Monthly Archives: December 2006

Christmas in Samarra

Samarra Iraq on Patrol

A family friend is serving in Iraq, he is engaged in the hazardous day-to-day work of restoring basic security for the Iraqi people. I have no idea if this is having an impact on the safety of Iraqi citizens or the occupation forces, but I sincerely hope so.

It’s one thing to deal with the war in the abstract, and quite another to stand in your kitchen and speak with a mother about her son’s deployment in harm’s way.

His patrol spends most of its time “in the field”, and the conditions do not sound like something most of us coddled Americans would be able to tolerate for more than a few hours, let alone weeks. He’s passed along a request for some basic toiletries that are often sold out at the PX, as well as some special requests. It seems particularly galling to me that, three years into this war, and with repeated media stories on shortages in body armor and other military essentials, the wealthiest nation on earth is incapable of maintaining adequate supplies of soap and lip balm for its soldiers on top of everything else.

The chances we leave Iraq better than we found it seem impossbily dim at the moment, but as far as I can tell, the morale of US soldiers and their belief in the mission remains high. I hope you will consider making a small donation or writing a letter to brighten the day of a soldier serving in a hostile and unfamiliar environment. If you contact me, I can provide you the address and names of the men serving in the patrol of our family friend. Otherwise, you can visit Operation Mail From Home. Scroll down to the bottom of the list to see the most recent requests from US soldiers in Iraq.

PS – I am not interested in a discussion of the conflict’s merits. If you are incapable of separating the desire to help your neighbor, or your neighbor’s neighbor, from your feelings about the attendant external forces, then please click along.

Here is the request for items we received:

  • Toiletries: toothbrushes (apparently Army-issue is not so soft), soap, lotion, shampoo, deodorant (small hotel size is perfect)
  • Small boxes of sandwich bags to hold toiletries
  • Quart and gallon-size ziploc bags to hold other things (and keep out the sand)
  • Liquid hand cleaner
  • Small packs of tissues
  • Lip balm or Carmex
  • Foot cream for athlete’s feet (they live in their boots)
  • Small packages of baby wipes that can fit in their pockets
  • Packages of AA or AAA batteries
  • Candy bars (til March, then I think it gets too hot), gum, mints, etc.
  • Granola bars, small boxes of raisins, small cans of tuna, etc.
  • Magazines: Maxim, etc. (for the Privates); Mens Journal, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, The Economist (for the officers)
  • Special: DVDs
  • Really extra special: Cigars (for the end of a mission)
  • update: Deflated soccer balls – very popular with iraqi children

Update: Note to self, test contact form. Contact page is now working. killed the conventional broadcast format star

I never watch television. Twelve years on the internet have raised my expectations for media consumption to levels television — as it is presently programmed and delivered — simply cannot meet. This is a failure of the technology (the ~9yr gestational period for “iTV”, which we are still very much in, despite Steve Jobs’ crazy alpha-product announcements to the contrary) and the format. My information consumption on the internet is catholic and frenzied, twenty open firefox tabs, ancillary wikipedia references in a separate window, IE open so I can monitor both my gmail accounts, and topic browsing from tech gadgets to contemporary art to the (shameful) history of US military interventions in Central and South America. If I had to guess, I’d say I absorb the equivalent of at least 7 television documentaries in a 90 minute period of intense surfing, certainly in terms of data retained for future use. My digital television signal from Time Warner (non-HDTV) has a bit rate of about 21 MB/s, that’s the data stream I’m consuming in watching a single channel. You could argue my max potential consumption with DTV is double that with PiP, but there’s only a single audio stream so it tops out somewhere south of 42 MB/s. That was more than enough data pre-internet, but the time-shifting of the blog-o-wiki-google-net (everything is TIVO’d for me online), and the ability to run PiP at 10X+ television thanks to browser tabs, has raised the bar beyond the reach of channel-based video distribution. I’m consuming approximately 147 MB/s of data online… pretty cool.

