasterous part. Somehow, this seems to have spammed a large number of addresses at USCourts.gov. Yes, that's right, a copy of this virus, seeming to come from my address, appears now to have landed in the inboxes of a completely unknowable number of judges. Or maybe I'm lucky: most of the bounce messages seem to be variations of proper email addresses.

I've now taken a couple of hours away from studying for exams to scan this--and all my other--hard drives to a fare-the-well. I've found nothing. I'm skeptical that these are being sent from my machine anyway: the email address most commonly used (blog--at--threeyearsofhell.com, replace --at-- with @) is one that I don't use to send outgoing mail. Furthermore, none of the addresses that are bouncing back come from my machine--it looks like they came from someone who either (a) had a list of judges on their site for clerkship purposes, and (b) had mailed the "contact me" address at my site. [1] Given that much of my readership is law students, though, that doesn't narrow it down much.

(Another reason that I'm skeptical that the mail is coming from my computer: to the best of my knowledge there's not a list of federal judges on my PC. I'm that far behind in considering clerkships.)

Does anyone know how I might track down the source of this problem? Some of the emails have source IP addresses, but TraceRT can only get so far as some locations in Atlanta that aren't particularly helpful.

In the meantime, if you're one of my readers, and especially if you've sent me an email recently, I'd ask you to please update your virus software and scan your hard drive. It can't hurt.

Just my luck, eh?

[1]: There's also the possibility that rather than poor fortune, someone's doing this intentionally. The last thing on earth I need just before clerk season is every Article III judge in the country getting an email from "me" with a nifty viral payload. But that's more paranoid than I care to be. UPDATE: To make it clear: it would be easy for this to be a coincidence. I really don't think it's intentional.

UPDATE II: One of the bounce messages has now included a copy of the virus. Does anyone know how to take one of these apart? There might be some clues on exactly where it came from.

April 23, 2005

New Naming?

For a while, bloggers have used a term called "instalanche" to describe the effect on a blog when it's linked from Instapundit. It's sort of a smaller form of getting "slashdotted". Twice in the last few weeks, though, I've noticed similar boosts in traffic when people get linked from the Volokh Conspiracy. The first time I noticed a slight spike in traffic when I'd trackbacked to one of the Conspiracy's posts. It was much more obvious when I saw the surge in traffic at De Novo when Prof. Kerr linked to their symposium on law reviews.

What does one call this effect? "Volokhlanch" doesn't scan quite as well. "Volkhanic eruption" sort of muddles the Conspiracy's name. "The site became the victim of the Vast Volokh Conspiracy" doesn't sound like a positive consequence of site traffic. Any suggestions?

UPDATE--The best so far:

  • Any link from Prof. Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy is a Kerr Package.
  • One suggestion that a blog linked from the VC has been Volokhed. (But the phrase "You know when you've been Volokhed" will probably make more sense to my British readers who have seen to many Tango commercials.)
  • Any post linked from Prof. Solum at the Legal Theory Blog has been officially Solumized. [UPDATE: The wordplay is on "solemnized." I just found out that some of my readers have minds in the gutter.]

More as they come.

April 19, 2005

Finally This Ship Can Sail Full Speed Ahead

Some of you will note that while I write about things lacking etiquette, I'm not averse to sitting in a glass house chucking stones at passerby. In particular, I'm really bad about linking to other blogs, especially those that link to me, even if I do read them.

Up until yesterday, there was a reason for this. My blogroll used an RSS feed reader that was invoked every time this site rebuilt itself. The more entries I had on the blogroll, the longer it took to rebuild. This meant that when my readers left a comment, or another blog pinged me, the whole process could time out and cause errors.

No longer. Now the blogroll regenerates every hour, and has been shunted into a handy server-side include. So now I have no further excuse.

In the short term, say hello to Ambivalent Imbroglio, Carey Cuprisin, Republic of T, the Fool, and Left2Right, all of whom should be showing up in the next hour or so. If anyone thinks they've been left out, do tell me.

Fixed, maybe?

Thanks to some skillful UNIX help by one of my classmates, I've managed to upgrade this rickety boat a bit. For one thing, people leaving comments and trackback pings should now find that the site rebuilds fast enough that they don't get error messages. For another, the blogroll in the right column should now automatically update at five minutes past the hour.

Regular blogging should resume tomorrow: I worked on this in lieu of writing anything...

April 12, 2005

Kicking The Tires on My Hosting Provider

In the last two days, Chris Geidner has had links from Atrios and Salon.com (Subscription/Annoying Ad View Required). Many congratulations to him for the exclusive!

I have to admit to surprise that my host and my MT installation kept up with the increased server load without much of a hitch. I wonder what's going to happen to AI's Blawgcoop if all the sites suddenly get 'lanched at once. It's not like I ever set this thing up for high traffic, and I've certainly never stress-tested it...

Finally Get To Say Hello to Jeremy

So for the longest time, I've forgotten to read Jeremy's Weblog because, as a Blogspot user, he didn't have an RSS feed. Pity, because he's one of the funniest bloggers about. Thankfully, today I remembered to ask if I could create one for him, and now he appears in my blogroll. (In case anyone's wondering, you can now get Jeremy via RSS at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/JeremysWeblog)

Instructions for others wishing to do this are, as always, here.

April 05, 2005

Useful Tool

In the past few days, I've had a number of folks ask me to help clean some particularly pernicious spyware off their machine. (All were playing around with Grokster, I guess to see what all the Supreme Court fuss was about.) A lot of this wasn't removed automatically by Adaware, and required me to use HijackThis! and manually search through running processes to see what was going on.

Which makes it handy that the ever useful tech site Inter-Alia links to ProcessLibrary.com, a resource giving good descriptions of most of the processes you might find running on your machine. Ever wonder what EM_EXEC.exe is? No? Well, now you know anyway.

March 23, 2005

Strange Firefox Problem

Does anyone know if there's a memory leak in Firefox? Several times this week, I've been browsing a website that has some kind of animated advertisement, and found that all of a sudden Firefox's CPU usage jumps to about 85%. This then makes my computer's fans kick on in a very loud and annoying manner.

Notably, it doesn't happen under Internet Explorer. However, I can't figure out why this is happening. Any thoughts?

March 12, 2005

Sorry you've not seen me for a while

I'm afraid that while I wrote a few pieces I'm quite proud of, one of them has been overtaken by events and needs revision, and the other fell afoul of my "don't write about non-bloggers without their permission" rule. (Sorta. Suffice it to say it got nixed.) For one reason or another, everything I've written this week seems to quickly become unpublishable. (Ed.: Instead of just not worthy of being published?)

Still, next week is Spring Break. My plan is to spend the first half catching up with reading and perfecting the outlines, while the second half will involve travelling to Phoenix and staying with my brother. I probably won't be getting around much--Phoenix isn't supposed to be real friendly without a car--but at this point burning the last dregs of my cold away by sitting out in the Arizona sun sounds magnificent. Especially since there's still snow on the ground here in New York.

Anyway, you're likely to hear from me a bit more frequently over the next few days.

February 25, 2005

Welcome to the Blogosphere

...to Plausible Deniability, an anonymous law student blog announcing itself with an attempt to win friends and influence people:

I'm a bit late to the law student blogging trend, in part b/c I'm unfashionable, but mostly out of good judgment. It seems that most JD blogs are either boring, obnoxiously self-congratulatory narrative resumes...or worse, bitter invective aimed at the erstwhile student's future colleagues and clients. There are a few notable exceptions, sure, but in general the rule is that blogs are either boring or ill-advised. Hopefully mine will tend toward the latter. Hopefully the randomly generated name will throw you off my true identity! :-)

Given the anonymity, the seeming irony, and making one's sole positive reference to a work of fiction, it's difficult to tell if PD is a parody blog. But who knows, maybe it's the next big thing, so here's a link.

In other news, blogging will be light until this weekend. The winter storms have finally done me in, and I've developed a beautiful, chesty cough just before I have to hold my TA session. After that, I'm probably not going to be good for much today.

Much has happened this week, though: I've seen The Gates, finished up a few major projects, and met some personal milestones. For some reason, this week I've had a hard time living life and blogging about it at the same time.

February 21, 2005

Crises

Chris Geidner is having an identity crisis. In the meantime, the RSS feed issue I've been facing has gotten more complex.

As I explained a while back, I can't get Chris's feed to parse in my blogroll. This is frustrating me immensely, because I'm responsible for it's implementation. However, I've made a new discovery in trying to get it fixed: my feed doesn't parse either. If I try to add my RSS 1.0 feed to the list at the right, it doesn't show up.

This is getting very, very annoying. The only thing I can think of is that I don't use the UTF-8 character set. (UPDATE: Neither does De Novo, but their feed works fine.) I can't think why that would matter. Both feeds pass through every RSS validator I've tried, so it's driving me nuts.

All I can guess is that there's something wrong with the template that I'm jointly using with Chris... but it's the default MT template. I don't suppose someone with a working MoveableType RSS feed--working defined as "you show up in my blogroll"--might email me a copy for testing? Or if anyone has further advice?

UPDATE: OK, for an interim fix, I've made a quick Feedburner feed of Chris's RDF file, which as you can see at the right actually works. This is bizarre. I'm using the same template as De Novo--which works--and the only difference between Chris's real feed and the Feedburner one is that the latter seems to be forcing UTF-8 encoding rather than iso-8859-1. Anyone have any idea why this would matter? (De Novo at least claims to be using iso-8859-1, so that's not it.)

I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and upgrade to MT 3.1 and MT-Feeds soon...

New Addition to the Blogroll

Please welcome the Legal Ethics Forum, a new blog that does exactly what it says on the tin: discuss legal ethical issues. Since that's right up my alley, it's likely to become a daily read.

(via Carey)

February 16, 2005

Things Worth Knowing About

If there's one thing I'd really like to be able to afford, is a bespoke suit from a good tailor. But given that I can't afford one--and so long as I work in business casual offices, I shall never be able to justify one--I can at least learn a lot about what makes a good suit from websites like this.

The link is via Martin, who will tell you why the blog is clever marketing. He's right, of course, which is good because figuring out what is clever marketing is one of his specialities. But such sites are also interesting to those of us who just want to learn about something we're never likely to buy.

(I need to blog a bit about my summer plans--same rule as last year, I'll talk about where I am, but not my job--at a later date, but for the moment, it seems I'll be spending the summer in Hong Kong and London. I'll put some dates up sometime between now and when I leave, for the benefits of my friends hopping around Southeast Asia and those in London. But for the moment, I need to catch up with my work!)

February 07, 2005

Advice: FAQ Scripts

As part of a revision to this site and some others, I'm looking for a FAQ Generator. Essentially, I want it to create a one-page FAQ with internally managed links, but will output only part of the page. (Essentially, I want it to spit out a text file that I can use in a PHP include on a template managed by MT.)

Any suggestions? Running under Perl/PHP a plus...

February 06, 2005

Question for My Readers

Besides all the other things I have to do--launch another site, for one--I was considering a significant site redesign, perhaps including an upgrade to MoveableType 3.0. (Actually, I wish I could just pay the 3.0 fees in order to be legal, and keep using 2.6.) And as part of that, one thing I was considering was implementing BlogAds.

This isn't so much because I'd make any money off of it. I'm not Glenn Reynolds, and it might actually be embarassing to see that I have no advertisers. But implementing another piece of code and playing with something new would make me happy. Then again, I try not to make site changes that annoy my readership. So:

a) What is your opinion on implementing BlogAds?
b) Is there anything about the site, site design, etc. that you'd like to see changed in upcoming days?

February 01, 2005

Over. Done. Brain Fried.

Well, the Note's done. I've handed it in. And it's a bit bittersweet.

I mean, I know it's not finished. If I wanted to get it into "publishable" form, which I might, there'd be several months of revising it into a very narrow piece of scholarship. Some sections would have to be ruthlessly trimmed. Others would have to be polished so that their points shined brightly.

But really, that's not what I'd like to do. What I'd like to do is post it somewhere so that my peers could look at it. I'd like to hear what folks in Michigan, or California, or London had to say about the piece. And I'd like to take those recommendations, weed through the good points, the bad points, and the points I'm obviously not explaining enough, in order to come up with an argument that I was really satisfied with.

Sadly, it's not to be. But at least it's done.

January 25, 2005

Very Long Rebuild Times

My apologies to any readers who are trying to leave comments. For some reason this blog is experiencing some very long rebuild times. It probably has to do with the RSS feeds, and I'm going to address that today.

In the meantime, please hang in there: comments are being stored, but my not show up immediately.

January 24, 2005

Theme of the Week

The Note is almost finished--it's now the home stretch towards the final edit. I really, really need to focus on writing this week, which means I really need to do a lot of blogging. (I know, it sounds contradictory, but I explained it recently. Trust me on this.)

To encourage all sorts of creative thought, I've given this week a theme. For a while now, I've had a number of oddball articles that I've been meaning to put up here, but I've not really gotten around to completing them. But since this week at Three Years of Hell is "Conservative Contrarianism" week, I should have plenty of good reason to put things on paper.

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about: for a while now, there's been a lot of moaning in the blogosphere about how picked upon conservatives are in academia. This week, I'm going to write about what's fun about being a conservative in the Ivy League. There's a lot of fun stuff that no one mentions that often, and it doesn't even involve secret handshakes.

Anyway, that's my theme this week. We'll hope I can sustain it for a whole seven days, but in any even, I hope it sustains me through the Note.

January 18, 2005

Frustration

I'm going to have to appeal to my readers for help, because I'm tearing my hair out over something that must be an easy fix. As you've probably noticed, Lawdork has moved to a new site. He's running MoveableType, and has a standard RSS implementation. Nonetheless, I can't get his RSS feed to show up in my blogroll.

I've checked, and his his XML validates, so that doesn't seem to be the problem. And the rest of my RSS feeds are functioning fine. His just won't show up.

His RSS file is here. For comparison, my RSS 2.0 file (which works) is here, and my list of feeds is here. If there's anyone with an idea of what's going on, please tell me: I'm officially stumped.

New Stuff

I'm usually jealous of anyone's new toy, and I've been nothing but jealous since Handful of Sand put up a list of all the books he owns. I was wondering how he did it, and he was kind enough to point me along the way.

So now I've got a nifty piece of databasing software that will keep track of my book collection. I've thrown some stuff randomly into the mix, and spent some of today (when I wasn't working on a massive final report for my Clinic) putting together a page listing everything I've had time to enter.

OK, probably not the most noble achievement. For one thing, I have far more... shall we say plebian?... tastes in books than many of my peers. And for another, most of my books are in storage boxes far from here. Still, it was a chance to work with XSLT, which I've not had in a while.

The collection can be accessed from the "BOOKS" link in the topbar, which you'll notice no longer has a dropdown.

January 16, 2005

This Blog Endorses Dean for DNC Chair

So much for the election being over. Bush hasn't even been inaugurated yet, but the hottest position since the presidency is now up for grabs: the DNC chair. And Howard Dean is in the running.

This blog wholly and completely endorses him. After all, how much fun would the next four years be if the Democrats started doing some serious outreach? Instead, let's put a fellow in charge notable for his bridge-building abilities, the kind of gentle-touch necessary to convince those who might not already be on your side. Who can forget such respectful observations on life in the South as:

I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.

That one went down well not only in the South, but in the rank-and-file North as well, if I recall correctly. Stereotyping those below the Mason-Dixon line is a brilliant plan for bringing them over to your side. Then, of course, there's the man's idea of fine strategy: tell your voters what to care about:
"We have got to stop having our elections in the South based on race, guns, God and gays - and start having them based on jobs and health insurance and a foreign policy that's consistent with American values."

To which many a Southerner must have responded with something along the lines of, "What's this we bulls---, Mr. Vermont Governor?"

(Actually, Sen. Edwards attitude was pretty much along those lines, though I couldn't find his reponse to the comment itself.)

Or how about his patented charm, his big-tent philosophy meant to appeal to moderates who might, at one point, have voted for Bush, but wouldn't now?

"George Bush is not my neighbor."

(And who can forget the obvious?) Certainly four more years of this is just what's needed.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for Dean, for what he accomplished in the election. Besides having re-energized the Democratic base (for which they owe him), he was certainly responsible for the most innovative web campaign of the year. I really hope that Republican strategists are doing their best to absorb every strategic advantage they can from his example.

But Dean isn't the guy who's going to call Moveon.org to account when they go well over the top. He's not going to say, "Hey, look, maybe we ought to banish the word 'fascist' from our vocabulary for a few years." In short, as the Democratic Party spirals into a frenetic hatefest incapable of saying a single nice thing about Bush and convinced of the dark divinity of Karl Rove, he's not the guy who's going to fight the current.

The Republicans managed to marginalize ourselves through the Clinton Years because our message was the stunningly inspiring, "Clinton sucks." Bush won his first term through compassionate conservatism, and it was enough. The term was vapid and meaningless, but it had two advantages: it allowed him to capitalize on Clinton's (wholly unrelated) mistakes, and represented a "not not Clinton" idea. Frankly, it didn't matter what the idea was, the fact that it could be protrayed as something other anti-Clinton bile started repairing our fortunes.

Perhaps Dean will change his stripes, and we'll see a number of "Dean rethinks his strategy" stories. But frankly, it doesn't seem a likely threat, which is why this blog endorses Dean for DNC.

