|Tuesday, 29 April 2003, 9:44 pm
They Might Be Giants are in studio right now doing their sound check for tonight’s show. They just performed an hilarious accordion rendition of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. I only caught the end of it on my iBook, but I can’t resist posting it in contravention of all US trade and copyright conventions. Enjoy.
Not available in any store.
|Sunday, 27 April 2003, 1:35 am
I mowed again today. Many of you who saw my lawn tractor have asked, “weren’t the goats supposed to eat the grass?” Yes, they were. But they ate everything but the grass. We got some sheep, too, and they ate the grass and were very docile. Until the goats gave them lessons. So we decided to start with a clean slate.
A couple of months ago we gave the goats, Stella and Andy, to a goat dairy were they will be happily engaged in making overpriced cheese. One of the sheep, Sparks, had gotten bloat last Thanksgiving (note to self: never give a sheep seconds on stuffing) and had to be put down. We gave the other sheep, Jane, away to a winery where she’ll be performing grass eating demonstrations daily for the tourists.
This spring we got two more sheep, untutored in the way of the goat. They are Dorsets and, as you can see from the picture, are very adorable. The boy is named Junior. The girl is Blossom. They eat grass. They don’t eat anything else. I think these sheep have learned from the disappearance of the other animals. Unfortunately, they don’t eat nearly enough grass to eliminate the need for grass cutting implements. Hence the lawn tractor, power mower, and weed whacker. I’d like to see the goats try to eat those.
|Saturday, 26 April 2003, 11:10 am
Work has begun on the 2004 edition of the Almanac. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it again this year. I nearly killed myself doing the last one. This time we’ll have a talented team of elves helping, led by our own Megan Morrone, so I might survive the process. (We’ll let Megan decide whether writing a book is more or less work than having a baby.) Expect delivery in early September.
There won’t be any need for an authorcam this summer – unless Megan decides to share her agony – but I am talking with Que about doing another series of books for them, so stay tuned.
|Friday, 25 April 2003, 12:41 pm
The Screen Savers “house band,” They Might Be Giants will be back in house Tuesday, April 29, performing several songs live on the show.
TMBG were among the first to offer music directly to fans, first via telephone, later over the web, and they still offer free MP3s of their music on their innovative web site. That’s the requisite tech angle, but the truth is, we have them on because we like their music so much. It’s music for smart people.
Maybe we can get them to do the Dr. Evil theme from Austin Powers!
Other exciting upcoming guests: the former host of Internet Tonight, Scott Herriott, will join us May 6 to celebrate TechTV’s 5th anniversary and to talk about his new film, Squatching. William Shatner will be on the show May 8.
|Sunday, 20 April 2003, 11:40 pm
OK so I didn’t get the Thinkpad. Or the Powerbook. I spent my tax refund on a tractor. Hey, I actually needed this.
A boy and his toy
I must have already mowed an acre. One more to go!
|Friday, 11 April 2003, 9:40 pm
As promised, here’s the little movie I shot on my Olympus C3040 digital camera for Call for Help. It’s an MPEG-4 but it’s still a 1.6 meg download. You’ll need Quicktime 6 to play it.
|Monday, 7 April 2003, 10:39 pm
I‘m doing a segment tonight on The Screen Savers on the easy way to publish your blog. Thanks to Blogger and Userland Frontier, there’s a standard way for third-party programs to interact with your blog, making it possible to publish and edit your blog from any wired computer without using the browser interface.
The web services piece is called XML-RPC and was developed by Userland in 1999. Blogger created a standard blog API for XML-RPC which it and many blogging programs support, including the program I use, Movable Type.
For example, I’m posting this entry from a desktop tool for Mac OS X named Kung-Log. The program works with Movable Type- and Nucleus-based blogs. Kung-Log offers all sorts of additional features inculding image uploads, customizable shortcuts for HTML tags I use a lot, local drafts, support for inserting the iTunes track now playing, email notifications (over and above those offered by Movable Type), and local previews so I can make sure my entry will look like it’s supposed to. Kung-Log was written in Cocoa by Adriaan Tijsseling (no I won’t try to say that on TV) and is donation-ware. Send him money – he deserves it.
On the Windows side I use an equally useful program called w.bloggar. Written in Visual Basic by Marcelo L. L. Cabral, w.bloggar supports Blogger, b2, MovableType, Nucleus, BigBlogTool , BlogWorks XML, Blogalia, and Drupal blogs. Basically anything that uses the Blogger API. It’s a dynamite program that does everything Kung-Log does and more. It’s free, too.
What desktop blogging tool do you use? And would you read a blog by Patrick Norton? Post your comments here!
|Saturday, 5 April 2003, 2:27 pm
I‘m working on a segment about fighting spam for The Screen Savers and I’d like some input.
I use a two step approach to fight junk email that seems to work pretty well. My first line of defense is through my ISP, sonic.net. Like many ISPs, Sonic offers spam filtering on the mail server using an open source program called SpamAssassin. SpamAssassin is a hefty Perl script which contains multiple rule sets. Each message is run through the program which scores it based on these rules. As the end-user I set a score threshold. Emails which score too high are held on the server and never touch my inbox. Set the threshold too high and extra spam gets through. Set it too low, and you’ll get false positives, the bane of spam filtering.
