There Is No Cat

A huge orangupoid, which no man can conquer

Friday, January 31, 2003

Bidding war? Please?

First Mil Millington's hilarious Things my girlfriend and I have argued about was a web page. Then it was a newspaper column. Then it was a book. Now it's going to become a movie.

The rights to There Is No Cat are still available....

Posted at 7:07 AM
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Go ahead, feel terrible. Feel really terrible.

A pregnant woman out at a store in December without a coat tells a checkout woman "This is serious. I've been kidnapped. Call the authorities when I leave." You:

  1. Call the authorities when she leaves
  2. Joke with the kidnapper that she mentioned that he had kidnapped her
  3. Get "distracted" and forget about the whole thing until weeks later.

Would you believe B and C?

The stupidity of some people never fails to astound me. I mean, this clerk may be responsible for getting this poor woman killed. She couldn't find a phone book to call the police. That's what 911 is for; if you don't have 911 in your area, call the goddamned operator. But hey, at least she feels terrible about it now.

Posted at 6:37 AM
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The Paterno Chronicles

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno actually implied in a television interview that he might retire some day, perhaps as soon as 2006. That's the first time I've ever seen him give a date. Of course, he left himself plenty of wiggle room; if he feels good, he may keep going until 2011. In 2006, when he's 80 years old, he figures he should designate who his successor is. I think that's just a formality; it's been clear for years that Fran Ganter, the Offensive Coordinator, was next up. Ganter came within hours of becoming the Head Coach for Michigan State University about five years ago. At the last minute, he declined. It seemed clear to me at that point that the University probably suggested to Ganter that Paterno couldn't coach forever, and that he would be first in line to follow him. Since then, Ganter was named Assistant Head Coach, which seemed to solidify his position as crown prince.

Posted at 6:20 AM
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Thursday, January 30, 2003

Farewell to a philosopher-king

Friday marks the retirement from public life of the Czech president, Vaclav Havel. Havel is a remarkable writer; his essays from his dissident days are astounding for their moral clarity. The Power of the Powerless seemed hopelessly idealistic at the time it came out; it eventually turned out to be a virtual prophecy. And his plays are wonderfully surreal portraits of life under a totalitarian regime, with all the odd ironies of life in such a society polished to a fine sheen. It seems inevitable in retrospect that he would wind up leading the country that had done so much to oppress him.

His record as a politician may not have been quite what the Czechs had hoped for. Sometimes his ruminations could seem moored in the clouds. But from the other side of the ocean, he still seems to have had a remarkable run, a true philosopher-king.

Timothy Garton Ash is one of my favorite writers on the topic of eastern Europe. He has a long connection with the countries behind the Iron Curtain, dating to his days as a student in East Berlin, chronicled in his memoir of betrayal and discovery, The File. He was present during most of the revolutions of 1989, and his book The Magic Lantern told that story. He writes of his good friend Vaclav in tomorrow's Guardian and tells of the times their paths crossed.

Posted at 10:02 PM
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Power corrupts; PowerPoint corrupts absolutely

Dori at BackupBrain points to an article that asks if PowerPoint is the Devil.

The answer, of course, is yes.

I don't know whether it's a lack of oxygen at the rarified heights of the corporate hierarchy or what, but I've noticed that people who use PowerPoint too much lose the ability to think complex thoughts. If it can't be expressed in a bullet list, it's not worth considering. I've been asked by executroids if I could prepare the drawings I was using for technical manuals in PowerPoint so they could use them more easily. My reply was that yes, I could, and I could also drive nails with a screwdriver, but it was likely to be painful and was not the best tool for the job. PowerPoint muddles the thinking of otherwise intelligent, personable people. If I had my way, it would be classified as a Schedule II Narcotic, because once addicted, people seem to keep coming back for more. I've been making this point for years, so it was interesting to see that the article addressed pretty much the same concern.

Posted at 7:28 AM
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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

As opposed to Apple making everyone iPod people

Doc Searls has an interesting extended quote from Kurt Vonnegut, presumably in reaction to last night's State of the Union address, that calls Dubya a psychopath and laments what's happened to this country:

I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been.