January 15, 2005

New Things to Read

It's been a while since the blogroll updated, and it's time for some introductions:

  • First, a woman who described herself to me as "one of the Grand Old Women of blawgs" in an email, Ruth Edlund writes The Dark Goddess of Replevin Speaks. A Columbia graduate and partner at Wechsler Becker, LLP, she's a reasonable glimpse of the future awaiting some of us. I've added her to the Columbia Continuum, which probably would stretch some rule as to what a "continuum of Columbia students" means, if it weren't for the fact that I'm making the rules and no one else seems to care.
  • The Columbia chapter of the Federalist Society gets a link on the sidebar. (They're a group blog, so they don't go in the Continuum. Ain't arbitrary rules grand?) If the Columbia chapter of the ACS would get sorted with an RSS feed, they'd be added, too.
  • Finally, let me point you towards The Websnark, who's good for a few laughs. His recent review of the new Battlestar Galactica will pull some heartstrings for those of us old enough to remember when Starbuck was male, and his humorous reflection on the irresistable erotic pull of the barista should have you choking on your skim latte.

UPDATE: For some reason, I'm having a hard time getting the Ex Post RSS feed to work. I'll update this as necessary, but with any luck it sorts itself out soon.

January 12, 2005

Contrarian News

OK, as every other legal blog has already noted, Booker and Fanfan were released today, and now the federal sentencing guidelines are not so binding as they were. It's important, but I have no wisdom to give you on this, so I'll point you over to the Blakely Blog. Once he's off the plane, I guess.

If you've not been awaiting Booker with bated breath, try this. Via Inter Alia, here's a way to shorten the load time of Adobe Reader. Use at your own risk--I've not figured out which plug-ins are essential to Lexis and Westlaw yet. Nevertheless, Adobe's bloated reader is no longer painful to load.

Always Willing To Answer

Will Baude asks, with regards to changes at the brand-new, tech-making-me-envious Begging to Differ:

Oh, and the new site also has a forum. I am confused. What is the utility of having both comments-thread for every post and the forum with dozens of threads of its own? And how on earth will anybody who is not a site administrator be able to keep track of and read them all?

Far be it from me to debate the merits of comments with Will, especially since his resistance to comments seems to crumble every minute. But as to the latter question, how would one keep track, I'm happy to answer. I'm sure he didn't expect it, but hey, what good is a quasi-techie who doesn't take a rhetorical question hyperliterally?


Continue reading "Always Willing To Answer" »

January 08, 2005

Someone Lay The Truth Bare

Note Status: About twelve pages, and about a third done. Objective is to get the majority of the text written tonight and cite tomorrow. I know it sounds strange, but it's sort of the "build the skeleton, then flesh it" style of writing that works for technical papers. Need more coffee. This rough draft is going to be very rough.

Momentary Query: What's going on at The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem? I'll admit that I don't pay much attention to my rank in his system, and only go there on the days when I'm heavily engaged/procrastinating. But it's a nifty technical achievement, and so when my curiousity about the strangeness of Pagerank is satisfied, I take a peek at how I'm doing at the Bear's.

Today I discovered I devolved, which isn't an unusual occurence: my rating on his site bounces up and down between marsupial and bird. But take a look at this:

Each site peaks on December 30th and moves sharply downward thereafter. Sure, the graphs are entirely the same. But they do show a striking similarity. Is this a hiccup in the Bear's system, or has there been some strange shift in the fabric of the blogosphere? Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE AND D'OH: Not three minutes after writing this, I clicked on the homepage of the Ecosystem. I rarely check that page itself--normally I link through someone's link to the system and manuever from there. So I missed this headline:

Announcement: December 30, 2004
Major Ecosystem cleanup activities are under way. If you have a problem with your listing, now is the time to drop N.Z. Bear a line. All blogs listed in the Ecosystem will experience significant changes in link counts and ranking over the next several days. Do not be alarmed. Remain calm. All will be well!

Mystery solved in under three minutes. Indeed, it was never a mystery. Time to get back to work, then.

What's Stranger? That Someone Googled for This, or That They Found Me?

Thanks to an anonymous visitor today, I find out that this blog Googles very well for sexual positions - cheeseburger.

Who knew?

January 04, 2005

The Incredible Inverse Efficiency Engine

Most of my readers will have noticed that I've said almost nothing over the past two weeks. Some of my readers also know that the first rough draft of my Note is due next Monday. Others will notice that I just posted a long blog entry. Too-clever-by-half readers will thus assume that because I've not been blogging, I've been getting my note done, and that the new entry means I'm nearly finished.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the curious mysteries of life is that I post more on days in which I've been most productive. For one thing, if I'm blogging, it means I've been sitting in front of my computer, which means work has more or less inevitably gotten accomplished. If I'm blogging, it means I've not been playing some computer game, watching television, reading a novel, or involving myself in some ill-considered romance.

So I'm more productive when I'm blogging. What does that mean for you, dear reader? Well, given that I've got the aforementioned Monday deadline looming before me like a hideous beast, and given that I've not done half of what I should have by now, you're likely to hear a lot from me.

You may consider this good news or forewarning, I suppose.

December 26, 2004

Congratulations, Jeremy

It appears that one of the great "blawger" mysteries got resolved whilst I was away yesterday: Jeremy Blachman has been revealed as the author behind Anonymous Lawyer. I only read the blog every now and then, but I've had six or seven people at Columbia ask me, "So, do you think he's a real person?" Which, I think, meant something along the lines of "Do I think the author is really a hiring partner?" I have to admit, I normally said, "Probably."

Jeremy's done a fine piece of work here. My first impression of his project back when it started was highly negative, simply because I have an objection to anonymity, and the blog did seem to be a real person indulging in some serious backbiting. But then the site announced it was a work of fiction and my only objection evaporated.

I'm glad it's worked out for him, although I do wonder exactly how much truth there is in the whole tale. On the one hand, anonymous conversations have a tendency to bring out only griping. Namelessness is reserved as a shield for those complaining, while those with kind words have little need of protection. On the other hand, one impression I've had of this entire legal industry, for a very long time, is that the pursuit of money through a cartel is slowly grinding away at most of those who work in it. With any luck, the dark mirror of Jeremy's invention proves some kind of catalyst for change.

Oh, yes: Jeremy's real-life blog is here.

December 23, 2004

Why I Read Brian Leiter

Someone emailed me yesterday and asked why, given that I find his non-scholarly arguments so hysterical, I bother the occasional read of Brian Leiter's Leiter Reports. Besides the general idea that one should read the loudest voices of the opposition even when they aren't the best, it's posts like his on "scholarly diversity" that make me grin. For instance, let's look at a post from another blog that he quotes approvingly, excerpting this segment:

[W]hile I have always been in favor of diversity of viewpoints on a faculty, and our own faculty ranges from very liberal to quite conservative -- although we see no need to hire the right wing kooks who seem to be taking over the world -- I have lately begun to wonder about the intellectual diversity argument. The right wing has taken over the government, radio, part of television, a significant part of the newspaper world, and certain religiously based universities. Having taken over much of the world, is it really necessary that they be given a major voice in universities too? They’ve done pretty well without a major foothold at lots of universities. Why give these nuts still more power?

Read the rest of the post, which is authored by the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law. It's as reasoned and temperate a post as you'd expect, including such passages as "Terrific: I can hardly wait until Heinrich Himmler applies for a professorship at Harvard," and "But because they all seem to be following the code of silence -- isn’t this called omerta or something? -- as a way of trying to have all the matters of dishonesty at Harvard blow over, it’s dollars to doughnuts that they will not respond." Well worth a ten-minute study break.

In the meantime, the passage Leiter quoted reminds me of the old joke that Prof. Volokh often quotes about two rabbis reading newspapers in Jerusalem. One's reading the Jerusalem Post, and notices that the other is reading an Egyptian newspaper full of anti-Israeli bile. The first fellow, justifiably startled, asks the other why he'd read such a rag, to which he gets the following reply: "Well, if I read the Post, the news is all bad. There's bombings, beheadings, terrorism, and worry of invasion. Whereas if I read this paper, we control the United States, the international media, the U.N...."

December 07, 2004

A Little Levity, and A Wish for the 1Ls

So, today I'm talking with a 1L who's about to start exams, and who is worrying about whether they're up to speed. This got me to thinking: where was I about this time last year?

Well, I was panicking much as everyone else was, and looking forlornly at the tattered mess that was an MS Project Study Plan. Dazed and uncertain, I was clinging to the scraps of my life as a project planner, using whatever tools I could to make myself feel confident. Looking back and reading, it wasn't half as fun a time as this exam period, in which I'm vaguely worried, but not half as stressed.

But here's the thing: look back and read those entries, and then read the last few days here. Back then, the blog was a lot funnier.

Yeah, sure, it was gallows humor and late-night posts. But I was also trying to spin interesting reflections of things that were shiny and new. Unlike this year, I didn't feel so constrained in what I was writing: it's not like anything I was doing had confidentiality requirements. The text itself seemed to have a bit more craftsmanship, with entries that weren't meant so much to convince but entice.

(This year's been rough on my sense of humor in a lot of ways. I probably need more sleep and more (read: some) exercise to get the brain making those strange whimsical connections again. But the need's definitely there.)

Anyway, if you're a 1L and you're stressing out right now, take a minute or two between study hours and read some of the 2L blogs from last December: Heidi or Ambimb or Serious Law Student, to pick some at random. We all made it. Don't worry about the entry that says I had a project plan: Gulliver's Travels had more basis in fact than that Gantt chart. We were all pretty much where you were now, and we made it. However bad it looks, you'll get through too. And the beer after that last final before you pack up and go home? Brothers and sisters, it tastes like ambrosia.

The best of luck to you all. Keep it in perspective.

Late to the Bandwagon

Notes From the Legal Underground wants other bloggers to declare that an idea is officially cool. Personally, if that's what he wants, he probably should have kept me as far away from it as possible, but who am I to question the guy's strategy?

So here it is: NftLU wants some publisher to let The Anonymous Lawyer convert his magnificent satire of a weblog into a book. This is an idea so cool that really, no words can do it justice. But if any of my readers have a father, mother, uncle, aunt, ex-girl/boyfriend, or hamster who happens to be in tight with the Big Boys of the Publishing World, please, slip a little buzz their way.

December 06, 2004

S-Code: Spam Begone

For the first day in a very long time, I've not had to clean any spam comments off the site. For this I have two people to thank:

(a) James Seng, the creator of the S-Code plugin for MoveableType.
(b) My readers, for putting up with a slight annoyance whenever they want to post a comment.

All I can say is, thanks! Now I can spend more time actually blogging, and less time maintaining.

(Headline font courtesty of BlamBot fonts.)

How? In God's Name, How Did He Do That?

Handful of Sand has put up a page that has an Amazon link to every book he owns. It is remarkably cool.

What I want to know is how he did it. I mean, it's obvious that he's used some kind of script. But did he do it by having the author, title, and ISBN number in one file, and the script read out, or did he do something clever with MT Amazon, so that he only had to have the ISBN.

I must find out. Indexing every book I own would be the perfect Exam Procrastination Device...

December 04, 2004

Making some changes

I'm currently making a few changes, and comments may not work for an hour or so.

Update: I've now added the SCode plugin to comments. Before you can submit a comment, you must now type in a six-digit code that changes randomly. I hope it's only a minor annoyance for you--if it isn't, or if anything about the process can be made simpler, please leave a comment.

Adam's Back

Just a quick note to point out that Adam Wolfson is back and blogging in a new location, Don't Know It From Adam. (Links go to the same place, I just linked twice to give him some Google juice.)

For those who don't know, he's another University of Michigan student who disagrees with me on almost everything (who doesn't?), used to run a site called Cicero's Ghost, and knows one of the slickest recipes for a sidecar I've ever seen. What more could you want?

Words You Don't Want To Learn

So today I got Crapflooded. Basically this is a tasty little tactic by a number of jerks akin to a DDOS attack. The jerk in question left over seven-hundred messages, some of which were spam (may be a different jerk) and some of which were just garbage: no URLs, just scraps of random words.

I've found some very useful sites on the subject, and have been thinking of some ways to cut back on the maintenance I do here. Heidi helpfully suggested MT-Close, which closes off entries to comments after a certain amount of time. It's an interesting idea, but though rare, I actually do get some valuable comments on my old entries, and don't want to cut that off.

What I am thinking of implementing is a plugin called SCode, which requires commentors to type some text from a generated image before their comment is accepted. This would definitely cut down on the spammers, but puts one more hurdle between myself and my readers.

So if you have a moment, could you tell me if this would be a bridge too far, or a minor imposition you'd be willing to accept as part of commenting? Please feel free to leave a message below, unless you're a spammer or a crapflooder. In which case, please die a horrible death at your earliest convenience.

November 29, 2004

Yikes

I just received a particularly vile porn-spam to the site, which somehow slipped past my daily update of MT-Blacklist. It's gone now, and it was on a particularly old entry, but I'm not 100% certain it's gone. Please rest assured that when I find these things, I delete them, and they do not represent my views, preferences, or what have you.

Blech. Some things really shouldn't be seen before I have my first cup of coffee.

November 16, 2004

Mo'Blogging Open Thread

As you might have guessed from looking around here, I'm a real devotee of Pocket PCs, a habit I picked up after doing an online marketing project for one of the larger manufacturers back before I came to law school. Actually, I think the project was pretty critical in forming my mobility addiction. There's a steep learning curve with PPCs, from getting used to handwriting recognition, a particularly curious (and not always friendly) interface, and merely developing the habit of carrying around the device. Nevertheless, once you overcome these hurdles, the flexibility and speed of the PPC makes its use second nature.

Besides scheduling and tasking, my PPC now functions as a portable music player, Japanese-English dictionary, and Chinese language learning tool. (I may end up in Hong Kong for part of the summer.) When I'm in the deep recesses of some strange library looking for some strange book, the PPC can connect to the law review's source list or Columbia's online libraries thanks to a wireless connection. But the one thing I've not done with it yet is blog.

So here's a question: anyone know some good mobile blogging clients for MoveableType? I'd appreciate any experiences, tips, or tricks you might have, because I don't have time to research new technology at the moment.

November 12, 2004

Whoever's responsible, cut it out. You make us look bad.

Great. Not only do I have to put up with easily-Blacklistable spam suggesting that I need Cialis, Viagra, or more games of Texas Hold Em. (On the grounds, I guess, that after a four-hour erection nothing's better than a few quick hands of poker.) Now some idiot has decided to use comment-spam for Googlebombing, and it looks like this jackass is a conservative.

Oh joy.

On one of my older entries, I find this message left in the comments:

I just can't shut my pie hole.

--Whiny Communist Bitch


The spammer set the signature to link to Associate Professor Elizabeth Lane Lawley's "Mamamusings" site. The idea being that if one were to search Google for the term "whiny communist bitch," she'd pop up first. As of yet, it's not working, but give it a few days.

Whoever's doing this: I don't care what you think about Ms. Lawley, her politics, or her personality. I haven't read her site and have no clue what her opinions are. But what you're doing is wrong, annoying, and pathetic. It's not big, it's not clever, and its not going to endear you to anyone. Go crawl back into your hate-filled hole before you encourage other idiots to follow your example.

As a result of your tomfoolery I've just had to spend fifteen minutes I don't have to erase your bile and yet remove Ms. Lawley from my blacklist. Worse yet, the fact that you're calling her a communist implies you're probably a conservative, which means you're blackening the reputation of the rest of us. May the bugs of a thousand implementations of Outlook infest your file structure and may you spend the rest of your nights sharing a bed in a youth hostel with an unshowered Michael Moore. That's not quite a good enough curse, but frankly words fail me.

October 26, 2004

In Case All This Reality Is Getting You Down

People say I seem to have too much time on my hands. (Ed's note: It's not true. I'm just chronically irresponsible.) But check out Today in Alternate History.

October 21, 2004

Talking Out Of Turn

I wondered a few weeks ago if I was just losing my touch. I hadn't really written anything of interest to law students in a while, and the diary aspect of my site was waning with the waxing of election-blogging. Though my readership seems stable, I'd noticed fewer links from other blogs. My time has been so full lately that I'd often felt as if I didn't have the chance to write. And I know the project's going badly when even Google feels it should downgrade me from a PR6.

But it's not just a lack of time. There's a lot of things I want to write about, but for once my pen stalls with concern. Heidi's written recently about law school bloggers worrying about their reputation. My 2L year seems full of things I'm bursting to write about, and yet feel I shouldn't.

Take the whole job interviewing thing. There's a lot I'd love to say about it: the ups, the downs, the whole damn crazy process. For instance, the national guidelines say that 2Ls can only have a certain number of outstanding offers from law firms at any given time, and that means a process of calling up some firms and saying, "I'm sorry. You're a really wonderful firm, and I enjoyed meeting your people, but I think I'm going elsewhere."

Now, it's irrational, but I hate doing this. Sure, it's BIGLAW, and the firms are evil slavemasters that want to take innocent doe-eyed young law-students and break them on the rack of 2400 billable-hour years. Or at least, that's what I tell myself, because generally I'm calling up some kind person who took some of their time to talk to me and express an interest in my life and career. Heck, usually I'm calling a firm that took me to lunch, and I'm quite grateful and can't really repay them. It's like being a very bad boyfriend, and breaking up with a girlfriend who's been really nice to you just because there's a more attractive blond over in the corner of the bar. I feel like a heel. And--stop me if you're surprised here--I've never had to break up with multiple young ladies at the same time before.

