Meanest thing I ever read

Somebody in some tiny town in Colombia has been studying her Aristophanes.

Almost [300] women in southwest Colombia vowed to withhold sex from their husbands until the government paves the connecting road into their village, Colombia Reports said on Friday.

I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to work. Is the government supposed to take pity on those frustrated and desperate husbands and build a road? Seems unlikely.

But the husbands have gotten a small bit of revenge, by bad-mouthing their wives in the press:

Many husbands of the women on strike, however, said that they would prefer that their wives engage in a hunger strike instead.

Yes, ladies, they are calling you fat.

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Vietnam Diary

The following is a redacted version of my travel diary.  Everything that wasn’t written contemporaneously (except for minor spelling and grammar corrections) is in brackets. Most prices are expressed in Vietnamese dong (VND); at the time, there were 15,500 dong to a US dollar.

Day One – 15 February 2004 – Saigon

I’m here in Saigon.  I’m sitting the lobby of the Orient Hotel, waiting for my guide, Mr. Hoa.  Mr. Tran, who rented me the Bonus motorbike, came by to give me the helmet.  He seemed almost pathetically glad to meet an American. [He greeted me with a soul-brother handshake he must have learned in 1972 from American GIs.]  As an ex-ARVN tanker (he has a scar across the top of his skull from an NVA bullet) and the son of an ARVN captain who spent four years in re-education (now living in Dallas), Tran is in a strange world — among his own age group a pariah, to the younger generation a ghost from a past they don’t remember or understand.

The chairs here in the lobby are like rosewood thrones, fancy, expensive-looking, painfully uncomfortable.  A cyclo-driver has his eye on me from the street and whenever I make the slightest motion to stretch my legs, he’s gesticulating optimistically.  The desk clerk is taking her sweet time with the bill — how difficult is it to multiply $12 by 1 night? Continue reading

Quick, Respond

If you’re like me, you’ve probably started to notice the Quick Response or “QR” codes on buses and billboards.  You know, those weird square barcode-like things that look like really bad modern art.  And if you’re like me, you’ve probably didn’t give a rat’s ass.

Aren’t you tired of these things yet?

But Saturday, I was looking at some site on my laptop and wanted to see what the same site looked like on my iPhone.  Retyping the 100-character URL was non-starter.  I thought about e-mailing the URL to myself.  Then I had a brain-wave: those stupid QR things.

It took me maybe five minutes to whip up a “bookmarklet”.  For those of you with actual lives (who are mysteriously still reading my blog), a bookmarklet is a browser bookmark that, instead of having pointing to an ordinary URL, has a fragment of JavaScript.

To install my QR bookmarklet (on Firefox, other browsers may be different),

  1. right-click on the Bookmark bar
  2. select “New Bookmark…” (“Add Page..” on Chrome)
  3. set the Name to something useful like “QR”
  4. set the Location (called the URL on Chrome) to
javascript:window.location="http://chart.apis.google.com/
chart?chs=250x250&cht=qr&chl="+escape(window.location)

(Don’t include any line-breaks, of course.)

To use it, find an interesting site on your desktop or laptop, press the QR button you now have, the QR code will appear instantly.  Scan it with the QR scanner on your phone.

What? You don’t have a QR scanner on your phone.  Well, get one…

(By the way, props to the guys at Google for making QR codes available through their Charts API.  Makes up for the whole sucking-up-to-China thing.  No, wait, it doesn’t.)

Comment SPAM

The life of a blogger is a lonely one.  Likely no one is reading, and even if someone is, well, they read a few paragraphs and move on.  So I’m always thrilled when someone, anyone, leaves me a comment.  That tiny bit of validation keeps me going.  So the other day, I was almost ecstatic: six (six!) comments had been made and were awaiting my moderation.

The first read simply:

Your viewpoint on the topic is very outright and convincing.

My first thought: well, that’s awfully nice and move the mouse to the Approve link.  But then I stopped.  Wait a second.  It’s awfully nice, but it’s also awfully generic.  Plus, what the hell does “outright” mean in this context?  I looked at the next five comments.  They were all of a piece: utterly generic praise, usually in ESL English.  Good post, I’ll read your blog, how interesting, yadda, yadda.

It’s just comment spam: idiots pushing some site and wanting my poor site to link to them in the hopes that Google will see my link and be fooled into raising their all-important site rank.

It won’t work, of course.  Even if it fooled me, my blogging software (WordPress, by far the most popular) tags every user-supplied link with rel=”external nofollow”, which tells Google not to consider it.  Most other blogging software does the same.  The spammers are wasting their time, not just mine.

Still, the whole thing depresses me.  The spammers certainly know that the usual response is exactly like mine: a brief spasm of elation, followed by disappointment.  Every bit of spam they manage to submit is a tiny unhappy-o-gram waiting to be opened.  Do they care?  Do they congratulate themselves on their cleverness when they successfully deceive people?

Once in Laos, I was stopped by a policeman.  I had, he claimed, stopped my motorcycle with the front wheel in the crosswalk.  My choices, he told me, were to pay him $20 US or he would impound the bike and I could pick it up at the station and pay an even bigger fine.

I had actually been looking forward to experiencing some of that fabled Third World corruption.  Now that I was actually been shaken down, the experience was depressing me.  The cop looked pretty dispirited by his own corruption.  The poor guy probably had to pay his sergeant for the posting he had: a kiosk on a prime corner of the city’s main thoroughfare.  He didn’t seem to enjoy extortion but he had to make a living somehow.  Evil, even petty evil, seems to be its own punishment.

I negotiated the bribe down to $10 and went on my way, sadder but perhaps no wiser.