By coincidence, today's headline on the Our Dumb Century calendar on my desk at work contained a report from 1957 that Eisenhower's zombie replacement had announced that 85% of the American population had been converted into pod people with no emotions, with more to come.

I would link to the article the Vonnegut quote comes from, but I can't seem to get through to that server.

Posted at 10:33 PM
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A proposal from left field

Fenway Park is one of the nicest stadiums in which to see a baseball game, if, God forbid, you should ever feel compelled to go watch one. I saw the last baseball game I ever watched in Fenway a week before the 1994 strike that convinced me to write major league baseball off. It's a lovely place, with the kind of quirks that make a stadium special. Now, new owners are making a change to the hallowed grounds; they're adding seats behind the fabled 37-foot tall Green Monster (New York Times link, registration required), the huge wall out in left field. I suppose if it keeps Fenway viable, I'm for it. Still, it seems a little odd. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Posted at 5:31 AM
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Saturday, January 25, 2003

Ideas from across the spectrum

Speaking of interesting conferences I won't be going to, this one on spectrum policy looks pretty good. It's put together by Lawrence Lessig of Eldred fame (is there a current issue he isn't interested in?) But again, other side of the country, bad time, no money.... Looking at the registration page, I see that there are prices for representatives of corporations and for academics and representatives of non-profit organizations, but nothing for Just Regular People with an interest in the issue. Maybe I should show up anyway, just to show them that it's not just companies and advocates who are interested in this. Pity I'm not yet one of those guys who seems to make a living out of flying places and going to interesting conferences. I'm sure at least a half-dozen of them will be blogging the conference.

Posted at 10:35 AM
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Friday, January 24, 2003

A different kind of facet

Peter Van Dijck has been working on an XML-based language to describe faceted classification schemes, and finally people are starting to notice. I think Peter first posted about this to SIGIA-L last May. The IA Summit in Baltimore last year had a fascinating session on the topic of facets (1.6 MB PowerPoint file).

The idea of facets was developed decades ago by an Indian librarian named S. R. Ranganathan as an alternative method of classifying books and other items that a library would tend to hold. The idea was that you could classify items based on multiple characteristics. Unfortunately, you can't shelve books in more than one place, which made a practical implementation of such a classification scheme not really possible. But items in a computer don't have a physical manifestation, and can be in many "places" (classes) at once. It's interesting that something developed so long ago is only really becoming possible now. It's also interesting to see this start to spread beyond the province of Information Architects.

The 2003 IA Summit takes place in a couple of months. Unfortunately for me, it's on the other side of the country, in Portland, Oregon, and it happens at a time when I really need to be here in New Jersey preparing for my wedding. That's a shame, because I learned so much at the Summit last year, and because the lineup looks particularly intriguing this year, especially since the committee managed to snag Stewart Brand to give the keynote. It looks like a fascinating conference. Oh well, maybe next year.

Posted at 9:54 PM
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Like a rock

Anil Dash has a great rant about diamonds, DeBeers, and the relationship between blood and diamonds. I actually wrote something similar back in October (prompted by an article about Al-Qaeda getting into the diamond trade in Sierra Leone) about how when Laura and I got engaged, I asked her if she would consider something other than a diamond, based on the ethics of blood diamonds and the manipulation of tradition by the cartel. She would, she did, and I got her a lovely ruby engagement ring. My friend Sherry had a sapphire when she got engaged the first time when we were in college. I think when she finally did get married (to a different guy), she got a sapphire engagement ring then, too. I'm glad to see that other people get it, although given the fact that some of the people Laura knows (I won't refer to them as friends) abuse her for not having a "real" engagement ring, I'm not sure that an engagement bicycle, as suggested in one of the comments on Anil's post, would really be seen as a legitimate token of troth.... (Found via ePersonae's Snapping Links).

Posted at 12:06 AM
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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Brrrrrrrr!

