Read your congressperson's blog

The eminent and celebrated E. Thomas Kemp points us to a wonderful and clever use of news aggregation and weblog technologies, Plogress. Using Perl and WordPress, the apparently anonymous administrator has created a site that sucks data out of the Library of Congress and displays a blog of the doings of individual Senators and Representatives. Now I can keep an eye on Mike, Richard, and Evan through my RSS newsreader! I'm sure they all read my blog, right?

Switchers Everywhere

There's a whole lot o' switchin' going on. I spent some time last night helping one of my recently-moved-in housemates, Damon, set up his new PowerMac G4, which is his first real experience with Mac and OS X, coming from the world of Windows. I was able to re-live my own excitement of that first switching boot-up a few years ago, and as I took him on a tour and showed him New Ways of doing things (including the Firefox browser) our session was filled with Damon exclaiming things like, "you mean, that just works?" and "oh my gosh that's pretty" and "I'll never use another f#@$@! PC again". Okay, so maybe I said some of those things too. 🙂 And then this morning as I was listening to NPR, the 7:50 story was about the increasing popularity of Apple, Macs, and the rumors that bubble up around the forthcoming Macworld Expo. The 7:56 story was about Firefox, the browser that I use exclusively these days because it is faster, better, and helps me browse really does everything I want it to (a surprisingly recent development in the world of browsers from my standpoint). The NPR story used the key phrases: "open source movement" and "eating away at Microsoft's market share". It's fun to see smarter/faster/better at work and taking hold in a world that often prefers mainstream-but-broken.

Perl script to check Sprint PCS minute usage

After a few incidents of going over my Sprint PCS minute usage without any warning, I hacked together a Perl script that will log in to the website and check my minute usage for me. It e-mails me a warning if I go over a certain usage percentage. I thought I'd post it in case anyone else might find it useful: I believe Sprint charges something like $3/month for a similar service. Note that you need a few extra modules installed, and you need the components for WWW::Mechanize that allow SSL connections. Consult your local Perl expert for help with this if you need it; I can't provide support here. It may well require tweaking depending on how standard your calling plan is, or other variations that I don't know about. And of course it's subject to breakage when Sprint updates the HTML code on their site.

Any comments or refinements are welcome. Enjoy!

Sprint PCS needs to run cron jobs more often

Fair warning: this post is pure rant.

I have a Sprint PCS phone that I use as my primary, and only, home phone line. There are tons of reasons why I like this arrangement, which I won't go into here, but I've been a loyal, pay-on-time Sprint customer for several years now. Which is why it was maddeningly frustrating to go to make a call today and get a note that my account had been shut off because I was over my spending limit.
Continue reading Sprint PCS needs to run cron jobs more often

Gas Pump Buffer Overflow

Random rant: In 1970, Intel produced a memory chip, the first, capable of storing 1 kilobyte of data - a couple of paragraphs of text or so. Today, one can obtain memory chips that store many gigabytes of data - enough to hold entire movies, encyclopedias, and more - for mere hundreds of dollars. So, why is it that when I finish pumping gas at a gas station and hit the "RECEIPT YES" button, the piece of crap machine can't store that one simple keystroke in its input buffer long enough that it doesn't have to ask me 5 seconds later, "RECEIPT? (YES/NO)". It can remember a credit card number, do complex fuel tax calculations, and even tell me about the latest sugar-coated crap I can buy inside, but not that I pressed that button a few seconds ago. It's a scary, scary world we live in, folks. Bah!

Fighting Spam

Today I had a speaking engagement on combating unsolicited junkmail (spam). It was one of my first opportunities to speak about this topic to a public audience, and I was glad for the chance to share all of the knowledge I've accumulated about what is increasingly the bane of the Internet. A lot of people seem to be content to hit the delete key as they sort through their e-mail, but I think many are realizing that this approach doesn't "scale" well -- insert here numerous statistics about how much it costs and will cost in lost productivity, abused resources, deaths of baby seals, etc. The participants in my seminar were thirsty for details about the phenomenon and how to make it go away. I think the complexity of the issue can be surprising to some, so end-user education is one of the best things one can do to address the problem.

Any way you look at it, spam sucks, and it's not going away. As it becomes more of a problem, folks will look for better solutions, and I'm glad that I'm involved in that effort.