Thursday, January 31, 2008
Apple/iTunes: Tiberius TimeAccording to Suetonius, Tiberius Cæsar “… used his left hand more readily and with more force than his right; and his joints were so strong, that he could bore a fresh, sound apple through with his finger …”. After today's experience with Apple products, I think I'm ready to start doing my special finger-flexing exercises to be able to do the same. My DVD player died a few days ago, and as I haven't yet gotten around to replacing it (“codefree” players uncrippled by the grotesque “region code” not seeming to be as widely available as a few years ago), I decided to give the new Apple iTunes movie rental service a try in order to enjoy a highbrow classic. Well, after the usual abuse of the iTunes Store having forgotten my billing information once again, I was able to rent the movie and download the file, which took about an hour. Now, according to the the Apple iTunes Syncing—iPod page, you can “Start watching a movie rental on your computer, sync it, and your iPod will even pick up where you left off.” Nope—didn't work: the rented movie didn't transfer to the Video iPod, even though other video programs purchased outright had copied to the iPod without any difficulties. You see, what they don't tell you, except in a footnote at the bottom of this press release, is that movie rentals only download to “sixth-generation” iPods; owners of fifth generation video iPods are advised to consign their perfectly-working, in warranty gear, which plays all purchased video content from the iTunes Store, to the landfill and shell out another CHF399 (for the 80 Gb model) purely for privilege of watching movie rentals. And this is a company that has Al Gore on its board of directors? Flex those fingers! Well, OK, I thought: I'm already out the cost of the rental, and now that I've started to play it in order to download it to the iPod, which it won't do because I'm a fifth generation fossil, and I've only 24 hours before it expires and self destructs like Jim Phelps's tape recorder, at least I can watch it on the computer. It's irritating in the extreme to have to leave the machine booted into lumpen-tech Windows just to watch a movie, but whaddya you gonna do? So, I click on the movie and a wide-screen, high-resolution QuickTime media player window opens which allows me to watch the movie. That's watch; not listen to. Despite that fact that music, audiobooks, and unprotected video files play just fine, with both audio and video, not only this rented movie but all previously outright purchased video content is utterly silent. There isn't even a piano player beneath the screen to distract the audience from the clickety-clack of the projector. Flex those fingers! It appears that many, if not all, Windows XP users of iTunes were gutshot and deprived of audio, not only on movie rentals and new downloads, but on their entire previously purchased video library, when they installed iTunes 7.6 (which is required to access movie rentals). Here is a discussion on an Apple support site collecting the anguished cries of Windows XP users whose video libraries have been muted since January 15th, with as yet no response from Apple. (In a silent movie, nobody can hear you scream.) To be precise, I'm using Windows XP with all the current patches from Windows Update, iTunes 184.108.40.206, and QuickTime 7.4, the latter two of which proclaim themselves the latest versions when “Check for Updates” is clicked. (I only run this downmarket operating system for applications which don't support more competently-implemented platforms; my primary development machine spends more than 98% of its time these days running Fedora 7 Linux.) Now, one might argue that failing to make it clear that their entire early-adopter customer base who bought into the iPod Video needs to junk their purchase and replace it with a new gizmo differentiated only (as far as I can imagine) by firmware in order to rent movies is a customer communication oversight which should have been addressed to sugar coat or at least slime over this obvious planned obsolescence aimed at a sales bump. But killing the audio of all (or at least many) of their customers on the most widely deployed operating system platform and the latest version of their own proprietary media manager package is either a staggering lapse in quality control, or a simultaneously cynical and ultimately self-destructive attempt to force users onto an Apple platform where, one presumes, such things don't happen. Sure, Steve, force us to discard our investment in your gadget, mute all the video content we've paid for from your online store, and then expect us to spend more money on your products? Yeah, that's gonna work. Flex those fingers! Update: This appears to be fixed, at least for me, by the QuickTime 7.4.1 update. (2008-02-14 21:52 UTC)
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Now This Is Odd: Star Wars Stamps
© 2007 USPS. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Reading List: Liberal Fascism
- Goldberg, Jonah. Liberal Fascism. New York: Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 978-0-385-51184-1.
