April 21, 2006 | 4:08 PM ET

I've got a regular entry in the works, but for now here are some mailbag highlights.

Will replies:  Thanks David.  I will never brag about driving a motorcycle up 6th Avenue again.

  • I stumbled across this story and found it a bit strange.  At first glance I think there MUST be more to it than just feathers but can't find much else to clarify the issue. Undercover federal agent confiscating feathers? What prompted the investment of time and resources to justify this?

    My first thought is selective enforcement and a local agenda (not to mention gross abuse of power).

    -Sean

Will replies:  Thanks Sean, I can understand protecting endangered wildlife, but if those feathers have been in the family for generations it’s hard to see how confiscating the feathers does anything other than force them to go out and get new ones.  The story kind of reminded me of the recent Daily Show segment on a bald eagle controversy in Alaska.

  • Can’t believe the Air Force One video.  If true, Bush would have been blown out of the sky a long time ago.
    Alex Vine

  • You’ve probably received a number of e-mails on this, but in case you weren’t aware, that video is not an actual event.
    Cheers!
    Nick

  • Sorry, as cool as it may seem, it was a fake video.
    Disappointed was I.
    William

  • Hey Will,
    I was pretty surprised... if not impressed and a little disconcerted, that Marc Ecko was able to tag Air Force One... until I read the "legal disclaimer" on the site:

    "You, the viewer of the preceding are hereby advised that the video does not depict a real event. It is intended for the sole, limited and express purpose of entertainment and to induce you, the viewer of the video, to think critically about freedom of expression and speech and the government's responses to the same."

    The disclaimer is at the bottom, but the color of the text is the same as the rest so it is impossible to notice without dragging your mouse over it. I am much less impressed now... I imagine he just wanted some good viral publicity.  What do you think?
    Alex Weprin

Will replies:  I think it worked!  I don't know if you watched the other video on the page, but it was a preachy bit about the freedom to paint graffiti.  I'm not sure the prank video is very convincing in that regard.  In fact, I think the most powerful message is how believable it is that security could be so sloppy and weak that someone might actually be able to pull it off.  All those stories about the ports not being secure and hidden camera studies getting bomb materials through airport security have apparently made an impression on me.  As disappointed as I was too, I was also a little relieved.  Regarding Alex Vine's comment, I have to think that the other thing that would happen if it was true would be that Mark Ecko would be in Guantanamo by now.

  • I read the piece on the "silent surfers" and was tickled by the online poll at the bottom of the story. If 52% of Web users are "silent surfers," what are they doing answering a poll?
    -Pam

Will replies:  Ha!  I hadn't noticed that.  At the focus group I attended Wednesday night someone pointed out something similar.  One of the subjects said that he doesn't watch cable news shows because he doesn't like them.  He then went on to describe a number of shows on all three cable news networks and specifically what it is he doesn't like about them.  Someone on my side of the one-way glass muttered, "If he doesn't watch, how does he know so much about all the shows?"  The lesson:  self-reporting is not necessarily a reliable measure.

  • Review of Black & Tan Ice Cream
    It's available here in upstate NY but it's very disappointing.  It doesn't taste like beer at all.  It's just your typical sugary vanilla w/dark chocolate swirl combo.  For a real treat, you need to go here.  These are actual, no-joke flavors that he makes every year on April 1st.  The popcorn this year was one of the best, especially with some extra butter drizzled on top.  The chocolate spaghetti was one of the worst as the sauce homogenized with the chocolate and was difficult to choke down.  Bon Appetit!
    Daniel

Will replies:  Thanks Daniel!

  • Hi,
    I noticed that MSNBC has audio chats with various celebrities. Is there a way I can put in a suggestion for Teddy Geiger for your next audio chat?  Thanks.
    Sincerely,
    Allison

Will replies:  Hi Allison.  I recognize him from the Love Monkey show.  I'm just about to get our chat program going again.  (We had Ashley Parker Angel yesterday but the audio booth wasn't ready so we had to do it on a phone line.)  I'd love to get to the point where I can take guest requests.  Right now I take what I can get, which is usually whoever is pitched to me by publicists.  And naturally there is always the caveat that just because I'd like to chat with someone doesn't mean they want to chat with me.  :)  Anyway, keep an eye out for a "who do you want to chat with" link somewhere on the site in the future.

Will replies: Thanks Sam.  That's disappointing but I guess it's not surprising.  The real question, of course, is whether the knife, regardless of its age, is effective at killing vampires.

  • Hey Will,
    I am not sure if you have ever posted about this site but if you are looking for some deals (I'm sure many of your readers are) they have one a day.  I bought a $35 wireless mouse for $8.99 and a $100 speaker set for $23. Thought you might want to check it out.
    Kevin

Will replies:  Hi Kevin.  I often see links to "deal" blogs, but I never know how to evaluate them or figure out whether they're spam.  One of the meme trackers I use actually has a " Deals" category but I never use it because I don't buy enough tech stuff to recognize a good deal and I don't do enough online shopping to know which sites are legit.  I'll mention this subject to our reviewer Gary and maybe he'll have something to add.