As the eastern US continues in its relative deep freeze (it was 8° F out when I left for work this morning, the coldest day yet, and yet I remember it being 20 below zero on a regular basis when I was growning up in Illinois, so I hesitate to complain too much), I found this portrait of life in Antarctica in The Guardian interesting.

"In the Antarctic, nationality is dissolved," says Wheeler. "There are no time zones, so it can be any time you want it to be. That is liberating. All that matters is the cold - and everyone has to face that together."

Kind of like New Jersey. Except colder and desolate.

Posted at 10:02 PM
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Wednesday, January 22, 2003

What a present!

This is cool; New York City has decided to let Christo wrap Central Park (New York Times link, registration required). I remember how disappointed I was when I arrived in Germany in 1995 one day after his wrapping of the Reichstag ended. (More pictures of the Reichstag here.) If they had extended it, the way so many Germans were clamoring, I could have seen it, although it would have been a hike from Karlsrühe, where I was staying, to Berlin. Still, it would have been less of a hike than New Jersey to Berlin. So anyway, I'm glad to see that he's gotten the okay to do this. I'll make sure I don't miss this one.

Posted at 11:42 PM
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Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Good luck; you're going to need it

I've read David Weinberger's Open Spectrum FAQ, as well as the paper he wrote with David Reed, Jock Gill, and Dwayne Hendricks, and I have to say, I think they've got stars in their eyes. It's a seductive premise, this idea that spectrum is unlimited if it's used properly and with new technologies. It may even be true. But to expect it to be implemented any time soon flies in the face of human nature and history.

One thing that all futurists seem to forget is that Infrastructure Is Hard. So many of the infrastructure-intenstive disruptive technologies that we're so enamored of today took freaking forever to build out. The telephone network took over 100 years to reach virtually everyone. Cable television distribution has taken 55 years to get to the point its at now. Satellite distribution has taken 40 years; Telstar launched in 1962. Cell phones have taken at least 25 years to get to the point where even I have one. The Internet became an overnight success after being built out for 30 years. This stuff takes time.

The result of this extended build out is that there is a ton of legacy equipment out there that works under the assumption of spectrum scarcity. That's your installed base. Radio has taken 100 years to get to where it is; practically speaking, though, we're talking about approximately 75 years worth of equipment in place. I can turn on a radio created as early as the 1920s and it still works and receives today's signals. As I write this, three feet to my right is a Zenith radio made 50 years ago, in 1953. It sounds magnificent, better than most radios made today. There is a sh¡tload of this stuff out there, and it works. That's a powerful incentive not to upgrade.

The FCC has run into the legacy problem with its attempts to foist digital TV on the public. They want to sell a portion of the spectrum currently occupied by television broadcasters. Congress has been counting on it in their budget calculations. By 2006, they want to switch off the current stations. Customers have greeted this with complete indifference. Current television is good enough. Why the hell would I want to buy a new television when the three I have work perfectly fine and provide an acceptable picture? Why should people accept the forced obsolescence of perfectly functional equipment? There is no way in hell broadcasters will be able to switch off their analog signals by 2006. The public outcry would prevent it. Why? The impact of the installed base. 2016, maybe.

Inertia is the second most powerful force in the universe. (Entropy is the first, which makes me wonder why it's the Second Law of Thermodynamics that talks about it....) A body at rest tends to stay at rest. The public seems perfectly happy where it is, and the cost of getting them to move is enormous. It's not going to happen quickly.

Weinberger et. al. talk about software-defined radios as if they're magic. Maybe they are. But I'm not so sure. I've played with any number of DSP-based processors that claim to reduce interference, from outboard units that work on the audio after the radio's finished with it to expensive radios costing thousands of dollars that do all of their processing in the digital domain. Software is not a panacea.

It's true that spread spectrum improves that. The FAQ mentions BLAST, an approach developed by Bell Labs that takes advantage of interference. I'm familiar with it; I posted pretty much all the press releases about it on the Bell Labs web site back when it was my job to do such things, and I made a habit of reading the releases and looking further into the things they mentioned when they interested me. It's fascinating, a radical change. But as the New York Times article David Weinberger links to points out:

Because of economic problems, the wireless industry has been slow to adopt even 3G networks in the United States. So Blast is unlikely to become available soon.

