Bad face.

mara princess, clara bad face
By popular demand: Clara’s “bad face” costume for Halloween. Here she is with Mara, the purple princess.

If at first you don’t secede . . . .

Michelle Goldberg’s longish piece in Salon is the most thoughtful reaction to the whole Red State-Blue State divide that I’ve seen yet: If at first you don’t secede. Honestly, I’m a bit irritated by the recent flood of gratuitous fuck-yous and pathetic disavowals; both seem divisive and unproductive to me, and on top of that, they make progressives look like a bunch of mean-spirited, foul-mouthed poor losers. Let’s face it: We lost the election, and that’s because the Republicans ran a better-organized campaign, because they were more in touch with popular sentiment than we were, or both. Get over it: It’s time to start figuring out how we can get back on track.

In many ways, the states’ rights line looks promising. That’s partly because Republicans have largely abandoned it in favor of increasingly intrusive big-government initiatives that limit private freedoms and curtail state laws. Abortion, gay marriage (and even civil unions), free speech, privacy, gun control: All are under attack by special interest groups who want to impose their values on every state, via big federal government bureaucracies and/or sweeping national laws. Now is the time to fight back — at the state level. Let’s make a stand for our values, and our right to make our own laws.

New blog.

The onslaught of comment spam on my Movable Type blog finally made me scream uncle: I switched to WordPress this weekend. MT is an amazingly flexible tool, but it is slow, slow, slow, and it’s not set up well to deal with comment spam. It takes several minutes just to delete a single comment–and then you have to rebuild all the static files–and I just don’t have time for that nonsense, sorry. I spent a month or so fiddling around with the MT-Blacklist plugin, but that’s slow too, and not very effective: Comment spam keeps using new words and new URLs, and MT-Blacklist can only filter stuff that you’ve already flagged. That meant I was soon spending an inordinate amount of time fiddling with MT-Blacklist … and as you can see I have hardly had time to post at all in the last month, as a result.

WordPress, by contrast, is fast, elegant, requires no rebuilding (since all of its pages are dynamically-generated PHP), and makes it incredibly easy to moderate and delete comments, or to turn them off entirely if you choose. I feel like a new man.

Bear with me while I play with templates for the next few days; I’m still trying to find the right look for this site (preferably without doing any actual CSS work myself; I just want to find a nice template and drop it in).

Purple America.

NB_ElectionMap copy.jpg

State-by-state election returns make the U.S. look like a deeply divided country–red Republicans in the South and middle; blue Democrats on the coasts. (The division is eerily reminiscent of the division between free and slave states before the Civil War–how long the shadows of that ugly history are.) But if you map election returns county by county, you get a much more mixed picture of the country’s political leanings. I find this encouraging. (Details on how this map, by Princeton prof Robert Vanderbei, was created.) (via BoingBoing)

Coke: Effective pesticide?

Indian farmers have discovered that spraying their fields with Coca-Cola may be as effective as–and lots cheaper than–spraying with pesticides. An Indian agronomist says: “I think Coke has found its right use. Farmers have traditionally used sugary solutions to attract red ants to feed on insect larvae. I think the colas are also performing the same role.”

Research in Motion BlackBerry 7780

Research in Motion turned the corporate world on its ear with the first BlackBerry pagers, which gave middle managers the power to hound subordinates 24/7, no matter where in the world the expense account took them. Later, RIM grafted mobile phone capabilities onto its pagers, producing functional — if unlovely — smart phones that were able to plow through calls, e-mails, contacts, and calendars like Frankenstein knocking down a row of angry peasants. They were effective, but frighteningly blunt.

Now RIM has finally hit its stride. The BlackBerry 7780 is the first RIM handheld that can go toe-to-toe with such heavyweight smart phones as the PalmOne Treo 600 and not get knocked out of the ring right after the starting bell.

The most obvious improvements are that RIM has ditched its perverse attachment to navy blue in favor of a more professional-looking black plastic casing, and the addition of a larger screen. This 240 x 240-pixel square display is big enough to show a comfortable amount of text easily, and its backlight is bright, unlike the anemic one on the earlier BlackBerry 7230. The display is crisp and colors are rich.

The BlackBerry 7780 works admirably as a phone — either with or without the included headset — and the software painlessly syncs your contacts, calendar, notes, and to-do lists; it supports Outlook plus several other organizers. It delivers POP3 mail and SMS messages right to your hand.

Unfortunately, the BlackBerry’s browser is brain-dead. It can display WAP sites from within AT&T’s mMode universe, but it fails to display ordinary websites. According to RIM, enterprise users won’t have this problem. Nevertheless, the 7780 as offered by AT&T Wireless is useless as a general-purpose Web browser. This unacceptable shortcoming made us strip one star from the 7780’s final score. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: E-mail is instantly pushed to your handheld
Worst Feature: Crippled Web browser is limited to mMode sites

Research in Motion BlackBerry 7780
$550 with activation
Weight: 5 ounces
Size: 4.7 x 3 x 0.7 inches
Specs: 850/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS; 16MB flash memory plus 2MB of SRAM; USB 1.1; 240 x 240-pixel, 3-inch display with 65,536 colors; QWERTY keyboard; headset port;

* * * 1/2

Link: Research in Motion BlackBerry 7780

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

Sierra Wireless Voq Professional

Get ready to meet the next big innovation in mobile communications technology: the hinge.

The Sierra Wireless Voq Professional phone is a rather ordinary-looking, somewhat bulky handset with a traditional 12-button keypad. Flip back the keypad and you reveal a miniscule QWERTY keyboard concealed inside, making the phone into a rather ordinary-looking, somewhat bulky handset with a keyboard sticking out to one side.

It’s a halfway-decent solution to a thoroughly nagging data-entry problem that will continue to plague smart phones from now until the era of perfect voice recognition. The problem with this solution is that the flip-out keyboard looks funky, and thumb-typing on a tiny keyboard is bad enough without having to deal with a big hinge in the middle.

Granted, there are plenty of things to like about the Voq. Its large, bright screen makes viewing contacts, e-mail messages, and other information easy. Because the Voq is based on Windows Mobile, syncing with Outlook is straightforward, and it runs standard Windows Mobile applications, including the built-in Media Player. An SD slot on the side makes memory expansion easy.

While its broad strokes may look enticing, the details drag the Voq down. Its USB connector is flimsy and doesn’t reliably stay connected to the cable. The phone’s body is made of plastic and feels cheap. And the tiny, hinged keyboard just isn’t as usable as a solid, one-piece unit.

For now, the Voq isn’t available from any major carriers; it’s aimed at companies with IT departments that have enough time to configure it and get it to sync with enterprise information systems. If the boss demands a flashy new toy, the Voq may be enough to placate him. Consumers, however, should steer clear. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Has a keyboard
Worst Feature: Has a barely usable keyboard

Sierra Wireless Voq Professional
Weight: 5 ounces
Size: 5.2 x 2.1 x 1 inches
Specs: 850/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS; 25MB of RAM (12MB available); 220 x 176-pixel, 2.2-inch LCD; USB 1.1; infrared; SD slot; flip-out QWERTY keyboard; headset port; Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 Smartphone

* * 1/2

Link: Sierra Wireless Voq Professional

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.