See, there's a lot of observations like the above that I'd like to write about, but don't really feel like I should. After all, employers might read this site, and while I wouldn't say anything specific about a firm, I don't know if they know that. I'd hate for someone who'd been quite nice to me to read something like the above--except perhaps less positive, although more useful to future students--and think, "God, I wonder if he was talking about me." And law school is famously unfair in its distribution of goodies: some people might not be rejecting offers. Is it really wise to say the above, and risk offending some friend who might be suffering a different--and less trivial--problem?

Right now, the world's filled with this kind of issue. I'm deeply, deeply loving my project for my clinic, but it's covered by confidentiality and so I can't talk about it. Law review is a lot of work, and there's a lot of things--both good and bad--to say about the process, but it's also a very small world. I'd love to respond to a new criticism of law reviews by Richard Posner, because he's in fine critical form but very unfair. How can I do that without mentioning the guts of my work, my team, my classmates?

And here's the rub. I think it's a lot easier to blog 1L, although the year itself is probably more difficult than this one. As a 1L, you may have a study group, pro-bono work, or an interest in some student organization, but so much of your life exists as a single atom. You study for exams and face your grades as one individual in a class of other floating atoms, never really coalescing into molecules.

This year I belong. I have a clinic group, and within that a clinic partner. I work with a team of editors on a law review, which is like copy-editing on a magazine. You begin to feel some loyalty to your co-workers. One of my classes has eight people: there's nothing I can say about it that isn't a betrayal of confidence.

My archives hold quite a few pieces set to "draft" status, and it's going to remain this way until I can find some means of escaping this trap. I think what I'll end up doing is focusing on the little things, small facets I can show safely.

Take this vignette. The other day my clinic partner and I completed our mock-counseling session. We'd both played to form, and both felt it was something like a train wreck. You could tell I'd come in with a checklist of things that needed to be done, and wasn't going to leave until they were finished. My partner, on the other hand, was gregarious, caring, sensitive--everything I wasn't.

So we're walking to the elevator, filled with post-project adrenaline, and I mumble, "You know, I'm going to just cut it short. I'll quit law school and go become a drill instructor. Go with what I'm good at." Quick as a whip he replies, "Then I guess I'll go teach day school."

I laughed like crazy. (I also asked him if I could write about this.) Okay, out of context it's not so funny, but we'd been studying together the how of being lawyers, as much as what the law is, and I know I wasn't entirely comfortable with what I was seeing. I was tense, shot through with doubt, and critiquing my every move for the last forty-five minutes. And then--BOOM--he spouted a bit of perspective, and it all went away.

I don't know how to connect together disconnected snippets like the above, turn them into something that gives my readers more than a fragmentary idea of what's going on. But that may be the narrative problem I have to solve.

New Abode

I just learned that my webhost has migrated this site to a new set of servers. Some little things here or there may not work so well around this place for the next few weeks. If any of you find something not functioning, please leave a note either on this entry, or by mailing me at blog -at- threeyearsofhell -dot- com.

October 16, 2004

Google Geek Heaven

So why is it on a day in which I must get everything done as quickly as possible, I find out that Google has just launched its desktop search engine. I've been hoping they'd get this done, so that I could stop using Microsoft's lousy "Find File" feature.

The good news, I suppose, is it will take a couple of hours to index my machine. In the meantime, I can get work done offline. Expect a review of the software shortly.

September 27, 2004

A Few Quick Thoughts on Fair Game

I have too much work to do, but there's some matters about the Xanga affair that are preying upon my mind. There has been a lot of triumphalism in the news lately about the 'power' of blogs--and skepticism about this is fitting--but it does raise some questions about how we treat each other.

As it's now panned out, it looks like the Xanga site in question, Misled Youth, wasn't secured correctly to begin with. What Modern Vertebrate and then chillinois posted seems to have been publicly accessible, whether it was meant to be or not.

On the other hand, what I was surprised to find when I sent an instant message to the author this morning was that no one had contacted her yet. This put me in the embarassing position of pointing out the existence of the Kos article, being the bearer of ill news. And this surprised me. Tracking her down wasn't hard: her blog had almost half a dozen contact methods listed.

Now, besides an 'abortion is murder' style post at the top of the page, very little of her blog was political. It looked like a diary/community blog page that she kept for friends, and a Technorati search for the blog shows few incoming links. (Of course, she does link to it in a Yahoo profile and link to it off bulletin boards, which somewhat tempers the criticism.) The work didn't seem to be a serious attempt to enter a political fray. It's mostly just a diary of a young woman.

And yet neither MV nor chillinois nor Kos seems to have given her a bit of warning, a chance to take down any of the 'personal' areas of the site, as she has done now. (UPDATE: Please see the comments. 'Chillinois' claims to have written an email to an address on the blog on Sunday but received no reply. As I explain in the comments, this doesn't really change the following analysis.)

Now, I certainly don't think they should have a legal obligation to do so. Indeed, if you read my technical discussion in the preceding piece, I advocate putting the legal burden for securing information mostly on the owner of the information and the operator of the server. But legal obligations don't cover the whole scope of one's duties.

Had I not read about this in Kos--in which case, as I've said, keeping quiet about it is wholly ridiculous--I would have at least paused to consider the consequences of my actions. For instance, chillinois posted a copy of a picture of the young lady posted on her girlfriend's gay.com site. Now suppose that the image was there without the consent or permission of Misled Youth: this is the kind of thing that might put strain on a couple, if there were legitimate concerns over privacy. And that would be outside of whatever this might do to the relationship between the young lady and her (supposed--remembering this may still be a hoax) father. That would at least give me pause: do I really want such a thing on my conscience?

Evidently, this matters not at all to some of Kos's readers. A selection from his comments, not untypical of one side of the debate:

This is a war. A deadly war; remember Argentina, remember Chile. The disappeared could very easily become our reality.
We must use, every tool we have short of violence to win. These people are utterly ruthless. If we fight fair and they fight with no rules, we will lose.

Keyes attacked Cheney's daughter becasue she is gay. Keyes daughter is an adult, so she is fair game. And, if you read her blog Maya shares her father's twisted, derranged ideas about abortion, Kerry and more. She campaigns with her father. In their words she is a "politcal operative." They would not hesitate to destroy our "political operatives."

Or, less lucidly if more briefly:

fuck all you losers~!!!!!
i wonder how many of those wailing & gnashing their teeth are actually paid operstives ...."she is but a CHILD! cmon KOS, we dont do this!!! we are The Noble Failures!!!!"

well if being noble leads to failure let me dish some fuckin dirt & WIN!!!!!!


(Though again, to be fair to Kos, a very sizeable proportion, if not half, of his commentors are against the post.)

Whatever Kos's right to publish, I have to wonder that he didn't find some kind of moral duty to notify. "I, the mighty Kos, have a readership that reaches to the skies and blots out the moon on clear nights. I'm about to cast my mighty eye upon you, and I suspect [incorrectly, as it turns out] that I'm about to expose you due to a security glitch. You might fancy taking down the posts." If he were writing about myself, or Brian Leiter, or Crescat Sententia--blogs that are large enough in the ecosystem, have been obviously beaten about a bit--I'd think differently. But if you're about to expose someone's personal life, particularly if you think they might have meant to keep it private... that just seems a bit dubious.

Policy Update

Due to some correspondence I've received this weekend, I've formally set out an email policy, which is detailed on a newly-fixed About TYoH page. It's mostly ripped off from Crescat Sententia, because I think Will mostly got it right. For reference:

Email Policy. I'm going to take a page from Will Baude, an advocate of good etiquette, whose policy runs thus:
Unless you explicitly tell me otherwise, email sent about the blog (or topics recently mentioned on the blog) will be considered fair game to be republished here on this (not for profit) blog. This will usually, but not always, be anonymous; If you have strong feelings about this, be sure to express a preference.

I will only add this to Mr. Baude's policy: except where legally or professionally bound, the sharing of correspondence is generally at the option of the recipient. So if you're sending insults that you wouldn't want posted online, think twice.

September 18, 2004

Request For Technical Help

So here's something I thought would be relatively easy to program in Visual Basic, but is giving me a bit of a headache. If any of my readers have any idea how I might implement this, and might give me some advice in the comments or via email, I'd appreciate it.

I'm trying to design an application in an Excel spreadsheet to easily automate a specific task. The sheet should have columns roughly like this:

SectionOpen NoteClose Note
First Section110
Second Section1120
...

One fixed cell of the spreadsheet has a file location for a Microsoft Word document that has quite a few footnotes. The application basically consists of a button that one presses after entering data in to the table above.

Upon pressing the button, the application needs to scan the Word document once for each row in the table, and find the page on which Open Note and Close Note (the footnote with those numbers) appears. It must then print that range of pages in the Word doc, go to the next line in the table, and repeat.

I'm writing some VBA to cope with this process, but I'm stumped on a few points. Given the limited nature of my coding skill, I'm mostly stumped at the hard parts. So maybe some of my readers can answer:

  • What would be the best way for me to use VB code to scan the Word document to determine the page number on which Open Note and Close Note appear?
  • Is there any way to tell Excel to open a different file in a program such as Word and print a given range of pages?
  • Anyone know of a VBA app (or other) that already does this?

Thanks in advance for any help my more technically-minded readers have. Len, that means you. ;)

September 14, 2004

This Is Sort of Amusing

One more reason to love the Internet: when enthusiasts get excited by something, they can come up with utterly pointless pieces of software. If you use MoveableType and find this rather humorous, look over there.

August 30, 2004

RSS and Blogspot

Some of you will notice an odd prejudice in the blogroll on the homepage here at Three Years of Hell. If you look very closely, you may realize that I include very few authors who use Blogger or Blogspot.

Before anyone starts gathering for a large class-action lawsuit, let me explain. Unlike a lot of sites, I like to syndicate headlines. In other words, I link not to the individual blog, but to their top-three headlines at any given time. This gives me an idea of which of my favorite blogs have been recently updated, and which are growing a bit moldy. The trouble is that I do this through a technology called RSS (Really Simply Syndication). Unfortunately, the 900 lb. gorilla that is Blogger backs a different standard: ATOM. Up until now, it's been very difficult for me to integrate these feeds into my website, and I'm not about to rewrite the relevant MoveableType Plug-in. (Hell, doubt I could. --Ed.) "How can I get an RSS feed?" has been one of the most common questions I've been asked by Blogger...erm...bloggers.

Today, I'm happy to say that betwixt Ann Althouse and myself, we managed to come up with a fix. Or rather, we've tested the FeedBurner service, and it seems to be working. You'll note that Prof. Althouse is now on my RSS list.

I'm leaving detailed instructions for how to use this system to generate RSS (instead of using the SmartFeed service, which won't work with some readers) below. But if you happen to be one of the people I read most often yet haven't added to the mix, this would make it much easier for me to link to you.

(Oh, and if you're a new Columbia 1L looking to be put on either The Columbia Continuum or my blogroll, please do email me. I really need to get this place updated.)

Continue reading "RSS and Blogspot" »

August 21, 2004

Wheat, Blogs, and Journalism

One of the advantages of blogging is the "human search engine": the fact that for any given issue that's blogged, multiple authors serve to cover it, and each generally provide hyperlinks to sources. An informed reader can then decide not only on the quality of the article, but the various authors who link to it--important for their credibility the next time. And of course, in trawling such an issue, it opens up further issues that inflame a curious mind: never a bad thing. Newspapers and news organizations, although always good for generating stories, ignore this fact at their peril.

Take, for instance, the story of Haley Waldman, an eight-year-old Catholic girl whose first communion has been declared invalid by the Church because it was performed with a rice-based wafer. The priest who gave the sacrament--not her regular parish priest, who refused--did so because the girl suffers from celiac sprue disease.

Now, I came across this first at Fool's News, who linked to the CNN article above and had this to say:

According to the article, some churches allow no-gluten hosts. Others do not. [Ed: Note that the Fool does not point out that those which do are doing so against Church doctrine.]

The church has similar rules for Communion wine. For alcoholics, the church allows a substitute for wine under some circumstances, however the drink must still be fermented from grapes and contain some alcohol. Grape juice is not a valid substitute.

Talk about form over substance!!


But of course, the question here seems to be substance (the nature of the host) over form (the fact of the ceremony). Besides this, he didn't mention the fact that the girl's family was offered the sacrement through the wine only, although this is mentioned in the CNN story. Which immediately brings up the question: are the two forms of sacrament the same? And does the Church really make so little accomodation for those suffering a malady?

Well, nothing more to be discovered from the Fool. However, via Professor Bainbridge, one quickly found a Mirror of Justice posting, that in turn linked to a Moteworthy article. (Bainbridge had a simpler post up this morning, but was moved to a more substantive response by this blogger, who characterized the story as follows: "The fact that my church thinks that her God-given lot in life makes her ineligible for communion causes me to doubt whether my church has any clue about the true path to God." Certainly that's a heavy charge to lay against the Church--that it considers her ineligible for Communion. As you'll see below, it's also uninformed.)

The Moteworthy article contains a link to that most valuable of resources for the researcher: the primary source. Specifically, it points to a page from the U.S. Catholic Bishops on The Use of Mustum and Low-Gluten Hosts at Mass. This page provides a significant number of clarifying points on Church doctrine:
a) Doctrinally, it made no difference if the girl had been offered only wine: "[T]he lay faithful who are not able to receive Holy Communion at all under the species of bread, even of low-gluten hosts, may indeed receive Holy Communion under the species of wine only. The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy has earlier reminded pastors (BCL Newsletter, April-May,2000) of the right of the faithful under the law (CIC, canon 843) to receive Holy Communion, even if only the Precious Blood, and regardless of whether the Precious Blood is offered to the rest of the faithful present at a given celebration of Mass....As a final note, it is important to recall that through the doctrine of concomitance the Church teaches that under either species of bread or wine, the whole of Christ is received (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no.282; Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.1390; Council of Trent, session 21, Doctrina de communione sub utraque specie et parvulorum, 16 July 1562, chapters 1-3: Denzinger –Schonmetzer, 1725-1729). "

So much for Lex Icon's thoughts that " my church thinks that her God-given lot in life makes her ineligible for communion."

An issue of authority, as well as doctrine, was involved: The girl was not the only individual involved. "The second regulation of note regards the granting of permission for the use of low-gluten hosts and mustum by priests, deacons or the lay faithful. In his previous letter, Cardinal Ratzinger had stated that only the Holy See itself, through the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, could give permission for the lay faithful to use mustum. Permission for priests, deacons and the lay faithful to use low-gluten hosts was under the competence of the local Ordinary. However, in the July 24, 2003 letter, permission for priests, deacons or the lay faithful without distinction to use mustum or low-gluten hosts is now within the competence of the local Ordinary. The authority to permit the lay faithful to use mustum and low-gluten hosts in the reception of Holy Communion may be delegated to pastors under CIC (Codes Iuris Canonicis), canon 137.1." To translate from the liturgical to legalese, there is a process matter as well as a substantive issue here: the priest involved lacked "jurisdiction" over the matter.

(There's a few other facts in that page, including a variety of very low-gluten hosts being prepared by the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and that "Attention should be paid to medical advances in the area of celiac disease and alcoholism and encouragement given to the production of hosts with a minimal amount of gluten and of unaltered mustum." It's also worth noting that the Church's doctrine on mustum presented in this letter varies with CNN's reporting.)

This in turn opens up a whole host of questions. The Church's current doctrine on the matter seems to be stated above. However, this is based upon Cardinal Ratzinger's letter and his research. Is this simply a restatement or clarification of a pre-existing rule, or is it a new one? What were the historical, doctrinal, and theological reasons behind this rule? What is the history behind the change?

For these questions, I had to veer away from blogs, and start talking to friends. The subsequent conversations led to discussions on Thomas Aquinus, what he meant by "substance" and how that might relate to Platonic ideals, and the fact that the debate may have something to do with the ordination of women. This, in turn, led to an addition of books on my "need to read" list and a whole hour of thought distracted from Law Review.

But these are a discussion for another day. I mention this progression through the blogosphere merely because another hot item today has been an article in the New York Times criticized by that Leviathan of bloggers, Glenn Reynolds:

In fairness to Mr. Kerry, his aides were faced with a strategic dilemma that has become distressingly familiar to campaigns in this era when so much unsubstantiated or even false information can reach the public through so many different forums, be it blogs or talk-show radio.

Now, I'm not about to say that the blogosphere is full of the completely objective, always out to spin the story the in the direction of truth. Certainly it isn't: Instapundit is as right wing as Calpundit is left. But the glory of blogs from the very beginning has been not punditry but the obsessive use of hyperlinks, the deep-felt need to making your sources plain. [1] Look at either the AP article above, or the CNN article which elaborates upon it, and you'll find nothing approaching the level of detail, research, or depth that I've summarize in this post. (It's worth noting that I've done just that: summarized. This is only what I've found from others.) That lets readers judge your research in a manner that even law review articles, with their obsessive footnoting, cannot manage: the links are immediate, available, and their authority easily weighed.

The New York Times doesn't do this. The AP wire doesn't do this. Their websites do not typically link to sources and allow for speedy evaluation. And given the distortions, spin, and bias that can validly be laid at the feet of Fox News (for the right), or the New York Times (for the left), it's a bit rich for the New York Times to be complaining.

