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Gmail Charity Auction

As I said below, I find the whole idea of auctioning off (freely gotten) Gmail accounts for profit really crass. Which is why I'm giving one away for free (see below). But it occurred to me last night that auctioning off a Gmail account for charity might be a really good way to give back to the community and raise funds for the AIDS ride, while also providing a Gmail account to somebody who really wants it.

So, I decided I'm going to auction off my last Gmail invitation to whomever is willing to make the largest (fully tax deductible) donation to my AIDS/Lifecycle effort. It will work somewhat like a silent auction, except via email rather than in writing.

The Rules:

1. email mhonan+gmailauction@gmail.com with your bid.
2. Minimum bid is $50
3. I'll close the auction on Tuesday May 4, 2004 at 5PM Pacific time, and notify the winner via email. The winner will then be expected to make a donation via my fundraising page on the AIDS/Lifecycle website.
4. Upon confirmation of your donation, I'll send you the invite via email. If the high bidder no longer wants/needs the address, I'll move it down the line.
5. In the case of a tie, I'll notify the high bidders, and extend the auction 24 hours (open to those bidders only).
Note: I'll only be giving away one invite via this auction. If you'd like to go ahead and make a pledge or donation to AIDS/Lifecycle, please do so, but note that it will not in any way affect your chances of getting the invitation. Only bids made via email to mhonan+gmailauction@gmail.com will be considered for the Gmail invitation.

To learn more about AIDS Lifecycle, and the 585 mile bike ride I'll be doing in June to raise funds for people living with HIV and AIDS, please click here.

Update: Auction Closed! Thanks everybody! More info TK.

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Gmail Derby -- Win My Gmail Invite

I have an extra Gmail invitation to hand out. I could auction it off on eBay, like some chuckleheads. But that seems crass. Yet the thing is, I want to make sure that whomever gets the invite actually wants it, and will take advantage of it. I've already helped two different people get hooked up with Gmail accounts who haven't even used them. I'm about damn tired of pouring Cristal for teetotalers, word?

I want to invite somebody who really desperately wants a Gmail account, and will get a lot of use out of it.

The problem is, most of my friends fall into one of three categories:
a) "What's a gmail, yo?"
b) "Feh! I already have, like, eight Gmail accounts. Hey, by the way, want to go to the Ren-Faire this weekend? Please?"
c) "Dude! Are you using Gmail? Don't you know it SCANS YOUR BRAIN AND TELLS TOM RIDGE WHAT YOU'RE THINKING!?!?. Dude! Don't email me from that thing! Dude! I'm serious, don't!"

So I decided to give it away on this site. Want my extra invite? You can have it. There are three (3!) ways to win.

1. In the comments section below, write a paragraph on why you deserve a Gmail account. 150 words or less, por favor. Supporting hyperlinks and footnotes (which won't count against your word total) are strongly encouraged.

2. In the comments section below, post a link to an original photograph, artwork, or other digital image file that demonstrates your need for a Gmail account.

3. In the comments section below, post a link to an original two-minute song about Gmail. Or monkeys in America. Either one.

Deadline for entries is Tuesday, May 4, 2004 at 5 PM Pacific time. Enter as many times as you like.

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iTunes 4.5 Update

Apple updated iTunes to version 4.5 today, and added several nifty new features. Some observations on a few of them:

*The Party Shuffle feature seemed a little weird to me at first. I mean, I can already shuffle any playlist, right? But when I saw it, the utility of it hit me immediately: you can reorder the shuffle, eliminate crap before it hits the speaker, and generally have all the ease of automatic shuffling with the benefits of creating a playlist. Screenshot.