Heads up from Will: These next couple are press releases, but the sites they mention have free content that you might be interested in checking out.

  • Hi Will,
    The Firefox Flicks contest has wrapped up and Mozilla has received over 280 submissions to its Firefox Flicks Ad Contest, an initiative brainstormed and driven by the community to raise public awareness about the Firefox Web browser.

    The videos are on public display at FirefoxFlicks.com and have already been viewed over one million times! Three contest winners, selected by judges from Six Feet Under, American Pie and Charlie's Angels, will be announced next week on April 27 at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

    Best,
    Elizabeth

  • Dear Editor:
    I note with fascination the 4 page eyewitness account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that you posted online at MSNBC.  For anyone who would care to read a full-length eyewitness account of the quake, The San Francisco Calamity by Charles Morris is now available to be read online or downloaded for free at either this link or this link.

    The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire was, up to its time, the greatest disaster to ever befall a city in the United States. What is truly amazing is the speed in which municipal officials, the United States Army and the federal government acted to restore order.  Within days there was sufficient food and shelter on hand to provide for the 300,000 people that had lost their homes.

    As I read through Charles Morris' manuscript, I was struck by how much more humane and efficient disaster relief was following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake than it was following the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina upon New Orleans in September 2005. Although the funds made available to FEMA were much greater in 2005, they were administered in a less efficient manner. As you read through these pages, I invite you to note the superior caliber of the elected officials who acted swiftly to bring aid and comfort to their fellow citizens in their time of need. Truly, there is something to be learned from this story.
    Sincerely,
    Fred Dungan

April 19, 2006 | 4:45 PM ET

This evening I'll have the opportunity to spend a few hours watching a focus group play with MSNBC.com to see how people use the site.  I don't expect it'll be as detailed as using heat map eyetracking, however.  One thing I have to wonder about the F-shaped pattern is whether it's biological because of how our eyes and brains work or habitual because of how English-speakers structure written text.  If we wrote right to left, like Hebrew, wouldn't that produce a backwards F?  So wouldn't the conclusion be that the eyes follow the design, and not that the design should follow the heat map results?

Speaking of Neilson studies, most web users are 'silent surfers' — This item is very brief, but the point is that most people online aren't as engaged as trendspotters (and the nature of the medium) would have you believe. The one bit of information I'd like added to this is whether online participation changes with different age groups  Are people who were raised on newspapers and TV more likely to read passively than young people who were born while the net has been in existence?  Or is it purely a question of personality type in which some people like to express themselves and others don't?

Equidistant Eats finds centrally located restaurants between two or more addresses.  It produced a pretty long list in the samples I tried.  You still have to try to look them up individually to see if they're any good though.

"How do you figure out whether a foam firefighting system in an air force hangar is set up correctly and works?"  Hilarity (or a rave) ensues.

Good night's sleep boosts long-term memory — My guess would have been that spending the day groggy means you don't remember it very well later on, but the article describes a different process (and another reason to turn off the TV or whatever else keeps you awake to the wee hours).

Speaking of long term memory, I'm not totally sure what this says, but it's a long list of 80s music videos and live performances.  (That AC/DC link says it's from 1980.  Bon Scott died in February of 1980, so I wonder if this is one of his last performances.)

Speaking of music, yesterday I kept running into folk singer Neko Case.  There are links to downloads here, but right now I'm listening to a live performance offered by NPR.  First impressions:  a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll.  I'll have to give a second listen later when I can pay better attention to the lyrics.

Neko Case also ranks number 6 on this blogger's "10 most recent favorite, and most-played songs I’ve listened to in 2006."

By the way, speaking of blogs in languages I can't read, I asked a colleague in Moscow what the deal is with this series of photos from Russia.  He explained, "The latest racist murder in Russia was a Senegalese student in St. Petersburg.  There was a demonstration the next day."

In case you were wondering, In a side by side comparison, "overall, Yahoo Maps was by far the best application tested."

Speaking of maps, Huge dinosaurs roamed Argentina in groups - Mapusaurus may have hunted prey in packs, scientists say.  Actually, the explanation of the name has nothing to do with maps.  "'Mapusaurus' comes from the word for "Earth" in the language of the Mapuche tribe of western Patagonia."

Click TV is a really cool idea.  It lets you comment on Web video at the relevant time stamp.  They're making an effort to make it possible to interact with video in a way that is more similar to text.  It worked for me last night but today seems to be a little hung up "initializing" so you may have to check back when traffic dies down some if you want to play with it.