The advantage of blogs is that an authoritative post--such as Moteworthy's--is easy to see, while an off-hand bit of <ahem> "opinion" like the Fool's is also easily spotted. The Clerk's entire reputation has been based upon his citations. Because good bloggers don't tend to consider themselves authorities the way newspapers do, they're more careful--and most importantly, more open--with sources. In so doing, blogs often make it easier to learn more about an issue, more quickly, than one could possibly hope from a newspaper.

And in the end, that's the fun of reading blogs. Even if you start by reading a newspaper article, if you're really intrigued you should see who's blogging about it. In the process not only will you learn about the bias of the blogger--and the paper--but you'll probably find the primary sources the journalist used, and learn what he didn't tell you. That's the best reason of all: you read blogs, you learn something.

UPDATE: Added a link to the Congregation of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, fixed a few sentences that I wrote when tired. It seems that when writing too late at night, I can't keep tenses straight.

UPDATE II: Mildly dishonest, but I've set the time for this entry back from 2 AM on Sunday morning to 11:59 on Saturday evening. I really consider this an August 21 entry, because it was during this time that I was thinking about it. Also, for aesthetic reasons, I'd prefer it to be filed on that day. But for those who are sticklers for this kind of detail, it didn't really hit the presses until 2AM the following morning.

UPDATE III: Fixed the Lex Icon link above.

[1]: Comments tend to keep one honest in this, which is one reason I support them. Even when I've come to great disagreement with my readers as to what a term I used should mean, or why I use it, their tendency to link to primary sources has proven invaluable, and a great learning experience for me.

August 12, 2004

Can Crescat Have Comments?

Due to a momentary glitch on Jeremy Blachman's part, the eternal debate on whether Crescat Sententia, and by extension the rest of the legal blogosphere, should have comment features has once again erupted. Most of you know that I like my comment feature, and it's not going anywhere. But I'd like to add a slightly less-addressed term to the Crescat debate: can it have comments at all?

A lot of this is fairly technical blogging gibberish, but if you're a reader interested in how some of these things work on the back end of a blog, you may find it interesting.

Continue reading "Can Crescat Have Comments?" »

August 03, 2004

Apologies on The Continuum, or Why Friends Don't Let Friends Use Blogger

Readers of the Columbia Continuum will have noticed that it seems to have been taken over by the Blakely Blog. I apologize for this, and will fix it tonight: it seems that Blakely's ATOM feed has some problems in formatting that my aggregator doesn't cope well with. For instance, the feed doesn't seem to have links back to the articles.

One more reason people should move from Blogger....

July 29, 2004

The Internet

I'm on my way home to America today. Hopefully I'll be writing about this from the airport, but if not, my final story of the summer will get typed on the plane and posted on my arrival.

In the meantime, Will Baude and Jeremy Blachman have been having a good ol' time discussing how wonderful it is that blogs bring people together. I'm sceptical about this: the Internet, whatever its wonders, is just a more efficient way of making social networks work. Prior to blogging, there was email, and prior to email I used to write lengthy, hand-written, real-live paper letters. Nonetheless, meeting strange and far-flung people was always a matter of keeping ones ears open for coincidence: the internet just makes this easier.

That's not much of an opinion, really, but I wrote this in order to record what a skeptical friend of mine in England used to say about the matter: "The Internet: bringing people together by keeping them in hundreds of small rooms far apart."

July 27, 2004

New Blogs

I've just emerged from my going-away party, so I'm a bit wobbly, but there's two new blogs that I want to announce before I hit the sack.

First, there's the Blakely Blog, which is doing its damndest to track the fallout from the Blakely decision. The poor fellow's on Blogspot, but we'll see if we can't help him out soon since he's a CLS student.

At the moment he's got a slight problem. If you look at the site, the entries are coming in two columns. I strongly suspect that the problem is an extra DIV tag that's closed somewhere in his page, which closes off the MainClm column and starts putting entries in the right hand column. However, as I said, I'm just back from my going away party. After enough sake to knock out a small sumo wrestler I'm in no shape to hunt duck, wabbits... or. erm, DIV tags.

So, the Three Years of Hell Help the Helper award goes to the first fellow who spots the extra tag, or whatever else the problem may be, and either tells the Blakely Blog, leaves a comment, or tells me. Either that, or the poor blog has to wait until I'm sober. Don't do this to a man who has such a fine site.

The second blog to announce is Civil Dialogue, which has set itself up on Typepad. Two anonymous bloggers have opened up shop to foster civil blogosphere debate. Both have chosen pseudonyms--they haven't listened to my advice about anonymous blogging--and now go by the names J. Dewey and G. Syme.

How could I not give these guys some linkage? After all, one of them has taken the name of the infamous Gabriel Syme, of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday...

July 24, 2004

Never Say I Didn't Do Anything for the Democratic Left

This election cycle, the candidates are beginning to get a glimpse of what they could do with the internet, if they'd just get away from the tyranny of the television. And unfortunately, it's the Democrats who are closest to catching the Cluetrain. Dammit, Rove, why aren't you returning my calls?

Exhibit A is the John Kerry for President News Reader, a nifty little app that sits in your in tray and informs you whenever there's something new from the Kerry Blog or his left-wing mouthpieces. As if you're some obsessed teenager and he's your favorite pop star.

The internet's great strength as a technology--as a social technology, not just RSS, XML, and any other acronym you care to spout--is that it generates a sense of involvement, participation, interest. The viewer is an active participant, and with the right tools you can make him part of the team. Dean did so well because out of every ten Dean voters he'd earned a disciple, a 'Deaniac' who even now isn't quite reconciled with the square-jawed cookie-cutter from Massachusetts. (Ambimb, anyone?) That kind of--dare I say it--passion doesn't come from TV ads, even if your teeth gleam like John Edwards.

(Link from Dennis Kennedy)

Heart on Sleeve, But What A Heart...

Y'know how I don't normally say anything that personal around these parts? Well, my opposite in this area is probably Scheherezade, whose blog is pretty much a chunk of her being ripped out and served up raw on a web page. She'll get herself in trouble one of these days, but in the meantime, it's quite a ride. Take this, after a long story of her becoming a boat owner:

For me it was a quiet revelation. I never asked anyone except family or the very closest of friends for help with things like this. I'd always been uncomfortable and extremely apologetic borrowing things from neighbors, finding rides to or from the airport, or asking a friend to help me move a sofa. The casual way Meg solved our problems by recruiting advice or spare hands or tools from our circle of sailing buddies astonished me. And what amazed me even more was how much people enjoyed helping us out. They would drop by, get involved, and stay for a long time. They liked giving us advice and showing us how to handle things. They OFFERED help and I began to realize they meant it. We became closer to the whole sailing community. They were rooting for us. Somehow asking people to go out of their way for us made us more part of the group, not less.

A very worthwhile lesson. Of course, it's worth pointing out that the flipside of this is the requirement to help others when they ask, especially when they lack the knowledge, skills, or equipment that you have--and she's always proven willing to do that. One reason I always try to give a hand whenever someone's got a computer problem: I figure given the help I've received getting this far, I owe the universe a few resurrections from the Blue Screen of Death...


July 19, 2004

Quality Control

Wow. I just re-read what I wrote about climbing Fuji. Besides some pretty horrible spelling/grammar errors, it contains nothing near a coherent narrative. Any of my readers who've climbed Fuji will probably have a good idea what I'm talking about, but otherwise, where's the description, the imagery, something to give you an idea of the environment?

I'll put it down to tiredness, but I promise to do better next time: at least some useful descriptive context.

July 14, 2004

Blogger Survivor

I really like De Novo, and not just because I used to have administrative access to it. But for the next few weeks they've invited a lot of guests and are now running 'Blogger Survivor.'

May I just point out that one good reason for blogging is that it allows you to escape the drivel that is Reality TV? Jeremy, PG, Chris, Nick, why oh why?

Nonetheless, if you're the type who likes such things, click the link above and vote now. Cripes, if this takes off, I'll have to start Blogger Banzai just to mock it.

July 08, 2004

It appears that congratulations are in order

Unlearned Hand has something to say about his weekend activities. Of course, he says it in pictures, so we may need some interpretation.

Either he's making an editorial comment that even a lawyer is capable of picking out good jewelry, or he's not-so-subtly hinting that the lady said yes. Congrats, mate.

July 04, 2004

Evolving Norms of Blogging

Here's a question for the legal blogosphere. Where did these two common 'norms' of blogging come from?
1.: If you post something, you should leave it up unchanged, making additional points only with "UPDATE" comments at the end. Removing a conversation entirely is at least presumptively verboten.
2.: Editing a reader's comments in your blog should be limited to removing spam, offensive comments, and (perhaps) bad language.

I ask this because while they seem to have evolved and become general "rules" (at least within certain sections of the blogosphere), I have no idea from whence they came. Somewhere between blogging's proto-technologies (BBS systems, for instance) and the development of the current communities, the rules changed.

Continue reading "Evolving Norms of Blogging" »

July 01, 2004

Does this man ever learn?

One nice thing about blogs is that if we bloggers post something, you can hold it against us for ages. So I wonder if Justin Slaughter just has a peculiar sense of irony, or absolutely no memory. After his latest reading of the political tea leaves, he writes:

There's little I can say that hasn't been said far more eloquently by Kos, Atrios, Billmon, or Steve Gillard, but I would like to add this point -- for the CPA to change such a highly-publicized and well-known date for the handover without any notice indicates that a major attack WOULD have happened on the 30th against a high-profile target (most likely Bremer or Allawi). And since the troops are still on high-alert, it looks like the chatter has continued unabated.

Finally, Allawi's not gonna make it to Labor Day. Thats a macabre prediction, but with Iraq in chaos and the government in total chaos, its only a matter of time before an aide plots a palace coup or ingratiates himself with the insurgents.

Zaraqawi and Sadr are still out there, and they want blood.


(emphasis mine) Before any of you start picking Allawi in your friendly neighborhood deadpool, please note that Mr. Slaughter posted this one day before the deadline on his last prediction: that Tony Blair would be gone and Gordon Brown would be prime minister by July 1st.

Justin, stop, please. I mean, I'd just gotten the congratulations letter ready to send to Gordy Boy Brown when you come out and tell me I need to get ready to send condolences to Allawi's next of kin. If I've already burnt all that money on getting my inauguration party ready, I'm going to hold you responsible for any mourning costs I needlessly expend.

Ah, I shouldn't pick on Justin. I can't help it. I mean, the boys at my university's 'non-partisan' political review just set themselves up for it...

June 29, 2004

Did MoveOn.Org Sponsor the Hitler Advertisements

[Note: You're now getting the abridged version of this entry. In attempting to link to the 'digital brownshirts' speech of Al Gore's, now hosted on that fine purveyor of good political taste, MoveOn.Org, Adobe Acrobat crashed my editing window. What follows is much less ornate, but largely the same argument.

For those who don't want to read it all, the short answer: it's a bit rich for MoveOn.Org and their supporters to wax poetic on how horrible it is to tar the organization as the kind that would make a Bush/Hitler analogy when their front-page headline is a link to Al Gore calling the President's minions "'brownshirts'. [1]]

In my previous entry on the George Bush/John Kerry 'Who's misusing the holocaust' entry, I was severely taken to task by several readers for having stated that the ads were from 'from a rather infamous Moveon.org advertisement.' The counterarguments have variously raised that (a) the ad was not 'sponsored' by MoveOn.org; that (b) they withdrew the ads and 'apologized'; or that (c) they did not represent views that could be attributed to MoveOn.org sufficient to call them a 'MoveOn.org advertisement.' I have to admit, to me it's a rather unexpected avenue of defense of the organization, particularly from some, such as my friend Martin, who have sufficient marketing and internet background that they should at least recognize MoveOn's responsibility.

Had I the chance to write it over again, I'd probably change the phrasing to indicate that it was a contest entry. Nonetheless, I'm happy to stand by the original assertion, given that I knew of the contest at the time, and didn't consider it a stretch to attribute them to MoveOn. To demonstrate why, I'll illustrate the way in which I responsible for comments here at TYoH--if only to show that I hold to the same standards. In so doing, I'll also cover a couple of the peripheral issues that surround this dispute, and the subsequent Bush ad.

Were the Ads 'Move On' Ads?
Simply put, MoveOn would like to disclaim responsibility for the advertisements because:

None of these was our ad, nor did their appearance constitute endorsement or sponsorship by MoveOn.org Voter Fund. They will not appear on TV. We do not support the sentiment expressed in the two Hitler submissions. They were voted down by our members and the public, who reviewed the ads and submitted nearly 3 million critiques in the process of choosing the 15 finalist entries.

We agree that the two ads in question were in poor taste and deeply regret that they slipped through our screening process. In the future, if we publish or broadcast raw material, we will create a more effective filtering system.


Now, before I make a statement as regards to the merits of the claim above, let me make one assertion perfectly clear about TYoH:

I sponsor each and every comment made on Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil. Indeed, there's little way for me not to do so.

This is simply a matter of how the site is structured. I pay for hosting (including the annual payment to be made tomorrow), I pay for the software that I use to create it, and I pay for any residual expenses that I incur. If you're posting a comment here, it's riding on my dime. Does that mean I agree with everything on here? Given the amount of personal criticism I get from my comments, the answer is either a solid 'no,' or I'm the most self-loathing blogger ever to set up shop. Nonetheless, I sponsor them: if it weren't for me, and the money I've spent, these discussions would not be here.

Now, what goes for me goes triple for MoveOn.Org. I'm a relatively tiny website, with a law student's time and budget, and my posts try to invite a relatively open conversation from both sides of the political aisle. On the other hand, MoveOn.Org has a membership far beyond my possible grasp. They sponsored a contest with an express purpose of opposing an individual candidate. Further, they set up a website, provided thousands of MB of valuable bandwidth, and put their brand to bear behind hundreds of adverts. For this reason alone, I'd be happy to call them MoveOn.Org ads. The fact that they're part of a 'contest' does not mean that they appeared from some marketing equivalent of abiogenesis.

But Why Would MoveOn.Org Be Responsible?
In all of the discussion of this, the issues and facts have gotten fairly blurred, made ever more difficult by the fact that MoveOn.Org, Moveon's Voter Fund, and Bushin30Seconds all have different websites, with different pieces of the puzzle on them. None of it makes it entirely clear what exactly happened, so I'll give you the two relevant scenarios, both put in the light most favorable to MoveOn.

Scenario One
MoveOn.Org sets up the entire apparatus of a contest website, puts aside the bandwidth and purchases the URL. They plan, design, and put aside various amounts of funds and manpower for their contest, and promise to book SuperBowl time for the winner. (That they didn't get it is a bit irrelevant here.) After all of this, they put absolutely no screening process or editorial control on their site before the ads are made available for download. A few days later, after complaints, they take down the offending ads.

Now, if this is true, the people responsible for this campaign, all the way up the line, should have the words "INTERNET NEWBIE" tattooed on their scalp, a full copy of Godwin's Law tattooed on their ass, a dunce cap superglued to their scalp, and special laws passed to make sure none of them can get near a keyboard again. This--and I hope Martin would agree--is just dumb. Given MoveOn's size, the fervor of its adherents, and heck, just the open nature of the internet, you would have no idea what you would be spewing out from your server an hour after you launched the site. The legal ramifications would be galling, much less the publicity risks. [Update 1]

But, I hear you ask, isn't that what you do with your comments section here on TYoH? Well, sure but it's a risk I take consciously and conscientiously. This is a small-scale site, most of whose readership is either friends or other law students, on average an educated, moderate, and cautious bunch. I figure my chances of anyone posting anything that would make me lose a spectacular amount of face is low. (I'm not even a student senate candidate.) And if such were to occur, removal would be as swift as I could make it, a ban on that user as complete as technology allows, and an apology unqualified. This site is my responsibility, and you should expect nothing less. I've already banned users, or in some cases written an offended party and asked if they wanted the entry taken down or a chance to rebut it.

But I'm not a highly-funded political organization doing its utmost to unseat a President. What is allowable for me is foolish in such a situation. Indeed, both Bush's blog (which has no comments) and Kerry's blog (which requires registration) recognize this in exercising editorial control. (Come to think of it, Kerry's blog still hasn't given me a password. Go figure.) The large companies I worked with when I was in the web business all recognized this as a risk when we pushed interactive solutions at them.

This isn't brain surgery. If MoveOn were truly worried about this kind of thing, I can't believe they'd not put editorial control in place. If Kerry was so worried about such things, he'd not have hired Move On's web guru Zach Exley to manage his online campaign. The risk is just too big.

(Mr. J. responds to this argument as follows: "Umm, maybe that would be because he's a web-guru, and he's being hired to be a web-guru, while the error/lapse of judgment/naivete in the MoveOn situation was one of political savvy & strategy, not one of technical ability." This would be suitable if either (a) Exley were a techy and not a strategist, and (b) if this were a small mistake. Besides, I've been a web-guru, complete with the silly moniker 'Internet Strategist': predicting these things is the job description. Seriously, this was very basic. It almost transcends the bounds of belief that it could be a 'mistake.')

Scenario Two
Roughly the same the above, except that between submission and uploading, somehow the two entries just 'slipped through.' This is slightly more favorable to MoveOn, but only slightly. One reader (Martin, actually) suggested that they may have felt no choice--that this was a 'freedom of speech' issue. But of course, freedom of speech just means that you're not to be censored by the government, not that a publisher bears no responsibility for what he chooses to publish. You can't say, "Hey, it was a contest, freedom of speech, nothing to do with me, Guv." Especially when you're footing the bill.