*I like the ability to publish playlists, if for no other reason than I'm a big nerd. It would be nice if Apple gave users a cut of the purchases made through a list (ar at least store credits at the iTMS) But when I tried publishing a playlist, I found that it would only ten of the twenty-six tracks I had on there. I have no idea if there is a numeric limit, or if this is for some other reason such as unavailability. Several of the songs I had set up for the playlist (screenshot) didn't make the cut, although most were available for sale on iTMS. I put in a few, such as the Kleptones song, that I knew wouldn't be in the store just to see how it would handle it. It ignored them. Here's the playlist I created. Be sure to give me a great rating. Or not. Either way.

*I'm psyched about the new jewel case insert printing. I like how easily it can add CD album art to a Jewel Case, this is a great feature for those of us who buy and burn a lot of songs from the iTMS, and then have to leave everything in non-descript, or ugly handwritten cases. I wish you could use your own images, though. Screenshot.

*Browsing the radio charts on the iTMS would be a lot better if they had a category for college radio. Browsing by geographic location, however, is really cool. If depressing.

*Apple Lossless Encoder? No thank you. I prefer FLAC.

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Figueroa Introduces Legislation to Ban Gmail

It hasn't been reported in the press yet (although I filed a news brief on it for Tech Daily), but California Democratic State Senator Liz Figueroa Introduced S.B 1822 today, the bill "would forbid the review of e-mail content unless Google (or any other e-mail provider) first obtains the consent of all the parties to an e-mail conversation." It also includes exemptions that would allow e-mail providers to continue to scan email for spam and viruses.

My question is: how will this affect corporate email systems, where messages are routinely scanned for objectionable content? Obviously, Company X can't require that everyone sending a message to its empoyees to consent to having their messages scanned. It would seem that this would prohibit companies from scanning employee emails, or cause them to quit providing email service altogether.

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Gmail Via Blogger

Google is handing out Gmail accounts to "active" Blogger users. When I logged into Blogger this evening, I saw the following announcement listed on the sidebar. Harper got the message too.

(If the above link redirects you to Blogger's front page, here's a screenshot of what the invite looks like for "active" users. Note that even Evan doesn't seem to know what makes a user "active.")

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I Got More Rhymes Than I Got Gray Hairs

I was 24, and standing in my friend Troy's kitchen. He grinned, and his eyes lit up and focused in on me. He pointed at my head, laughed, and said "so you've got some gray hairs, too." It was the first time anyone had noticed. I had noticed them, just a few all in the same place. I told myself they grew over an old scar. That there was some forgotten head wound below--which was totally plausible--and that this was just an anomaly. I didn't have gray hair, really. I just had a scar borne of reckless youth; a bike wreck, a camping trip, a keg stand.

But then I noticed another old scar. And another. And for a year or two it was still possible to imagine myself young--staggering and bloodied--with yet another head wound, which I would soon forget like just another A-Team episode.

But by the time I was 28 or so, reality began to set in. You wouldn't notice it, unless you're some sort of creep, but little colonies were starting to take root all across my skull. One hair would appear. And then it would have a neighbor, and a few more. And I kind of liked it, to be honest. It was fun. It was a novelty, like Madonna was when "Like a Virgin" came out.

But remember when you first heard "Papa Don't Preach," you were all, like, "oh yeah, right, whatever, Madonna, like you care. How about you don't preach?" And then the next thing you know she's in, like, every other movie and all the movies suck and you think, well it can't get much worse than this, she's about done now, she must be at least around 14.5 minutes or so, and then you turn on MTV and see "Like a Prayer" for the first time.

And that's sort of what it's like right now, at 31. Except the difference is that I know about Vogue and The Sex Book and the dirty videos and the Brittney kiss and the fake British accent and the decades of your life that would roll past you from childhood to, well, gray hair, from "Border Line" to that Che Guevara thing, and just how much worse it would all get with no end in sight until--you have to assume--you just wake up one day and find that there's nothing left but Madonna. I know. I see it. Every time I look in the mirror; there's that miserable gap-toothed bitch. Don't look now, motherfucker, but you're creeping up on Evita.

