Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: February 2006 (page 2 of 3)

Shotgun pellets

The reporting on gun-related aspects of the “Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face” story has been woeful. Few reporters seem to know much at all about hunters, shotguns, shotgun shells, or anything else that might be helpful in explaining this story to laymen. I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about guns, either, but I know enough to know that the reporting has been atrocious.

According to the game warden’s report, Cheney was using a 28 gauge shotgun loaded with 7 1/2 shot, which is birdshot (not buckshot). Gunshop.com has a page listing shot sizes. As you can see, 7 1/2 shot and buckshot are not really comparable. The hospital also reported that the shotgun pellet lodged near Harry Whittington’s heart is 5mm in diameter. That’s not right, either. Unless it grew somehow, it’s about 2.5mm in diameter.

A little research on 28 gauge shotguns revealed that they use a 3/4 ounce load (it also reveals that 28 gauge shotguns are quite the trendy choice for discriminating hunters these days). Looking back at the reference page for various shot sizes reveals that there are 350 pellets in an ounce of 7 1/2 shot (317 if you’re using steel shot rather than lead). That means that the shell Cheney fired had around 250 pellets in it. Some articles say that Whittington was hit by up to 200 pellets, which would mean that Cheney got him with nearly every pellet in the shotgun shell. I expect that number to be revised downward.

None of this has much to do with the aspects of the story people seem to be interested in, but I’m a pedant.

Email hell

As part of migrating everything to the new server, I’m trying to clean out my mailbox on the old server. I had thought I had forwarded all of the email accouns I used to my Gmail account, as part of a project to consolidate all of my email at one address. (Previously I had many, many email addresses. This eventually became the cause of much stress and angst, even though they were mostly forwarded to one mailbox.) Anyway, I started to tar the contents of my home directory and discovered that Maildir a lot of email. I opened the mailbox with Thunderbird and discovered about 8100 unread emails, roughly 8090 of which are SPAM. The remainder of the emails are stuff I probably should have responded to a long time ago. I hate email.

Eating out on Valentine’s Day

My wife and I don’t eat out on Valentine’s Day. The anonymous waiter explains why. In the article he refers to Valentine’s Day as “amatuer night.” I heard exactly the same characterization last week from the owner of a nice restaurant where we sometimes eat — “amateur night.” Bottom line, most of the nice restaurants here will be fully booked, they’ll be offering a truncated prix fixe menu with the most boring dishes imaginable, and the most obnoxious customers will be thick on the ground. I rate Valentine’s Day as safe to skip, but I guess it depends on your significant other. I’m happy that my wife understands the downsides of holiday-mandated romace.

The memory leak, fixed

Awhile back, I mentioned a memory leak that gave me fits. After numerous bouts with the profiler, lots of hand wringing, and many outage notifications, I was totally at a loss. There was nothing obvious in the profiler output that pointed to the problem, and turning off various components of the system in attempt to isolate the problem didn’t help. One day our systems administrator updated the MySQL JDBC driver on the server and we decided to see whether that fixed the problem. As it turns out, that was the problem — the server hasn’t run out of memory for a couple of weeks, and it used to have to be started every 48 hours. Leaky abstractions strike again.

Using Movable Type to publish a link blog

Anyone have any tips on the best way to use Movable Type to publish a weblog of links? The basic requirement is that each link has a title and description, and that you can link directly to the destination (rather than the weblog entry) from the RSS/Atom feed.

It seems like you need three fields to do it the traditional way — a title field, a field for the description of the link, and a field for the link itself. I’m thinking that the simplest approach is to use the title for the title, the entry field for the description, and the extended entry field for the URL to the destination, and then write alternate templates that use those fields as I intend. Is there a more accepted approach?

Craigslist and fair housing laws

Fair housing activists have filed a lawsuit against Craigslist because the site failed to filter out ads that advertise housing in a discriminatory fashion. I’m interested in this because I have sympathy for both sides. Discrimination in housing ads strikes me as a bad thing, and indeed Craigslist added a warning about posting discriminatory ads in response to complaints. The other side though is that what makes Craigslist work is that everything is automated. There’s no good way to flag discriminatory ads without human intervention, and if every ad has to be screened by a human, there’s no way that Craigslist will be able to operate at the scale that it does right now.

I thought that one possible solution might be to put a “this ad is discriminatory” button on every housing ad, enabling people to report on problem ads. However, Craigslist is already adding a listing fee in some cities to stop abuse by brokers who spam the real estate listings. What would stop people from just reporting competitors maliciously? I’ll be interested to see what additional steps Craigslist takes to address this issue.

Update: Craigslist has responded to the lawsuit. Sounds like the lawsuit is much ado about nothing.

The gatekeepers

Tristan Louis has a post on gatekeepers in the weblog world, the idea being that the “A list” bloggers set the agenda and most other people pick up the topics of interest based on what the gatekeepers are talking about. I tend to fall into the camp that argues that this sort of thing is inevitable. Nobody can absorb and process all of the information that’s available, and what follows from that simple truth is that some sources of information are going to be more popular and more trusted than others.

What I find interesting is failures of the gatekeeping class, whether it’s on the Web, in print, or elsewhere. The furor that has arisen over the offensive editorial cartoons is an example of what happens when gatekeepers misuses their influence. The cartoons were actually published last September, and only through an organized effort by gatekeepers in the Muslim community did they become the cause of global rioting that they are today. Were the cartoons provocative and offensive? Of course. But it was the irresponsible acts of gatekeepers that have led to riots, death, and destruction.

Every day in the blogosphere you can find people posting highly dubious, incredibly inflammatory stories that spread fast because they’re provocative. Take a look at the new entries at Snopes.com on any given day and see the triumph of outrage over common sense. Given that gatekeepers are a fact of life, is it wrong to expect more of them? (I’ll leave the discussion of the positive correlation between popularity and provocation for some other time.)

The great American novel

Tyler Cowen argues that Moby Dick is the great American novel. I confess that I have never read it, although I did write a research paper on it when I was a junior in high school. The general argument against Moby Dick is that it’s tedious and difficult, and that’s what has always deterred me from reading it. Should I reconsider?

Welcome to the new server

If you can read this, you’re seeing the new server. Please leave a comment if you notice any breakage.

Comments are down for now

I’m anticipating moving the site soon, so I’ve disabled comments until things are migrated to the new server.

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