The only other ways its slips through is if (a) the guidelines were inspecific enough ('nothing uncivil', for instance, and your reviewer is a kid who thinks Hitler analogies are fair play), or (b) your guidelines were thorough, but not implemented correctly. Both would be species of carelessness, but neither would absolve the fact that MoveOn put them online and distributed them. In which case, I'd say their opinions didn't reflect my own opinions: what MoveOn has done. But it wouldn't invalidate the Bush campaign's complaints--I let the genie out of the bottle. They wouldn't stop them from being my ads, just as any comment that appears here is a TYoH comment.

Would I hope that if something like that got posted on my site, I'd get a bit more slack? Sure. But on the other hand, as the debate on this site shows, I don't just flack for one side of the fence, my comments (or 'contests' if I ever had them) have room for both sides, and I'm willing to keep things civil. I like to think I've earned that deference. MoveOn, as one can see below, doesn't exactly have that right.

So Why Does This Say Anything About Kerry, Or MoveOn.Org?
So now someone is undoubtedly saying, "Wait, Tony, that doesn't sound right. You're defending someone calling someone else Hitler?" Well, no. However, I think that if a candidate makes an ad saying, "Some of those who support my opponent--people from whom he receives aid, support, and succor--compare me to Hitler," that's a whole different ballgame. Especially if some of them do. But of course, MoveOn.Org would never support such a thing--not on 'non-contest' pages, would it?

Erm... well. Let's take today's top headline off MoveOn.Org: "Al Gore: The Bush Administration is Destroying Democracy." This highly temperate, always civil speech was given to the American Constitution Society, recently host to Justice Calabresi's Hitler/Bush 'complex legal argument.' And right in the prepared remarks PDF, what does one find but:

The administration works closely with a network of rapid-response digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for undermining support for our troops.

(emphasis mine) Now, if your front-page headline calls followers of your opposition candidate 'brownshirts,' it's a little rich to complain that you believe comparisons to WWII dictators are beyond the pale. I mean, who did the brownshirts work for?

Most certainly Kerry could probably populate a similar ad, full of references comparing various Democrats, if not Kerry himself, to Hitler. And if he did, I'd say the same thing of him: he's probably right in saying that some do, and it would be a negative ad of stunningly bad tactical strategy. But it's not the same thing as making the original comparison--or publishing it under a 'contest.'

Was the Bush campaign disingenuous in failing to mention that MoveOn.Org pulled the ad mentioned? Hell yes. Was MoveOn.Org less than forthright in its protestations of innocence and 'apology?' Well, let's just say that I would have considered good manners to suggest an actual apology to Bush for making the comparison, were it felt so heinous I pulled the ad. And if the above two weren't telling the whole truth, well, what can we say about John Kerry's fundraising letter, which fails to mention any relationship between those images an MoveOn.Org at all? Certainly no party in this dispute is being a paragon of clarity. That, unfortunately, is politics today, and largely what I write my Ridiculous Bipartisanship about. But you can't have it both ways: if you're mad at the Bush campaign, the others are using the same playbook.

But can MoveOn disclaim responsibility for the ads? Hardly. Were it not for MoveOn, they would not have gotten the bandwidth they did, the audience they did, or the popularity they did. Everything here on TYoH is sponsored by me, unless you're paying me for ad space. I just don't see why anyone would excuse MoveOn.

[1]: And for those who object to me calling Bush's staff or helpers 'minions,' please remember that here at TYoH, the term is used with much fondness...

UPDATE 1: If you really need an example of the legal risks, think of the size of the site, its multi-state and multi-national readership, and what happens if someone uploads child porn. I'm certainly not expert enough to know for sure, but I know that I wouldn't take that kind of risk.

June 24, 2004

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

Will Baude writes:

As of now (11:44 EST) The Volokh Conspiracy has its first post up with comments enabled (Eugene Volokh's anti-comments comments notwithstanding). This sort of guff from guest-bloggers is very unfortunate. I never even got the comments template set up over here on Crescat, so even when I tried to give in to pressure it didn't work.

(links omitted)
Y'know, there's a little sign at the bottom of Crescat giving me a thank you for helping them when they have teething troubles. All he really had to do was give me Admin privleges when I was guest-blogging a bit ago...

June 21, 2004

Oh, and speaking of Rising 1Ls

I'm over here in Japan, so a lot of my blogging is done remotely: typed into text files and then uploaded quickly to avoid charges in kisaten. So I'm not real up on the latest and greatest out there in the blogosphere.

If you've started a 1L blog, especially a 1L Columbia blog, please mail me, and I'll work on putting a link up. Same rules as always apply, though: preference is given to those with working RSS feeds. (And if you're a Columbia student, tell me if you want to be added to the Columbia Continuum.)

June 16, 2004

Self-Censorship

Heidi Bond mentions why she's self-censoring more these days:

I used to post more about my professors. Last semester, I said very very little about them. No making fun of them. No talking about the ones I liked. In fact, class sort of disappeared from my discussions here. Mostly. I don't know who else reads my blog, really.

This self-consciousness has also included my discussions about work. I haven't even mentioned what city I'm in because I don't want to say something that might be misconstrued. I don't talk much about work, and what I will say is the barest version of what I could say.


I have to admit to sharing her consternation at the moment. There's so much that I'd like to say about work, but I don't blog anonymously, and even if I did, I'm not certain about the ethical rules with regards to such. I actually did post the slightest bit about my work yesterday--mentioning no clients, projects, or anything--and then struck it down, figuring it wasn't worth the risk.

As I've mentioned before, there's a lot of risks to blogging anonymously. And since that post proved very useful to a number of people over the year, I'd recommend that the rising 1L bloggers out there take a look. You may disagree, but it's worth considering how your blog will frame you.

There's risks to blogging under your own name, too, simply because you've put yourself out there with opinions. Although I think I was justified in doing so, writing about my recent Con Law disaster broke one of my time-honored rules: say nothing bad about a professor. When I posted, I was worried about that, and the fact that I'm certain a few of my interviewers in August will have read this blog.

But in the end, writing and publishing is a labour of love, and I'm not about to give it up. With any luck as many people will be charmed by my descriptions of travel as put off by the politics.

In the meantime, I think Heidi has a great opportunity, if she really felt like grasping it by the horns. Since she won't tell us what city she's working in, I think she should start describing her home as The City. Given her flair for writing, we could soon have the first noir law student blog on our hands.

June 09, 2004

A slight digression

As I've been invited, I'm blogging today over at Crescat. I'll return here in the next few days, so stay tuned.

(Not much blogging anyway until I find a good free wireless hotspot.)

May 29, 2004

Not entirely documented feature of MT-Blacklist

Some of my fellow MT bloggers with comments may have gotten a lot of spam from a particular email address: hrie@yahoo.com. I'll leave out the vile invectives, all deserved, that others have heaped upon his sorry head, and merely point out that "Hrie"'s annoyance is his habit of shifting IP addresses, thus making him more difficult to block.

Except that, having tested it, MT-Blacklist has a "semi-documented" feature. (The author mentions it in a comment I found, but I didn't see it in the manual.) Basically, you can add email addresses to your blacklist. Since Hrie seems content to keep the same email address, it works a treat.

To some, this was probably obvious, but hey, some of my readers aren't tech types. Hope it helps!

May 20, 2004

Someone explain this to me?

Whilst procrastinating--do I do anything else these days?--I happened upon volokh.blogspot.com, a site run by a search engine optimisation firm. Its content seems a bit odd, and I don't have time to figure out what it's doing.

I suppose it could be run by a Volokh who doesn't belong to the Conspiracy, but I'm not entirely convinced. Then again, I can't figure out why an SEO optimizer would do this--would merely owning http://volokh.blogspot.com give someone juice for anything except the name Volokh? And if not--with due respect to the Volokh clan--why would someone want it?

Honest questions, and if my more expert friends (that means you, Steve and Martin) had any ideas, I'm all ears. After 1PM tomorrow, that is.

UPDATE: OK, figured it out very quickly. The Conspiracy used to blog at Blogspot, and this guy's taken the place over in order to get a free PR6, very useful if you're into Search Engine Optimization. See all the folks who still link to that site. Do me a favor--if one of these is you, change the link and teach this joker a lesson. Mr. Glenn Reynolds, that means you. (Yeah, like he reads my site.)

UPDATE II: An astute reader points out that unless I want to give these guys my own Google juice, I should take the link off of my own entry. A very embarassed TYoH apologizes for the idiotic oversight and will return to my write-on now.

UPDATE III: I'm well-impressed by Mr. Reynolds, however. Within the space of an hour, he's updated the link.

May 19, 2004

Strange Google Effects

Here's one for my readers who like to watch Google. As I mentioned in the comments to a post on Massachusetts gay marriage, one of the reasons for using the term 'kritarchy' (rule by judges) in the title was because it's a fairly uncontested word, and I wanted to see how Google's search engine would respond to a use in the title on this blog. (Sure, also a good term in and of itself, and played off the idea of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but occasionally good ideas have multiple purposes.) As of day two, something a little strange seems to have happened.

Continue reading "Strange Google Effects" »

April 30, 2004

Admit it, folks, I'm right.

Some folks disagree with me. Some folks disagree with me a lot. Some folks disagree with me on almost everything. So when searching through my referrer logs, I like to find people who may hold differing views. The following person, however, seems to disagree with almost everyone. They found me by searching for:

admit it: you are Paris Hilton

I think any of my readers, all of my classmates, and hopefully anyone who knows me slightly will join together in agreeing that I am not, indeed, Ms. Paris Hilton. Nor are you going to find much of interest here about artistic breasts, and I can claim no expertise with regards to gay slave and master contracts.

However, the four people who have found this site searching for John Kerry Sex Tape must know something I don't.

April 23, 2004

More Google Pagerank Musings

Just a few musings about PageRank before I break for the day. It's been a good day's work, so I figure I've got a right to talk a little bull.

Continue reading "More Google Pagerank Musings" »

April 17, 2004

Two Blogging Points

A couple of thoughts and annoyances on blogging. Sorry for the self-referentialism.

Page Rank 6: For a while, my site had a PR6 on Google. Then they changed their policies, largely wisely, and I fell back down to PR5. These days, I don't know of a single individual law student blog that has a page rank consistently higher than five: Serious Law Student, Letters of Marque, Ambimb, Sua Sponte, Wings and Vodka, and even the oft-linked Jeremy Blachman have all sat solidly with me at PR5. (The sole exception, Katherine's Not for Sheep, hovers between PR5 and PR6, but is mostly PR5. I'm trying to differentiate between her link patterns and everyone elses, since this is the only observable exception to otherwise similar sites.)

Meanwhile, group blogs like De Novo, Crescat Sententia, or law professors' blogs like Professor Bainbridge or Professor Solum have PR6s. The first makes sense: the group blogs are more active and have many more inbound links as a result. Law professor's substantive posts get more inbounds as well. The combination--law profs and group blogs--seems even more powerful, given the success of the Conspiracy. So either I need to become a law prof or clone myself, I guess.

It's not really important, but I'd like to get my PR6 back. It makes it that much easier to conduct small side experiments when I want to know how Google works on some esoteric point. Of course, that involves getting my head above the parapets for a while, putting my mind to writing some truly interesting stuff, and getting links from some of the big-boys. Probably more work than it's worth in exam season.

Annoyances with ATOM: I don't read sites like Lawdork, Shetai, Wings and Vodka, or indeed Prof. Crimlaw's Punishment Theory Blog as much as I'd like. For reasons of time, I generally restrict myself to what's on my blogroll at right and what's on the Continuum. Which means, essentially, sites that have RSS functioning.

So why did BlogSpot have to implement ATOM instead of nice, standard RSS? This would have solved my problem nicely.

April 15, 2004

Change of Allegiance II

Some of you may remember that a while back I decided to use Barnes and Noble for my book links instead of Amazon.com, because I was annoyed with Amazon's disclosure of its own-site purchase policy.

Well, today I'm rescinding that, just because the annoyance has now outweighed the importance of the principle. Barnes and Noble works well for some things, it delivers to New York faster, and has a better range and reliability of textbooks. But its user interface is worse, the prices are generally higher, and most importantly, they have fewer cover images for their books. On the other hand, Amazon's web services still crash the site much of the time.

So from here on in, I'm using whicher I feel is more useful to myself or my readers. For instance, here's a book that was mentioned in my Crim Law class today, which I'll probably get from the library here. The Mask of Sanity discusses the psycopathic personality, a topic in our class today. I've used the Barnes and Noble link for this because they have it in stock and have a cover image.

On the other hand, I've used Amazon to highlight the latest bit of relaxation I've done, an anime series titled Serial Experiments Lain. Kim's Video may not have the greatest collection of Japanese movies--and I've pretty much exhausted it--but they do have a strong selection of anime. If you were disappointed by the fact that The Matrix Trilogy had great effects but didn't say anything very interesting about the relationship between a real and virtual reality, this might be the series for you. It's short, eclectic, doesn't answer all the questions it raises, but certainly provides food for thought. If you're trying to practice your Japanese, it's pretty good because (a) it doesn't have a lot of slang, but (b) the language is pretty complex and challenging, especially if you don't cheat and turn on the subtitles.

The Mask of Sanity

April 09, 2004

Google Agrees With You

I just looked at my search engine referrers for last week. For once, the top result isn't "Paris Hilton." Bad news: the top referrer is now "crazy."

Didn't you always know?

April 06, 2004

Dog Bites Air, Misses Man

Apparently while I was gone, much of the blogosphere has been decrying events at DailyKos, where it was written:

That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.

I hate to take on both Instapundit and Prof. Volokh, but I really don't see why so much digital-ink has been spilled excoriating Kos. As a political blogger, he is thorough and a useful source of links to raw data, but his commentary as never been much more than histrionic vitriol. Sure, he's gloating over the deaths of some human beings and the desecration of their bodies, but a quick glance through his subsequent commentary shows that he knows himself that he's not always discreet, and that it hurts him. In the meantime, he's feeding his core audience: people who not only are liberals, but quite literally hate their opposition.

So why the shock and awe that his political and ethical indiscretions now reach aesthetically distasteful proportions by revelling in the deaths of human beings? This isn't even 'dog bites man' stuff. Instapundit's headline "LEFTY BLOGGER KOS DOES HIMSELF NO CREDIT" is about as surprising as "THREE YEARS OF HELL REVEALS ITS CONSERVATIVE SLANT--AUTHOR DECLARES HE MIGHT VOTE FOR BUSH."

DailyKos isn't on my reading list for the same reason that I don't take Rush Limbaugh very seriously--though Rush has a better sense of humor and in the old days could laugh at himself. A crowd of people whose politics are driven by hatred, no matter how smart they are, are simply unedifying to mind or soul. The last time I said this I took a great deal of flack, but it holds true. If you want left-wing news, there's better places to look than those who dismiss their opponents by assuming a lack of intelligence, or are blinded by passionate fervors.

March 29, 2004

Google Trickery and Other Acts of Search Engine Optimization

Will Baude at Crescat Sententia laments that the site is only the ninth entry in Google for university of chicago blog. I confess to being quite surprised, given that everyone and their dog links to the site and it's got a page rank of 5. (That's the same as this site, and as you might notice, Serious Law Student and I duke it out for the top spot for Columbia Law Student Blog most days.)

Being the ever-helpful fellow that I am, and in the process of trying to solve a small query with regards to Crescat's trackback feature anyway, it seemed a good time to list some basic search engine optimisation advice. This is nothing but the basics, but maybe some fellow bloggers would find this kind of thing helpful:

1. Target search terms in your TITLE tag: Pages are generally more authoritative for terms found in their TITLE tags. Crescat's tags, for instance, say only "Crescat Sententia." If they want to own the term "University of Chicago Blog," then changing their title tag to include those terms would help greatly. For instance, my site's title tags now say "A Columbia Law Student Blog - Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil." Because everyone links to me with either my name or the words "Three Years of Hell," I pretty much own those terms whatever is done with the TITLE. It was only after I changed the tags, though, that I was anywhere near competitive for terms involving Columbia.

2. Include metatags: Google doesn't give metatags a lot of weight, but it's one of the few areas where you can really help yourself out in search engines. And Google does occasional actually use the description metatag to describe what a page does, so using them can be quite effective. When you write your description and keywords, you should make sure to target the terms that you want search engines to associate with you, even if it makes the wording a bit stilted. For instance, for this site I use:

<META content="Columbia Law School, Law, Law School, JD, Applying to Law School, First Year, Law School Experience, Three Years of Hell, Becoming a Lawyer, Anthony Rickey, 1L, First Year, law student, new york, legal"
name=keywords>
<META content="Anthony Rickey, a Columbia Law School student describes application, preparation, and survival of a JD degree." name=description>

3. Measure: Google changes its rankings quite often, and if you really want to be on top, it pays to pay attention every so often. As you can see in the sidebar, I use the Googlerank plug in to do this, but just searching Google for the terms you care about every now and then works as well. If you like to do things manually.

I should get back to my Con Law reading. With any luck, someone finds this helpful...

March 25, 2004

Writer's Block

You know, one of the hideous things about blogging is that occasionally I get writer's block. I feel guilty, because I know there's people who drop by for a daily dose of whatever, and are disappointed to find only a banal comment or two.