It's all I see now, this impending headfull of gray hair. My temples, my bangs, the sides of my head and (I have to assume) the back have all been colonized. People are starting to call me "sir." It's a mess. I panic now every time I brush my teeth. Yet every time I complain about my hair going gray, somebody--usually Harper--tells me that at least I'm not getting bald.

"My hair's turning gray!"

"Hey, at least you're not losing it."

But in some ways, I think going bald might be preferable. The thing is, my gray hair doesn't bother me from a vanity standpoint. It's not like I think it looks bad. It looks sort of nice, even. And I don't care if it makes me look older. I've been getting carded for something like fifteen or twenty years, now, and I'm tired of it. No. It bothers me because it's like seeing my grave site. It's an inescapable reminder that time keeps on moving by, and that you never get a second of it back. People go bald at all sorts of ages. I knew a few kids in high school who were already exhibiting fairly advanced male pattern baldness. By the time you graduate from college, you have all kinds of friends with nicknames like "curly" and "cueball." But nobody's gray in high school. Nobody. Only old people are gray. Old, old, used-up human beings who have to worry about calcium and fiber and grandchildren. Grandchildren!

I look in the mirror, and I see that I'm dying. Forget that I've never been healthier in my whole life; I'm dying, okay? And I look back at the mirror and I think, "shit how can I be dying, I'm only 25!?!" And then I remember (because it reminds me) "You're not 25! You're dying! You're old! You're old!"

And then I remember we're all dying. All of us. One day, we'll drop dead. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe health has nothing to do with it. A bus, a comet, a car crash, an apocalyptic event unforeseen. And so maybe it makes me live, dying. Makes me get up and go, suck the marrow, and all that. Go see the world, get yourself attacked by lions and cobras and muggers and French people. Maybe the reminder of death keeps me from settling for a job I hate, and coming home to the television (What the fuck is on the television these days anyway? Friends? Is that shit still on? How about Will & Grace? I'm glad to have no idea, other than my beloved Simpsons. And King of the Hill. And Arrested Development. And sometimes Survivor. And the News Hour. And crazy Gary Radnich on KRON. Fuck! I watch too much TV! I'm going to die, die! Why am I watching TV?) and a half a six pack and perfectly coifed head of chestnut hair. Or maybe the two things are totally unrelated. Maybe the gray is just there. And the way I live is just the way I live. And life is just as short or as long as you make, no matter how much time you're given.

And what do you want to do, before you die?

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Kevin Fox's Fury.com has long, long been one of my favorite web sites. The first design for this page, in fact, shamelessly ripped off Fury's layout.

But for those of you, like me, who have been reading Fury for a long time, have doubtlessly seen Kevin's teasers for Randompixel, a project where he released several disposable cameras to strangers with a return mailer and instructions to pass them on.

When I first read about it, I was captivated. What a great idea! And then I began to wait. And wait. And wait. And finally, six years after it began, randompixel is finally live. Kudos, Kevin. Enjoy.

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When in LA...

...go see Michael Sweeney:

all the rock and roll you can stand without your head exploding from awesomeness!!!  so monday is my very first show on my lonesome and oh how i'd love it if'n you came out to see me.  its the 19th of April, it's at 8pm and its only 7 bucks.  "Only 7 bucks!," you say?  "Where do I sign up?"   Well, here's what you do.  You go to the Club Lingerie at 6507 Sunset Boulevard you tell them at the door you're there to see me and then you commence with rockin'.  And don't worry, there's not anything even remotely related to lingerie at this establishment. 

much to my disappointment.   

see you then,


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Good Interface, Bad Architechture

John King ponders Apple's windowless box two blocks from Union Square

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Testing Gmail Ads

One of the more interesting, and concerning, aspects of Google's new Gmail service is its ability to scan the text of your email messages to serve Google text ads. I had sent and received several messages without ever having an ad served. But then I exchanged a few emails with someone to whom I was trying to send a large attachment. In the body of the emails, we discussed the attachment's size, and her inability to receive it. And then, voila, my first Gmail ad--a remarkably intuitive text ad that offered to solve the very problem we were discussing. This intrigued me. Just how smart is the system? I thought I'd experiment with a few messages, just to see what types of ads Gmail would serve if I gamed the system.