Spectrum is a funny thing. Different segments of it work in different ways. Frequencies up to about 50 MHz have the ability to travel around the world, something I've certainly taken advantage of in 25+ years of listening to shortwave radio. At UHF and above, communication is pretty much limited to line-of-sight. Of course, that line may include the moon, or the artificial moons known as satellites, so they're still useful over long distances. Go high enough in freuqency and you find that rain drops start to cause reception problems, because the wavelengths are so small that the rain drops are bigger and cause a significant disruption. 20 MHz used in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band has very different characteristics than 20 MHz in the HF bands down below 30 MHz. If you had an application that required jumping around over a band of 20 MHz and you tried to do at at HF, at least half of your packets wouldn't get through, because propagation on different segments of that band works very differently from other segments. Some parts work best at night; others during the day; still others are in-between. Some spectrum is relatively easy to work with, such as the frequencies around 700 MHz that the FCC is trying to reclaim from television for the cellular industry. Other spectrum requires expensive electronics and loss-preventing antennas and cabling to work well, such as the Ku-band satellite signals up above 10 GHz. This is a basic law of physics. The result is that you may want to use different areas of the spectrum for different projects for which the spectrum characteristics are useful. Shortwave is very useful for international broadcasting, for example, but not so much for computer networking. If you fail to take this into account, you wind up with chaos. We've only got one spectrum. If you're going to piddle all over it, you better make sure you've got the floors covered with newspaper.

The spread spectrum technologies that have the two Davids so excited are fascinating. They have a lot of promise. But it's going to take a long time, probably decades, before they have the kind of impact that's being promised. So keep plugging away. It's a long row to hoe. Don't expect this battle to be won any time soon. This is a massive change. It will not happen quickly.

Posted at 2:07 AM
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Sunday, January 19, 2003

Site of a thousand labels

Here's something that's potentially useful to a music omnivore like myself: Allrecordlabels.com attempts to list all the record labels it can find, complete with links to their web sites. I particularly like the browse by country feature, since I'm always looking for interesting music from other places. They seem to have most of the labels I'm familiar with, including horrendously obscure ones like New Jersey's Gern Blandsten Records and My Pal God Records, and overseas labels like Flying Nun from New Zealand, Trikont from Germany,, and Indies from the Czech Republic. No Ukrainian labels, though. I know there's at least one record label there with a web site.

Posted at 9:52 AM
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Friday, January 17, 2003

I'd like to teach the world to sing

The BBC World Service, as part of their 70th anniversary celebrations, took a poll to see what the world's most favorite songs ever were. The results were all over the map. It's interesting to see the varied reactions around the world. Indian newspapers generally ran a Reuters report, but highlighted a second place finish by an Indian song in their headlines. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's correspondent seemed wryly incensed that he knew hardly any of the songs. (Actually, I do know the tune to the second one he highlights, Vande Mataram, because All India Radio uses it when they sign on the air on their shortwave stations, and recognizing it is very handy when trying to ID weak regional Indian stations. So there.) The Irish Times, of course, highlighted an Irish group's number 1 placement with a patriotic anti-British, pro-Republican tune, and noted the interesting fact that the group, which had recorded its song on 1964, this year broke up into different factions. (The article from The Plain Dealer ran in our local paper, The Star-Ledger, this week, where Laura noticed it, which is how I found out about this. God knows I didn't find out about it from the BBC....)