Lately the writer's block has been worse than bizarre. I've made mental notes to write things down in the shower, in bed, while walking to class. But then I'm faced with the blank page, and those ideas have scurried away faster than yesterday's classroom mouse.

Every minute that I spend writing something here is a minute that I'm not spending organizing the mess of my finances, or clearing out the mountain of dirty laundry, or starting to work on revision. I think that's aggravating my trouble.

March 24, 2004

Yin's Back!

Professor Yin has made the jump from Blog City to Typepad. His feeds won't break my blogroll anymore, so I've added him back.

Welcome back, Prof. Yin!

March 17, 2004

Blog City is really annoying me now...

Blog-City's RSS feeds have been doing stranger and stranger things lately. Finally they've made it impossible for Moveabletype to update my blog successfully, because the server would timeout trying to process the feed. This also meant that when users tried to comment, they'd receive an error message.

So, regretfully, I've had to pull Professor Yin and the Punishment Theory Blog from my feeds list. Please be assured that they'll return as soon as BC gets its technical act together, or I can find a workaround.

March 16, 2004

Wow, I've been avoiding work, haven't I?

Hmm... it seems like I'd better stop browsing the web--I can do that during term-time, and right now I need to study. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a site full of head-tripping flash animations and some John Kerry Doonesburies from the 1970s courtesy of my friend Martin Lloyd over at Monograph.

March 15, 2004

Continuum Conundrums

I have no idea what's happening over at Blog City, but their RSS feeds are doing the loopiest things. Every hour I get a Cron Daemon report telling me that one or another of the Blog City feeds has failed. Indeed, the Daemon has become my hourly correspondent, but there's no rhyme or reason to which one fails, and they all check out if you test them manually. Prof. Yin and the Punishment Theory Blog, on my sidebar, both have hiccuping feeds.

(Meanwhile, both Dr. Solum and the Volokh's feeds in the right bar are out of date--but that I can't blame on Blog City.)

But worse, for reasons completely inexplicable to me, Serious Law Student's RSS feed now claims to be written by "Jason Bell - Java Development." Now, while SLS blogs anonymously, I know for a fact that her name isn't Jason Bell, and if she's a Java developer, she's kept the fact well-hidden from me. No, I think it's safe to say this is a mistake, and one made on the back end as Blog City goes through upgrade woes. But since most blog-owners don't check their own feeds regularly, this is the kind of mistake that owners are unlikely to catch, and quite unfortunate.

What's going on over there?

March 14, 2004

Subject to Summary Judgment

Since Mr. Blachman has already announced it, the successor to the group-blog En Banc, De Novo, is launching at midnight tonight.

March 09, 2004

More Watchful of Exams

Thanks to my Moot Court partner, Exam Watch has now been upgraded. Instead of me having to manually post when an exam is done, it now recognizes that an event has occurred in the past and marks it done.

Many thanks to her!

March 03, 2004

Continuity Glitch

Because The Columbia Continuum is a crazy mishmash of my own code, a program called Rawdog, spit and toothpolish, it's not really good at error handling, changing traffic conditions, sudden alterations in the space-time continuum, or whatever passes for a bug infestation out on the web.

Meanwhile, a large number of my CLS bloggers use Blog-City, which is apparently undergoing some upgrades, hiccuping its RSS feeds, and otherwise making life for aggregator programs an unremitting misery. So for the next few days, you may find that the Continuum isn't updated quite properly, or that posts get repeated. Sorry, there's not much I can do about it.

February 27, 2004

Sorry for the interruption...

For a few hours today, TYoH was down, for reasons that I don't entirely understand. About half of my site index was just deleted.

Could be some very odd hacking, could just be Moveabletype throwing a wobbly. But in any event, you have my apologies. If you see anything strange on the site in the next few days, please tell me.

February 26, 2004

Creative

Remember when I was saying I just couldn't get good-quality creative stuff to come out of my brain? My classmate has just set the bar I was talking about. This is the kind of thing that I wish were coming to mind.

February 22, 2004

Sorry for the Silence

I know, I haven't updated in a while. This is largely because my weekend has been spent reinstalling every bit of software on my computer, simply because I've stressed Windows XP beyond its capacity. (Given the amount I abuse my computer, I don't think you can blame this on Gates.) Well, that and with a hangover after an enjoyable evening at a Ball. Wow, was that a lot like prom...

Anyway, I'll give you a link to the Rumsfeld Fighting Techniques site (hat tip to my brother for the link), to keep you amused while I get all my data downloaded from my backups, and reinstall office XP. Deep thoughts to follow, but for now, dear reader, you have to make do with apologies.

February 10, 2004

Deciding to Do Something About Google

I spent some time today looking at Google, and decided that it's pretty embarassing that as an ex-web professional, my site should perform this badly on the master of all search engines.

Therefore, I've implemented the MTGoogleRank plugin, courtesy of John's Jottings. You can see this at the bottom of the sidebar. For the moment, those are the three search terms I'm most interested in. With any luck, I should be able to improve my dismal ranking for 'columbia law student blog.'

You know, I wonder why I bother practicing this skill, since my odds of using it as a lawyer are pretty low. Some things are just labors of love.

February 04, 2004

Please Welcome

Please welcome Josh to the list of CLS bloggers now included in The Continuum. He was even kind enough to generate a custom CGI script to generate his new RSS feed, because Livejournal doesn't allow you to limit the length of your description tags.

As always when I add a new blog to the Continuum, his initial set of links all show up at once. Not much I can do about this, unfortunately.

February 02, 2004

Goodbye, Mr. Wolfson (or, How Not to Let the Turkeys Get Your Down)

Sadly, it seems that Adam Wolfson has given up the ghost. That is, Cicero's Ghost, which is no more. It seems that after Adam posted an entry about him getting a summer job, several anonymous authors took it upon themselves to call him an ass, a braggart, and probably some less savory things.

To a great degree, thus is life online. There's already been discussion of this at En Banc, and Heidi excoriates the 'Little Green Anonymous Monsters' as well as I ever could. [1] But for all that, the problem is not going to disappear. Critics, and especially anonymous critics, peppered WWIV bulletin boards and NNTP, and they're not about to disappear from the web anytime soon. So I'd like to offer a practical guide for some of my fellow law school bloggers, from someone who's skinned a few trolls [2] and has a few flamewars under his belt:

1. Use the Delete key: I don't know where the idea became popular, but some bloggers believe that because we open up our comments sections to the public, anyone has the right to say anything they wish on our site, and that not allowing them violates some ethic of free speech. To which I urge you to answer: bollocks. You're the proprietor of your site, and if someone is being abusive, mean, or otherwise distasteful, there's no harm in using the delete key. If the person is persistent, you can use IP banning or .htaccess (assuming your system allows this) to make it even more difficult for them to post.

Just like a barman can ban disruptive patrons, there's no reason for you to let someone else make your life miserable. So long as you're blogging for fun, no one should get to take that away.

2. Invite a Buddy on a Troll Hunt: Out in the deep, dark forests of the internet, it always helps to have friends. When some anonymous critter decides to start having a go in your comments section, it's a perfect time to send that friend an email inviting them to go troll hunting. Tell them that someone's being ridiculous, and give them carte blanche to let that person have it with both rhetorical barrels. You get some of your best comments that way.

For instance, my frequent readers will be familiar with Martin, an old friend and co-worker of mine who is easily as far to the left as I am to the right. Whatever our political views, he's usually quite civil. But I take a lot of comfort in the fact that I can wake up in the morning, find that someone's been an idiot, and there'll be Martin saying something like, "Would X's mother please take his crayons away from him?" Priceless.

3. Use it as a moment of self-reflection: There are mean, spiteful, cruel people in the world, and the truly horrible thing about them is that sometimes they're right. One thing to consider whenever you receive hurtful criticism is whether, in the midst of the vitriol, there's a grain of truth. For instance, earlier this week, Carey decided to post his grades in his blog. He got a lot of flack for it.

Now, I most explicitly don't condone anyone who sent hate mail to Carey. That being said, I'm not sure what he did was right, and it probably made some people feel pretty badly, since he was disappointed with a GPA which was, frankly, pretty damn good. (Congrats, by the way, Carey.) The very forcefulness of the language thrown back at him may have made him stop, think a bit, and reconsider. Knowing him, he probably didn't change his mind (and I'm not certain he should have), but those moments of injured reflection sometimes make us better people. And the rest of the time, we can be satisfied that our subsequent fury with such trolls is rightfully ours.

I've written a lot of things on here that I've later regretted, and I've said some things online I wish I could take back. A lot of what prompted me to rethink what I say and how I say things was spurred on by quite vehement reactions from readers that shocked me and made me rethink my position. It would be nice if the people who pointed these things out to us were always nice people, but the world doesn't seem to provide every Emperor with a kind little girl to show him that he has no clothes.

4. Consider the source: In contrast to the advice above, if you get a particularly hurtful commentator who doesn't add much to your thoughts but does hit you pretty hard, consider this: there's a reason they call cheap shots cheap. If you've enabled anonymous posting, then many of your commentators will have precisely nothing to lose by cutting you down, and they'll think they've got everything to gain.

Well, look at it this way: they're reading you, aren't they? You're not reading them. You didn't come to some work of theirs, prostrate yourself before them, and beg for mercy from their wit and intelligence. Most of the time, they don't have the backbone to give themselves a name. They're trying to make themselves feel big, but they can only do it by slicing at the kneecaps of people bigger than they are.

Or to put it another way, 'a man can be judged by the caliber of his enemies.' I consider to be an enemy to be someone inimical to my interests who has the power to change what I can or wish to do. So really, it's just a matter of asking yourself if this person is worth accepting as an enemy. Does he add to your caliber? I mean, if Eugene Volokh or Larry Solum were to show up in my blog and call me an idiot, it would be worth engaging. Even if I lost, the game would be worth the risk. But an anonymous poster leaving the single message, "That was pretty idiotic?" Not worth calling an enemy, really, is he?

Anyway, that's my four point suggestion for living with the fact that trolls will never really be eliminated from the Blogospheric ecosystem. As always, constructive commentary and further advice is appreciated.

[1]: Quoth Heidi: "So learn to be constructive now. It'll save you a Harley and a wooden love affair in thirty years."

[2]: I don't know if it's still current parlance, but 'troll' used to refer to someone who roamed about USENET boards looking to get into fights and disrupt things.

January 29, 2004

Virus as an 'Art Form'

Nick at En Banc is cheering the recent MyDoom virus, claiming that "[c]omputer virus design is the great under-recognized art form of the early information age." Let me respectfully dissent. Virus design is the overhyped destructive art criticism of the early information age.

Software design can be an art form, as anyone who's ever seen a few lines of particularly elegant code will appreciate. (Take a look at the source for this page for an obvious counterexample.) Good software gets every level of what it does correct: the code is commented and readable, the design is fit for the purpose the user requires, and as much as possible it fits the user's preconceived notions of how the program should work. Mediocre software is easy, but well-designed software shows signs of love.

Viruses, however, don't build. They don't serve a function for a user, they don't expand the functionality of other software--indeed, they do nothing for anyone. Instead, they exploit 'weaknesses' in software that already exists. Many of these weaknesses form the backbone of functions that are quite useful or artful in and of themselves. (Some of Microsoft's biggest security holes have been engendered by attempts to make sharing of information easier between non-technical users.) And because developers have to secure their software against anti-social jerks a few steps above script kiddies, the cost to build the real pieces of art rises.

MyDoom in particular isn't art but art criticism. If it has a statement or says anything at all, it's that (a) anyone using MSOutlook deserves to be preyed upon for not having sufficient security, and (b) SCO (the firm that is the target of the worm's denial of service attack) is evil. The first is an act of immature arrogance: "You aren't a Linux fanatic like me, so you deserve what you get." The second is what Nick calls "mob justice," though it's orchestrated by a mob of one, appropriating the time and services of millions of unconsenting users.

Such things shouldn't be dignified with the title 'art form.' Destroying the artwork of others (particularly, as MyDoom does, in order to make a political point against a party you disagree with) isn't art, it's vandalism, theft, and in the case of viruses that cause data loss, destruction. It leads to the expenses that vandalism brings to the real world: bars on windows, steel shutters on stores to make sure they don't get covered with graffiti. These viruses aren't particularly clever, they're parasitic upon the talents of others, and are acts of such moral bankruptcy that they deserve nothing approaching the compliment of 'art.'

January 27, 2004

Strange Google Update

For those who care about such things, a brief discussion of Google's latest update, and how it's affected the blogs I read.

Continue reading "Strange Google Update" »

January 26, 2004

New Book Link Feature

In another of my small efforts and cleanup (and procrastination from Con Law reading) I've straightened out my book list. It now appears in a drop-down at the top, instead of in the sidebar.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I'm now linking to Barnes and Nobles instead of Amazon wherever possible, because their operating agreements are more straightforward. Just to make explicit what I implied in my earlier article, it's not Amazon's legal position (which is probably unimpeachable) that prompted the decision. Rather, I feel betrayed by the brand. Back when I was in web design, Amazon was always held up as a paragon of how one does business online: clear, straightforward, easy to use. It's a violation of everything I expected from them to find out that the most frequently asked question of Amazon associates (can I buy from my own store?) is not in the FAQ where it belongs, but buried in an Operating Agreement.

Ah well. I'm certain they won't miss the trivial amount of money they made from me, but it makes me feel better. That's the lovely thing about the market. And further, my Manhattan readers will be pleased to note that Barnes and Noble delivers faster here in Manhattan.

January 25, 2004

Cronjob Errors

Right, with any luck, the Columbia Continuum is up and running, though it's ugly as sin right now and needs to be beat about the head with some serious CSS work.

Since a technical hitch cost me two bloody hours last night, I'm going to put the details here, but don't read 'em if it's not your thing. (I need a new entry to make sure that the update function is working.) Thanks to Adam Sampson (author of Rawdog) for helping a newbie well beyond the call of duty.

Continue reading "Cronjob Errors" »

January 24, 2004

New Feature Coming Soon

As Serious Law Student has pointed out, there's now quite a few of us Columbia bloggers, most of us using MoveableType or Blog-City. Combine this with the fact that Blogger might finally be implementing RSS feeds, and some exciting things can happen.

So my new development project is The Columbia Continuum. What I've done is aggregated the RSS feeds of every Columbia blogger that I know so that, once an hour, you can see the latest and greatest links from our students. Don't let the poor formatting fool you: given a few days it'll look like the rest of everything on here. (Note that this is currently in an unstable dev state... check back if you don't see anything useful.)

I'm going to include all the CLS blogs I know of. If you know of any others, would like your blog to be included (or even excluded), just mail me.

January 23, 2004

Democrats, the Filibuster, and Theft

Not often can I say that I've scooped my local CLS blog-rival, the so-left-we-don't-blog-on-the-right-of-your-browser Filibuster. They've decided that the 'scoop of the year' must be this Boston Globe piece on how Republican's 'infiltrated' 'secret' files.

Of course, readers of this site will have been alerted quite a while ago that the 'hacking' consisted of nothing more than Democrats leaving their files on servers that hadn't been secured. By any reasonable definition of 'hacking' or 'intrusion' (and I'm sure my lefty-but-fair techie-blogger Len will back me up on this), taking a file from a folder you've been given access to just doesn't cut it. Furthermore, everyone agrees that the mistake was made because the Democrats hired their own technical consultants to revise the way the committee's computers worked, and those consultants screwed the pooch. [1]

This makes one ponder at the opening paragraph of the Boston Globe article:

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

You see, 'secret' here means 'put in a folder where anyone on the committee can see them, and not labelled secret anywhere thereon' and 'infiltrated' means 'opening up the shared folder of your workgroup' (which some of you might think of as your G: drive if you're at Columbia).

Of course, the Filibuster mentions the story twice, and claim that the GOP 'stole' these documents. Since the Filibuster and the Columbia Political Union are part of my university, I'm going to throw down that gauntlet: find me a statute, make me a case, and given a decent grasp of the technical competencies involved show me how this is theft. (Note that the Globe either had fewer cajones or more caution than to call this activity 'stealing.')

Update: The Boston Globe continues its coverage, pointing to the Committee for Justice's fact sheet arguing no rules were broken. I'm not sure I buy that: there may very well have been some ethical rules broken. But if so, theft seems pretty extreme.

[1] Full disclosure: I received every bit of my formal training in how to be a Systems Administrator from the U.S. Senate. If the mistake is what the papers have said it was, this was a basic error. No one who received Senate training should have made this mistake.

January 20, 2004

The Strangeness of Google

[Sparked by an entry at Stay of Execution. If you've got any knowledge of the Google phenomena below, I'd appreciate it.]

Every so often, I do a 'strange search terms' entry, which highlights Google searches in which I'm a particularly high result, despite the fact that I really don't write on that subject. Whilst this is funny, it's also a result of my interest in search engines that goes back to when I used to (with the help of some very good researchers) do this professionally.

Right at the moment, I can't help but think that Google is giving more authority to bloggers than perhaps we deserve, and that other search engines or services that aren't as 'fine-tuned' may be even more deceived. There's no scientific basis for this theory--though if one of the experts I mention above can provide one, I'd be very interested. However, the ease with which I get references to uncommon terms, or even common ones such as 'Paris Hilton,' leads me to think that I now possess an authority greater than I warrant. Just gut feelings, but this is what I've noticed recently:

Continue reading "The Strangeness of Google" »

January 12, 2004

Return of the Strange Search Terms

In my break between ConLaw reading and Perspectives reading, I figured I'd pause to give you the latest strange Google paths by which intrepid, and probably confused, websurfers have found this site. As always, my commentary is left for the searchers, if they're still around.