- This is a book which has been sorely needed for a long, long time, and the author has done a masterful job of identifying, disentangling, and dismantling the mountain of disinformation and obfuscation which has poisoned so much of the political discourse of the last half century. As early as 1946, George Orwell observed in his essay “Politics and the English Language” that “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’”. This situation has only worsened in the succeeding decades, and finally we have here a book which thoroughly documents the origins of fascism as a leftist, collectivist ideology, grounded in Rousseau's (typically mistaken and pernicious) notion of the “general will”, and the direct descendant of the God-state first incarnated in the French Revolution and manifested in the Terror. I'd have structured this book somewhat differently, but then when you've spent the last fifteen years not far from the French border, you may adopt a more top-down rationalist view of things; call it “geographical hazard”. There is a great deal of discussion here about the definitions and boundaries among the categories “progressive”, “fascist”, “Nazi”, “socialist”, “communist”, “liberal”, “conservative”, “reactionary”, “social Darwinist”, and others, but it seems to me there's a top-level taxonomic divide which sorts out much of the confusion: collectivism versus individualism. Collectivists—socialists, communists, fascists—believe the individual to be subordinate to the state and subject to its will and collective goals, while individualists believe the state, to the limited extent it exists, is legitimate only as it protects the rights of the sovereign citizens who delegate to it their common defence and provision of public goods. The whole question of what constitutes conservatism is ill-defined until we get to the Afterword where, on p. 403, there is a beautiful definition which would far better have appeared in the Introduction: that conservatism consists in conserving what is, and that consequently conservatives in different societies may have nothing whatsoever in common among what they wish to conserve. The fact that conservatives in the United States wish to conserve “private property, free markets, individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and the rights of communities to determine for themselves how they will live within these guidelines” in no way identifies them with conservatives in other societies bent on conserving monarchy, a class system, or a discredited collectivist regime. Although this is a popular work, the historical scholarship is thorough and impressive: there are 54 pages of endnotes and an excellent index. Readers accustomed to the author's flamboyant humorous style from his writings on National Review Online will find this a much more subdued read, appropriate to the serious subject matter. Perhaps the most important message of this book is that, while collectivists hurl imprecations of “fascist” or “Nazi” at defenders of individual liberty, it is the latter who have carefully examined the pedigree of their beliefs and renounced those tainted by racism, authoritarianism, or other nostrums accepted uncritically in the past. Meanwhile, the self-described progressives (well, yes, but progress toward what?) have yet to subject their own intellectual heritage to a similar scrutiny. If and when they do so, they'll discover that both Mussolini's Fascist and Hitler's Nazi parties were considered movements of the left by almost all of their contemporaries before Stalin deemed them “right wing”. (But then Stalin called everybody who opposed him “right wing”, even Trotsky.) Woodrow Wilson's World War I socialism was, in many ways, the prototype of fascist governance and a major inspiration of the New Deal and Great Society. Admiration for Mussolini in the United States was widespread, and H. G. Wells, the socialist's socialist and one of the most influential figures in collectivist politics in the first half of the twentieth century said in a speech at Oxford in 1932, “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis.” If you're interested in understanding the back-story of the words and concepts in the contemporary political discourse which are hurled back and forth without any of their historical context, this is a book you should read. Fortunately, lots of people seem to be doing so: it's been in the top ten on Amazon.com for the last week. My only quibble may actually be a contributor to its success: there are many references to current events, in particular the 2008 electoral campaign for the U.S. presidency; these will cause the book to be dated when the page is turned on these ephemeral events, and it shouldn't be—the historical message is essential to anybody who wishes to decode the language and subtexts of today's politics, and this book should be read by those who've long forgotten the runners-up and issues of the moment. A podcast interview with the author is available.