After playing around with the settings I’ve found that a threshold score of 6.5 stops 90% of my spam and never stops mail I want. SpamAssassin kills an average of 120 spams a day on my main account. That’s several megabytes of hair restoration ads I never have to download. I review the spam mailbox every few days to make sure it hasn’t trapped anything I want, and after several months of operation I’ve found it to be quite reliable.
But what of the 10% of spam messages that sneak by SpamAssassin? For that I use client-side filtering. I do all my email on Mac OS X using a streamlined and powerful program called PowerMail. I use an add-on spam filter called SpamSieve by Michael Tsai with PowerMail. It also works with MailSmith, Apple Mail, and Entourage. SpamSieve uses a new technique to detect spam called “Bayesian filtering.” Bayesian analysis of text has been around for years. As far as I can tell, Paul Graham was the first to propose its use in fighting junk email in his article “A Plan For Spam”. (Do read the article – it’s the best explanation of the issues in fighting spam I’ve ever read. And make sure to check the links at the bottom.)
As Graham points out, most spam filters end up working like pesticides. They simply breed smarter spammers. Because Bayesian based filtering techniques continue to learn and evolve, they can be expected to keep up with spammers. I’ve not found that to be completely true, but once you’ve fed 500 or so good and bad messages to the filter, it does do a very good job of detecting the bad stuff. According to SpamSieve’s own statistics on my machine it has processed 8018 spam messages and 48,195 good messages with a 98.7% accuracy rate. In other words, it only missed 572 penis enlarger ads, and incorrectly marked 186 messages from my mom as spam. (Which might be the first time “penis enlarger” and “my mom” have ever appeared together in a sentence.) That’s still 186 false positives too many, but it’s the best I’ve found to date. SpamSieve is particularly accurate with mailing lists. Many spam filters incorrectly tag newsletters as spam. I subscribe to several dozen lists. Thanks to the combination of SpamAssassin and SpamSieve I haven’t missed any issues.
SpamAssassin uses a combination of Bayesian techniques, rule-based filters, and white and blacklists to do its job. Its developers are constantly fiddling with the rules, so it seems to keep up pretty well with the spammers. Why is it spammers try so hard to get past mail filters? Clearly if I’m filtering on the word Viagra, I don’t want to see messages about it. What’s the point in spelling it V i a g r a? Maybe it’s because most spammers aren’t trying to sell anything at all. According to an interesting study by Wired News, most spam is designed merely to harvest your email address. That’s why you should never reply to spam – even to complain.
Since I don’t use Windows to read email any more, I don’t have much experience with Windows-based spam filters, Bayesian or otherwise. I’ve been waiting for my buddy Mark Thompson to ship his long-awaited Spambo. He showed me a pre-release version during the Call for Help-a-thon in December, and it looked pretty amazing, but for some reason he’s holding on to it. Meanwhile I’ve been trying a Bayesian-based program called Ella from Open Field Software. It’s an Outlook plug-in and it does a fairly good job. Ultimately Open Field plans to release it as an automatic mail categorizer, much like John Graham-Cumming’s POPFile. We’ve featured John and POPFile on the show, but many users report that they find it a little confusing to set up. I’m going to give it a try this weekend and I’ll let you know.
I also subscribe to SpamCop but I no longer use it to filter my mail. For $30 a year you can run all your incoming mail through Spamcop before it hits your inbox. If your ISP doesn’t offer SpamAssassin, this might make a good alternative, but I found that Spamcop was stopping too much legitimate mail especially mailing lists. I do use my Spamcop email address whenever I have to give an address to a web site, however. I find that the @spamcop.net address alone seems to be enough to deter them from selling my name.
I’d like to review some other solutions, too, but there are so many spam filters for Windows I hardly know where to start. That’s where I need your help. Which spam fighters have you tried, and what has been your experience with them? Please add your thoughts to the comments section here and I will be glad to credit you in the final article for The Screen Savers web site.
|Wednesday, 2 April 2003, 10:18 pm
It’s been just over two years since I stopped hosting Call for Help (you can read my original email about leaving in The Laporte Report from March 15, 2001). A number of people hosted the show after I left, including my good friend Chris Pirillo. But I have to admit, I could never watch the show without a little twinge of longing. I missed doing it more than I ever would have thought.
Well I’m very pleased to report that I’m coming back. Chris is moving to greener pastures (I’m sure he’ll have more to say about it on his blog) and TechTV has invited me to return as host of Call for Help starting tomorrow. We’ll miss Chris a lot. He added a bunch of much needed tech savvy to the channel. And I valued him as a colleague and a friend.
I’ll be returning CFH to its roots as a call-in help show as quickly as possible, taking as many of your calls as we can fit into an hour each day. I know the time slot isn’t ideal for many of you (3p Eastern/Noon Pacific) but there will be beefed-up weekend repeats. And if the show goes well (that is, if you and all your friends watch it religiously) it will prove what I’ve contended all along: people want to watch computer help on TV. And maybe then we can move it to a more convenient hour.
Naturally, I will continue to co-host The Screen Savers with Patrick, and Cat has agreed to continue on as co-host on Call for Help. Please tune-in and call-in Call for Help, weekdays at 3p Eastern on TechTV. (Now if we can only find the old show open.)