  • I'll start by pointing out that due to my single Paris Hilton post, I've gotten the statistical majority of my Google hits. Not the statistical majority of my Google hits since last month, mind you, but the majority of all hits since the inception of the blog. Ms. Hilton, besides starring on horrible TV shows, is wreaking havok on my statistical sensibilities. It really gives you a sense of how, even if you're a moderately sized blawger, the porn universe is just so much bigger.
    Best searches include 'paris hilton video download', 'free paris hilton video,' 'admit it: you two are paris hilton,' and my all-time favorite, 'paris hilton karl rove,' 'paris hilton videotape having sex with the devil.'
  • Runner up: 'Who the hell is paris hilton.' Ignorance is truly bliss.
  • famous crazy people: this guy might have found what he was looking for, at least if he checked this out during exams.
  • Anne Coulter resume: Because, you know, I'm hiring...
  • Howard Dean god: it's his next step after he's gotten the presidency...
  • two years in hell to become devil: They're going to do it a year faster than me???
  • law misery depression: Well, someone was searching during exams...
  • British lapel sign of Iraq: Got me
  • What's Hell Like: Check back during this term's exams...
  • young female single professional blog: Check out Stay of Execution
  • Kill Limbaugh: Ooooh boy...
  • feminism lilo and stitch: Please tell me there's not a feminist interpretation of that lousy film...
  • have wild sex with the devil paris hilton: let the theologians among you ponder where to put the commas in that statement
  • become an assassin: a course not likely to be taught at Columbia Law School
  • history behind kissing cousins: no one admit to this one, OK?
  • it feels like I wasted my high school years: You and me both, mate...
  • solution to segregation in New York City: some people expect a lot from this blog
  • coffee bar construction materials
  • beautiful teacher in torture hell: someone's been watching the wrong kind of Japanese videos...
  • My most flattering non-Paris-Hilton sex entries: clever sex and where to find sex in New York City
  • And finally, the least complimentary search term: how to become an idiot

    Ah well, if the shoe fits...

January 09, 2004

Too Busy

I always thought vacations were supposed to be restful. At least the tail-end of this one isn't. Between reading for classes, getting my resumes out the door, sweating about exam results (two in--more on that later), helping friends move apartments, and the various other check boxes feverishly multiplying on my task list, I've barely had time for my computer. Which, by the way, needs a complete rebuild.

Which makes it surprising that this week I'm guest-blogging occasionally over at Crestcat Sententia. How do I get myself into these commitments?

December 31, 2003

Change of Allegiance

As I've mentioned over at En Banc, I'm a bit wary about have associates links on this site anyway. However, one visitor to the site pointed out a bit of Amazon.com's Operating Agreement that I hadn't noticed:

You may not purchase products during sessions initiated through the links on your site for your own use, for resale or commercial use of any kind. This includes orders for customers or on behalf of customers or orders for products to be used by you or your friends, relatives, or associates in any manner. Such purchases may result (in our sole discretion) in the withholding of referral fees or the termination of this Agreement.

Now, I have two problems with this:
1: Amazon doesn't list this in its Associate's FAQ, but only in the Operating Agreement. This is the 'review and click here' form agreement that no one (including, it seems, this law student) reads carefully.
2: Amazon's policy isn't 'we won't credit you for items purchased through your logon or sent to your address.' I'd have no great problem with that. But this puts the burden on the associate to make sure he doesn't make a purchase. This isn't easy to do: if you test any of the links that Moveabletype makes for you, Amazon sets a cookie. Make a purchase within 24 hours, and it's likely that you're going to make a purchase through your website, whether you meant to do so or not. Bingo, possible breach of contract. Nor is there a way for you to disclaim such a purchase manually. The suggestions I've seen for avoiding this range from 'type the URL in the browser' (which doesn't always work) to 'disable cookies on Amazon.com' (for which they've got to be kidding).

So, the next step of the New Year's redesign will be a nice suggested books column in the top navigation bar, and it will use Barnes & Noble's affiliate scheme. They don't seem half so picky.

That being said, one course in contracts and one course in civil procedure leave me in awe of Amazon's associate scheme. The agreement has it all: a mandatory arbitration agreement (as with Itoh v. Jordan); an agreement to forego any kind of class-action or class-arbitration lawsuit; a venue provision (a la Carnival Cruise Lines v. Shute)... in short, everything you'd need to make certain that some small fry would never be able to challenge your big corporate badness over any decision you happen to make. My hat's off, really. I've been reading a lot of form contracts lately (though not this one--I joined before law school), and this one is the most obviously evil.

Of course, now I'm interested enough to go research whether the Operating Agreement, since it functions as a contract between a major corporation and private individuals, might be considered a contract of adhesion, and if any of these terms are actually enforceable. I can't imagine a suit would be worthwhile if it weren't a class-action, and to get there you'd have to get past two clauses of the arbitration provision and get some of the contract declared void for unconscionability. I'd imagine it would be quite tough, if not impossible.

Men at Work Again

If you see some strangeness going on at the site over the next few minutes, it's because I'm doing yet another redesign. Bear with me, please.

Update: Right, 'select your own stylesheet' is now functioning, and works in every browser I've tested it in, so long as you've got cookies. (Alison, tell me it breaks in Mozilla.) Just go up to the 'Stylesheet' button on the topbar and choose either the 'Classic' or 'The Eyes Have It' styles. More will be forthcoming (and the current ones will be improved) quite soon.

For the mind-bogglingly simple PHP-based style switcher, I have to thank Chris Clark at A List Apart.

December 29, 2003

Netscape Help

Well, this is a generic cry for help with the new redesign. I don't suppose anyone can tell me why my drop-down menus work in Internet Explorer, but break in Netscape/Mozilla? I've tried adding some simple browser detection, but it's not doing me a lot of good...

Update: OK, at least on my copy of Netscape 7.1, the dropdown menus now work. I think it should work in Netscape 4.7 as well, but I don't have a development environment here. Finally I should be able to get some real work done...

December 25, 2003

Men At Work

I'm going to be uploading some graphics changes over the next few hours, so if things look a little odd, just check back shortly.

Thanks for your patience.

UPDATE: Some of you may notice that the right navigational element above doesn't work. If any of you have any suggestions, I'd appreciate the help.

UPDATE: It's not pretty, and the code is embarassing. But it seems to work. Tell me if it starts breaking. Now that the technical work is done, I'll start prettying the place up tomorrow.

Hell En Banc

For one week, starting tomorrow, I'll be guest-blogging (as opposed to merely gadflying) over at En Banc. I can't imagine what I'm going to do there, since I'm not as knowledgable as Unlearned Hand, as passionate as Chris Geidner, or anywhere near as funny as Jeremy Blachman. But they were polite enough to ask, and I've never guest-blogged before this.

For this week, Three Years of Hell will focus on the important things in life: chronicling family poker games, my brother's recipes for alcoholic eggnog, and thoughts on blog design. Politics will take a holiday En Banc.

UPDATE: First entry, The Stepford Drones.

December 17, 2003

The Filibuster uses the Chewbacca Defense?

And over at the (completely non-partisan) Filibuster, Justin Slaughter takes Orson Scott Card to task for an article calling some Democrats unpatriotic:

Shorter version: If a Democrat is elected president, the country will be destroyed.

I won't even dignify his column with a response.

Extra points for claiming the overwhelming liberal bias of the media (Apparently he hasn't read a paper, listened to the radio, or watched TV for twenty years) and writing in the Wall Street Journal!


Note to Justin: didn't you just dignify the article with a response? Or is a response in the (non-partisan) Filibuster simply undignified?

December 12, 2003

Mentors, Smart Folk, and Site Redesign

For those of you who are bloggers and want to know about how to move your blog up the Google rankings, do it the way I do: watch people who know a lot more than me. (This is how to learn anything if you're not naturally inclined towards learning things. I often think that George Bush's talent of surrounding himself with very smart people is highly underrated by people who are smart themselves.) Google has a deceptively simple concept that they make into more or less an art form.

These quite smart people would be Tim Ireland, and two folks who used to be my boss--or at least higher up a nebulous chain of command than I was. Frequent visitor Martin Lloyd taught me the basics, and Steve Johnston, who has just started a blog as a google consultant, has the details of the swiftly moving subject. Watch these guys and you can't help but learn something.

Once exams are done, keep an eye on this space for some updates. The layout itself is bland and graceless, especially in comparison to some of my favorite blawgs, such as Ambivalent Imbroglio (with the cool color-switching function) or Not for Sheep (who has a knack for color schemes). Given the number of function I've added, the length of my blogroll, and other considerations, the sidebar needs revision to be close to useful.

For the moment, though, it's back to contracts. I'll update you on that before the weekend's over.

December 06, 2003

Left Deploys the Googlebomb

How cute. A collection of left-wing authors and bloggers have decided to break out the Googlebomb.

(A Googlebomb is essentially link manipulation of commonly-indexed blogs, websites, etc. in order to achieve a certain result. In this case, go to Google, type in 'miserable failure,' and click "I'm feeling lucky.")

Simpleminded and foolish would be the two best words I can think of in order to describe this, but I guess someone thinks it's cute. And of course, since the phrase used to belong to Dick Gephardt, it probably reduces his exposure very marginally.

Before this little round of mutually assured destruction escalates beyond control, I'd like to call on my fellow right wing websites not to push our little red buttons. Right now, Google works as a resource, but every conscious manipulation like this will detract just that extra bit from its accuracy. Right now, this hardly matters, but what happens when this becomes commonplace? It's not worth tearing down this institution for a few cheap laughs, even if you've really got your hate on for somebody. (Come to think of it, there's not really a Democratic candidate on offer worth hating.)

Besides, we can always get our enjoyment by watching the frothing at the mouth of those who think this is particularly amusing.

And if you're one of those who find the Googlebomb a work of genius, well, maybe you'll enjoy the I Hate Republicans Song. The "Bush is a Nazi" theme has become so much a part of polite society these days that I can't even get upset about it any longer. (Link found at Bloggerheads.com, who finds this stuff 'thought provoking.')

December 05, 2003

Greetings, New Readers?

I'd like to say hello to some new readers, and wonder if I've just gotten linked from somewhere?

This site normally gets about 700 or so page requests a day, give or take. But on both the 2nd and 3rd of December, there were over one thousand page requests each day.

I'm not sure what explains the spike, but to my newer readers: welcome. (And if you're looking for the Paris Hilton tape, it ain't here.)

December 02, 2003

Comments and comment fields

My little corner of the blogosphere is alive with entries about the disadvantages of comments. In general, I have a live-and-let-live attitude towards comments: some bloggers like them, some don't. In general, I don't find the 'urge to reply' too powerful to resist, so they don't waste my time, and I rather like learning about the other interesting blogs out there through those who comment on my site. I'm not about to turn them off.

Then again, sometimes you get insightful pieces of commentary this one from a fellow CLS student:

that was pretty idiotic (signed "your classmate')
At first I doubted whether it was honestly a CLS student comment: at this late date, is there anyone here that can still make an argument that isn't in IRAC form? Sadly, the author was indeed a classmate.

This kind of thing doesn't bug me: frankly, the blogosphere is nothing in comparison to the awful days of USENET flamewars. But as a courtesy warning to those of you who like leaving 'anonymous' comments: be careful what you say. Obviously the above doesn't rise to anything damaging, but if someone ever did leave some remark that required the author to be tracked down, it's relatively easy to do.

You see, the comments feature of most blogs (including MoveableType, what Three Years of Hell uses) records the IP address from which the comment is posted. That and TRACERT allows one to determine that 128.59.182.80 is within the Columbia Law School. [1] Meanwhile, the Law School's computer networks don't allow you access to the internet until you've registered your Ethernet card(s). The CLS systems administrators should be able to check their DHCP logs, figure out what ethernet card was using a given IP address at a given time, and match that to a name. (I believe this is roughly the same method the RIAA uses to get your name if they want to sue you, but I'm not certain there.)

Obviously, such involved searching be overkill for a cogent piece of literary criticism like the above. But just in case some reader decides it's a good idea to leave defamatory, libelous, or otherwise damaging text in an 'anonymous' way here on Three Years of Hell, I feel I ought to give at least this much warning.

[1] In case you're interested, here's one of a number of TRACERT servers out on the web. Try it yourself. You can also call up a command prompt and type TRACERT 128.59.182.80, or whatever other IP address you feel like.

November 21, 2003

Pro-Life Hacking?

So, here's something embarassing that happened to me in Contracts. For reasons of my own I was googling for 'topiary garden,' and found a site that seemed to be a list of links to famous gardens. The top two links worked. Then I clicked on the third.

The URL seemed to go to a topiary site. Indeed, the site's TITLE tag involved gardening. What appeared on screen, however, were very, very graphic photographs of partial-birth abortion, complete with very boldfaced text regarding the evils of the procedure.

(Did I mention that I sit in the front row of my Contracts class? If any of my readers sit behind me and happened to have seen this, please consider this an apology.)

I took a look at the site when I got home, and for all the world it looked like a hack, as opposed to a site put up by an anti-abortionist to fool web-spiders. Also, I've noticed that, every so often, when I'm doing a Google or Altavista image search, similar images will turn up for inappropriate keywords.

Does anyone else know anything about this? I've tried searching the web for articles on who might be responsible, or what they're doing. I can say that, whatever one's position on abortion, this is one of the lousiest tactics I've ever seen. I'd welcome more information, since this is the kind of thing that gets my hackles up.

November 04, 2003

CleverCactus is really quite clever

So, Microsoft has released Office 2003, and I was feeling software envy, until I looked at the feature list. The most useful features Redmond has spat out this year mostly have to do with integration with Microsoft Sharepoint Services. If you're a home user, this is pretty pathetic, since it requires Windows 2003 server (yeah, I'll have one of those running in my kitchen, please) and Windows Sharepoint Services.

I actually do have a Windows Server 2003 box set up in the Malebolge, and spent part of this weekend trying to set up Sharepoint. In the course of installing the new .NET framework, resintalling WSS, messing about with the settings to try to get it to work, getting three dozen error messages, and then knocking my webserver offline for two hours, I lost some of the few threads of sanity I had left. Whereas in about an hour I managed to reinstall IIS, strip off .NET, install PHP, and get PHProjekt running for my study group. (If your study group wants a groupware site, get in touch with me, because it's a 5 minute setup.)

Which leads me to Clever Cactus. I'd been following the development of this project back when it was Dynamic Objects Spaces, and now that it's in its second beta release, I'm beginning to think it's a credible challenger to Outlook. Clevercactus has all the basics: it reads your email, handles your calendar, presents a task list, and everything else. Data types can also be organized in "spaces" allowing you to organize information in a more flexible manner than Outlook.

Even cooler is the implementation of RSS and XMLRPC for weblogs. This entry is being written in CleverCactus, and if all goes well will be uploaded to Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil at the click of a button. Similarly, you can use it as a news feed aggregator. (For the moment, I'm likely to keep Outlook as a mail client, but use CC for a blogging tool.) Supposedly, Microsoft's Longhorn is going to integrate RSS with Windows, but I'm not holding my breath--this should have been a feature of Outlook 2003.

OK, the interface isn't up to even 1992 standard. It could use some GUI work, the menus should have hotkeys, and the fonts selected automatically are abysmal. This is probably the result of it being a Java implementation, but I can't say that for sure. One of the features that seemed to be supported in Dynamic Objects, and which doesn't seem to have carried over, is flexible data types: I can't drag a task into the calendar and have it become an appointment. But it's still a beta, and I'm hoping that between now and the official launch, Clever Cactus is going to get some usability upgrades. If so, Mr. Gates might finally have lost a loyal customer.

Update: Having had to just redo the formatting of the blog post, I won't be doing any further updating of Moveabletype through Clever Cactus. It managed to completely screw up most of the formatting, putting hard returns into the paragraphs at odd points. Still, this behaviour should be simple to correct by the time they launch the real product.

November 01, 2003

The completely inexplicable

I took a look through my referrer reports this evening, to see from whence new visitors are coming. The top few read like a list of the usual suspects: The Volokh Conspiracy, The Philosophical Scriviner, Professor Yin, Stay of Execution, and of course, my lefty friend and infinitely harder worker, the Serious Law Student.

But coming in number 10 (tied with The Curmudgeonly Clerk) with over 110 referrals in the last month, is Beachfreaks.nl. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, nor can I find a link to me from the site. If anyone knows why I've suddenly become of interest to the volleyballing population of the Netherlands, please tell me. Most of the sites in my referrer logs don't have pictures of bikini-clad women in their photo galleries. (A pity, I know.)

(Thank you, incidentally, to all those who have linked to me. A more complete list will be forthcoming when I can convince Analog that it wants to give me more than the top 20 referrers.)

October 28, 2003

Amazon is honking me off

If any of you get errors leaving comments on the site: it's because Amazon's web server is sending the following as 'valid XML':

The server encountered an internal error or
misconfiguration and was unable to complete
your request.


Please contact the server administrator,
webtech-admin@amazon.com and inform them of the time the error occurred,
and anything you might have done that may have
caused the error.