Monday, January 28, 2008
ENT (Pseudorandom Sequence Test Program) UpdatedI have just posted an update to ENT, the pseudorandom sequence test program which was one of the first pieces of software to be posted on the Fourmilab site in 1994 (updates were subsequently released in 1998 and 2006). Among the statistics ENT computes for the sequence tested is a chi-square value comparing the sequence's distribution of values to that expected for a uniformly distributed random sequence. In addition to the chi-square value, an interpretation of it in terms of the probability of the sequence's being random was output. This probability value was obtained by a tacky table look-up, which simply yielded a rough estimate of the probability within a series of bands. This update includes numerical evaluation of actual probability from the measured chi-square value. If the computed chance probability is less than 0.01% or greater than 99.99% it is labeled as such. The 16-bit MS-DOS executable included with earlier releases has been supplanted by a Win32 executable built with Microsoft Visual C++ 7.0; this binary does not require loading the 16-bit compatibility module on 32-bit Windows platforms (but of course only runs on the latter). This update corrects a problem which caused errors when processing data piped to standard input on Windows platforms: standard input is now set to the required binary mode.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Case UNIVAC 1107 Code CardsThe ultimate fashion statement for assembly language programmers of the Case UNIVAC 1107 wasn't a pocket protector and pens of many colours but these plastic laminated cards documenting the instruction set of that fabled computer. Special thanks to Bill Patterson, who managed to preserve this artefact of the bronze age of computing into the twenty-first century and kindly contributed scans to this archive.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Saucers Over Switzerland
Click image for an enlargement.
Monday, January 21, 2008
MIDICSV Update PostedI have just posted version 1.1 of MIDICSV, a command line utility for both Unix-like and 32-bit Windows platforms which converts standard MIDI (musical composition) files to and from Comma-Separated Value (CSV) text files, which can easily be manipulated by programs to perform various transformations on musical works. This release corrects an error, reported by Pete Goodeve, in which the byte order of the value field in pitch bend messages was reversed. Since the bytes were reversed in both the MIDI to CSV and CSV to MIDI utilities, transformation of MIDI to CSV and back to MIDI would not corrupt the file, but programs processing the CSV file would see nonsense values in the pitch bend field. The fix corrects the byte order and hence the problem. I've also added documentation to the MIDICSV File Format manual page which explains how to interpret the 14-bit pitch bend value. The MIDICSV Web page has been updated to validated XHTML 1.0 using Fourmilab's standard style sheet and Unicode text entities.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Documents: The Use of the Apostrophe in the English LanguageStalwart members of the Fourmilab Red (Pencil) Brigades are alerted to the posting of a new ready-to-be-savaged document, The Use of the Apostrophe in the English Language, which not only proposes five simple rules which will keep writers from stumbling over this humble punctuation mark, but also proclaims International Write Like a Moron Day to celebrate those who can't be bothered to get such simple things right.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Reading List: The Screwtape Letters
- Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. (Audiobook, Unabridged). Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audiobooks, [1942, 1959, 1961] 2006. ISBN 978-0-7861-7279-5.
- If you're looking for devilishly ironic satire, why not go right to the source? C. S. Lewis's classic is in the form of a series of letters from Screwtape, a senior demon in the “lowerarchy” of Hell, to his nephew Wormwood, a novice tempter on his first assignment on Earth: charged with securing the soul of an ordinary Englishman in the early days of World War II. Not only are the letters wryly funny, there is a great deal of wisdom and insight into the human condition and how the little irritations of life can present a greater temptation to flawed humans than extravagant sins. Also included in this audiobook is the 1959 essay “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”, which is quite different in nature: Lewis directly attacks egalitarianism, dumbing-down of education, and destruction of the middle class by the welfare state as making the tempter's task much easier (the original letters were almost entirely apolitical), plus the preface Lewis wrote for a new edition of Screwtape in 1961, in which he says the book almost wrote itself, but that he found the process of getting into Screwtape's head very unpleasant indeed. The book is read by Ralph Cosham, who adopts a dry, largely uninflected tone which is appropriate for the ironic nature of the text. This audiobook is distributed in two parts, totalling 3 hours and 36 minutes. Audio CD and print editions are also available.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Reading List: Bourbaki: A Secret Society of Mathematicians
- Mashaal, Maurice. Bourbaki: A Secret Society of Mathematicians. Translated by Anna Pierrehumbert. Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society,  2006. ISBN 978-0-8218-3967-6.