Posted at 8:28 AM
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The Looking Glass War

When I was young and impressionable and gobbled up spy novels like they were candy, John Le Carre was one of my favorite writers. I still think he's a heck of a writer, and his books are just about the only ones that I read at that time that I can still read today. So it was interesting to see him turn his pen to the direction of The Current Situation. Unlike the comparisons to Nazi Germany I thought were somewhat overblown, I think Le Carre gets it exactly right when he compares things now to previous fevers in America itself, such as McCarthyism and other assorted red scares. He thinks this is like that, only more so. I would disagree with his assessment of the feeling among the American population. Okay, maybe half of us do think that Saddam destroyed the World Trade Center. I find it hard to believe that 88% of us are in favor of war on Iraq. I hear people talking about war all the time. Even the people I know who are in favor of it are kind of queasy about it. I think we are having the debate; I just don't think it's reflected in the constant drumbeat from the press. Le Carre paints a devastating portrait of Bush. The interesting thing is that he does so in The Times of London, a Tory paper, not noted for its liberal tendencies. I suppose maybe that has something to do with Le Carre's none-too-flattering portrait of Tony Blair. Anyway, it's not The Honourable Schoolboy or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but it's an interesting read. (Found via Doc Searls.)

Posted at 10:19 PM
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Resonance FM

This radio station sounds really intriguing, if what's said about it in this article is to be believed. And I believe it; When I tuned into the streaming audio of the station just now, I got the backwards program mentioned in the article. This makes WFMU sound like K-Rock.... This sounds fun!

Posted at 2:00 AM
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Just call me Mr. Yoder

My usual response when asked why I think Windows sucks is that I think the Mac sucks too, it just sucks less (although with OS X, it now sucks more than it did, while still sucking marginally less than Windows). The paradigm of computing excellence is then held up to be Palm OS.

But I'm getting nervous.

First Palm bought the assets of Be, meaning BeOS, for God only knows what purpose. Now they're ditching Graffiti. (Link thanks to Doc Searls.)

I tremble at the thought of Jeff Hawkins' brilliant minimalism biting the dust, but that's what the tea leaves say. Maybe I'll just stay with Palm OS 3.5 the way I'm staying with Mac OS 9 until I can be convinced that moving forward is actually going to be an improvement rather than the giant leap backward it appears to be. I'm Amish; I need to believe that a technology will be an improvement over my current situation before I'll adopt it.

Posted at 12:33 AM
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Monday, January 13, 2003

About an Obsession

This past weekend, I bought a book I'd been looking for for a few weeks, Songbook, by Nick Hornby. If you're not familiar with it, and you might not be, since it just came out, the conceit is that it's a book of short essays (average of about four pages each) about songs that mean something to Hornby. But really, it's more about the human condition, and Hornby uses his reactions to the songs to illuminate something about said condition, or perhaps sometimes uses said condition to illuminate something about the songs. In any case, he really is an exceptionally fine writer, and I've been devouring the book. I recommend it highly. This week, McSweeney's, the smart-assed publishing house run by Dave Eggers that published Hornby's book, is running brief essays about songs, starting today with one by Hornby that isn't in the book. (I'll probably have to edit this post later when the essay rolls into the archives, maybe as soon as tomorrow [yup, it was tomorrow].) This will be worth checking out this week, if the standard of the essays on the site stands up to those of the book.

If you get the book, and you should, probably the most affecting story is the one about Badly Drawn Boy's song "A Minor Incident", which was written for the film About a Boy, based on Hornby's book of the same name. I don't want to spoil the story, but ultimately it turns out that the song inspired by his book means more to him, and has more relevance to his life, than the book he wrote himself.

I was introduced to Hornby when my amazingly hip mom got me (and my brother) a copy of High Fidelity for Christmas about six years ago. The story, about a man in his mid-thirties with an obsession for music finally growing up and coming to a realization that there is actually something more to life than music, was, er, perhaps painfully close to home. His first book Fever Pitch, a memoir about what it's like to be devoted to a sports team (in his case, the Arsenal football club in the English Premier soccer league), is another closely-observed dissection of an unhealthy obsession that seemed way too familiar to me. That kind of obsession seems to me to be the thing that Hornby is at his best chronicling. Songbook is another classic about obsession.

Posted at 8:49 PM
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Sunday, January 12, 2003

So why do I have to read about this in an English newspaper?