Because the MT-Amazon plugin doesn't seem to handle this properly as an error, the page doesn't rebuild. Consequently, even though your comment is stored (and will show up the next time I rebuild the site or make an entry, assuming Amazon has its act together) it doesn't show up immediately.

I'll probably revise the way my system works (i.e. hard-code the damn thing) this weekend. Until then, bear with me.

Update: After 16 hours of Amazon Web Services being useless, I've pulled my XML feeds. They'll be back once Amazon gets its act together.

October 23, 2003

Matters upon which I'm singularly unqualified to comment

I'd like to apologize to whoever came upon my site searching for the following terms, upon which I can pretty much guarantee they received no help:

hell and file sharing
The theological implications of copynorms escape me. Professor Solum, perhaps?

cockroach fresh direct
I've just done a search, and Fresh Direct doesn't deliver these on their website. If you got one, it's a freebie.

how lemons become lemonade
These days, via the magic of Minute Maid

japan women allowed to watch sumo wrestling
Yes, they are. Now at least that's answered

percentage of convicts who become better people
Not my speciality

packing with the devil
'The two of us just wanted to get away for the weekend--someplace with warmth, clean air, the silence that you can only get away from the persistent wailing of the damned.'

misty rain piercing
I'm going to hope that this person was searching for how to get their ear pierced on a foggy morning in Hyde Park.

solution to black cultural identity confusion
Well beyond my competence

law student stripper
Man, you're really looking in the wrong place.

high school days sex thoughts
I don't share those here. And I don't want yours, either.

October 21, 2003

Anonymous Blogging

(Well, this started out as a short post on a topic that had been close to my mind recently. It just sort of turned into something larger. I'm afraid it's not very well-edited, since I don't have time to go over a work of this length, but I'm leaving it here for those who might find it useful.)

PART A: ANONYMITY
Recently, some of the virtues and vices of blogging anonymously stirred my interest, for reasons that I won't go into here. For the most part, I disapprove of blogging anonymously in any blog written for public consumption, particularly if you want to talk about your social setting.
Some people, like the Curmudgeonly Clerk, have good reasons for not putting their name to their blogs: federal rules may prohibit it, and there's no real point in them losing their jobs. But in the main, I find it a bad plan.

Before anyone accuses me of blatant hypocrisy, I have blogged anonymously in the past, both on sites like Deadjournal and some bulletin board sites (way back in the day). But these were always what I would call 'community journals,' writing intended specifically for a very narrow audience of friends and family who already knew who I was. If you weren't a member of that audience, you might 'stumble' on the journal--but otherwise you'd have to be a pretty damn dedicated stalker, in which case you've got worse problems. One key element of such journals is that they have a security model: in most of them, access to the writing was limited either to members of the community, or at the very least could be limited if I wished. At least to the target audience, it wasn't so much blogging anonymous but under another name.

'But that was in another country,' and besides, this is a different kind of blog. Most of the people I link to from Three Years of Hell, or who leave comments, are either professionals, students, or academics. We move within a very, very narrow world, and if our writings are going to be interesting at all, we have to write about the people with whom we work or play, those who make us insanely angry or profoundly grateful. Most of the problems of blogging anonymously arise from this 'small world' effect:

1. It doesn't work anyway
As I said, most professional (or school) bloggers move within a world circumscribed by a very limited number of real-world walls. This means your anonymity is inversely proportional to the actual value of figuring out who you are. In other words, if you're a Harvard blogger but I'm at Columbia, I'm unlikely to be interested in whether you're 'Webbed Lightning' or 'Alfred Pennyworth.' I'm not likely to meet you casually, and unless I've got some real-world friend in your area (always possible), I'm unlikely to care. But then, I'm not going to find your real name that useful anyway.

But if you're at Columbia and so am I, finding out who you are is pretty easy. First of all, blogging is at its heart an exhibitionist endeavor, and you're going to tell someone. They won't keep it quiet. And in a law school, rumours move fast.

But even supposing you're a model of discretion, you're going to write about things around you. If you're a law school blogger, you'll write about something funny that happened in your classes, or one of your social events; if you're a professional, you might talk about a client; if you're a doctor, you might mention some freaky disease. From that observation, or a number of them over time, you'll get found out. And once one person figures it out, forget it: you can't climb back into the bottle without scrapping the blog and starting over. From a new IP address.

Oh, yeah, that's the other thing: anonymity presumes you know the bits of the net that don't leave a trail. If you don't know what WHOIS does, how IP addresses work, or what's written in the source code to your site, don't even dream that you're anonymous. Sure, you might be, but you'd be surprised what a sufficiently determined (and skilled) net detective will figure out.

2. It gives the illusion of safety
But an anonymous blogger, thinking they're safe from detection, may quickly develop a sense of security that's wholly unwarranted. Blogs are similar to diaries, after all, and it's very human to put some comments into a personal diary: "That damnable right wing nut was at it again today, griping about persecution of Christianity." "Hasn't he noticed that his coat makes him look like a woolen version of the StayPuft Marshmallow Man?" "And with regards to the kid eating next to me, three words: no more onions." (And these are just things people could say about me.)

If you have that under lock and key beneath your pillow (or, in digital terms, behind some password-protected page), so be it. But if you don't, be sure that the guy next to you on the elevator is hearing about it. Even if they don't read your blog, someone they know will be. And maybe, just maybe, they'll put two and two together.

Here's a thought experiment: go to Friendster.com. If you don't have a profile, make one. Then search for one of your (relatively web-savvy) friends on the east coast, and link them to you. After that, search for a friend or two on the west coast who has almost no connection to the first friend. If you're like me, you'll find that the two friends are linked by at most three or four degrees of separation, via people you don't even know. Now think how much closer that is in law school. Or your office.

Bottom line, folks: if you talk about someone, no matter how careful you are, they're going to figure it out. If not every time, probably at the worst time. No one will expend the mental effort to determine if you're the person who held the door for you this morning, but people will hunt for the guy you slagged off for making that awful smacking noise with his gums.

3. It makes other people nervous
Now, imagine the blogger whose secret is out. Their Batman has suddenly been revealed as not-so-millionaire law-student Bruce Wayne, and he's had some pretty nasty teeth behind that cowl. Well, the result there is obvious. But let's suppose our Mr. Wayne has been the model of discretion and decency, or at least been justified in whatever bile he's spat during his 'Batman' phase. How are people who he talks to daily going to react, wondering if the next thing they say is going to be broadcast to the world at large?

So, anonymity doesn't work, gives a blogger a shield made of candyfloss, and can alienate their real world friends. In which case, I really find it's best to just go ahead and put your name on the work to begin with. You don't have the security, and it makes you think that much harder before you start running your mouth.


PART B: SOME RULES TO LIVE BY
Let's assume that some bloggers haven't been web-heads since NCSA Mosaic 1.0, just got their Blogger account, and want to start writing away. What are some good rules? Well, from my experience:

1. Would you say this to your mother?
Re-read everything you write, and ask if you'd say it in real life. In fact, ask if you'd say it in answer to one of your professors, over the microphone in your largest lecture hall, to all of your assembled fellow students. OK, no teacher is ever going to ask this kind of question, but if they did, would you want to be remembered for the answer? That's the test that goes through every one of these entries, every time. (Largely, I'll admit, because I've made serious mistakes in the past. Heck, you can check some of the archives here, though they're hardly my worst.) If I won't say it in real life, it's not going on here.

Everything you say on a blog will be remembered: even if you remove it, there's the off chance you didn't get to it before the Googlespider did, and trying to get something you've said out of that spider's cache is a royal pain. Even worse is trying to get it out of the hands of people who have read it already.

2. Grant your victims their anonymity.
As I said, you're going to mention people you know, the people you talk to every day. After all, unless you're someone like Prof. Volokh, with some cutting-edge professional things to say, what you're talking about is your life, and very few of your readers will be wanting to hear your personal opinions: they're here for your life. But the people you write about have not, in general, asked to be there. My attitude is to treat each and every one of them, no matter how much you like them or are being complimentary, as your victims.

I'm serious. If you assume an adversary relationship even to the mention of your best friend, you're less likely to run into trouble. When I wrote the story below about advising a friend to invite her young man up to New York when he felt like it, I asked the woman for permission, giving her a full copy of the post before I posted it. If she's said no, you're be down one story. I can write about something else, and stories are a cheaper currency than friends.

In these cases, honesty is overrated. If you get a story from me, you're getting at best a half-truth. I feel perfectly free to change the location of the action, the sex of the actors, anything except the essential action of the story, if I feel that the person involved doesn't want to be identified. I know what I'm trying to say, and you'll get the point, hopefully with a laugh at the end. I'm not going to give you enough to find my 'victims' unless you were there. It's only fair to them.

3. Self-censor. Frequently.
I can already hear the comments as I'm writing this: "But... but... if I do things like that, my readers won't be getting an authentic idea of what the law school experience is like." But they won't get that anyway--at the very best, they're getting facets of your law school experience, filtered through your own particular opinions. Unless you're going to spend an inordinate amount of time blogging in a day, your readers will get disconnected vignettes, small glimpses of the highs and lows of your experience. They're not getting 'authenticity' anyway, they won't miss it because you decided not to slam some gunner you didn't happen to like.

There's a lot of topics that are dear to my heart that don't make it to here. There's some political issues I won't address, not because I don't have feelings on them, but because I do and I know they'll offend some people unnecessarily. Much as I'd love to tell you about my love life, my relationship with my family, or the juicy gossip of the law school, it's not getting published.

And make sure it's not just political opinions you're censoring. That's an exception to the rule above. It would be relatively easy for anyone, at least at the school, to figure out who my professors are. I'm not going to contact them every time I write something, and indeed so far as I know, none of them read Three Years of Hell. But in return, I'm not about to say anything unkind about them, or even anything less than approval. Most law students will find this practical (don't peeve your examiners--a good maxim), but more importantly, it's polite.

4. When you're done self-censoring, do it again
And by this, I mean 'watch your language.' The occasional four-letter word isn't a killer, but they are words that wound, and raise your risks of getting into trouble with your readers. Besides, very few people will think better of you because you can use the word 'cunt' as a descriptive term. Ask if you need the word there, and if not, lose it.

When you get the urge to let it loose, go read Warren Ellis' blog. There's a man who can curse. When you feel like being Spider Jerusalem, ask yourself if you can live up to the hype. If you can't, drop the act.

5. It's not just on your blog
All of the above, by the way, applies whether you're a blogger or someone leaving a comment. Most blogs don't have a very tight security model, and it's sometimes tempting to comment from anonymity. All the warnings above apply to you too.

I generally comment with my real name, or if not, with a link to Three Years of Hell, to avoid the temptation to start acting like a jerk. But even if you don't want to leave your name, remember that what you're saying will be read, and especially if you're commenting anonymously, your words will represent everyone who's mistaken for you.

How would you feel if a colleague, a workmate, or a professor wrote to ask you, "What's going on at Company X? Your colleagues are swearing like sailors and acting like children." He then gives you a link to a 'debate' which features foul language, unveiled insults, and personal attacks, all signed by "A Member of Company X" or "Another Secretary at Company X." Not pretty, is it? Many of the blogs you comment on have readerships in the hundreds, if not thousands, and you give you and your associates a reputation.

(Note that, as mentioned on the 'About' page, I reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and have done so in the past.)

None of this is revolutionary, nor even particularly original. It's common sense. I can't claim to always get it right. I've annoyed a number of people (and usually apologized for it) with things I've said here. Bloggers are only human, and we won't get it right all the time. Still, these are the rules I'd like to live by. If anything because I'm less likely to lose the affection of my friends or the respect of my peers if I do so.

(If my readers have gotten this far, and have any other suggestions for good blog etiquette, I'd love to see it. I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post. I'll probably edit it a bit over the next few days to make it more coherent.)

October 04, 2003

Crazy people

In a lighter vein than typical in the last few days, I finally got my search terms report working. People have found this site searching for the following:

"am I too old to become a lawyer"
If I'm not, you ain't.

"is it possible to become the devil?"
Nice to know you're aiming high, mate, but I doubt it.

how to know if a person is the devil
Look for the horns, kiddo, and beware folks who wear hats all the time.

are homosexuals the devil?
No. Unless they're becoming lawyers, in which case the answers above apply.

Actually, you would not believe how well this site seems to index for the term 'homosexual.' In case you're wondering, I seem to have the number one google result for this question, and at least three people have searched for this. Disturbing. Who in all creation is linking to me, and with what?

Update: I did a bit of searching, and this doesn't put me in good company. There's a lot of particularly virulent anti-homosexual sites that come up when you google for 'homosexual,' and it gets worse when you cross it with 'devil.' Yuck.

howard dean the devil
Somehow I doubt it. The devil has better dress sense.

is trent lott the devil
Man, I hope not. I always hoped the Devil had a more refined accent.

pictures of kitchen's which do not come up to health & safety rules
See, Columbia, I'm makin' you famous!

i want to be a paleontologists i am 11 years old
This wins the 'cute kid who really shouldn't be coming to this site' award

how to become a judge
Y'know, this site's almost more useful for how to become a devil.

how to get on columbia law review
See above. Winner of the "Looking in the wrong place, mate" award...

folksy sayings
Well, at least someone is recognizing my raison d'etre

idiot sayings
Or maybe not...

ann coulter resume, tiger woods girlfriend powerpoint
and how did the peanut become georgia's symbol?
Huh?

grateful dead ice cream cone kid
The mind shudders... "Riding that train, high on cocaine, Davy Jones you better... watch out for the ice cream cone kid???"

the strangest definitional arguments ever made
And here's my newest reader...

And my personal favorite:
boob jobs from hell
I can only imagine why this person thought my site was worth clicking through.

September 30, 2003

Almost Famous

The Volokh Conspiracy has given me a link! That's a bit unexpected, but very welcome. And he's answered the question of if anyone reads the Sins of the Week column in the affirmative, so I guess I'll have to work harder on keeping that up.

September 24, 2003

You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake

It appears there's another blogger in my class. Please welcome The Serious Law Student. God knows we need one serious Columbia blogger on the 'net. If you're tired of my irreverance, take a hop over and check out a more diary-style site.

The Serious Law Student's RSS feed is now syndicated in the sidebar...

August 24, 2003

Coming to you via pirate signal

Incidentally, the last two entries have been brought to you courtesy of someone's wireless network, which they've left completely unsecured. While the Malebolge's wired ethernet access is still gestating (we have wires now, but no service, a hellishly frustrating tease), someone in the building is not only using Linksys, but broadcasting that fact to everyone on my floor.

I'm trying to figure out who this person is and send them a message to lock down their wireless network, but I'm afraid this exceeds my skill. I don't suppose one of my readers might suggest a solution? I've been playing around with NET SEND commands, but of course his computer isn't on my workgroup.

August 04, 2003

RSS vs. IBM?

If you blog, you definitely need to read about RSS and the Battle of the blogs. I'm not sure where I come down on this controversy yet, but I instinctively hope that RSS prevails, first of all because I've put some time into working with it, and secondly because the fear of IBM turning a replacement into a complex monstrosity is just too great. The beauty of Really Simple Syndication is just that--it's simple enough for non-technical users to muck about with.

But who knows, maybe the new standard will be better. For those of you following on Moveabletype or Blogger, they've thrown in their lot with the new technology. Google's own API is usable. Maybe we can trust Google and Moveabletype to keep them honest.

July 28, 2003

Six Feet Under, Sei Shonagon, and the World of Pre-Modern Blogging

A reference at the Curmudgeonly Clerk to an article on HBO's series Six Feet Under makes me sorry I didn't both watching the series. It appears that there's a rather nuanced attitude towards abortion, with at least two scenes in which an aborted fetus meets someone responsible for the abortion in an afterlife. As quoted in this article in National Review:

In the show's second season, Nate Fisher (engaged at the time) confronts an old flame (Lisa) who tells him she's pregnant with his child — and that she's choosing to have the baby. Keeping with the show's habit of employing ghostly visions and apparitions, we later see Nate working late in his office. A little girl enters, about seven years old.

"Hi," she says. "You killed me. It was about seven years ago, remember? You drove Lisa to have me killed.

Nate looks up, horrified.

"Oh, don't get me wrong," she says, "I don't harbor any bad feelings or anything. I'm pro-choice. Well, at least I would be, if I were alive."

Not what you normally see on American television. It brought to my mind another woman dreaming of a string of aborted babies haunting her, a woman in another society in which abortion was religiously discouraged but fairly openly tolerated:

One night, as I lay gazing into the past through the window of my heart, calling to mind my various wanton doings, I seemed to see a procession of some ninety-five different childlike figures, each child wearing a hat in the form of a lotus leaf and each one stained with blood from his waist down... Then I perceived to my grief that these were the children whom I had conceived out of wedlock and disposed of by abortion.

At first I could have sworn that was from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, but it's actually from Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman. Which doesn't prove much of anything, except for the fact that this particular aspect of the abortion debate pre-dates Roe v. Wade by a couple of centuries.

In the process of prodding my memory for that quote, I started looking through the Pillow Book once again. Anyone who is interested in blogging ought to take a look at it, because in substance and style it's very similar to modern 'vanity blogs.' You find the same musings about life, love, and office politics, but written around 1000 A.D. It's amazing how familiar some of these diary entries seem: I keep expecting to find hyperlinks.

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