- In 1934, André Weil and Henri Cartan, both young professors of mathematics at the University of Strasbourg, would frequently, when discussing the calculus courses they were teaching, deplore the textbooks available, all of which they considered antiquated and inadequate. Weil eventually suggested getting in touch with several of their fellow alumni of the École Normale Supérieure who were teaching similar courses in provincial universities around France, inviting them to collaborate on a new analysis textbook. The complete work was expected to total 1000 to 1200 pages, with the first volumes ready about six months after the project began. Thus began one of the most flabbergasting examples of “mission creep” in human intellectual history, which set the style for much of mathematics publication and education in subsequent decades. Working collectively and publishing under the pseudonym “Nicolas Bourbaki” (after the French general in the Franco-Prussian War Charles Denis Bourbaki), the “analysis textbook” to be assembled by a small group over a few years grew into a project spanning more than six decades and ten books, most of multiple volumes, totalling more than seven thousand pages, systematising the core of mathematics in a relentlessly abstract and austere axiomatic form. Although Bourbaki introduced new terminology, some of which has become commonplace, there is no new mathematics in the work: it is a presentation of pre-existing mathematical work as a pedagogical tool and toolbox for research mathematicians. (This is not to say that the participants in the Bourbaki project did not do original work—in fact, they were among the leaders in mathematical research in their respective generations. But their work on the Bourbaki opus was a codification and grand unification of the disparate branches of mathematics into a coherent whole. In fact, so important was the idea that mathematics was a unified tree rooted in set theory that the Bourbaki group always used the word mathématique, not mathématiques.) Criticisms of the Bourbaki approach were many: it was too abstract, emphasised structure over the content which motivated it, neglected foundational topics such as mathematical logic, excluded anything tainted with the possibility of application (including probability, automata theory, and combinatorics), and took an eccentric approach to integration, disdaining the Lebesgue integral. These criticisms are described in detail, with both sides fairly presented. While Bourbaki participants had no ambitions to reform secondary school mathematics education, it is certainly true that academics steeped in the Bourbaki approach played a part in the disastrous “New Math” episode, which is described in chapter 10. The book is extravagantly illustrated, and has numerous boxes and marginal notes which describe details, concepts, and the dramatis personæ in this intricate story. An appendix provides English translations of documents which appear in French in the main text. There is no index. La version française reste disponible.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Computing: MD5 Command-Line Utility UpdatedI have posted an update to the MD5 command-line utility for Unix-like platforms and Win32 machines. This release, version 2.2, corrects a problem reported by Dr. Andreas Arning of IBM Germany. When the ability to compute the MD5 signature of multiple file names specified on the command line was added to the program, I neglected to close the files after computing the signature, so if you specified a large number of files, the command would fail after exhausting the system's maximum number of open file handles. The fix closes the files, and should allow computing the signature of as many files as the shell permits you to specify on the command line. The updated distributions include both source code and a ready-to-run Win32 console application. The Web page for the application has been updated to XHTML 1.0, using the standard Fourmilab style sheet and Unicode text entities.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Books: Roswell, Texas Complete, On the Web for FreeThe deliciously engaging alternative history libertarian graphic novel, Roswell, Texas, by L. Neil Smith, Rex F. “Baloo” May, Scott Bieser, and Jen Zach, which has been in release in serial form on the Web for a year and a half is now complete, and remains available completely free online. The work in progress has even been the subject of a puzzle posted here. Figuring out who all the characters are in our more dismal multiverse trajectory is an especial joy. If you haven't yet discovered this treat, there's no more waiting to find out how it ends! Here's L. Neil's announcement of the completion of the work. A trade paperback edition is scheduled for publication (Yee hah! Blam blam!) in June 2008. As far as I can determine, this book cannot be pre-ordered at present. If you're already regretting the end of your weekly ration of Roswell, not to worry—the serialisation of TimePeeper starts on January 15th.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Reading List: The Birth of Britain
- Churchill, Winston S. The Birth of Britain. (Audiobook, Unabridged). London: BBC Audiobooks,  2006. ISBN 978-0-304-36389-6.