The Guardian has an interesting story about how the press in America have become lapdogs to the Bush administration. It spends quite a bit of ink on how compliant reporters have become and how reluctant they are to criticize the White House. Toward the end, the article explores one possible reason: the relentless discipline of the White House in its drive to control the news. They give biscuits to the lapdogs and sticks to the few critics. At the very end, it has the following interesting bit about weblogs:

Lott, the veteran senator from Mississippi, made his pro-segregation statement on a Thursday, in full earshot of the Washington press corps. The Times and Post both failed to mention it. Indeed, it was almost totally ignored until the following Tuesday, kept alive until then only by a handful of bloggers. If there is a Watergate scandal lurking in this administration, it is unlikely to be Woodward or his colleagues who will tell us about it. If it emerges, it will probably come out on the web. That is a devastating indictment of the state of American newspapers.

Indeed.

Posted at 11:28 PM
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Saturday, January 11, 2003

Tinker no longer

George Ryan's speech announcing the commutation of all death sentences in the state of Illinois is one of the most moving political speeches I think I've ever read. He presents a damning indictment of the death penalty system as it works in Illinois, and most likely everywhere else in America where it's still used. He makes a compelling case. He also talks about the fact that by commuting the sentences, he spares a man who killed a close friend of his family's.

The heart of the speech comes down to this excerpt, which contains a quote from US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun (highlighted in bold below) in his 1994 dissent wherein he repudiated the death penalty:

Because our three year study has found only more questions about the fairness of the sentencing; because of the spectacular failure to reform the system; because we have seen justice delayed for countless death row inmates with potentially meritorious claims; because the Illinois death penalty system is arbitrary and capricious - and therefore immoral - I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

I cannot say it more eloquently than Justice Blackmun.

The legislature couldn't reform it.

Lawmakers won't repeal it.

But I will not stand for it.

I must act.

No doubt Ryan is a flawed messenger. He's quite possibly a felon from some of his actions in previous political positions. His political career was going to be over whether he did this or not. It's still one of the most politically courageous things I've ever seen.

The death penalty is immoral. The potential for irreversible error is too great. Revenge does not equal justice. And finally a politician with the power to do something about it has stood up and said so (New York Times link, requires registration).

Posted at 8:32 PM
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Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Left of the dial

Paul Bausch's father collects old radios. Paul is an avid photographer with a great eye. Put the two together and you get this collection of photographs of old radio dials. Lovely!

Posted at 9:58 AM
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Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Ready, Fire, Aim

Apple released Safari, their new web browser from the same ancestral code as Konqueror, today, and many people are reviewing it already. I don't use OS X often, so I'm not likely to use Safari often, but even during my occasional bouts of insanity when I boot into OS X, I'll be looking elsewhere for my browsing goodness, because of one absolutely critical feature that my preferred browser has that Safari doesn't: the ability to set cookies to expire when the browser is quit. I loathe cookies. I don't like being tracked. But control-freak site developers will often make sites that are impossible to use without them. Mozilla and Opera cater to paranoid people like me by allowing me to accept their cookies, then trash them at the end of the session. This feature alone would keep me from adopting Safari.

I guess now I'll have to work on whatever it is that causes Konqueror (and Safari) to choke on my genealogy weblog (written in valid XHTML, so it should render fine like it does everywhere else) now, since market share for this buggy renderer just jumped significantly. Bleah.

Posted at 7:06 PM
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¡Claro que sí!

For some reason, I was never able to get my head around the concept of Trackbacks. But after reading Shelley Powers' posts this week on the topic, explaining how Trackbacks allow threading of conversations across different blogs and talking about social software, I had that Eureka moment, and it all became clear and convincing. (Duh, remote comments. Why couldn't I get that before?) So I've finally implemented Trackback here. I haven't quite figured out how to display the number of Trackbacks on my posts on the front page yet, but that will eventually happen. (Ah, the joys of using your own home-grown content management system....) In the meantime, you can find any Trackbacks, assuming I ever get any, under the comments for each individual post. I also didn't implement the RDF stuff that allows Movable Type blogs to auto-discover the correct Trackback URL. I'm of two minds about that. It's a neat idea, but I'm very proud of the fact that my pages validate as XHTML 1.0 Transitional (and would as Strict but for a rendering misfeature in Mozilla). I'm sure the lack of RDF will disappoint Shelley, who's working on a book about RDF. :-) I'm going to investigate that some more, but for now, you can find the trackback URL for each post on the individual page.