I began by trying a message that I assumed Google would have no trouble with, a short message about Wi-Fi routers:

(click to enlarge)

Gmail performed as expected, serving up thee Wi-Fi ads, one of which was specifically about routers, and another of which would have led me to a router in a few steps. But what would happen if I made the message more specific? Would inserting the text "linksys" and "smc" cause Gmail to serve me an ad for those specific routers? Yes:

This was an easy one, I would have been surprised had Gmail not picked up on the Wi-Fi text and served me a related ad. But what happens when the query is a little more nebulous? I tried writing a message that a human would obviously pick up on as having to do with traveling to the San Diego area. I was interested to see if Gmail would serve me an ad for San Diego, rental cars, airfare, or hotel rooms. But I also tried to make the message somewhat vague. Gmail did not pick up on it:

Getting nothing, I tried again, this time inserting the word "travel" into the message. Again, no ads:

I decided that maybe Gmail would do better with a few specifics, so I added some corporate names to the message, to see if that would prompt a few travel ads. It did:

I wondered if Gmail weighted the subject line more heavily than the body of the message, but Gmail still did not get that I might be traveling to San Diego:

Finally, I tried spelling out exactly what I was looking for, a la Ask Jeeves. This time Gmail picked up on what I was getting at, but remained San Diego focused:

But note that in the above message, I had listed San Diego multiple times. What would happen if it only showed up once? Gmail again was unable to serve me an ad:

Interestingly, I tried inputting the exact text from the messages that resulted in ads in a regular Google search just to see if I'd get the same results. But rather than doing a better job of filtering through the message and serving text ads, as I expected, the regular Google search didn't serve me any ads at all.

So what does all this mean? I don't know. I'm just a caveman. But what I'm taking away from it is that although the ads are pretty damn smart, they aren't brilliant.

Update: If you have any interesting results from Gmail ads, please either email them to me, or link to them in the comments section below. Also: note that some of these are "sponsored links" while others are "related pages," and according to Kevin "Nobody pays for them to be there."

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Michael Chabon: Deatheater

Michael Chabon has a great Op-Ed in today's New York Times: "I started to write because once it had been nourished, stoked and liberated by those secret confederates, I could not hold back the force of my imagination. I had been freed, and I felt that it was now up to me to do the same for somebody else, somewhere, trapped in his or her own lonely tower."

Chabon makes great points on the need teens have to purge themselves of the demons within through art and the redemptive qualities of creative expression.

For the record, David Foster Wallace's "The Girl with Curious Hair," the story that kicked off all this hooey, is one of the better pieces of short fiction I've ever read.

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Death and Taxes:

David Cay Johnston smashes the myths of the Bush tax cuts, unless, of course, you're one of the lucky few making over $500,000 a year. I heard Johnston on NPR last week and Air America today, and both times I've left fuming. Here's an excerpt from his article in Sunday's Chronicle:
The federal tax system that millions of Americans are forced to deal with before April 15 is not at all what you think it is. Congress has changed it in recent decades from a progressive system in which the more one earns the more one pays in income taxes. It has become a subsidy system for the super rich.

Through explicit policies, as well as tax laws never reported in the news, Congress now literally takes money from those making $30,000 to $500,000 per year and funnels it in subtle ways to the super rich -- the top 1/100th of 1 percent of Americans.

People making $60,000 paid a larger share of their 2001 income in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes than a family making $25 million, the latest Internal Revenue Service data show. And in income taxes alone, people making $400,000 paid a larger share of their incomes than the 7,000 households who made $10 million or more.