- This is the first book in Churchill's sprawling four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Churchill began work on the history in the 1930s, and by the time he set it aside to go to the Admiralty in 1939, about half a million words had been delivered to his publisher. His wartime service as Prime Minister, postwar writing of the six-volume history The Second World War, and second term as Prime Minister from 1951 to 1955 caused the project to be postponed repeatedly, and it wasn't until 1956–1958, when Churchill was in his 80s, that the work was published. Even sections which existed as print proofs from the 1930s were substantially revised based upon scholarship in the intervening years. The Birth of Britain covers the period from Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 B.C. through Richard III's defeat and death at the hands of Henry Tudor's forces at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, bringing to an end both the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty. This is very much history in the “kings, battles, and dates” mould; there is little about cultural, intellectual, and technological matters—the influence of the monastic movement, the establishment and growth of universities, and the emergence of guilds barely figure at all in the narrative. But what a grand narrative it is, the work of one of the greatest masters of the language spoken by those whose history he chronicles. In accounts of early periods where original sources are scanty and it isn't necessarily easy to distinguish historical accounts from epics and legends, Churchill takes pains to note this and distinguish his own conclusions from alternative interpretations. This audiobook is distributed in seven parts, totalling 17 hours. A print edition is available in the UK.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Reading List: Day of Reckoning
- Buchanan, Patrick J. Day of Reckoning. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-312-37696-3.
In the late 1980s, I decided to get out of the United States. Why? Because
it seemed to me that for a multitude of reasons, many of which I had experienced
directly as the founder of a job-creating company, resident of a state
whose border the national government declined to defend, and investor who
saw the macroeconomic realities piling up into an inevitable disaster, that
the U.S. was going down, and I preferred to spend the remainder of
my life somewhere which wasn't.
In 1992, the year I moved to Switzerland, Pat Buchanan mounted an insurgent
challenge to George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination for the U.S.
presidency, gaining more than three million primary votes. His platform
featured protectionism, immigration restriction, and rolling back the
cultural revolution mounted by judicial activism. I opposed most of his
agenda. He lost.
This book can be seen as a retrospective on the 15 years since, and
is particularly poignant to me, as it's a reality check on whether I was wise
in getting out when I did. Bottom line: I've no regrets whatsoever, and
I'd counsel any productive individual in the U.S. to get out as soon as
possible, even though it's harder than when I made my exit.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
Are the good times really over for good?
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Books: Sequel to Prayers for the Assassin due in FebruaryRobert Ferrigno, author of the compelling future history thriller Prayers for the Assassin (reviewed here in March 2006) writes to note that the sequel, Sins of the Assassin, the second volume of the Assassin Trilogy, will be published on February 5th, 2008. The first volume has just been released in a mass market paperback edition. I've just pre-ordered my copy of Sins.
Monday, January 7, 2008
Rule by Decree
“Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool.”
—Paul Begala, Clinton White House aide, quoted
in The New York Times, July 5th, 1998
|Bush, G H W||R||101–102||164||41.0|
|Bush, G W||R||107–109||183||45.8|
Notes:I was somewhat surprised by these results. I'd kind of assumed that with the growing concentration of political power in Washington, and the expansion of the authority of executive departments into all sectors of American life, that executive orders would grow apace, but this is not actually the case. Measured by executive orders per year, America's Great Dictator was none other than Teddy Roosevelt, who cranked out an average of 356 every year he spent in the White House. Presidents Coolidge and Hoover: often stereotyped as laissez-faire hands-off executives, averaged 224.8 and 241.5 executive orders per year, not far behind FDR's 273.8. Eisenhower issued only 59.8 per year, and no president since has issued as many as 80 per year. Rutherford B. Hayes was the only president since Lincoln to serve an entire four-year term without issuing a single executive order. Trivia buffs will delight in discovering that between 1873 and 2006, more than one third of all executive orders were issued by presidents named “Roosevelt”. You can, if you wish, download an OpenOffice spreadsheet containing the raw data upon which this article is based.