So as I said, television has lost most of its appeal. Cartoons (art on TV), movies/HBO-programming (very high-quality entertainment media with visceral emotional appeal) and the very occasional live spectacle (sports, election2000) are the only media that have any draw left for me. Like Kathy says, it’s all about the peekaboo effect, and I want that 7X multiplier of the discovery reward that the internet gives me, at best television gives you one lousy PiP and a one-channel looped “back button”… an interface so obsolete as to be borderline physically painful to use.

All of this is to say that last night I sat down and watched about 30 minutes of current_, and I was hooked. I had 30 minutes of vegged-out tv consumption that I haven’t had in I don’t know how long and I was entertained. Current gets it. They crowdsource top-tier UGC, I was shocked to find myself anticipating/looking forward to seeing another UG’d commercial after catching a cool CGI spot for Sony’s portable gadgets lineup. And they put the creator’s headshot, name, age (19!) and location up on the screen. They run timeline bars under some of their programming, nice when you’re not so interested in one of the shorts, at least you know how much time is left. And they are replicating the way people consume media now in the real world on television… genius is datamining the natural world for its inherent truths and converting the result to actionable information. Einstein did a pretty good job with E=mc^2, and Al Gore and company have done it with current_. The format is a combination of the net-browsing modality with the visceral appeal of a game show (who’s going to win the next $10,000 video prize? the next $1,000 commercial spot?) and it works for me.

Another interpretation is that they have MTV’d the internet, the format — with perky VJs introducing videos and the aforementioned taglines for videos/commercials — is essentially identical, and I predict current_ will be as innovative for television/internet convergence as MTV was for television/music convergence. It’s also a HUGELY underdeveloped asset in Google’s back pocket (not sure what the extent of the relationship is, but Yahoo needs to replicate this tuit le suit). GOOG’s radio adventures don’t make much sense to me, though I imagine the barrier to entry is lower (I’m sure current_ is only seen by a pittance of the US audience at present) as is the inherent animosity towards the internet in radioland. But I see current_ becoming a core component of Google’s approaching total media dominance. Good stuff, maybe there’s hope for the idiot-box yet.

KillerApp: Manage Logins Across Multiple Machines

100% Cotton

I did a tally the other day and found I am tracking login data for over 135 web services. I have an acceptable method for automating logins on the computers I own, although even there some improvements could definitely be made, but lack a method to do this “in the wild” when I am not on a trusted computer. was much discussed at a recent event I attended, and its success was traced to its effective expansion of core web-browsing functionality (fully portable bookmarks). I had always looked at delicious from a social/link-sharing perspective, and perhaps overlooked this more fundamental secret to its success.

I mention those two items together because I think the individual/company that solves the login problem — a web-based, secure, automatic login/password manager aka “fully portable identity” — will scale the web2.0 long tail and enjoy a similar “delicious” level of success. A p2p solution makes sense to me. When I think about me and a bunch of other folks dumping all our passwords into a single online repository, or “the most attractive hacker honeypot ev4r”, I get nervous. What would be neat is an application similar in concept to FolderShare, where you can log on to a website from an untrusted computer and have secure access to files you maintain on a trusted machine. IdentityShare would provide a web UI (for untrusted computers) and perhaps a Firefox plugin (for semi-trusted computers) that connects you to your personal database of login information on an as-needed basis, without creating a single point of attack for millions of sensitive logins.

In the absence of that, here are some links and recommended services, with hat tips to all who shared their thoughts.

from Greg Harris:
Roboform. There is a version that installs on a usb memory stick. It keeps all login and passwords and works with IE and Firefox.

from Ed Costello:
Microsoft is developing something called “InfoCard” which is another approach (you maintain an identity “card” on your system), unlike their first approach (Firefly, which was rebranded Passport when acquired by MS). Kim Cameron, the guy developing InfoCard recognizes that there’s other platforms than MS, though LiveID is based on a mesh of the InfoCard concept and Passport.

Also, the guys at Sxip have been pushing their system for “on demand identity management” for the past couple of years.

Google Account Authentication
Yahoo! Browser Based Authentication
from JSZ:
You may also want to check out password safe. Works very well and uses a high-level of encryption (twofish) to store its data.

Update: The Sxipper has set sail! I will be giving it a try and hopefully have some thoughts to share…