People who hate cilantro

The litblog co-op — "Uniting the leading literary Weblogs for the purpose of drawing attention to the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace."

Mike Luckovich's Pulitzer-winning cartoons

I was expecting something racist from a video titled " Indian driving" but it's pretty much documentary evidence of how crazy the traffic is there.

Video of the Day:  A staggering feat:  Air Force One, tagged.  Which is to say, Mark Ecko spray painted graffiti on the President's plane.  UPDATE:  Hoax.  More later.

April 18, 2006 | 2:38 PM ET

Anti-Americanism 'feels like racism' (in England) — I spent a year in England in the 90s.  At the time I owed a baseball hat on which I’d sewn an American flag patch, purchased at my local military surplus store.  I wore that hat unselfconsciously the whole time I was there (and for quite a while after I got back).  I remember being tickled to see some of the shops in town sold clothes with American flag motifs.  It doesn’t sound like there’s much of that to be seen these days.  I wonder if popular sentiment can re-warm as quickly as it has cooled.  Discussion at the bottom of the article shows that this is not as cut-and-dry as the headline would have you believe.  (P.S.  I’m not sure which bothers me more, the fact that I may be judged based upon the actions of my government over which I have very little control, or the fact that, particularly after this article, I may be judged based upon the “pub banter” of “former model” Christian Cox, over whom I have no control whatsoever.)

Speaking of being judged on your associations, the fact that (alleged) child murdering corpse raping cannibal Kevin Underwood was also a blogger has some in the online community feeling scrutinized.  Though the AP article finds some disturbing quotes, looking through his various online pages myself I don’t find much in the category of eyebrow-raising.

Speaking of computers making you crazy, Neuroscientist:  No matter how much we practice communicating through text, the brain still finds it stressful.  Makes an interesting argument that your brain needs real human interaction.

So I’m not being too discouraging about blogging, here’s this: Blogs 'essential' to a good career

The population clock, though only an estimate, still quite a model of man’s mortality.  The U.S. has enough turnover in its population that you can watch the births climb and the deaths tick away.

Speaking of populations, there are 2,135,901 people in prison in the U.S.  Clicking around the population clock, I find that’s almost the same as the entire population of Kuwait.

Speaking of counting people, Dave Sifry is back with another quarterly State of the Blogosphere report.  Blogosphere growth remains exponential.

WikiTruth claims to publish the items censored on Wikipedia.  This feels a little like a personal beef between two people that I shouldn’t care about, but I still clicked around the site because… well… offering to show me censored material is one marketing trick that works on me every time.

Polyphasic Sleep: The Return to Monophasic — After months of living on naps, this blogger’s polyphasic sleep experiment ends.  Successful, but impractical in a monophasic world.

The Barriers to Starting Your Own Business

Giant Deep-Sea Volcano With "Moat of Death" Found — Very weird reference to Lost in the first sentence.  There are no volcanoes in Lost that I recall.  The description is cool on its own without the pop-culture reference.

Speaking of strange things underwater.  It is apparently firefly squid season right now.

Rice scientists attach motor to single-molecule car — I thought that headline was about scientists who study rice, but it’s really about Rice University researchers.  In case you’re having trouble visualizing a nanocar, there are renderings here.

Video of the Day:  C is for Vendetta

"What is one science question every high school graduate should be able to answer?"  Take their quiz and see how you do.  As fun an exercise as it was to try to answer the questions, it was more interesting to think of why these questions would be offered as "the one question."

One song, 37 parts, one cellist.

Vampire-slaying kit from 19th c. Romania

Ben and Jerry’s is planning a “ Black and Tan” ice cream.  “We've blended real cream stout ice cream with a whirl of chocolate ice cream.”

Google’s Da Vinci Code Quest began yesterday.  There are new updates every day until the premiere, but it’s not hard to catch up.

Congratulations to Paul Yoo, winner of the first ever Clicked Trivia contest.  The swag is in the mail Paul.

From the mailbag:

Hello, Will:

I was surprised that you would assume the other kids were "laughing with him." I suspect it was quite the opposite, and this boy went through hell.

Bullying IS a big deal.

Being humiliated and picked on -- endlessly, publicly, and everywhere you go -- IS a big deal.  Being singled out and victimized by an entire school IS a big deal.

I think we should all be grateful that the boy most likely didn't have easy access to guns, or we might be talking about an entirely different "settlement" story.

Regards,
Susan C

Will replies:  Thanks Susan for making that important point.  I certainly didn't mean to endorse the torture the Star Wars Kid has likely endured.  Thinking of the point made in the Slashdot entry, I had in mind the celebrity of William Hung.  There's no shame in being the Star Wars Kid.  We've all pretended to be Jedi.  To be fair, I don't know if there's anything he could have done differently to take advantage of the video rather than suffer by it.  These things are so often out of our hands.

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