- Raw data are courtesy of the Table of Congressional Volumes and Presidential Issuances: 1789–1999. Any errors in transforming these data into this table are my own.
- When two presidents served during a two-year congressional meeting due to death or resignation of the first, orders during that meeting are arbitrarily assigned to the president in office at its start.
- Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms in office. Orders from the first term are aggregated with those of the second and listed in sequence for his second term.
- Data for George W. Bush cover only the first three congressional meetings during his administration; orders issued during the 110th Congress are not included.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Reading List: Making Money
- Pratchett, Terry. Making Money. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-116164-3.
- Who'd have imagined that fractional reserve banking, fiat currency, and macroeconometric modelling could be so funny? When Lord Vetinari, tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, decides the economy needs more juice than the stodgy plutocrat-run banks provide, he immediately identifies the ideal curriculum vitæ of a central banker: confidence man, showman, and all-purpose crook. (In our world, mumbling and unparsable prose seem additional job requirements, but things are simpler on Discworld.) Fortunately, the man for the job is right at hand when the hereditary chief of the Royal Bank goes to her reward: Moist von Lipwig, triumphant in turning around the Post Office in Going Postal, is persuaded (Lord Vetinari can be very persuasive, especially to civil servants he has already once hanged by the neck) to take the second-in-command position at the Bank, the Chairman's office having been assumed by Mr. Fusspot, a small dog who lives in the in-box on Lipwig's desk. Moist soon finds himself introducing paper money, coping with problems in the gold vault, dealing with a model of the economy which may be more than a model (giving an entirely new meaning to “liquidity”), fending off a run on the bank, summoning the dead to gain control of a super-weapon, and finding a store of value which is better than gold. If you aren't into economics, this is a terrific Discworld novel; if you are, it's delightful on a deeper level. The “Glooper” in the basement of the bank is based upon economist William Phillips's MONIAC hydraulic economic computer, of which a dozen or more were built. There is no evidence that fiddling with Phillips's device was able to influence the economy which it modelled, but perhaps this is because Phillips never had an assistant named “Igor”. If you're new to Terry Pratchett and don't know where to start, here's a handy chart (home page and other language translations) which shows the main threads and their interconnections. Making Money does not appear in this map; it should be added to the right of Going Postal.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Reading List: The Dangerous Book for Dogs
- Rex and Sparky [Garden, Joe et al.]. The Dangerous Book for Dogs. New York: Villard, 2007. ISBN 978-0-345-50370-1.
- The Dangerous Book for Boys is all well and good, but what about a boy's inseparable companion in adventures great and small? This book comes to the rescue, with essential tips for the pooch who wants to experience their canine inheritance to the fullest. Packed cover to cover with practical advice on begging, swimming, picking a pill out of a ball of peanut butter, and treeing a raccoon; stories of heroic and resourceful dogs in history, from Mikmik the sabre-toothed sled dog who led the first humans to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge, to Pepper, the celebrated two-year-old Corgi who with her wits, snout, and stubby legs singlehandedly thwarted a vile conspiracy between the Sun and a rogue toaster to interfere with her nap; tips on dealing with tribulations of life such as cats, squirrels, baths, and dinner parties; and formal rules for timeless games such as “Fetch”. Given the proclivities of the species, there is a great deal more about poop here than in the books for boys and girls. I must take exception to the remarks on canine auditory performance on p. 105; dogs have superb hearing and perceive sounds well above the frequency range to which humans respond, but I've yet to meet the pooch able to hear “50,000 kHz”. Silent dog whistles notwithstanding, even the sharpest-eared cur doesn't pick up the six metre band! Dogs who master the skills taught here will want to download the merit badges from the book's Web site and display them proudly on their collars. Dog owners (or, for those living in the moonbat caves of western North America, “guardians”) who find their pet doesn't get as much out of this book as they'd hoped may wish to consult my forthcoming monograph Why Rover Can't Read.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Reading List Content Management System UpdatedThe home-brew Perl content management system I use to maintain the Reading List Web tree has been revised and all documents it generates updated accordingly. If you're using this program to manage your own reading list, you may wish to download and install the new release. Principal changes are:
- Author and topic names which contain ISO 8859-1 accented characters are now sorted as if the characters were not accented.