Update: I did what I should have done before posting this and went to the Movable Type Trackback Blog, where I found a post that led me to the answer on how to count Trackbacks. So now that's implemented.

Posted at 5:08 AM
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Monday, January 6, 2003

Rude, crude, and socially unacceptable in any language

If you ever wanted to curse in another language, you could do a lot worse than to visit The Alternative Dictionaries. It was very helpful when I was looking for the Polish/Ukrainian word my grandmother used to use to describe one's hindquarters.

Posted at 12:13 AM
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Sunday, January 5, 2003

The practice we merit

Matt "Blackbelt" Jones has posted the top 20 tunes he's been listening to this year as tabulated by his iPod. Nice idea. Then I saw the following entry:

"Corona (theme from 'jackass')": Minutemen

Whoawaitaminutebucky!

So I did a little Google search for "corona jackass", and eventually wound up at the Apple QuickTime movie trailer page for Jackass The Movie. Sure enough, the background music in the trailer was Corona.

Go ahead, shoot me.

Posted at 6:14 PM
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Saturday, January 4, 2003

Miranda Warning

Dan Gillmor has a weekend reading list for freedom-loving Americans everywhere, including one piece that draws explicit parallels between Nazi Germany and current-day America. The author is concerned that Americans are accepting the destruction of their rights without complaining. Meanwhile, Shelley Powers looks into a set of public service announcements produced by the Ad Council and finds, yup, parallels with Nazi Germany.

I don't disagree with the sentiments expressed, although any attempt to bring in the Nazis always makes me want to invoke Godwin's Law. But I get frustrated when I try to figure out what I can actually do about the Assault On Freedom. Back in November, I thought that there isn't much we can do, but one of the things we can do is vote, and I felt really good about doing so. Lot of good that did, but no matter.

I believe that George W. Bush is a dangerous man who is in way over his head. As Josh Marshall points out, his incompetence has led to a situation where the US is meekly accepting the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear state. Either that or we're going to war with them; it's not clear yet. I bought Laura a DVD of the great movie The Atomic Cafe for Christmas, and we watched it the other day. I remember being spooked by it when it was released twenty years ago, at the height of Reaganism, but it seemed even worse now, at a time when countries are joining the nuclear club without an invitation.

I thought two years ago that it was possible that Bush would do serious, lasting damage to America, and that he was likely to be the worst President ever, and nothing I've seen since then has changed my mind, whether it be reckless adventurism in Iraq, malign neglect in North Korea, or the Assault On Freedom here at home.

Glen Martin, the author of the first Nazi-mentioning piece mentioned above, asks if we have the courage and integrity to speak up now, before all of our rights are taken from us. But sometimes I wonder what good speaking does. Millions of us spoke with our votes in 2000, but the election was stolen anyway. Webloggers post incendiary comparisons between the Assault On Freedom and the Nazis. It doesn't seem to have any effect; the Republicans made historic gains in the mid-term elections, and extremists like former bug killer Tom DeLay now control the agenda in Congress, promising that we haven't seen anything yet. Talking somehow seems inadequate. But what else is there? I could petition my Congress-critters to fight such moves, and I believe they'd be receptive. But they're outnumbered by the shock troops of the Assault. There have been protests against war in Iraq, but they've been pretty much co-opted by wacko fringe leftist movements. What other outlets are there for a patriotic moderately center-left Democrat who dislikes the direction he/she sees the country going in?

I suppose I should rest assured that there's one right that hasn't been taken from us yet: the right to remain silent.

Posted at 11:11 PM
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Friday, January 3, 2003

Do their insurance rates go down now that they're 25?

O'Reilly & Associates, court publishers to the Internet revolution, are celebrating their 25th anniversary. They're looking for stories. Here's mine.