The 2001 Bush tax cuts included a stealth tax increase on the middle class and upper-middle class that will cost them a half trillion dollars in the first 10 years and, for 35 million families, wiping out part or all of their Bush tax cuts.

The stealth tax boost on people making $30,000 to $500,000 was explicitly used to make sure that the super rich would get their entire Bush tax cuts.

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I was in Atlanta last week, visiting family. I love Atlanta, the city too busy to hate, and all that. Give me Bar-B-Q, The Varsity, Waffle House and Chick-Fil-A. Coca-Cola by the gallon, and a limitless supply of sweet iced tea. Sure, there are downsides, most of which have to do with poorly planned unplanned growth (traffic, unprecedented sprawl, filthy drinking water, worse air quality, etc), but it's where family, friends, and my root culture are. And for those reasons, I adore it.

But I digress.

As I was flying out, on Monday, I encountered a security line approximately the length of 5 football fields. I say five football fields because a woman working for TSA told me the line was about 500 yards long. No hyperbole here. Even the typically shorter T-Gate line stretched long past the rows of check-in counters, around a corner and down a corridor. With just a little over an hour and a half between the time I checked in, and my flight's departure time, there was no way I was going to make it through that line in time. The woman from TSA also told me that, on a typical Monday, they saw 100,000 travelers, their busiest day of the week, and that on the preceeding Sunday, they had seen 800,000 and were expecting even more that day. Spring Break, yo. I was fuxxor3d.

Luckily for me, as I walked from the beginning of the line, towards its end, I came across a huge gap. A void left by a gaggle of confused German exchange students, that hoary business travelers were rushing to fill. In my defense, I legitimately did believe this to be the line's end as I came across it, thinking that, well, maybe they *really* got it moving between the time I arrived at the airport, and checked-in. And then I heard a woman admonishing the Germans to move forward,a s people were moving ahead of them in line. I felt bad. But I would have felt worse had I missed my flight, and thus Harper's medical procedure of yesterday. Tough for you, Jerry.


With my new position at approximately 1/3 of the way towards the line's front, I was able to make it through security and to the gate in about 1.5 hours, just in time for my flight, which was already boarding by the time I got there. Phew.

All in the family

But my cousin was also flying that day, about an hour after me. We had initially planned on riding to the airport together, and, failing that, I had hoped to see him there. The massive line precluded this, and I wondered if he made it through at all. But he called last night, to ask if I had made it through in time. I told him my tale of being a cheating cheater. A Naer-do-well, profiting from the inattention of German youth. But he had a story too.

He arrived at the airport roughly 45 minutes before his flight was to board. At the ticket counter, aware he would never make it, he asked what he should do about getting on another flight. They told him the people at the gate would have to make that call. He seemed screwed. So he went outside to smoke a cigarette, and think. And while there, he approached a group of Skycaps.

Cuz: What would it take to get you to take me through to the T-Gate?

SC (pointing at the $5 bill in my cousin's hand): Well, that's not going to do it.

Cuz (producing a $20): How about this?

SC: Wait here.

The skycap returned with a wheelchair, and instructed my cousin to sit in it, and to pretend to be unable to walk. He then wheeled my cousin tot he front of the line, and passed him through security, where they patted him down, but didn't run him through a metal detector for obvious reasons. Once around the corner, the skycap told him to get up, and that he was on his own. My cousin made his flight.

Now, this story illustrates 3 principles. Or is meant to at least.

1) My cousin and I rule.

2) My cousin and I are both cheating cheaters and deserve your impending chastisement and derision. I know, I know. Bring it on. But on my end, I had a medical situation and family obligation that I could not miss. On his, it was his first business trip for a new job. What option did we have?

3) Our airports are not secure when any yahoo with twenty bucks to his name can, more or less, bypass security.

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By Unpopular Demand

Commenting is back. Go nutty. Or not. Whatever's fine by me.

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