- External documents may link to the frame-based reading list document and specify which page should be displayed in the main window by appending a “query” to the URL. Typical queries are:
- Links generated by the <Amazon> macro have been updated to conform to Amazon's latest template for associate links.
- The <Amspec> macro has been superseded by a new <Amspecial> macro which allows general references to lists, series, search results, and other queries on Amazon, with the associate ID appended automatically in the correct form for the generated URL.
- A new <Book> macro generates links to books in the list from their permalink numbers. These links are transformed into external links when transcribed to the weblog.txt file.
- XHTML generated for the weblog.txt document automatically transforms <Month> macros from internal references within the reading list tree to external queries which display the month specified by the argument. Text from this document may now be pasted directly into a Web log posting without modification.
- Several formatting errors were corrected in the generation of the noframes.html document, and <Month> macros within it are transformed to intra-document fragment references.
- Averted the “doomsday 2009” crisis where our clever algorithm for assigning background colours to year titles would have resulted in white-on-white text.
- Metadata have been added to improve the indexing of generated documents by search engine “Web crawlers”. Each individual book item now contains a keywords declaration containing its title and author(s) (unique words only, with common articles and prepositions elided), and a robots declaration of index. The master title index serves as the access point to this document, with a robots declaration of noindex,follow. All other generated documents instruct robots to noindex,nofollow, which should prevent redundant indexing of content included in topic, author, month, and year pages.
- Several hard-coded references to Fourmilab-specific Web addresses have been replaced with configurable parameters at the top of the program.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Reading List: No Way to Treat a First Lady
- Buckley, Christopher. No Way to Treat a First Lady. New York: Random House, 2002. ISBN 978-0-375-75875-1.
- First Lady Beth MacMann knew she was in for a really bad day when she awakened to find her philandering war hero presidential husband dead in bed beside her, with the hallmark of the Paul Revere silver spittoon she'd hurled at him the night before as he'd returned from an assignation in the Lincoln Bedroom “etched, etched” upon his forehead. Before long, Beth finds herself charged with assassinating the President of the United States, and before the spectacle a breathless media are pitching as the “Trial of the Millennium” even begins, nearly convicted in the court of public opinion, with the tabloids referring to her as “Lady Bethmac”. Enter superstar trial lawyer and fiancé Beth dumped in law school Boyce “Shameless” Baylor who, without the benefit of a courtroom dream team, mounts a defence involving “a conspiracy so vast…” that the world sits on the edge of its seats to see what will happen next. What happens next, and then, and later, and still later is side-splittingly funny even by Buckley's high standards, perhaps the most hilarious yarn ever spun around a capital murder trial. As in many of Buckley's novels, everything works out for the best (except, perhaps, for the deceased commander in chief, but he's not talking), and yet none of the characters is admirable in any way—welcome to Washington D.C.! Barbs at legacy media figures and celebrities abound, and Dan Rather's inane folksiness comes in for delicious parody on the eve of the ignominious end of his career. This is satire at its most wicked, one of the funniest of Buckley's novels I've read (Florence of Arabia [March 2006] is comparable, but a very different kind of story). This may be the last Washington farce of the “holiday from history” epoch—the author completed the acknowledgements page on September 9th, 2001.