I still have my first Nutshell handbook. It had a comb-binding, and had a brown cover with a picture of an acorn on it, so it pre-dates the advent of O'Reilly animals. It was 1987, and I had just discovered Usenet in my then-new job at the home of UNIX, AT&T. I was looking for more information about how to get the most out of this neat tool, and all the people in the newsfroups were lauding a book by this little company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that made the most UNIX-savvy books. So I sent away for a copy of Managing UUCP and Usenet and learned so much about the way things worked on this nascent network. I used to tell people that it was the book that changed my life; that's probably still true, come to think of it. I probably wouldn't have been net-savvy enough to pick up on the web when I did without it, for example, which deflected my career in the direction of making web sites. Not to mention that I met my future wife on Usenet in 1990.

The other early O'Reilly book I had wasn't actually published by O'Reilly & Associates. It was a copy of the classic UNIX Text Processing written by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Daugherty. Working for a technical publications group at AT&T as a Production Editor, the book was my bible, and had all the answers to the esoteric questions I was asking about troff, vi, sed, macros, and all the other arcana involved in making books with baling wire and string. I was pretty generous with my books, loaning them out as needed, but I never let UNIX Text Processing out of my sight. But then, none of the other Production Editors needed to borrow it, because they all had copies of their own.

Nowadays, I could probably fill an entire bookcase with my O'Reilly books. Happy 25th Anniversary! (Found via Kottke.)

Posted at 11:04 PM
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Thursday, January 2, 2003

Want to do my Ph.D on Sonic Youth, The "Sister" Period

Interesting and disturbing article from the Los Angeles Times, reprinted in the Sydney Morning Herald, about how female rock bands don't get no respect, with articles about them focusing more on their looks than their chops. It sucks. I like a lot of female bands, and I don't give a damn what they look like. A great song is a great song and a great performance is a great performance, no matter what the band looks like. A lot of my favorite songwriters and musicians these days are female. Lora MacFarlane of Australian "band" Ninety-nine, for example, writes these incredibly pithy, wonderful, even funny songs and then playes them with some really oddball ear-tickling arrangements that sound just as influenced by Indonesian gamelan as by punk rock. Keri McTighe of my new favorites Nathan writes impressionistic portraits that take on a much darker tinge than the music once you start paying as much attention to what the words are saying as to the lovely voices singing them. Sleater-Kinney has some amazing songs, played with a real kick; Corin Tucker even wants to be your Joey Ramone, and I think she's got a real claim on it. I'm sorry to read an article like this one that says they aren't taken seriously by the press because they're women. It sucks that the writers or their editors can't open their ears wide enough to notice that some of the best music out there is being made by women, and who gives a damn about their shade of lip gloss. They're focusing on irrelevant crap rather than on the music. I don't get it. Is it that the reporters have no ears, or that their editors have no brains?

Posted at 11:39 PM
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Wednesday, January 1, 2003

The peculiar optimism of New Year's Day

Shelley Powers has a wonderful post about the optimism inherent in New Year's Day. Personally, I couldn't see the back of 2002 fast enough. It was not a pleasant year. Six months of unemployment. More time spent with doctors in the past few months than in the previous ten years put together. Problems at my new job (if you know me, you probably know what I'm talking about here.) If years had graves, I would dance on 2002's. 2003 has to be better. After all, I'm getting married this year; that alone guarantees 2003 will be a positive experience.

I spent New Year's Eve, 2002, quietly, watching the Peach Bowl while Laura slept off some kind of sick feeling she had, then logging on to IRC to wish a few friends a Happy New Year and make some smartassed comments, and finally hitting the sack around 11 to greet the departure of the old year by studying the insides of my eyelids.

My favorite New Year's song (not that there are many) is Scrawl's "11:59 (It's January)", which has the following line that seems particularly well suited to my feelings on the coming of a new year:

It was a good year because it was such a bad year that this year could only be better.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Posted at 12:32 PM
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Whose idea was that?

Here's just one reason why I like dealmac: "The next edition of dealmac has been postponed until Thursday, January 2, because somebody scheduled a whole lotta bowl games for tomorrow. Sorry." First time ever, right guys?

Posted at 11:54 AM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2017, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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